A study tracking the disciplinary records of nearly a million Texas students exposed some startling findings:
Nearly 60 percent of the students were suspended or expelled at least once during middle school or high school. About 31 percent of the students received an out-of-school suspension.
About 15 percent were suspended or expelled 11 times or more. About half of those students ended up in the juvenile justice system.
Students disciplined 11 times or more showed lower graduation rates, with only 40 percent graduating from high school during the study period. About one-third of students disciplined one or more times repeated grades.
Minority students faced harsher disciplinary measures than white students and were more often given out-of-school suspensions or placed in alternative classrooms, according to the study.
The report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center is unprecedented in its scope, following students over a six year period from 7th to 12th grade. Its findings put a harsh focus on the effectiveness of school discipline policies as well as the racial disparities found in the system.
While media coverage in The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle and The Washington Post examined the shortcomings of trying to manage student behavior through discipline, the sheer numbers of students disciplined, or the fact that African-American students were more likely to be disciplined, it is also worthwhile to look at the findings for Latino students.
Like African-American students, Latinos faced higher rates of disciplinary measures than white students. About 74 percent of Latino male students had at least one disciplinary violation, compared to 59 percent of white male students. Among female students, about 58 percent of Latinas had a disciplinary violation, compared to 37 percent of their white counterparts.
About 18 percent of Hispanic students were given out-of-school suspensions for their first disciplinary violation, almost twice the rate of white students.
In addition, about one in five Latino students were charged with repeated conduct violations, compared to one in 10 white students.
Do your districts’ discipline records reveal similar trends? Are Latino and other minority students being disciplined more often or facing harsher punishment than white students?
If you haven’t requested discipline records from the schools you cover, it might be a good time to do so–even if that means filing a FOIA request. Find out if advocacy groups in your area are tracking this issue: They already might have done some groundwork. If your district will let you, try to visit an in-school suspension classroom or alternative classroom setting. How does the curriculum in those classrooms compare to regular classes? It could give you insight into why these students fall so far behind.