Even short suspensions can add up to big losses of instruction, particularly for students of color and special education students, researchers have found.
A new study by Daniel Losen and Kacy Martin at the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found deep discipline disparities for California middle schoolers. In the first 100 days of the 2016-17 school year, black students in 7th and 8th grades lost 76 days of school for every 100 students enrolled, and black students in kindergarten through 3rd grade lost 17 days of class to discipline for every 100 students. By contrast, the rate of lost time for every 100 white students was 19 days in grades 7 and 8, and four days in grades K-3 during the same period.
Losen and Martin used data on more than 380,000 in- and out-of-school suspensions in California in 2016-17 to calculate students’ lost class time, assuming two days per episode of suspension (though students often are suspended for longer periods of time.) They found that time lost to discipline has dropped in the state for all student groups since 2011-12, but wide racial gaps persist:
“Community-level advocates have encouraged educators to replace suspension with educationally sound responses to minor misbehaviors in many local districts, but there are still some very harsh districts with shocking inequities,” Losen said.
About 1 in 5 of those days of instruction were lost to discipline for offenses like class disruptions or defiance. While under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students should not face that sort of discipline for behaviors associated with their disability, they can still be suspended for up to 10 days without triggering additional due process procedures. And Losen and Martin found California students with disabilities lost on average 22 more days of instruction per 100 students than those without special education status. Here, too, black and Native American students with disabilities lost more time to discipline than their white peers in special education.
California is far from alone. In a separate study released back in April, Losen and colleagues found that nationwide, black students with disabilities lost on average 121 days of school to suspensions for every 100 students enrolled in 2015-16. That’s three times the amount of lost instruction of white peers with disabilities in the same year. And in neighboring Nevada, black students lost 209 days of class due to suspensions for every 100 students enrolled.
Chart Source: Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles