Iowa Leads U.S. in Ratio of Black Students Suspended

Amanda McClure, The Daily Iowan, October 2, 2007

The ratio of suspended black students to the number of enrolled black students is higher in Iowa than in any other state, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Black students make up 5 percent of the enrolled population in Iowa’s public schools, yet they account for 22 percent of the students who get suspended.

“The presumption a lot of times is that minority student behaviors are different because the kids are from a poor background,” said Russell Skiba, a professor of educational psychology at Indiana University. “Poverty does have something to do with it, but by no means does it explain the disparities in the analysis.”

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In the Des Moines School District, 29 percent of black students enrolled in public schools were suspended in 2006, according to the Children’s Defense Organization.

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Research from the National Center for Educational Statistics shows that growing up in poverty negatively affects children’s mental and behavioral development. The overall ratio of black children living in poverty to white children in Iowa is 4-9, making them less likely to do well in school.

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The Zero-Tolerance program is a popular disciplinary method used by schools across the nation, according to the Department of Education. This program encourages teachers and administrators to use strict rules and punishment to correct bad behavior—this significantly contributes to the number of suspensions.

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Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a program sponsored by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, presents schools with an alternative to the zero-tolerance disciplinary program.

The program looks to train students in the correct behaviors and to re-educate teachers and administrators to use positive motivational techniques.

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