A Better Understanding of School Suspensions: Bias, Policy Impact, and Student Experiences

Public Deposited

Recently, much public attention has been focused on racial inequalities in who is subjected to exclusionary school disciplinary policies, and consequently, forced to miss hours of instruction. Over the past two decades, researchers have documented the disparate impacts that zero-tolerance policies have had on students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities (Advancement Project, 2000; Browne, 2003; Losen & Gillespie, 2012; Losen & Skiba, 2010; Skiba et al., 2002; Skiba & Peterson, 1999; Welch & Payne, 2010). Government officials at both the federal and local level are increasing efforts to guide school districts away from suspension policies and towards less punitive discipline strategies (Owens 2015, Willert 2015). National statistics show that there has been a decrease in out-of-school suspensions. During the 2015-2016 school year, 2.7 million students received one or more out-of-school suspensions--an almost 22 percent decrease from just four years earlier (US Department of Education, 2018). Yet, racial and gender disparities remain. For example, black male students make up 8 percent of the student population, but 25 percent of all students who received an out-of-school suspension. Comparatively, white females represent 24 percent of the student population, but account for only 8 percent of all students who received at least one out-of-school suspension (Ibid 2018). These racial disparities are particularly distressing since out-of-school suspensions are significantly correlated with poor attendance, lower academic achievement, high school dropout, juvenile justice system involvement, and unemployment (Advancement Project, 2000; Baker et al, 2001; Browne, 2003; Eaton, 2010; Fabelo et al, 2011; MacGillivary et al, 2008; Monahan et al., 2014; Sweeten, 2006; Wehlage & Rutter, 1986). ', 'Despite growth in the literature on school suspensions and discipline, there are still several areas that are not well understood. My dissertation helps address some of these gaps. In my first study, I explore whether bias contributes to the current gender and racial disparities in out-of-school suspensions by examining how gender and race bias influences adult perceptions of youth as troublemakers. Additionally, I analyze how students’ gender and race influence teachers’ interpretations of and responses to students’ actions. My second study builds a causal understanding of how Chicago’s suspension reduction policy impacts student outcomes. The current literature has little empirical evidence of the causal relationship between suspensions and student outcomes. While previous studies link suspensions to bad academic and life outcomes, there is little to indicate that this relationship is causal. There could be many reasons why suspended students receive poor grades and have more interactions with the juvenile justice system that have nothing to do with suspension themselves. I use the difference-in-differences method to estimate the causal relationship between suspension reductions and freshmen year academic and nonacademic outcomes. Finally, my last study uses qualitative data to develop an understanding of students’ suspension experiences and how they talk about fairness throughout the suspension process.

Last modified
  • 10/28/2019
Date created
Resource type
Rights statement