Misbehavior and Negative Attitudes Do Not Explain the High Suspension Rates of Black Students

There have been wide-ranging studies and data on the significantly higher rates of suspension and expulsion of African American K-12 students compared to Whites and students from other ethnic groups. But two studies, led by a researcher at the University of Missouri, finds that differences in misbehavior and negative attitudes cannot explain why Black students are suspended at higher rates.

Francis Huang, an assistant professor of education examined data from two studies; one a national survey of high school students and a survey of high school students in Virginia. Dr. Huang found that, although some differences existed among races in certain types of misbehavior, these differences could not explain the disproportionalities in suspension rates.

“Student attitudes and actual misbehaviors are very strong predictors for whether a student will be suspended, which means that suspensions are not entirely arbitrary,” Dr. Huang said. “Regardless of race, students who expressed aggressive or negative attitudes toward school, their teachers and their peers were much more likely to be suspended than students with more positive attitudes or who did not engage in misbehaviors such as fighting at school, drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. However, the reported attitudes supporting these misbehaviors were very similar for both Black and White students, despite Black students being suspended more.”

Dr. Huang recommends that “schools find alternatives to suspensions as they hurt students’ abilities to succeed academically. The more school students miss, the farther behind they fall in their school work and the more likely they are to get into trouble. It is a vicious cycle. Schools can take steps to lessen the need for suspensions by implementing interventions that reduce aggressive behaviors and attitudes, since those are the most likely reasons why students are suspended.”

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  1. Frank Golden says:

    I think that the language that is used towards other students and teachers may have a great deal to do with higher suspension rates for black students than white students. In my experience black students use much more derogatory language when they are upset. If a student has a negative attitude towards a teacher and says “whatever, I don’t care what you say” and walks out of the class, they are more likely to get ISS or in school suspension. A student who says “f you b” and walks out of class may face expulsion. The same negative attitude towards the same teacher, with the same actions BUT different vocabulary makes a world of difference; not only in the level of disrespect towards the teacher, but the disciplinary action taken against the student as well.

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