Suspensions and expulsions have been on the rise since 1999 when several black students were expelled from Decatur High School, triggering a national debate on race and discipline. Since that year, suspensions of black students have increased a remarkable 74.5% statewide while suspensions of whites have declined by 5.4%. Critics of this data contend the sudden spike is attributable to increased reporting. But we argue that African Americans are being over-disciplined, a phenomenon that results in severe disruptions to their long-term educational achievement.
Three years ago, Chicago Public Schools announced an end to its zero-tolerance discipline policy and the embrace of "restorative justice," which favors counseling over punitive measures. Some schools have experimented with positive behavior interventions - school-wide programs that target hard-core troublemakers and reward good behavior. These policies have yet to become the norm. According to Catalyst magazine, among big city school districts, CPS ranks at or near the top in suspensions. In 2008 an astounding 1 in 4 black males was suspended at least once. Surely, some observers will argue that this is appropriate: throw out the bad, keep the good. Yet a deeper look shows something different.
The causes of over-disciplining reside at the intersection of family poverty, under-funded schools, inadequate teacher training and deeply-rooted cultural biases in the way administrators and students of color respond to each other. It explains why some students get a slap on the wrist for fighting while others get a ride to the police station.