Black Students Suspended More Than White Students In U.S. Schools

March 7, 2012
Written by Janice S. Ellis... in
Latest News, Race Relations
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An analysis by The Washington Post in December 2011, found that across the Nation the suspension rates last year of black students was 15 percent in comparison to 5 percent of white students, 7 percent of Hispanics, and 3 percent of Asians. Photo Credit:

The U.S. Department of Education released a very disturbing report this week highlighting the disproportionately high rate of blacks students suspended from schools in comparison to white students. Black students are three time more likely to be suspended for days than whites irrespective of whether they come from poor, middle class, or wealthy families.

The practice and glaring disparities were found to be consistent across the data collected from 72,000 schools in the nation. When the study was release, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, said, “The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school.”

The real question is: Why? Why and what are the reasons for the high rates of punishments for black students, the majority of which are black boys, for what many consider minor disciplinary issues such as use of profanity or dress-code violations?

The answer to that question is a complex and multi-faceted one. While the report acknowledged that many of the urban schools have high populations of poor black kids from single parent homes, it also readily recognized the trend included the least experienced, least prepared, and lowest paid teachers taught in those schools.

But the study reported other findings from the data that are just as, if not more, alarming. The study documents that there is no body of evidence that black children exhibit higher rates of bad behavior than whites. Russ Skiba, an educational psychologist, says what this shows is that teachers, the majority of whom are white, are applying hidden prejudices in the process of disciplining black children.

Skiba noted, “We’ve had teachers tell us that there are different forms of white defiance, and they’re bothered more by black defiance.” Skiba’s views were further confirmed by reactions to a similar study about higher punishment rates of blacks in schools in Washington, D. C. Robert Pierre noted in an article covering the report, “…the more disturbing reason is one that many well-meaning people are loathe to admit: We see them differently. Adults attach to children their views of black men, even when those children are too young to understand that they are anything other than children.”

There is a body of research that clearly establishes a causal relationship between race and punishment meted out in schools. There are numerous instances where black kids are punished more frequently and more harshly for the same infractions. There is also a body of evidence that shows that higher suspension rates are directly linked to higher incarceration rates for black teens, which escalates as they become black men.

There also needs to be the critical realization that we do not live in a post-racial society. That there are prejudicial and stereotypical views that still influence our actions toward someone who is black versus white when all other aspects of the situation are deemed equal.

More importantly, we need to understand how those prejudicial views and actions have both costly short and long-term effects. They can often unduly and incorrectly sentence children to a life of underachievement, a denial of the real opportunity to pursue the American promise of an equal education, and a chance for a quality life.

If this study does nothing more, hopefully, schools administrators and teachers will re-think the kind of punishment they issue to students of different races, and make sure that the punishment is suitable for the offense, and that the offense is judged, and not the color of the child.

Imagine the number of young black students, particularly black boys, that have been negatively impacted — who knows for how long or how deeply — by the harsh punishment they received for the same offense as that of a white student.

But the good news is that there is also a body of evidence that shows that schools that issue fewer suspensions have higher achievement scores for all students — black and white.


Latest News, Race Relations


This is really a disturbing

Submitted by brandonjames on

This is really a disturbing news. This type of partiality would effect both the black and white students. Schools are supposed to teach good things to students. Seeing the teachers doing this white students could also treat their fellow black students badly. This should be stopped.
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Why Does This Shock People?

Submitted by CSUSM-21F2012 on

People are so caught up in their own personal little lives that they are so blinded by the fact that racism no longer exists. Hello, it’s not going anywhere! Yes, we have come a long way but racism is still alive and well. You would think that a school district would set a better example for racism but clearly it still exists. I believe based on these findings that the school needs to make an example out of the teachers who discipline blacks more severely than whites for the same action. The teachers should be held accountable and disciplined for their poor judgment. I know that teachers do not make a lot of money and for most of them it’s like running a free day care service so I can see their frustration. However, that gives them no right to treat children differently. Their actions are justifying racism and it is unjust. We all need to be treated equally.

Race punishments

Submitted by CSUSM-5F2012 on

As a psychology major, I recently read about self-fulfilling prophecies which is defined to be a person’s expected outcome, in a situation, of a certain individual and then it becomes true once the situation has happened. Therefore a teacher may expect that certain students wouldn’t do so well in their class due to their situation of possibility of low economic status or low IQ. This is somehow a biased opinion, which is unfortunate since teachers should care for each one of his or her students.
So for the reason as the black race receiving more punishment than the white race in school might be due to this self-fulfilling prophecy of teachers, principles, and administrators. Because it may have been a trend at school that the black students might be more of a troublemaker than a white student, the teacher would assume that the black student would label him right away as a troublemaker and once the bad act has happened in the classroom, the teacher would unconsciously bring up the troublemaker label hence, the harsher punishment. However each situation should be taken into consideration. If a child cheats on homework that would be a much different punishment for cheating on all homework and tests. But since school has so many administrators to discuss the punishment and follow the handbook of the school, I don’t understand how punishment could be different for different races. No matter what, these children need help and need role models to help them steer away from bad influences in order to keep them from these punishments. Only in a perfect world, right?

Sad but true

Submitted by CSUSM-24F2012 on

This article is quite interesting. However, I would like to know the location the sample schools in which these statistics where obtained. We so often buy into these nation wide statistics without truly knowing what geographical area the sample population is based off. For example, there could be a school in which African American children outnumber every other race, say 5% of black students and 5% of whites were suspended. The quantity of blacks suspended is still going to be higher than that of whites. However, I do not doubt this statistical study, I find it quite true and disturbing. Whether you like to admit it or not Americans are still highly prejudice. The stigma of blacks being, troublemakers, thugs, or thieves is still sadly ingrained into our society. We see it time and time again. Cops arrest and harass minorities far more often then they do whites. I have been pulled over and before being told why, I was asked, “do you have any guns drugs, weed, cocaine, or knives”. America is still a highly racist country, and it isn’t going to change anytime soon. It is not our fault, I believe as humans and observational creatures we question and draw skepticism towards others who are different than us. This skepticism is not just directed towards blacks but other ethnicities as well. It is just pathetic that the discriminatory views of this nation are still seen in our educational system. Our educational system should serve a safe haven for kids, in which they do not have to worry about the real life prejudices they encounter outside of school. Something needs to be done fast before American public education loses its credibility more than it already has.

Valid Point!

Submitted by CSUSM-21F2012 on

I could not agree with you more! It is extremely important to know the geographical location before making snap judgments about statistics. This statistic could be pulled from Africa for all we know. However, regardless of the statistic I believe that it is pretty well known among at least college students that racism is alive and well. I agree with you, America is still a racist country, as are cops, and many white people. We as a society need to do more to help change this terrible epidemic and make our “educational system a safe haven for our children”. Great post!

black vs. white punishment

Submitted by CSULB-18F2012 on

This article is interesting because it speaks about how blacks are mostly penalized for bad judgments or not acting accordingly by "white" teachers, but where are the statistics for the black teachers punishing the white society? I can't deny that people do still have a prejudical view on certain races, but that goes both ways for blacks and whites. You have to look at the facts that it is unfortunate, that according to this article that the black students come from a low income family and/or single parent up-bringing which may be the cause of their actions. Students voice or project how they feel often times in the wrong way because they do not know who to speak to about their problems. Disciplinary acts exist to establish rules because without rules this world would be crazy. These students need to understand from what is right and what is wrong, but what is interesting that was stated at the end that fewer detentions show that black and white students have higher scores; if this is the case then I think they need to find a better method to express discipline to students so they don't feel depressed or lash out with bad behavior.

self-fulfilling prophecy

Submitted by CSUSM-34F2012 on

There is a phenomenon known as the self-fulfilling prophecy: if we call them bad kids, we give them permission to be bad and, to make it worse, we don’t give them a choice to be anything else. A good teacher knows that; however, good teachers don’t just miraculously appear like Mary Poppins; good teachers are groomed. Ironically, inner city school teachers are, according to this article, the least trained educators in the nation and are ill-prepared to challenge their own stereotypes and move beyond them. In theory, probably most of us would like to believe that we treat everybody equally and are not racist, but stereotypes can be so deeply ingrained that they are hard to shake off. In stressful situations, when our judgment is somewhat clouded, they resurface, and a room full of 35 middle schoolers can be a stressful situation. We revert to what we know best, which is punishing the black kid, because that’s what we saw our own teachers do years ago and we still keep seeing it on the mass media; the black kid who is wearing the baseball cap backwards must be the bad guy. Unfortunately, a teacher’s thoughtlessness can have such grave consequences for minority students, depriving them of a real chance to break out of the vicious cycle of stereotypes and racism. Instead of learning that they are valued members of society, they learn that they are troublemakers. It takes a great teacher with a strong personality who was trained by a great mentor to recognize his or her own short-comings and try to set a better example. And when they do so – boy, do they make a difference!