One in 9 students in middle and high schools in the 2009-2010 school year were suspended at least once, according to a new report by a civil rights group concerned that the high suspension rate may be pushing kids to drop out of school altogether.
Most out-of-school suspensions were handed out for relatively minor infractions, such as violating the dress code or using a cellphone, the UCLA's Civil Rights Project found in the report, called "Out of School and Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools."
The report estimated that 2 million students were suspended that year, based on discipline data from 26,000 middle and high schools. That figure doesn't include the more serious punishment of expulsion, or the number of students who faced in-school suspensions.
The report highlighted racial disparities in suspensions, an issue the U.S. Education Department is investigating in several school districts, including Los Angeles. A quarter of black students in middle and high school were suspended during the year, compared with 7.1 percent of white students. One in 3 black middle school males was suspended at least once, the report found.
Some schools had a particularly high rate of suspensions. In 519 of the high schools studied, more than half the student body had been suspended over the course of a year. Out of all the school districts studied, Chicago had the most secondary schools (82) that suspended at least a quarter of their student body in the year period.
The report's authors argue that students who are suspended are more likely to drop out of school altogether. They point out that students who are suspended might not be supervised by an adult for the duration of their out-of-school time, which they believe makes it an ineffective form of discipline.
A survey by Education Week found that 4 in 10 teachers and administrators said the ability to suspend and expel students is a good way to maintain a safe school environment. More than 75 percent of those surveyed, however, said in-school suspension is the most effective way to address misbehavior.
This is not the first study to point out the growing percentage of students who are sent away from school as punishment. A 2011 study by the Council of State Governments followed every single Texas 7th-grader throughout high school and found that the vast majority—60 percent—were suspended, expelled or faced in-school suspensions by the time they graduated.