Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.
Despite being ranked as one of the best states to live in, Minnesota still suffers from racial inequality. Even if laws and politics treat everyone equally, the educational experience is different for people of different races. In 2013, only 62 percent of students of color graduated from high school, as opposed to 85 percent of white students. Similarly, a smaller proportion of students of color will finished college compared to their white counterparts: 33 percent of white Minnesotans have a degree, but only 19 percent of black Minnesotans.
Suspension, studies show, is a key reason why students drop out of school. A study conducted in Florida found that being suspended out-of-school even once was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of dropout. Moreover, each additional suspension increased the risk of dropping out by 20 percent. By the end of the suspension period, students tend to lag behind academically and feel very excluded in classes. As a consequence, that feeling of disconnectedness convinces students that they are not smart enough to continue their education and that quitting is a better option. Dropping out of school early can have tremendous effects on someone’s life, taking away employment opportunities and increasing the likelihood of crimes. A paper published by Northwestern University shows that students who drop out of high school have only a 46 percent chance of finding a job, and those who manage to find a job will likely have an income below the national average. Moreover, 22 percent of black males who drop out of high school are jailed. This means, if you are a black male student and you get suspended, it's more likely that your future will involve unemployment, working in in a low paying job, or jail.
Suspension policies in Minnesota schools are further disadvantaging students of color, and are widening the gap between them and white Minnesotans. Students of color have a tremendously higher suspension rates compared to their white peers. In the 2009-10 academic year, 37 percent of male African American secondary school students in Saint Paul, Minnesota were suspended as opposed to nine percent of white male students and only three percent of Asians.
Giving students an equal chance of an enriching classroom experience is an urgent necessity in Minnesota today. It is a first step towards bridging the educational gap between different racial groups and paves the way towards a race less society in Minnesota and the rest of the country. Other states have implemented policies to combat racial disparities in school suspensions. In California, the Department of Education issued a law that limits and specifies cases where suspension and expulsion are allowed. As a result, in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped 14 percent, and the suspension rate for students of color such as African Americans went down by 9.5 percent from previous year.
Alternatives to suspension should be taken very seriously and the circumstances under which a student can be suspended should be limited and clearly defined. Some of the measures to avoid suspension in California include programs to resolve conflicts by bringing all parties together and offering incentives for good behavior, as well as in-school suspensions, school service, counseling, community service, detention, and mentoring (with a teacher or a counselor). These measures help the students have a stronger connection with their teacher and their school. By implementing such measures in Minnesota, we could begin to close the racial education gap.
Bassem El Remesh is a junior at Macalester College and a Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow. He was the Campus Network's Field and Political Landscape Intern.