Unfair School Discipline Bad Kids? Worse Policy

Ocr Data On Suspensions

Nearly 40 years later, not only do racial disparities persist but suspensions are used more widely and at an earlier age. More than 5,000 preschool students were given out-of-school suspensions in 2011-12—and more than half of those students were suspended more than once. As Vera found in a recent review of zero tolerance in schools, these policies make neither schools nor students safer.  

As we approach the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education this spring, it may be instructive to evaluate the recent data from the Office of Civil Rights in light of the broader issue of racial segregation in public education. As cities, suburbs and neighborhoods have become more racially and ethnically integrated over the last generation, schools have retained high levels of segregation. And segregated remains unequal. How can public policymakers support integrated districts and schools in their efforts to fairly educate all students?

In the contemporary policy arena, such questions are not as urgent or as popular. However, a new report from the Civil Rights Project / Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA reminds us that close to home in New York, integration remains elusive. The most recent analysis of schools in New York shows them to be the most racially segregated in the nation.

There is broad political support for closing the opportunity gap for students of color. Since there is evidence that segregated schools and harsh school discipline thwart these students’ chances for success, policymakers need to find ways to address both.

Safety and order in schools does not have to come at the cost of fairness. While all youth should be held responsible for their behavior, adults should take responsibility for their behavior too. In responding to young people in school, parents, teachers, advocates and administrators can work together in the best interests of all children to reform and improve school discipline.