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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Racial Disparities in School Suspension and Subsequent Outcomes: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997


Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, I examine the prevalence and intensity of suspension among nationally representative samples of white, black, and Hispanic youth attending secondary school during the late 1990s and follow their educational and criminal justice outcomes for roughly a decade after K-12. Consistent with prior research in individual states and districts, I find that suspension has become a common feature of the U.S. schooling experience, affecting more than one in three youth and resulting in substantial missed instructional time across K-12 (a total of one to two weeks for the typical suspendee). As with prior research, disparities by race and gender are large, with black boys suspended most frequently and most intensely: fully two in three are suspended at some point during K-12, and nearly one in five is suspended for a full month of school or more. Following youth into early adulthood, I find that suspension is highly correlated with negative educational and criminal justice outcomes in the longer term. Among boys suspended for 10 total days or more, less than half had obtained a high school diploma by their late 20s; more than three in four had been arrested; and more than one in three had been sentenced to confinement in a correctional facility. Comparing suspension to self- reported behavior – including property offenses and violent behaviors – reveals that substantial shares of suspended youth had not engaged in serious delinquency by the time they were first suspended from school. In addition, racial and ethnic gaps in suspension persist after these serious misbehaviors are controlled. In light of these findings, policymakers interested in improving educational outcomes for all youth, ensuring equity across racial and ethnic groups, and increasing public safety should promote alternatives to suspension, identify and support schools with high rates of exclusionary discipline, and fund evaluations of recent efforts to limit the use of suspension and reduce racial disparities in districts across the U.S.

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