According to the federal Office for Civil Rights, 1.9 million students (3.8 percent) were suspended from school once in the 2011-2012 school year. Of these students:
- 33 percent of African American students were suspended.
- 2 percent of Asian students were suspended.
- 23 percent of Hispanic students were suspended.
- 0.4 percent of Native American students were suspended.
- 36 percent of white students were suspended.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) collects data on the number of students suspended and expelled from school as part of its biennial (every two years) civil rights survey. The OCR has released an issue brief highlighting the disciplinary findings.
To evaluate student access to school programs and investigate allegations of discrimination, OCR conducts a biennial survey that collects detailed data on student discipline. The state-by-state data is among the most reliable information available on student discipline and includes data on student expulsions, suspensions, and incidents of corporal punishment.
How to Use the Data
Numerous studies have shown that unruly student behavior has a negative impact on student achievement, and suspension is one of the most severe sentences that a school can mete out to a disruptive student. You can use the OCR data to evaluate your own discipline policies and see how your school or district compares to state and national averages.
How the details were measured
The data is reported as the number of students suspended from school. The data can be broken down by student subgroups, including race and gender. The survey defines suspension as when a student is excluded from school for disciplinary reasons for 1 school day or longer; it does not include students who served their suspension in the school. Note that because OCR used sophisticated statistical sampling techniques, they call the state-level data “projections.”
Limitations of the data
The definition of suspension and the actions that warrant a suspension differ widely. For example, some districts have a zero tolerance policy toward school discipline, while others are more lenient. Such differences can create misleading results within the data; therefore, you should keep local policies in mind when comparing discipline rates.
Key Questions to Ask
What school discipline data is available at the local level?
Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, states are required to report school safety data to the public, including school incident reports. States have significant latitude in the type of data that they collect, and the information is currently available only from state agencies. More information on NCLB requirements is provided in the “learn more” section below.
How is discipline applied between student subgroups?
The OCR data can be broken down by race and gender. Breaking out the data by these subgroups is an important part of understanding whether or not certain subgroups are disproportionately disciplined. If so, you can determine why in order to take appropriate actions to minimize the need for disciplinary action while improving student behavior.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to publicly report data on school safety, including school incident reports. Many states have been gathering data on student discipline to meet the requirements of the law. Tennessee, for instance, reports the percent of suspensions and expulsions for each school on its state report cards. The data is broken down by race and gender and published on the state’s Web site. While NCES has collected this data from the states, it has never published it.
Under NCLB, states are also required to allow students to transfer if they attend a persistently dangerous school. While states have a great deal of latitude in how they define a persistently dangerous school, many have used suspension and expulsion rates as their benchmark. In Maryland, for instance, a school will go on the persistently dangerous school list if 2.5 percent of its student body has been suspended for arson, possessing a weapon or drugs, assaulting a teacher or other student, or sexual assault. In 2004, Education Week collected state-by-state data on the number of schools identified as persistently dangerous. The newspaper found that only 26 schools in three states met the criteria that had been set by the state. Education Week has not collected more data on the indicator, because they say the data doesn’t provide useful information.
The OCR survey contains a lot of other discipline data. You can download state and national data on suspensions and corporal punishment. As of the 2011-2012 survey, preschool suspensions and expulsions are now included.
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