Last year West Charlotte High and Martin Luther King Middle School reported more than 90 suspensions per 100 students. Providence High and Robinson Middle had fewer than four per 100.
Those are extremes within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but I doubt anyone is surprised by the pattern or needs a hint about the demographics of those schools. Across the nation, African American students are far more likely than white classmates to be sent home from school. And the schools where low-income and nonwhite students are concentrated tend to have the highest suspension rates of all.
This week a national team of researchers, educators and policy analysts who have spent three years studying this phenomenon released a series of briefing papers summing up their findings. The Discipline Disparities Collaborative, founded by Indiana University's Equity Project and financially supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies and Open Society Foundations, concludes that the disparities are driven by flaws in school discipline more than by differences in behavior.
Some will say that black students get suspended more because they behave worse, and that changing policies to reduce that trend amounts to giving a free pass to troublemakers. This group says that's a myth. If African American students were actually doing more bad things, the researchers say, they'd be more likely than white students to be suspended for serious offenses such as bringing guns, drugs and alcohol to school. But they cite data showing that racial gaps disappear for those offenses but open up when judgment is involved, with offenses such as disrespect or disruption.
The group also says it's wrong to believe that suspending the "bad kids" is the best way to protect the learning environment for the good students. In fact, better alternatives for dealing with minor offenses -- or creating environments where such clashes are less likely to occur -- benefits all students, they say.
All of this is consistent with what Heath Morrison has been saying since he was hired as CMS superintendent in 2012. The challenge, he says, is helping educators learn better ways to deal with cultural differences without labeling anyone a racist or making teachers feel like they're expected to overlook serious offenses. Those discussions are going on in various schools and with other community groups, such as the Race Matters for Juvenile Justice Initiative.
To look up suspension rates for N.C. schools, go to the school report cards and select the "Safe, orderly and caring schools" tab.
And on the data front, CMS has posted school poverty levels for this year.