Patricia Hoffman-Miller Prairie View A&M University
ABSTRACT The overrepresentation of African American students in suspensions and expulsions is not a new phenomenon. Frequent disciplinary practices in public schools result in behavioral and cognitive problems as early as kindergarten. In the current era of accountability and testing, school districts cannot afford to exclude significant groups of children. Urban districts are the losers in this accountability paradigm, with repeated out of school suspensions disproportionately affecting student achievement. There is irrefutable congruence between student attendance and academic performance. Previous researchers established a positive correlation between suspension rates and student ethnicity. Research is vague as to the ethnicity and gender of principals responsible for suspensions. This research sought to determine if there were relationships between the ethnicity and gender of principals and student suspensions in a small urban school district in Pennsylvania.


he exclusion of African American students, through legal means such as suspension and expulsion, presents an interesting paradox as school districts across the country attempt to meet the mandates of No Child Left Behind. This legislation mandates accountability in instruction through standardsbased curricular reform, with clearly delineated expectations for all student achievement. Student and student sub-groups attending schools in urban and rural areas must master proficiency across all curricular areas, irrespective of ethnicity, gender, language, or handicapping condition. Although all District and State Boards of Education must adhere to the requirements of this legislation, student achievement in Title I Schools must meet Average Yearly progress (AYP) or risk substantive sanctions from the State and Federal governments.



Of particular concern to educational policy makers is the perceived inability of African American and Hispanic students to achieve parity on standardized tests. Closing the achievement gap is a requirement of all school districts irrespective of boundaries or wealth. No Child Left Behind Requires that districts report all data, with student test scores disaggregated according to a set of predetermined variables. Variables such as socio-economic status (SES), race and gender, represent a portion of the assessment, and contribute to the district’s report card. Nationally, a number of affluent suburban and suburban-fringe school districts were unable to improve student achievement, as reflected through State assessment measures. For urban districts dependent upon the receipt of Title I funds, the consequences of this inability is complete loss of local control, State takeover of district operations, and/or re-structuring. Publicly elected policy makers, facing increased criticism and scrutiny from the public acquiesced to school administrators looking for a quick fix, through the adoption of “research-based” programs that failed to offer prescriptive solut8ions to the district’s problem. Many districts, in desperation, substituted curricular solutions aimed at instantaneous reform, despite the fact that these solutions were incapable of addressing contextual inertia and dysfunction. The problem of inertia, coupled with an inordinately high rate of suspensions among AfricanAmerican students, presents a complex set of problems for many school districts. Unfortunately, as the number of African American student suspensions increases in many districts, the goal of closing the achievement gap and improving student achievement becomes less and less attainable. Inherent in the No Child Left Behind statute is the safe school requirement, a product of zero-tolerance legislation enacted in response to school violence. After the first school shooting in 1988, the American public demanded safe school initiatives designed to punish and remove offenders. Harsh disciplinary sanctions were the results of this public outcry, as the Congress passed the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act in 1994. The images of Columbine further solidified

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


the public and elected official’s perception of school based violence in public education. These perceptions resulted in an over-reaction to minor student misconduct with little if any differentiation between violent and non-violent student actions by district administrators. Student suspensions increased dramatically during this period. The burden of suspensions rested primarily on African American students. Research determined that African American students consistently received more severe school discipline for less serious behavior (MacFadden, 1992) with a strong correlation between racial disparities in student discipline and perceived student infractions. African American students are continually subjected to disproportionate out of school suspensions (Boyd, 2000; Casella, 2003; Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Gadlin & Morales, 1999; Garibaldi, 1992; Garibaldi, Blanchard & Brooks, 1997; Hall, 2000; Morrison & D’Incau, 1997; Richart, Brooks & Soler, 2003; Short, 1994; Skiba, Michale & Nardo, 2000; Skiba, Peterson & Williams, 1997; Townsend, 2000). Zero tolerance policies adopted by school districts appear to have exacerbated minority overrepresentation in the application of discipline. While these policies initially focused on those egregious actions considered dangerous, recent application of these policies by administrators demonstrates little congruence between serious violent actions embodied in the initial legislation and less serious offenses. Less serious offenses, such as defiance, disrespect and chronic lateness, certainly do not constitute actions warranting out of school suspension (Townsend, 2000). Many publicized reports suggest that the majority of African American students receive suspensions for actions that are subjective in nature. In contrast, serialized school violence embodies the breadth and intent of the original zero tolerance legislation. Serialized school violence occurs primarily at rural, suburban and suburban-fringe districts, committed by White adolescent males. One may differentiate serialized school violence from school based violence in that it



involves serialized violent actions against an entire school population. One or more students, armed with weapons and/or explosives, generally commit these actions, with the intent of inflicting bodily harm or injury upon all students, teachers and administrators. Despite the fact that the actions representing serialized school violence are committed by White males, the burden of suspensions falls heavily on minority students. While the actions of White males hastened the implementation of mandated zero-tolerance policies, the effects of zero-tolerance cannot be generalized across racial lines, particularly among White male adolescents. For African American students, the impact of these policies is politically and economically catastrophic. Increasing numbers of children find themselves removed from school by exclusionary policies heretofore reserved for the most egregious offenses. These draconian measures have effectively denied millions of children the opportunity to participate in a just and equitable education. The results of our collective failure to deal with the impact of student exclusion will become even more apparent as increased percentages of urban schools fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress and graduation cohort rates decline propitiously. Administrators, Teachers and School Climate Students do not fail simply because they are black or poor or pregnant or from a single-parent home. They fail, in part, because schools are not responsive to the conditions and problems accompanying these personal and SES (sic) conditions … (Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko & Fernandez, 1989). A negative school climate may have a deleterious effect on school behavior and engagement. When students feel alienated from school, behavior and academic achievement declines substantially. the sense of not belonging to the school contributes to alienation and a

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


lack of interest in school activities (Eckstrom, 1986). Research discloses that when a significant difference exists between the student’s culture and the school’s culture, teachers can easily misread students’ aptitudes, intent and abilities as a result of the difference in styles of language used and interactional patterns (Delpit, 1995). This cultural disconnect often places minority students in conflict with expected school norms, exacerbating alienation and academic achievement. Poor attitudes about school appear to correlate with low academic achievement as well as behavioral problems. Eckstrom (1986) determined in a national study that, “not liking school” was a primary reason for dropping out. Numerous school factors contribute to student engagement and success. The role of teachers and administrators, particularly where discipline is concerned, should not be underestimated and warrants further scrutiny. School disciplinary actions represent the most viable set of practices, procedures and attitudes which, when they go unchecked, can be devastating (Coppock, 1984). School officials and teachers may knowingly or unknowingly provoke and exacerbate student misbehavior through the interaction between adults and children in the school (Dupper, 1996). Teachers, through verbal or non-verbal communication, reject the presence of certain children, based on either race and/or gender; establish the foundation for student disaffection and disciplinary problems. Inconsistencies in the application of disciplinary policies by building administrators are powerful determinants of student behavior, particularly at the secondary level. Research in out of school suspensions determined that African American and other minority students receive suspensions for trivial offenses (Dupper, 1996) such as disruption of school, or defiance of authority. These subjective labels reflect the true nature of student/teacher/ administrator interaction, particularly where racial prejudice or profiling exists.



The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy examined suspensions and expulsions in Indiana (Rausch & Skiba, 2004). Ninety-five percent of all out of school suspensions in Indiana were the result of two categories: disruptive behavior and other. These two categories also represented 70% of all expulsions. African American students account for a suspension rate that is two and one half times that of White students (Rausch & Skiba, 2004). Rausch and Skiba’s research reflects sobering attitudes toward out of school suspensions and expulsions by building principals. Strong relationships were identified in this research between rates of student suspension and expulsion and student achievement. Schools with higher rates of out of school suspensions and expulsions had lower than average passing rates on the Indiana State Test of Educational Progress (ISTEP). Controlling for student socio-economic status (SES), the percent of African American student enrollment, school size, type and location, poor student achievement was positively correlated with out of school suspensions (Rausch & Skiba, 2004). Previous research demonstrated the existence of overrepresentation of African American students in school suspensions. Skiba, Peterson & Williams (1997) and Wu, Pink, Cram & Moles (1982) found that SES was a powerful determinant in student suspensions. In addition, membership in a minority group positively correlated with the rate of student suspensions. Despite the mandated and discretionary power bestowed upon building administrators, the relationship between principal race and gender and student suspensions remains largely unexplored. The purpose of this research was to explore this relationship.

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


Methodology Participants This research involved an analysis of all disciplinary actions by administrators resulting in out of school suspensions of students in a small urban school district in Pennsylvania. The school district served 8,628 students, with 78.3% of the student population classified as African American. The remainder of the student population consisted of 8.1% White, 11% Hispanic, and 2.6% other. Table 1 reflects the distribution of the student population by ethnicity. Table 1— Distribution of Student Population by Race 1999-2000 Race N Percentage African American 6757 78.3% White 0703 08.1% Hispanic 0945 11.0% Other 0223 02.6% Total 100% 8628 During 1999-2000, there were 4,498 cases of suspension in the district. As a percent of total enrollment, suspensions accounted for 52.7% of the entire school population. Of the total student suspensions, African American students represented the largest number of students suspended, accounting for 3,858 cases of suspension or 85.8%. Those students suspended in the school district during the 1999-2000 school year were the sample and population for this research. Therefore, all student suspensions in the district, irrespective of grade level (K-12) became the population and sample. Data were not disaggregated insofar as regular or special education students were concerned. Each suspension constituted one case of suspension. Building administrators represented the following racial and gender composition: five African American females; four African



American males; three White males; five White females; and, one Hispanic female. Data regarding administrator age, level of education and years of experience were not a part of the analysis. The Superintendent of the school district granted permission to conduct this research and provided access to district records for this purpose. Procedures The disciplinary data were collected from the monthly suspension report submitted by each building administrator. Data generated from this report consisted of building number, administrator, teacher, date of incident, student name, age, race, gender, infraction code, number of days suspended and a short narrative describing the student behavior resulting in out of school suspension. Children received referrals to building principals by classroom teachers for actions demonstrating a violation of School Board policy. Once a child was referred, a building principal or Assistant Principal assumed the responsibility for assigning in school or out of school suspension, based on the district’s disciplinary infraction code. The district considered thirty-six possible violations of its disciplinary code when assigning disciplinary action. Building administrators had discretion in the application of disciplinary policies, provided the action of a student did not endanger the health, safety, and well-being of students and/or faculty and did not interfere with the educational process. The district’s disciplinary policy encouraged progressive discipline, based on the nature and severity of the infraction. Data from the monthly suspension report was coded and subsequently analyzed at the incident and building level. Personal data pertaining to student name, address and any other identifying information was redacted in keeping with the district’s request for anonymity.

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


Design The researcher used descriptive statistics to ascertain whether or not there was a relationship between the variables. Independent variables pertaining to student race, gender, infraction and grade level were incorporated as part of the research. Dependent variables pertaining to principal race, gender, duration of suspension, school level, infraction code and building location were analyzed to determine if there was a relationship between variables. Pearson’s Correlation measured the linear association between dependent and independent variables, assuming that the identified variables were normally distributed. The data was entered and analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). This study analyzed all student suspensions and administrator disciplinary actions for the school year 1999-2000. The independent and dependent variables in this research were repeated on each subject. All suspensions were considered, despite the fact that there were multiple cases of suspensions for different students. Organismic variables for principals and students assigned were similar in coding. Non-organismic variables included code assignments related to time (duration of suspension), grade and infraction code. Only those students committing disciplinary infractions resulting in out of school suspensions were part of the sample. The primary purpose of this research was to ascertain whether or not there was a relationship between the gender and ethnicity of building principals, the type of student infractions and the suspension rate of students.



Three major research questions were identified to formulate this research: 1. 2. 3. What relationship existed between the ethnicity of principals and the suspension rates of students in a small, urban Pennsylvania school district? What relationship existed between the gender of the principal and the time (duration) of student suspensions? What relationship existed between the ethnicity of the principal, the type of student infractions and the number of suspensions? Results This researcher sought to determine whether there was a relationship between principal race and gender, the number of days (duration/time) assigned to students in out of school suspension and the type of student infractions assigned according to principal ethnicity. The research analyzed all student suspensions in the district for the school year 1999-2000. Table 1 reflects the distribution of student population by race during the 1999-2000 school year. Principal Race and Duration/Time of Suspensions This portion of the research sought to determine whether there was a relationship between the race of the principal and the duration (time) of suspensions. Analysis of the data using Pearson Correlation yielded significant results, supporting a strong relationship between the race of the principal and the duration (time) of student suspensions. African American principals were responsible for an unusually high rate of suspensions at each time interval. Time of suspension at each interval was substantially higher for African American principals

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


than for White and Hispanic principals, with a duration of three days as a preferential choice. Students assigned to out of school suspension by African American principals received higher suspension rates in the three, five and ten-day suspension category, irrespective of student race and gender. African American principals assigned 1073 individual suspensions in the three day category, compared to 234 cases of suspensions by White principals in the same category. Students receiving three-day suspensions were four times more likely to receive three-day suspensions from African American principals than from White principals. African American principals were responsible for 87.3% of all five-day suspensions in the district. There were 402 cases of five-day suspensions in the district with African American principals assigning 351 cases of suspensions as compared to 31 by White principals and 20 by the Hispanic principal. In the ten-day time category, African American principals were responsible for 84.2% of the district’s ten-day suspensions. There were 165 cases of ten-day suspensions in the district with 139 cases assigned by African American principals, eleven by White principals and 15 by the one Hispanic principal. Table 2 reflects the results of this analysis. Table 2 Duration of Student Suspensions by principal Race N=4498 Principal Race African American White Hispanic 10 0448 1186 0124 Duration of Suspension in Days 1 1073 0234 0094 3 351 031 020 5 139 011 015



Principal Gender and Duration/Time of Suspensions Analysis of the data in this district revealed a relationship between the gender of the principal and the duration (time) of student suspensions. Female principals were more likely to assign three, five and ten-day suspensions than their male colleagues. Conversely, male principals were more likely to assign one-day suspensions than their female colleagues were. The results of these findings are depicted in Table 3. Table 3 Distribution of Student Suspensions by principal Gender and Duration of Suspension in Days. N=4498 Principal’s Gender Female Male 10 800 958 Duration of Suspension in Days 1 876 525 3 324 078 5 151 014

Female principals assigned 876 cases of three-day suspensions or 63% of all three-day suspensions. Female principals assigned the majority of five-day suspensions. There were 324 cases of suspension or 81%, assigned by female principals. Female principals assigned 92% of student ten-day suspensions. Conversely, male principals assigned the majority of one and two-day suspensions in the district, representing 958 cases of one-day suspensions (54%) and 414 cases of two-day suspensions (57%). Principal Race, Student Infraction and Number of Suspensions Students within the district were more likely to receive suspensions from White principals for simple assault (fighting),

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


cutting class, lack of respect to staff, disruptive classroom behavior, and classroom disturbances. White principals suspended students for possession of drugs and/or alcohol. African American principals assigned suspensions for simple assault (fighting), disruptive classroom behavior, other (student actions lacking a definitive infraction), and running or wandering in the halls. The Hispanic principal assigned suspensions for cutting class, other, and simple assault (fighting). Table 4 reflects these findings. Table 4 Distribution of Suspensions by Select Infraction/Suspension Codes and principal Race. N=3792
Principal Race African American White Hispanic 101 111 123 017 104 053 030 005 106 144 010 006 Suspension Codes 206 207 208 281 185 074 162 257 188 008 104 001 301 867 659 071 303 000 012 000 501 223 120 084

Note: Infraction codes as approved by School Board and implemented by District principals. This data represents the most frequently assigned suspensions by building Administrators accounting for 84.3% of all student suspensions. 101 Classroom Disturbance 104 Abusive language 106 Running or Wandering in Halls 206 Disruptive Classroom Behavior 207 Cutting Class 208 Lack of Respect to Staff 301 Assault and Battery – Simple (includes fighting) 303 Possession/Use of Unauthorized Substances (Drugs/Alcohol) 501 Other



Discussion The purpose of this study was to determine if there was a relationship between the ethnicity and gender of principals in the suspension of students in a small Pennsylvania school district. The research ascertained there was a strong relationship between the ethnicity of the principal and the duration (time) of suspension. Students assigned to out of school suspensions received a higher rate of suspensions in the three, five and ten-day category when the building administrator was African American. Sixteen hundred and forty (1640) three, five and ten-day suspensions were assigned by African American principals, as compared to 405 three, five and tenday suspensions by White and Hispanic principals. Female principals assigned more three, five and ten-day suspensions. Conversely, male principals accounted for more one-day suspensions than female principals. Suspensions by male principals accounted for 958 one-day suspensions, 525 two-day suspensions, 78 five-day suspensions and 14 ten-day suspensions. African American principals were more likely to assign suspensions for fighting, disruptive classroom behavior, other and running or wandering in the halls. Students received more suspensions from White principals for fighting, cutting class, lack of respect to staff, disruptive classroom behavior, classroom disturbances and possession of drugs or alcohol. The Hispanic principal was responsible for assigning more suspensions in the categories of cutting class, other and fighting. Despite the differing categories African American principals assigned more frequent and longer student suspensions than White or Hispanic principals despite parity in the distribution of building administrators by race and gender.

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


The research findings of this study are seminal. Previous researchers examined the overrepresentation of African American students without focusing on the ethnicity and gender of building administrators. This researcher agrees with previous findings determining that African American students were more likely to receive suspensions than White students were. The question remains as to why students received longer and more frequent suspensions from African American principals. What factors contribute to the magnitude of student suspensions in a district where African American principals constituted 50% of building administrators? Were these administrators practicing within-0race discrimination, class discrimination, self-imposed racial profiling, or a combination of these plus other factors? The implications of the findings in this research represent a paradox for educational policy makers. The findings cannot be generalized insofar as all African American principals are concerned in their capacity as instructional leaders across the country. Perhaps the socio-cultural environment of this particular community contributed substantially to the obsequious consent demonstrated by this district’s African American principals. The implications of this research demand further inquiry in other districts. The consequences of the actions of all principals, irrespective of race or gender, affect student achievement, particularly in an era of increased accountability. These potential consequences engender a plethora of questions that remain largely unanswered.

(1) (2)

Do African American principals assign longer and more frequent suspensions as a method of insuring job security and career advancement? Do African American principals envision suspensions as a method of taking charge and insuring building



(3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)

control? Are African American principals disenfranchised from children residing in poor communities because of income, class and culture? Are African American principals more concerned with the resiliency of children, in preparation for adult challenges? Is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, particularly those needs associated with affiliation and security, more pronounced in African American principals? Do African American and female principals receive less respect from predominantly poor and minority children? Is acquiescence or fear a factor for White principals when assigning suspensions to predominantly poor and minority children? Does the lack of suspensions by White principals represent tolerance or other more pervasive cultural issues? Are female principals less tolerant of student misbehavior than male principals? If this is the case, then why? Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, further research is required to address social, cultural and psychological issues, particularly if African American children in this district are to achieve their educational and social potential. Student achievement is inversely related to the number of out of school suspensions assigned by building administrators. All district policy makers must strive, therefore, to insure that the entire issue of out of school suspensions, student achievement and equity transcends race, class and within-race issues. Only then will urban districts begin to improve student outcomes for all children.

Patricia Hoffman-Miller


REFERENCES Boyd, F. D. (2000). Non-verbal behaviors of effective teachers of atrisk African-American male middle school students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. Casella, R. (2003). Zero tolerance policy in schools: Rationale, consequences and alternatives. Teachers College Record, 105, 872-892. Coppock, B. A. (1984). A comparison of suspension rates of secondary handicapped students by race, gender, handicap and school level. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Costenbader, V., & Markson, S. (1998). School suspension: A study with secondary school students. Journal of School and Society, 36(1). Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York City: The New Press. Dupper, D. R., & Bosch, L. A. (1996). Reasons for school suspensions: An examination of data from one school district and recommendations for reducing suspensions. Journal for a Just and Caring Education, 2, 140-150. Eckstron, R. B., Goertz, M. E., Pollack, J. M., & Rock, D. A. (1986). Who drops out of school and why? Findings from a national study. Teacher’s College Record, 87, 357-373. Gadlin, S. A., & Morales, M. (1999). Unequal discipline: New data on racial disparities in school discipline. Oakland, CA: Applied Research Center. Garabaldi, A. M. (1992). Educating and motivating African American males to succeed. Journal of Negro Education, 61(1), 12-18. Garabaldi, A. M., Blanchard, L., & Brooks, S. (1997). Health and safety initiatives in New Orleans public schools. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, ERIC Document Reproduction Services ED410327.



Hall, A. L. (1998). Suspension and expulsion as disciplinary tools: Problems and alternatives. Retrieved January 19, 2001, from McFadden, A. C., Marsh, G. E., Price, B. J., & Hwang, Y. (1992). A study of race and gender in the punishment of handicapped school children. Urban Review, 24, 239-251. Meier, K. J., Stewart, J., & England, R. E. (1989). Race, class and education: The politics of second generation discrimination. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Morrison, G. M. & D’Incau, B. (1997). The web of zero tolerance: Characteristics of students who are recommended for expulsion from school. Education and Treatment of Children, 20, 316-335. Nicholas, J. D., Ludwin, W. G., & Iadicola, P. (1999). A darker side of gray: A year-end analysis of discipline and suspension data. Equity and Excellence in Education, 32, 43-55. Richart, D., Brooks, K., & Soler, M. (2003). Unintended consequences: The impact o zero tolerance and other exclusionary policies on Kentucky students. Washington DC: Building Blocks for Youth. Rausch, K., & Skiba, R. (2004). Unplanned outcomes: Suspensions and expulsions in Indiana. Education Policy Briefs, 2(2), 1-8. Retrieved October 2004, from Short, P. M., Short, R. J., & Blanton, C. (1994). Rethinking student discipline: Alternatives that work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Skiba, R. J., Peterson, R. L., & Williams, T. (1997). Office referrals and suspension: disciplinary infractions in middle schools. Education and Children, 20(3), 295-315. Skiba, R. J., Michael, R. S., & Nardo, A. C. (2000). The color of discipline: Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. Lincoln, NE: University of NebraskaLincoln.

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Townsend, B. (2000). Disproportionate discipline of African American children and youth: Culturally responsive strategies for reducing suspensions and expulsions. Exceptional Children, 66, 381-391. Wehlage, G., Rutter, R., Smith, G., Lesko, N., & Fernandez, R. (1989). Reducing the risk: Schools as communities of support. New York City: Falmer Press. Wu, S. C., Pink, W. T., Cram, R. L., & Moles, O. (1982). Student suspensions: A critical reappraisal. The Urban Review, 14, 245-303.

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