City Desk

Why Black Kids Get Suspended More: Turn To The Post’s Comments

The Post has a new report up showing that black students in the Washington area are suspended and expelled "two to five times as often" as white students:

Last year, for example, one in seven black students in St. Mary’s County were suspended from school, compared with one in 20 white students. In Alexandria, black students were nearly six times as likely to be suspended as their white peers.

In Fairfax, where the suicide in January of a white high school football player who had been suspended brought an outcry for change, African American students were four times as likely that year to be suspended as white students, and Hispanic students were twice as likely.

The problems extend beyond the Washington area to school districts across the country and are among a host of concerns about school discipline that sparked a joint effort by the U.S. Justice and Education departments in July to look into reforms.

Experts say disparities appear to have complex causes. A disproportionate number of black students live below the poverty line or with a single parent, factors that affect disciplinary patterns. But experts say those factors do not fully explain racial differences in suspensions. Other contributing factors could include unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles.

Donna St. George interviewed an array of school officials and parents who note that a huge part of the problem is the suspension-happy treatment of discretionary offenses. When committing these non-violent infractions, black students are far more likely to be punished more harshly than whites who commit the exact same offenses. Meanwhile, poverty and its attendant behavioral issues don't entirely explain why, as one researcher pointed out, "affluent black kids get suspended more than affluent white kids."

It's always dangerous to dive into the comment sections of newspaper stories, but the piece has picked up a notable 3,400 comments since it ran yesterday. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone in the comment section is an expert on the behavior of blacks, and it doesn't take much to find miles of racist and uninformed musings. A sampling:

Ms. St. George... Has it occurred to the you that "In Washington area, African American students suspended and expelled two to five times as often as whites" because African American students COMMIT OFFENSES warranting suspension and expulsion with two to five times the FREQUENCY of whites?

And:

The problem is that Blacks break the rules more often so they get suspended more often. Its time we teach all of our children ethics and morality and how to act properly. This problem can be fixed if we fix the overly permissive, excuse making culture in our society. (Basically liberal Democrats) This corrupted culture seems to be negatively affecting minorities much more than whites.

And:

Is Donna St. George aware that black people refer to making good grades and attending school every day, "acting white"? If so, she failed to mention it in her article. For anyone wanting the answer to this "problem", simply Google "black pathology".

And:

This article is ridiculous. Black students get suspended more because their behavior is awful. Their culture has been corrupted. They are mostly being raised by a mother only. They have no positive male role models. The women are getting pregnant on a whim. The morals and ethics of the poor black person is horrific. Stop blaming the schools for mythological racial bias. Start blaming black people who just simply have worse behavior. Liberals are just making the situation worse for Black people.

Obviously, race-based stories like this tend to attract the angry id of racism, but when these kinds of viewpoints still exist, it's not a surprise that black kids are being sent to the principal's office and getting written up more frequently than their white counterparts. The comments, in other words, may do an even better job than the story does of explaining the phenomenon.

Photo by Colette Cassinelli

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  • Jane

    Any time the Post prints an article on race the comments are filled with the most ridiculous racist and vile nonsense imaginable. What few reasonable remarks there are end up drowned out by "Black people are just inferior! Damn this politically correct culture!"

  • Mrs. D

    This is also partially a function of the poor state of education, leading people to be unable to engage in mid-level reading comprehension and critical thinking. The piece makes the point very clearly that there is a statistically significant difference in the treatment of black/hispanic students and white students when controlling for everything from income to household composition (i.e., are there two parents present in the home) to severity of the offense, but these urchins are simply unable to comprehend what that means. Others dismiss the scientific method and solid statistical methods outright, which is also a process of a lack of education. This is incredibly telling about the state and value of education in our society, and it's the thing that makes me the most pessimistic about our future.

    Sure, some of these commenters are simply convinced they're right, regardless of the science, and that's terrible as well. We SHOULD have come much further since the civil rights movement, and the attitudes reveal that we have a long way to go. But comments such as these, oblivious to the fact that the "bad behavior" and "poor morals and ethics of the household" they speak of have been controlled for, scare me the most. We're living amongst morons, creating a generation of naval-gazers, and those who break that mold (black, white, or otherwise) are demonized. Funny how the one person comments on how going to school and getting good grades is "acting white" for blacks, while failing to acknowledge that the same behavior is now viewed as "elitist" by a vocal, politically powerful minority of whites. Before you comment on the speck in someone else's eye, perhaps remove the log from your own.

  • Tara

    My goal for 2012 is to stop reading the comment sections on Web sites. I always feel icky afterwards. I can't believe people are that vile and nasty.

  • J.

    Oh, yes. Blame the people who comment on stories than the actual criminals at hand. This could be the said for stories involving adults too. Shouldn't you be more worried about the actual crime and violence at hand than some keyboard warriors?

    Nice way to scapegoat the issue. Nobody is suspending those kids but themselves. What ever happened to personal responsiblity? I guess it is easier to blame strangers on the internet...SMH. The writer of this should be ashamed...

  • Shani Hilton

    @J. Can you read? Let's try this again:

    Donna St. George interviewed an array of school officials and parents who note that a huge part of the problem is the suspension-happy treatment of discretionary offenses. When committing these non-violent infractions, black students are far more likely to be punished more harshly than whites who commit the exact same offenses.

  • P.

    We all know that kids are acting crazy these days - white, black, asian etc. Some of the comments referred to the metro and buses etc. These kids are bored at home and are using public transit as a playground. I dont condone the vulgar language and fighting - but its DC's responsibility to find places for teens to hang out in a moderated environment.

  • B-DC

    "The comments, in other words, may do an even better job than the story does of explaining the phenomenon."

    EXACTLY!!!

    And @ J above was probably one of the racist commenters on the post...

  • James Levy

    Whatever the truth of this story is, what DCPS needs is In-School-Suspension (ISS) so any child, whatever their hue, who disrupts a classroom and prevents the teacher from doing an adequate job of teaching can be removed, yet not cut out of school. BTW I am a DCPS teacher and I love ALL my students, but it breaks my heart to see the way a small group of unhappy children can shut down a classroom with their behavior.

  • J.

    @P- "ts DC's responsibility to find places for teens to hang out in a moderated environment." Are you serious? It's the PARENTS JOB!!!! DC should not raise your child. How bout parents start looking after their little hell raisers. Stop pushing the blame on other people!!!

    @BDC- and you are probably the one with a criminal record. But just blame commenters online, if that helps you sleep at night...

  • Bob

    How significant is it that Black Teachers and Black Principles are also suspending Black Students at a higher rate than White Students?

    It kind of throws the "racism" tag on it's head and begs for a more in depth approach than Ms. St George implies doesn't it?

    Also, the data FOR THE DC REGION did /NOT/ say that Blacks were suspended MORE OFTEN than Whites for the same offense. THE DATA IN TEXAS said that. Texas /= DC

  • Shani Hilton

    It holds true for the D.C. region---if you consider Maryland close enough.
    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2011/12/30/more-on-black-kids-and-suspensions/

  • J.

    @ Shani- yes, I could read. "lack students are far more likely to be punished more harshly than whites who commit the exact same offenses." So, your natural inclination is to assume EVERYONE is racist??? Did you take into consideration previous offensives? The severity of the crime? Is this supposed to be hard hitting reporting? Or just "Oh, look. Poor black kids are being punished more. EVERYONE is racist, including those horrible, evil online commenters." Maybe dig into the story first before you go off calling everyone a racist. Then you might find your answer.

    And look at the world around you. Black men of any age are more likely to be put in jail because they CAUSE THE MOST CRIME!!!! What did I just say is not a fact? Look it up. I'm sure you already know the answer. But i'm sure you will just call me racist and offer no evidence to help your cause....

  • Ed

    @Shani: Your comments and those of Blacks like you are a trip and are frankly the prime reason why the Black community is in the situation it is in. I'm Black, I state this fact since you seem to believe all of the commentators who found fault with the study can't read or are simply racists.

    I went to school in this area, a school that was and is still considered the worst public high school in Northern Virginia. I called BS on the study and posted on the Washington Post.

    I transferred from a mostly white private school in the 7th grade to public school. It was immediately made clear by my black classmates that speaking well was "speaking white" so don't act like this doesn't exist. I also was treated to Black classmates who thought nothing of fighting and acting rudely towards each other and more shocking to me coming from a Catholic School to teachers.

    All of the incidents I can recall involved Blacks. Out of all of the numerous fights that I witnessed at school none that I can recall involved non-Blacks exclusively. I'm sure they happened but I never saw it.

    Also the study showed a disparity in PG and DC as well. I personally know in PG most of the teachers and administrators are Black so are we to believe these Black educators are also racist?

    I understand that you may take offense to comments that say "Blacks do this or that". I think most making the comments realize that not all Blacks act this way but the fact remains a disproportinate amount do. That's my concern. You and people like you do a disservice stifling debate by denouncing everyone who is critical of your views as racist. The research was faulty in its conclusion. No one disputes that there is a disparity. We are disputing what the article and the researchers conclude is the cause. They say racism, I and the majority of commentators believe it is the behavior of students themselves.

    Frankly I think the disparity is due more to culture than race. My parents are from Ghana and I have a feeling if the researchers broke out the Black students from a immigrant background and those who are not. The Black students from a immigrant background will show much lower suspension rates. Which would further show race is not the cause. I suggested to the researcher that he do just that.

  • Shani Hilton

    @Ed: where to start? Again (and again, and again) no one is disputing that black kids commit a higher proportion of violent offenses. But neither you nor anyone arguing that black kids have worse behavior are acknowledging that when committing the same offenses as white kids, black kids get punished more harshly. That bears out on the criminal justice level as well, with sentencing disparities. There's more to this story than bad behavior---and that's something that someone, probably me, will have to do more digging into.

    Re: first generation immigrant kids, yes, you're right that behavior is different. And as the child of a Jamaican immigrant, I've heard lots of complaints from family members about black American culture. But take look back at the problems with education and crime in the homeland. The people who leave the Caribbean and West Africa tend to be exceptionally well-educated and driven, so of course they produce kids who are getting a different upbringing. You call it "culture," but it's just socioeconomic status.

  • J.

    I believe Shani was doing her(his?) best to defend blacks but all she did was reenforce stereotypes. So you think black kids get suspended more? Ok. Instead of asking why, she screams "RACISM!!!" at any and anyone who doesn't share the same views. Are some online commenters racist? Sure. But that is beside the point. An online poster most likely has NOTHING to do with the issue at hand. These are about school kids and teachers. Why not look to them for answers? Instead, you jump on the Jesse and Al bandwagon with the finger pointing. Look for answers yourself (as a reporter) and don't blame people who are most likely better citizens then the people you report about!!!!

  • J.

    You answered you own question Shani- "no one is disputing that black kids commit a higher proportion of violent offenses"

    So what is left to argue about? You do the crime, you do the time. End of story.

  • Ed

    @Shani: A researcher quoted in the article took to the comment section because he may have been stunned how one side the comments were against the article and by extension the study.

    He admits that he had a hard time getting the data of first time offenses that the best he could do was North Carolina.

    You know I will readily concede that Black kids may not get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to subjective options in regards to punishment. However I still don't believe that is the cause of the lion share of the specific disparity that you cite. It could simply be the black kids behavior prior to the incident while worrisome did not rise to the level of suspension and now it does and they want to get the message across. Considering what is in store for young black boys in particular who do not take school severely frankly I think more discipline is needed not less. If you don't get to these kids by 13 and 14 the consequences can be grave.

    Also don't be so quick to write this off to socioeconomic background the study found the same disparity exists between affluent whites and affluent blacks.

    You're right Black immigrants in America are more or less a result of favorable self-selection. The more ambitious find a way to get here especially in this area. However Seattle just released a study that found a gap between its African population and African Americans in terms of academic performance.

    What's interesting to note is their African population almost entirely consists of impoverished refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia. At any rate I look forward to any research you may choose to do on this subject. Happy New Year.

    Oh BTW I agree with your family 100% :)

  • An Immigrant

    @Shani, some of the current Caribbean immigrants who come here are well-educated and brought up. The earlier crop who came here in the 1960s and 1970s were not. They were the dregs of society who came and did well upon Black American backs. If it weren't for Black Americans and their fight for civil rights, all the immigrants in this country who are non-White wouldn't have a pot to piss in. I pay homage to what was done before us. But you're right. We come here with a goal to succeed. We don't come here to be homeless. However, I did meet one of my countryman who was homeless last night. Long story he said.

  • Greg Thrasher

    The disproportional rates of suspensions between Black and white students in the DC area of course is not a newsflash to many interests including of course Black parents contempt for Black students is similar to what their parents encounter. The soft bigotry of low expectations shares the lesson plan with disparate rates of expulsion and suspensions for Black students. The landscape of academic success in our nation for Black students is full of obstacles navigation is perilous in all levels of education in our nation from kindergarten to the university venue for Black students.

    The more important issue now is how can Black families and their students navigate around these inequities and obstacles. Black parents must develop their own lesson guide to disarm educational officials , teachers and even students who discount the educational goals of Black students. We must embrace our own self worth that we are worthy of respect and our offspring deserves superior educational efforts and outcomes. Black parents must develop strategies that equipped them to combat , reject and influence educational systems that have contempt for our offspring.

    Instead of lamenting the horrors of a destructive pathological educational system that has contempt for Black students now is the time to developed our own lesson plans that produce motivated students and students who can themselves defeat the waves of contempt for them that exist in our classrooms across the DC region and our nation.

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