Fewer students suspended in Minnesota schools – but a racial gap remains

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New data shows a fall in the number of students being suspended from schools in Minnesota – but also shows a significant racial divide in the education system remains.

Figures from the Minnesota Department of Education show that since 2010, the overall number of suspensions has decreased by 20.4 percent, meaning 12,000 fewer suspensions.

However, the number of suspensions involving black and Hispanic students fell by around 27 percent. The number of white students being suspended fell by 21.6 percent in the same period.

It follows a "conscious effort" by educators to reduce the use of suspensions as a form of punishment and reduce the racial divide in how they are used.

But the Star Tribune notes that in spite of the fall, black students still account for 40 percent of all suspensions that last a day or more – even though they make up less than 10 percent of the state's student population.

Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release that Positive Behavioral Intervention Services (PBIS) has played a major role in the drop in suspensions.

PBIS provides training to teachers to help them to deal with challenging students. It's been implemented in a quarter of state schools since 2005, with a further 600 set to take on the training.

The graduation gap

The state suspension figures were released shortly after a report by MPR found Minnesota continues to lag behind the rest of the country for students of color and whether they graduate on time.

Analysis found that in 2012-13, fewer than 60 percent of black and Hispanic students graduated in four years. The rate for Native American students stood at 49 percent – the second-worst in the nation.

 Bernadeia Johnson.

Bernadeia Johnson.

Minnesota has the worst or second-worst graduation rates among reporting states in all four non-white student categories, MPR says.

In December, Minneapolis Public Schools' education superintendent Bernadeia Johnson left her position a few weeks after board members told her they were concerned about the lack of academic progress among low-income students of color.

Johnson was behind a controversial program that meant every suspension of a student of color in the district would have to be signed off by the superintendent, in a bid to reduce inequality in punishment levels. That was enacted in November.

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