This study is based upon a longitudinal analysis of data for a cohort of 181,897 Florida state students who were first time 9th graders in the 2000-01 school year and follows them trough to high school and post-secondary outcomes. Analysis of 9th grade suspension data finds that black students, students who are economically disadvantaged, and special education students are three demographics subgroups that are disproportionately suspended, both in the frequency of suspensions and the duration in number of school days lost. While poverty and ethnicity are themselves highly correlated, poverty alone does not explain the disproportionate suspension rates amongst black students. Further analyses show that out-of-school suspensions in the 9th grade year are also significantly and negatively correlated to later high school graduation as well as post-secondary enrolment and persistence. Thus demographic disparities in disciplinary incidents serve to further widen any academic achievement gaps. Closer analysis though shows though that disciplinary incidents are interrelated with other of indicators of student disengagement from school, such as course failures and absenteeism. Therefore, policies seeking to address these issues cannot focus on reducing suspensions alone, but must also address student attendance and course passing in a comprehensive and systematic manner.

Key Take Away Points

  • Black students, economically disadvantaged students, and special education students experience out of school suspensions at disproportionate rates.
  • Suspensions are significantly and negatively correlated to academic outcomes such as high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment.
  • Thus, policies that promote out of school suspensions as a method of dealing with disciplinary issues in secondary school serve to widen current achievement gaps between student groups.
  • Suspensions are also correlated with other academic factors such as student attendance and course passing, and alternative policies must address with all three in a systemic manner.

Author Biography

Robert Balfanz (rbalfanz@jhu.edu), co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center and research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Joanna Fox (jhfox@jhu.edu), senior policy analyst and program developer at the Center for Social Organization of Schools

Vaughan Byrnes (vbyrnes@jhu.edu), research associate at the Center for Social Organizations of Schools (corresponding author)


Prepared for the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the Research-to-Practice Collaborative, National Conference on Race and Gender Disparities in Discipline