Middle School Suspension Report

Last Updated: September 28, 2010

This article appeared in the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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A new report looks closely at federal data on school suspensions to determine the impact of harsh exclusionary discipline on students and on schools. The report, “Suspended Education,” is authored by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles and Russell Skiba of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University.

The report examines the frequency of the use of suspension, analyzes suspensions by the race/ethnicity of students, and follows trends over time.

Notably, the report focuses on middle schools. Although few studies separate middle school suspension data from other grades, which tends to mask the frequency of suspension use in middle grades, several studies that do disaggregate middle school data suggest that suspensions in middle grades have significant long-term effects on students and are associated with higher rates of dropping out, school failure, and incarceration. The study adds to a growing body of research questioning the fairness and effectiveness of zero-tolerance policies, which often mandate suspensions for a wide variety of offenses including mundane adolescent behaviors like dress code violations, vague offenses like “disrespect,” and acts of serious violence.

In the urban districts studied by the researchers, the racial gap in suspension rates is significant, with black male students suspended at much higher rates than other students.

The study recommends that policymakers increase the collection of data on school discipline, especially data that is disaggregated by race and gender, and that schools utilize behavior management methods that keep students in school. The researchers also call for the U.S. Department of Education to identify schools with very high suspension rates and to address unlawful discrimination using the authority of its Office of Civil Rights.

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Coverage about the report’s findings:

The report, "Suspended Education" along with additional information is available on the Southern Poverty Law Center website:

Read more from the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.