Method: Data are from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Safe School Reports, for Allegheny Country school districts (N = 58). Regression and difference tests were used to determine 1) the demographic characteristics of districts that were most likely to have issues with the overuse of suspensions; 2) the prevalence and degree of racial disparities across districts and district types; and 3) the degree to which shifts in suspension numbers were associated with changes in academic outcomes.
Results: Findings revealed that 45% of districts were above the state average of 9 suspensions per 100 students, with urban districts on average having higher suspension rates overall. However, racial disparity rates were on average much higher in suburban districts, where Black student suspensions tended to be 4 to 8 times higher than the rates for the rest of the student bodies. Overall, 66% of county districts had Black suspension rates that were at least twice those of the rest of the student body, and 80% of districts had problems with overall high suspension rates, excessive racial disparities, or both. Results also showed that independent of racial and SES compositions, higher suspension rates tend to be associated with negative academic outcomes at the district level, particularly in terms of graduation rates.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings here add support to the burgeoning notion that reliance on school suspensions has negative consequences for overall academic achievement at the school level. As such, these results support the notion that programmatic and social supports are more conducive to changing schools’ behavioral climates than are punitively focused methods. Additionally, this study presents the novel finding that despite attention to urban districts in national studies, suburban districts tend to have much higher racial disparities than do their urban peers. Overall, these results suggest that school social workers and other specialized support staff play a greater role in school-level climate change, particularly in implementing more person-in-context and relationally oriented discipline reforms.