From the press release:
This first-ever breakdown of nearly 7,000 districts found that 17% of African American students nationwide received an out-of-school suspension compared to about 5% of White students. The comparable rate for Latinos was 7%. The data analyzed covered about 85% of the nation’s public school students. The suspension rates were equally striking for students with disabilities and revealed that an estimated 13% of all students with disabilities were suspended nationally, approximately twice the rate of their non-disabled peers.The data from the report is in a spreadsheet and it is easy to isolate the data from Seattle. That doesn't mean that the data is easy to understand. Some parts are clear. The suspension rate for White students was 3.4%, the same as it was for Asian groups combined and Asian and Pacific Islander. There were higher rates for Hispanic students, 7.9%, for American Indian or Alaska Native, 10.8%, and highest for Black students, 15.2%. Students with disabilities were suspended at higher rates than the total population, 16.0% vs. 6.5%. The highest rate of all was for 31.6% for Black students with disabilities.
The real disturbing story, however, is at the district level. This review covers school districts across the country, from every state, and it found that in nearly 200 districts, 20% or more of the total enrolled students in K-12 were suspended out of school at least once. The numbers are more shocking when broken down by race and disability. For all students with disabilities, regardless of race, over 400 districts suspended 25% or more of these students. Black students with disabilities were most at risk for out-of-school suspension with an alarming 25% national average for all districts in the sample.
Seattle's data, as you can see, is a bit higher than average for most other large districts.
I know that a lot of folks take this data as conclusive evidence of institutional racism. I don't dispute that, but I'm troubled when they don't see even more dramatically disproportionate discipline rates between boys and girls as conclusive evidence of institutional sexism. Whatever they say about this data and race can be said again about similar data and gender.
Here's what I do know. Out of school suspensions don't help students learn, don't strengthen the suspended students' relationship with the school, and don't help the students to adopt the school culture.
The question is not whether or not the students are breaking the rules at disproportionate rates. The question is whether or not the rules are consistent with the students's cultural and social norms outside of school. Institutional racism isn't the overt and intentional kind. We really need a different name for it that doesn't trigger such a strong defensive response. Maybe we should just call it ethno-centrism. It's more like the common and un-intentional presumption that other people are like you and most of the other folks that you know from your culture who do things your way, have your values, eat food like you, live in families like yours, consume media like you, and share your set of social norms for behavior and etiquette. All of those are not natural human things, but specific cultural things.
Let's put it this way. Which of these restaurants serve ethnic food:
- The Mawada Cafe - serves shwarma and falafel
- Hing Loon - serves salt & pepper crispy fried fish and hot pots
- El Queztal - serves tortas and tacos
- The Wedgwood Broiler - serves pork chops and roast turkey
The answer is ALL OF THEM. White is not some neutral state of non-ethnicity from which everything else is a deviation. Northern and Western European culture is just one among equals. It may be dominant here, but it is not exclusive.
As to the disproportionate discipline directed to students with disabilities, that's just horrid. Something seriously needs to be done. Our schools and our school cultures should better match the needs of the students.