STUDY: Black Students Disproportionately Suspended, Expelled in Southern Schools

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 27, 2015

A new study from two researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Education has confirmed what many black parents already know all too well: The people in charge at American schools are much more likely to suspend and even expel African-American children than their white peers. They also discovered that the problem is especially pronounced in the South.

“Disproportionate Impact of K-12 School Suspension and Expulsion on Black Students in Southern States” found that more than half of all the suspensions and expulsions of black students are carried out in just 13 states in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

“Blacks are only 24 percent of students enrolled in public schools in those states, yet they are 48 percent of students suspended, 49 percent of students expelled,” study coauthor Shaun R. Harper told NPR. “There are 84 districts where blacks were 100 percent of students suspended from school.”

The statistics revealed in some states illustrated especially large gaps in the way students are disciplined. In Mississippi, black girls accounted for 80 percent of all girls who are expelled. And while 65 percent of black students suspended in the 13 southern states studied were boys, when they are compared to girls from other racial and ethnic groups, black girls are overall punished most disproportionately.

Among the recommendations in the report:

  • Families and churches should partner with schools to create policies that alter the way children are disciplined.
  • Eliminate zero tolerance polices.
  • Offer more professional development for educators on the topic of managing student behavior.
  • Teach educators about implicit bias and how it impacts their interactions with students.

Harper and coauthor Edward J. Smith closed the study with this haunting apology:

We conclude this report with a sincere apology. While neither of us has ever suspended or expelled any student, as educators, we are participants in a system that continually disadvantages Black children, families, and communities. We are sorry that schools of education and other sites where teachers and educational leaders are prepared and certified do so little to raise consciousness about the implicit biases that ultimately lead to trends such as those documented in this study. In most programs across the country, aspiring teachers, principals, and superintendents are taught far too little about disproportionality in school discipline and its racist undercurrents.