Cut Your Chances of Suspension: Don’t be Black


A new study proves what many already suspected: Your chances of getting suspended in middle school rise dramatically if you are black. 

The study, “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the home of Teaching Tolerance.

Analyzing U.S. Department of Education data from between 2002 and 2006, the authors found that black boys in urban middle schools were three times as likely as white boys to be suspended. Suspension rates for black girls were four times those of white girls. And suspensions in general have risen steadily since the 1970s.

The relationship between discipline and academic achievement is well known. Students who receive suspensions in middle school are far less likely to get high grades, go to college or even finish high school. They are far more likely to wind up in the school-to-prison pipeline.

The data should shock schools into action. Every administrator today makes data-driven academic decisions. But are they looking deeper? We think every principal should examine her school’s disciplinary statistics: Is out-of-class discipline meted out proportionately among student demographic groups? If not, what are the disparities? And at what stage in the disciplinary process do they appear or accelerate? An equity audit or school survey, like the Teaching Diverse Students Initiative school climate survey, can help. 

Schools that find racial disparity in their disciplinary actions should start a program of self-examination. Are teachers unknowingly biased in their treatment of students of color? What can administrators and teachers do to combat the insidious and often hidden preferences for certain students over others?  We recommend “I don’t think I’m biased?” to start the process of self-reflection among school staff members. The goal is to interrupt habitual responses to student behavior that may be influenced by teachers’ false perceptions. For more information, visit Understanding the Influence of Race

The principal should also take a look at the demographics of both staff and students. Is there a cultural mismatch? A lack of shared cultural background between white, middle-class teachers and students of color can lead to misunderstandings and culturally-biased perceptions

Of course, the most important change should take place in the classroom. Instruction that is culturally relevant to all students can help stave off inappropriate behavior, build connectedness to school and promote engagement in the curriculum. 

And finally, it’s essential to face this issue head on. Principals and teachers need to talk about race and racial disparities openly and honestly. 

Costello is the director of Teaching Tolerance


Cut your chances of

Submitted by Kate Livingston on 4 May 2012 - 2:47pm.

Cut your chances of suspension: DON'T ACT UP AND GET IN TROUBLE.

One thing that needs to

Submitted by Black in America on 8 May 2013 - 11:12am.

One thing that needs to happen is for America to admit its problems. Listening to the mainstream media, it is as if the election of President Obama washed away all guilt and served as proof that America had redeemed itself from a past of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism. I am raising two African American males, and I can testify that I have had to advocate for them far more than when I was raising my daughter. They are always the focus of some kind discipline for actions as inane as kissing their girlfriend before they boarded separate school busses. One teacher just sent me an email saying my son displayed "the worst behavior she has ever witnessed in 25 years of teaching!" I say unlikely, but if she feels that way, then what kind of relationship is she likely to have with my son? How likely is she to see the good that is in him? Will she be able to reward his good behavior since she was so traumatized? Good God, the boy is a freshman. Just last year he was in grammar school being heavily guarded and coddled! There are books i.e. Jawanaza Kunjufu wrote, The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, where he talks about the effort by teachers at about 4th grade to dissuade black boys from believing they can be successful in school or in life, thus, the drop out rate. This book was written in the early 80s and it still is on point. A book was recently published that picks up where the Kunjufu book leaves off and brings us to today when this same assault on the psyche of black males is occurring. Schools have become a feeding system for the prison system for black boys, and having black president has not quelled that truth.


Submitted by Dr. X on 22 December 2010 - 1:33pm.


NO I really must say that

Submitted by Doc Hollidaye on 27 May 2012 - 8:37pm.

NO I really must say that racism definitely takes a great deal of work and those that push hate are just big enough losers to have that sort of free time on their hands.

While I believe the

Submitted by Marie, RN on 23 September 2010 - 5:54pm.

While I believe the intentions of this study are noble, I agree with others who have pointed out that the data used and the analysis are examples of poor science. A much more scientifically rigorous and defensible study would have used not only the suspension data, but also data on how many disciplinary events occurred, what types of offenses were being disciplined, whether there are different disciplinary actions for different types of offenses, and what were the race/ethnicity of the students whose offenses did (or did not) qualify to be disciplined by suspension. To prove that only one group was suspended more than another doesn't really prove anything; that is obvious to any observer.

It doesn't mean very much if you can prove that more black students get suspended than whites, in the same way that it would not mean much if you said more poor students get suspended than middle class or wealthy students. Most people would read such statements and say, "Well, *duh*, of *course*!" without thinking about any larger implications, because in many respects such proven conclusions only reflect and reinforce their own biases.

It would mean MUCH MORE if you proved something to the effect of, "out of 500 students who were involved in fist-fights, 250 of whom were white, and 250 of whom were black, 300 students were suspended -- all 250 black students (which is 100% of the black students involved in fist-fights, plus 50 white students." Just that small amount of extra data proves much more convincingly that there is institutional racism in schools.

I'm an ER RN in an inner city Chicago hospital. It would be very easy, based on what I see regularly at my job, to conclude that Mexican-Americans and African-Americans are more non-compliant with their medication and medical treatment and less likely to get prenatal care than other ethnic groups.

The reality, of course, is so much larger and more complex than that. For example, medication non-compliance is at least partly dependent on the COST of medications, the patient's UNDERSTANDING of how to take the meds (which also depends on whether or not the patient EDUCATION that should have given by MDs, RNs, and pharmacists, was actually done -- and in the appropriate LANGUAGE in both discharge instructions and on the RX bottles themselves).

The other reality, of course, is that said minority populations are far more likely -- in a city like Chicago -- to live in poor neighborhoods with higher rates of violence, crime, drug and substance use and abuse, and unemployment, with fewer health care clinics, health care workers, and pharmacies than white neighborhoods; far more likely to work menial, low-wage jobs that don't have health insurance benefits (or benefits of any kind); far more likely to have to rely on Medicaid for health insurance; far likelier to encounter health-care clinics that no longer accept Medicaid recipients because it takes so long to get reimbursed by Medicaid that clinics can't pay their bills; and far more likely ALSO to be victims of violent crimes themselves.

Well, when you read all that background, then it becomes much more obvious why more Mexican-American and Africa-American patients are more non-compliant with medications and medical treatment and get less prenatal care than non-minority patients. Most PEOPLE living in neighborhoods with fewer clinics, fewer health-care workers, fewer pharmacies, higher unemployment, more low-paying jobs, and more jobs lacking health insurance benefits would find it harder to comply with treatment, prenatal care, and medication regimens -- whether they were black, white, or purple! You then see that the issue is not race or ethnicity but CLASS and POVERTY -- poor people, poor neighborhoods, poor communities.

Unfortunately, simply stating that more Mexican-American and African-American patients are non-compliant with their medications, medical care, and prenatal care doesn't do anything -- but it quite possibly *will* reinforce the already biased views and conclusions of many white health care workers.

This is the same mistake that Costello's paper makes. To state that blacks get suspended more than whites will not raise any eyebrows among either black or non-black readers. You are simply telling people what they already know. And many biased whites would merely look at the study data and conclusion and say, "See? they ARE more likely to be troublemakers than white kids!"

Is that what you want?

If your goal is to get people thinking outside the box of their own biases, this paper (and the study behind it) utterly fails.

More in-depth data and scientifically rigorous analysis are required for the study to in any way reach beyond most people's inherent biases, and get them to see the injustice and observe that it is institutionalized. In many respects, this study and paper do a disservice to minority students. The reality is that visible racial/ethnic differences are often merely signifiers of deeper and less visible divisions, like class and poverty. While we don't like to talk about class in the US, the fact of the matter is that class is a great determinant in how "free" a person is to do many things -- things such as go to school, get a job, find a doctor/clinic, avoid contact with law enforcement, qualify for health insurance, qualify for mortgages/loan mods, live in a crime-free area, and maintain good health. That is the bottom line, and that is the root level from which disparities in schooling and school disciplinary actions (not to mention health and income) originate.

Some of the responses are

Submitted by BBSJ on 22 September 2010 - 10:47am.

Some of the responses are parallel to the problem. Many people don't see or believe that systematic racism exist in our society. People of Color, particularly Blacks and those with darker skin experience it daily. White supremacy is not only a characteristic of the KKK but unfortunately a reality of today's actions and attitudes in our society. Systematic racism is in the air we breathe- all of us, until we began to think of changing systems by starting with how will this (fill in the plank)___________ not be racist.
I think the author’s suggestions of honest talk and self assessment about our own believes will prove right. By not acknowledging or having real discussions we continue the cycle. We will not eradicate racism, which diminishes the quality of life for everyone without listening to oppressed.
One other thing if socio-economic was the root cause we would have more people united around issues causing these types of disparities- every race, culture and ethnicity has someone who is poor, but barriers that create access such as education, that is another story……

I have a black pre-teen in a

Submitted by Diane Cotton-Harris on 21 September 2010 - 3:08pm.

I have a black pre-teen in a middle school in a rural area 30 miles outside of Chicago. He is routinely disciplined for infractions big and small. While I do not deny his behavior is errant on occasion, he has been disciplined when other children (white) are apologized to for the same misbehavior. The imbalance is also evident when awards are passed out. While my sons are first chair musicians, when awards are distributed at years end, few black boys are rewarded and primarily white girls are recognized. One year, a white boy called my son a a few other kids on the bus a nigger, my son was suspended for the fight that subsequently broke out, while the white child was offered an apology by the school. This is a school with a changing population with perhaps 60% African American students while the faculty is 95% white.

I think other factors should

Submitted by Tim Daugherty on 22 September 2010 - 9:02am.

I think other factors should be considered, just not race and gender. Socio-economic factors would also influence the students' behaviors. Even with the best of intentions, things don't always turn out numerically equal.

Since the only data used was

Submitted by Maryland on 20 September 2010 - 4:46pm.

Since the only data used was suspension info and not referral info (which is needed for the purpose of showing that whites and girls were DOING the same behaviors at the same rate but NOT getting SUSPENDED for such at the same rate as blacks and males), then we have here the typical pure outcome-based analysis that proves nothing. Also, since MORE school data was available from the govt than was used here, one wonders if the authors analyzed a lot more data than they ultimately used, but then only used the data that showed the BIGGEST racial and gender disparity to form their final study. Common sense has told us for centuries that boys are more aggressive than girls and therefore get into more trouble from day 1; so, no kidding, boys are suspended at higher rates than girls. This is NOT school administrators being sexist; this is "boys will be boys" behavior resulting in appropriate punishment instead of a shrug of the shoulders. Furthermore, researchers like these should be well educated enough to KNOW better than to publish misleading studies like these which inflame people that don't understand statistics very well and don't think carefully through the methodology of a study like this one. It makes me think that in the absence of substantial and ACTUAL racial and gender discrimination, some people will just manufacture some ... for political purposes and donation purposes. After all, this organization won't have much to do if actual discrimination is lower than the perception that is aroused by bogus studies like this.

Maryland, you make some good

Submitted by Maureen Costello on 23 September 2010 - 10:02am.

Maryland, you make some good points about the problems of limited information. In fact, the people doing this study did in fact point out the limits of the information that was available to them and one of their top three policy recommendations was that this data be collected regularly and be considered when assessing schools. The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights conducts this survey biennially, and doesn't include all schools. It also doesn't collect referral data, so it's not true that the researchers ignored it. In fact, they explain quite carefully some of the problems associated with their data collection.

Fortunately, there are other studies--published in peer-reviewed journals--that show that the offenses for which students are referred do indeed differ for boys according to race. The authors refer to these and cite them, so you can check it out yourself. For white students, the referrals come as a result of infractions that can be objectively proven, like smoking, vandalism, leaving school without permission. Black students are more likely to be referred for disrespect, excessive noise, loitering--infractions that rely on much more subjective judgments.

You claim that we're manufacturing discrimination, but it's hard to manufacturer higher suspension rates, higher drop-out rates and lower academic achievement. Another new study shows that fewer than half of all black males graduate from high school across the country. That's a situation that has to be addressed if we're to have a better society for all of us. Our reasons for publishing this information are about challenging schools to come up with solutions so that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and succeed.

"You claim that we're

Submitted by JL on 23 September 2010 - 2:22pm.

"You claim that we're manufacturing discrimination, but it's hard to manufacturer higher suspension rates, higher drop-out rates and lower academic achievement."

This is a good example of the kind of statistical illiteracy that "Maryland" criticized. None of those things you mention are, as such, evidence of discrimination. Correlation does not imply causation. It is also a fact that Asian Americans have, on average, better outcomes on all of those metrics than white Americans, but that does not imply that Asians are discriminating against whites, either.

Unless you adopt a more rational and scientific approach when reporting on studies like this one, accusations of political and financial motivations are entirely justified. There's research arguing that the main reason behind racial inequality in America are the gaps in skills between races, not discrimination. See, for example, this recent paper by Harvard's Roland Fryer: But of course you won't report on such studies because it will not help fill up your coffers...

"Your chances of getting

Submitted by Phillip on 16 September 2010 - 3:44pm.

"Your chances of getting suspended in middle school rise dramatically if you are black... in urban middle schools..." Well, what about rural middle schools? I bet the table is completely reversed. Getting suspended isn't a matter of DNA, it's a matter of behavior. I didn't see the ratio of black boys to white boys in this article; would that make a difference?
I'm thinking the bias lies with the author: " boys in urban middle schools were three times as likely as white boys to be suspended." I can feel the writer's attitude just seeping through; as if your DNA could actually determine your chance of being suspended. I feel like she's just looking for fault; looking for an opportunity to point a finger, and missing the point of the article.
I'm not denying the existence of racial prejudice, just doubting the applicability of this report to the author's point. Maybe she could offer some suggestions on how to encourage good behavior from the students being suspended; offer advice to parents or ideas for school make-up programs... Why does the first response always have to be finger-pointing?

It's sad that you want to

Submitted by Kim on 21 September 2010 - 5:26pm.

It's sad that you want to blame statistics for what's happening in our schools. This is something that I see all the time. And what the article tells you is that the behavior of young Black boys is more harshly interpreted than the behavior of young White boys. Sometimes it is not even racial prejudice but a misunderstanding of culture. The way young Black boys react is often misinterpreted. In Black culture, Black people speak often speak loudly, talk over each other and argue their points vociferously with each other. In White culture, this is often viewed as rude behavior and is often misunderstood and can result in a confrontation when it is really a miscommunication.

Also, I have been in conversations where White people have referred to Black people's behavior with a "You know how they are" comment. There are many people who make no effort to understand the context of a situation when something confronted with Black children, they assume the worse and make harsh decision usually to the detriment of the Black child.

Oh, you don't see this as much in rural schools, because the majority of rural communities are predominantly White. Black people traditionally live in larger urban or suburban communities. This started back during Jim Crow days when many of them were fleeing the oppression they faced in the South. And all of that is a fact. You can check that with the US Census bureau.

The response doesn't have to be finger-pointing if there could be a better understanding of why things happen the way they happen. The response should always be "What can we do to make a change?" The response will never be that when there are so many people like you who insist that there is not really a problem, that blame is just being randomly assigned. Read up, educate yourself and try to make a change.

I totally agree with you

Submitted by breann on 17 September 2010 - 4:24pm.

I totally agree with you

This is not true, when you go

Submitted by breann on 16 September 2010 - 3:16pm.

This is not true, when you go to school 90% of the time those principals don't care if your black or white. You have to do something wrong to get suspended and that has nothing to do with you being black or white.

I disagree, there are a

Submitted by Doc Hollidaye on 27 May 2012 - 8:30pm.

I disagree, there are a number of bigots who teach in our schools. They may not be open about their hate and bigotry but go behind the doors of their homes and you soon learn about the secret hate they harbor. If they believe that minorities are inferior I can't help but believe that they bring these prejudices to their work places as well. Having the power to pass or fail a child is not a power that should be given to such individuals and yet they are in possession of it.

I beg to differ.  I was

Submitted by haroletha on 7 February 2012 - 3:17pm.

I beg to differ.  I was educated in the United States and I have taught here in the States for more than 36 years.  Being Black does greatly increase your chances of being suspended.  A black child can do exactly the same thing that a white counter part has done and 8 out of 10 times in the United States, the Black child will receive a more severe punishment.

Where is your proof for this

Submitted by Shawn Mansager on 21 September 2010 - 10:20pm.

Where is your proof for this Breann? I am a third grade teacher and at our school our African American boys were suspended on a regular basis. It wasn't until a few of us raised awareness of this to the staff and organized a plan from preventing this injustice that things changed. Many of our African American boy come with traumatic experiences and have the added burden of dealing with an education system that is biased towards whites ( I am white). Children should not all be dealt with the same gloves. Our children of color do not start on the same playing field as our white children. We live in a society dominated by white values. Read "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria" by Beverly Daniel Tatum before you make uneducated comments.

I actually agree with the

Submitted by Diane Kaster on 25 April 2012 - 9:50am.

I actually agree with the above reply by Shawn. I married into a black family, I have mostly black friends - yet, I myself am "white". I see the hopelessness and discouragement all around me. He is right, they often do NOT start out on the same playing field, and culture and attitude is quite different. My mother-in-law, for example, told me that many reasons that black women and girls have a great deal of "attitude" is due to the fact that they have to be psychologically and emotionally stronger than whites do. Number one, due to their minority and often (but not always) poor status, as well as the challenges of being a female. They feel that they need to give off the face that nothing affects them and that they are the boss of their own selves.

Black children are often (again, not always) raised in unstable conditions and experience various kinds of trauma from early ages. The cultures between whites and blacks is VERY different, and they often do not understand each other. I come across this every single day, and I try to understand and adjust. For the same reason, white teachers do not understand why the black children come across as having "bad attitudes and belligerence". This is from the white perspective, and so they are punished for simply coming from a different culture and ways of dealing with their world. This is injustice.

Instead of punishment like suspension, counseling is more appropriate, while continuing in the educational atmosphere. Children fall behind on their academic work with suspension, dooming them to poor grades and less chances of higher education and discouragement. Even if a child is suspended, they should be placed either in a special type of positively controlled room of learning with encouraging teachers and counselors, or home educated/tutored.

Both whites AND blacks need to be sensitive and aware and adjust to each others' cultures, not just blacks trying to adjust in a white world. That is unfair. Throw a middle-class suburban white adult or child in an urban (or even rural) ghetto for a few months, and there will be adjustment and awareness and empathy VERY quickly.

Blacks often try to make the best of the situation they are given. I have seen contentment and happiness even in the midst of extreme poverty. I have also seen hopelessness and discouragement, particularly with those who try to get ahead and hit roadblocks at every turn.

Black and white children and adults look at situations through very different eyes, and deal with them according to how they were taught. What may seem the right or acceptable way to deal with a situation by one of either color is not necessarily deemed as "right" or acceptable by the other. Therefore, blame usually falls on the black child because of white teachers and administrators. And then the child does not understand why they are being punished for a value they were taught from infancy. My husband went through the school-to prison pipeline; afterward when a white woman was choking his mother, he went to his mother's defense and attacked the original offender. Guess who was the one who got blamed, and the one who was the victim? That's right, the black man got punished and put right back into prison, and the white woman was seen as the ultimate victim and got in no trouble. Where is the justice in this?

Continue to give the "Suspended" child an atmosphere that is conducive to learning and acceptance and counseling. Consequences and punishments need to result in positive learning experiences.

what are you taliking about,

Submitted by Breann on 4 October 2010 - 11:24am.

what are you taliking about, making uneducated comments. You are replying to me in complete ignorance because you do not understand my point. I am an 8th grade african american student and I usually don't get suspended. This article is focusing on race. While it should be focusing on behavior. Suspension usually doesn't have to do with race but behavior. So maybe you should consider my point and think about what I am saying before you accuse me of making uneducated comments

but the things that are

Submitted by grthrhds on 18 September 2010 - 11:57am.

but the things that are "wrong" that black kids are suspended for are more subjective, based on perception of administrators AND teachers (i.e. attitude, "belligerent behavior") than the things that are "wrong" that white kids are suspended for are more objective (i.e., fights).