More than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or cases referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or African-American, according to a new Education Department report. The report, which was released earlier this week, raises questions about racial disparity in public school discipline.
Black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled, reports the Associated Press. The findings come from a national collection of civil rights data from 2009-10 of more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation.
The Washington Post noted similar findings in its study of school discipline in the Washington, D.C. area earlier this year. "Black students are suspended and expelled two to five times as often as white students" in both the city and the suburbs.
The reason for this disparity is as complex as it is contentious. Some argue the reason for the disparity is that a disproportionate number of black students live below the poverty line or with a single parent, factors that affect disciplinary patterns. But experts say those factors do not fully explain racial differences in suspensions. Other contributing factors could include unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles.
It is easy to look at the numbers and assume that minority students misbehave more than their peers, but that isn't the case. Minority students do not act up more than their peers, according to research done by Russell Skiba, professor of education at Indiana University, Bloomington, "If you look at kids in the same district in the same school, there is no data that African American kids are actually engaging in more severe behaviors that lead to a higher percentage of expulsions and suspensions," he said in an interview with the Huffington Post.