AISD’s Suspension Situation

U.S. Department of Education runs a study

AISD’s Suspension Situation

Data released by the U.S. Department of Education last week shows that black students in the Austin Independent School District are suspended and expelled at rates two-to-three times higher than their enrollment rates.

Although black students account for roughly 8% of AISD’s total enrollment, they make up nearly one-quarter of out-of-school suspensions and close to 20% of expulsions and in-school suspensions. The data, compiled by the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights, also showed that white students account for 26% of enrollment but only about half of that figure when it comes to suspensions and expulsions.

The Civil Rights Data Collection report is conducted every other year, so this report references numbers gathered during the 2015-2016 school year. The report includes self-reported data from 17,300 public school districts and 96,400 public schools and is used by the federal agency to “ensure that recipients of the Department’s Federal financial assistance do not discriminate” on the basis of race, gender, disability status and other factors, according to the report’s website.

The district’s Hispanic population – which makes up 58% of total enrollment – is disciplined at rates largely proportional to enrollment numbers. The biggest discrepancy concerns in-school suspensions, in which Hispanic students account for 63% of suspensions. Cases in which a student’s behavior is referred to law enforcement also stand out: Rates for white and Hispanic students roughly equal their enrollment figures, but cases involving black students occur at about triple the rate of their enrollment.

Drilling deeper into the data reveals more alarming statistics about how students are disciplined across Austin ISD schools. At over 13%, black and American Indian or Alaska Native male students without disabilities receive out-of-school suspensions at roughly double the rate of male students without disabilities who belong to “two or more” racial groups – the demographic group with the next highest rate of suspensions. Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander female students without disabilities receive, by far, the lion’s share of suspensions at 13%, while black female students receive a disproportionate 8.4% of suspensions. Comparatively, white male students receive 2.5% of suspensions, while white female students receive just 0.8% of them.

Experts are undecided on the root cause of this disparity. Some point to poverty rates, which disproportionately affect students of color; however, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found in 2014 that black students were suspended and expelled at disproportionate rates in public schools across the nation, and the trends “were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended.”

The findings appeared to pierce the notion that the disparity in disciplinary action was a result of poverty, so experts are now looking at what role racial bias stemming from disparities in teacher demographics plays in the problem. Data from the Texas Education Agency shows that, across the state, white teachers occupied 60% of full-time equivalent positions in the 2015-2016 school year. Similarly, data requested from TEA by the Texas Tribune shows a similar disparity in Austin schools. Although students of color account for over two-thirds of total enrollment, teachers of color are only employed in about one-third of teaching positions.

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