Tuesday, August 09, 2022

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II.     Is the Frequent Use of Suspension Educationally Necessary and Justifiable?

The data clearly demonstrate that some student subgroups receive a disproportionate number of exclusionary punishments. However, it may be useful to address a frequently suggested explanation *391 for some of the largest disparities: that some children--especially Black children--simply misbehave more than others.

One problem with answering this question is that without neutral observers in classrooms, there is no objective baseline for comparison. One can imagine that a teacher's snap judgment to refer a student for suspension may be influenced by a multitude of additional subjective considerations including the relationship the teacher has with the student, and with the child's parents. Both cultural and class differences may influence these relationships and judgments. If we assume that unconscious racial bias is pervasive, and varied in degrees, one would expect that teachers in the aggregate would have a greater tendency to perceive that Black students were more often misbehaving, and that this perceptual tendency would show up in higher punishments for Blacks for offenses that involve more subjective judgment (e.g., insubordination, disruption). Unconscious bias against Black students would unlikely manifest itself as blatant different treatment. Instead, one might expect to see subtle bias reflected in sizeable disparities in rates of discipline for certain racial groups over a year or more.

Ultimately, asserting that a higher frequency of misbehavior explains stark racial disparities in suspensions skirts the central question under “disparate impact.” That is whether frequently suspending students out-of-school is a sound educational policy response to the wide range of misbehaviors at issue. That said, it is worth noting the evidence of different treatment from a variety of sources.