Last week’s news included the horrific video of a police officer throwing a 16-year-old girl across the school room — apparently because she only put away her cell phone, but refused to give it to her teacher. Bad as it is, the video shows only the tip of the iceberg of racially disparate school discipline, which persists across the country and here in the Twin Cities as well.
Vox compiled a series of seven charts showing racism in school discipline, using national statistics. I wondered how Minneapolis and St. Paul would compare, so I went to the Minnesota Department of Education website to find the numbers.
Vox reports that black students are suspended or expelled at higher rates throughout their school years, across the nation. That’s also true in Minneapolis and St. Paul. African American students are disciplined at a far higher rate than any other race or ethnicity reported. Here are the breakdowns for Minneapolis and St. Paul:
The Minnesota Department of Education figures show the total number of “disciplinary incidents” by race and ethnicity. These include suspensions, expulsions and other reported incidents.
In Minneapolis, black students make up 37 percent of the student population, but 75 percent of the disciplinary incidents. In St. Paul, black students make up 30 percent of the student population, but 73 percent of the disciplinary incidents. In Minneapolis, Native American students make up 4 percent of the student population, and 8 percent of the disciplinary incidents.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights reported last year on racial and other disparities in school discipline. They found disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color, disproportionate discipline for girls of color, disproportionate suspension of students with disabilities, and disproportionate arrests and referrals to law enforcement by race and disability status.
Racial disparities in discipline begin early and continue throughout school years. The disparities are not explained by differences in behavior. Vox explains:
“A common reaction to the discipline disparities is to suggest that something other than race is at work — that they’re a function of poverty, or that black students are simply more likely to misbehave. But analyses of the data have found that isn’t true. Black students and white students are sent to the principal’s office at similar rates; states report they commit more serious offenses, such as carrying weapons or drugs at school, at similar rates; and when surveyed about their own behavior, they report similar patterns. Even in cases in which black students do disproportionately act out — a 2008 analysis found twice as many black boys as white boys reported bringing a gun to school — they’re more likely to be punished than white students who committed the same infraction.”
Part of the problem is in the presence of police in the schools as School Resource Officers. Writing in the Hechinger Report, Beth Hawkins said that “even controlling for socioeconomic status, students at schools where there is an SRO are at least five times more likely than their peers to be arrested and sent into the juvenile justice system by the officers.”
Overuse of punishment to respond to discipline problems also may be correlated to the lack of counseling resources. Minnesota has one counselor for every 792 students, the third-worst ratio in the entire country.
Failure to educate students also contributes to racial disparities in discipline. Dropout Nation blogger Rishawn Biddle, writing about Minneapolis racial disparities in discipline last year, identified both a cause and a solution:
“[The] district is dealing miserably with the underlying illiteracy that is the key culprit for student misbehavior. … This means intensive reading remediation, especially in the early grades when discipline issues can be headed off … Systemic reform, in short, is key to reducing overuse of suspensions for the long haul.”
In a press release from ISAIAH last year, Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds said the statistics on racially disparate suspensions “should break our hearts, and compel us all – especially the faith community – to act in a transformative way.” It’s time, and long past time, to act.
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Want to learn more?
- The hidden racism of school discipline – data for charts above
- U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights report (2014)
- Minnesota Department of Education Data Center
- Discrimination drives discipline in schools — and it’s time to stop (News Day, 1/12/2014)
- Out of school, and out of luck (News Day, 4/13/2013)