Massachusetts prides itself on its education policies and standards, but a report from the Appleseed Network shows that black girls are nearly four times more likely to experience school discipline than their white counterparts.
The report, published by the Appleseed Non-Profit Network, analyzes disciplinary data for the 2015-2016 school year in Massachusetts, Alabama and Kansas.
In the 2015-16 school year, black girls made up 12% of Massachusetts’ student body, but were 3.9 times more likely to be disciplined in school than white girls. Bay State reported higher racial disparity than in Alabama, where black girls made up 38% of the female student body but were 3.7 times more likely to be disciplined than their white counterparts.
In Kansas, black girls were 6.2 times more likely to face school discipline than white girls that year, according to the report.
“One trend is clear: Black female students are more likely to face suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement dismissals and school-related arrests than their white classmates,” the report said. “This imbalance remains true even when the total number of enrolled black female students is significantly less than the total number of enrolled white female students, as in Massachusetts.”
The disparities are more marked when they are broken down by penalty. In the 2015-2016 school year, 3% of black girls faced at least one suspension from school, compared to 1% of white girls.
About 6.5% of black girls faced an out-of-school suspension compared to 1.3% of white girls, meaning black girls were five times more likely to face an out-of-school suspension. from school that year.
The number of expulsions was much lower, but the racial disparity persisted. About 0.05% of black girls were kicked out of school compared to 0.01 of white girls, suggesting that black girls were five times more likely to be kicked out than their white counterparts.
Black girls were four times more likely to be arrested in school than white girls. Referrals to law enforcement were lower: Black girls were 1.2 times more likely to have an incident referred to law enforcement than white girls.
The report did not say whether black girls were more likely to be disciplined multiple times or face multiple forms of discipline compared to their white counterparts. According to the report, the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights data collection does not account for students who receive multiple forms of discipline.
A subset of the State Department’s elementary and secondary education data shows a lower level of racial disparity. According to data collected by DESE in 2019, black girls were 3.3 times more likely to be disciplined in school than white girls.
The majority of female students who were disciplined in 2019 were considered economically disadvantaged, meaning they received government assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, MassHealth, or other programs.
Among black female students who were disciplined, nearly 73% were considered economically disadvantaged. About 54% of white female students who were disciplined were considered economically disadvantaged.
More than a quarter of black and white students who were sanctioned in 2019 reported having a disability: around 26.5% of black girls and 29.8% of white girls.
A small fraction of these students were learners of English, but these numbers also matched racial criteria. About 11.54% of sanctioned black girls were ELL students, compared to 1.95% of sanctioned white girls in school.
The Appleseed Network called for legislation requiring regular collection of data at state and federal levels on school discipline and racial disparities.
“Collecting and sharing information on school discipline is necessary to understand how discriminatory practices in school discipline lead girls of color into the criminal justice system,” the report said. “More reliable and accurate data will help drive policy changes to reduce racial inequalities in school discipline and to protect girls of color from the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Suspensions have declined statewide since the Massachusetts School Discipline Reform Act came into effect in 2014, and Boston has changed its disciplinary policies as part of a settlement with three students of color who have continued, according to the Boston Globe.
The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, reported in August that the out-of-school suspension rate for black girls in Massachusetts fell from 16 percent in 2013 to 9 percent in 2018.
DESE attributed its progress to Initiative to rethink the discipline it started in 2016, according to the Globe. The initiative brought together state and distribution officials to reduce the overuse of disciplinary measures, such as suspensions and expulsions.