Not Measuring Up: Press Release


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Matt Cregor, Staff Attorney


Massachusetts’ Students of Color and Students with Disabilities Receive Disproportionate Discipline, Especially in Charter Schools.

Massachusetts’ public school students lost at least 200,000 days in the classroom to discipline in the 2012-13 school year, according to the state’s most recent data and a new report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.  Massachusetts’ students of color, students with disabilities, and charter school students received a disproportionate share of these punishments, particularly for minor misbehavior.

“Our students lost at least 1,160 school years’ worth of instruction to discipline in the 2012-13 school year alone,” said Rahsaan Hall, the organization’s Deputy Director. “It is no wonder we have a so-called achievement gap on our hands.”

Massachusetts passed a law to limit out-of-school punishments in 2012, and the state began reporting more data on school discipline before the law took effect this school year.

“For the first time, we have a clear picture of the reasons all students are removed from school in Massachusetts,” said Joanna Taylor, the report’s lead author. “These findings will provide a baseline against which to measure how well the new law is being followed.”

The report analyzes expansive new disciplinary data from the 2012-13 school year, the bulk of which was released this summer by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to the report, 72% of in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were for minor misbehavior, like dress code violations and disrespect.  Categorized by the state as “non-violent, non-criminal, non-drug” offenses, these removals far outnumbered those for fights, assaults, and “threat of physical attack” (a combined 17.5% of disciplinary removals), illegal drugs (3.8%), weapons (1.2%) and bullying (1.1%).

Non-violent, non-criminal, non-drug incidents accounted for two-thirds of all out-of-school suspensions. According to the Council of State Governments, out-of-school suspension predicts grade retention, school dropout, and involvement with the juvenile justice system.

“If out-of-school suspension predicts dropout, why are we using it to address minor misbehavior?” asked Matt Cregor, a staff attorney and co-author of the report who leads the Lawyers’ Committee’s education advocacy.

Massachusetts’ out-of-school suspension rate is 4.3% – lower than the most recent national projection of 6.8%. However, the report finds Massachusetts’ racial disciplinary disparities were comparable to – and in some cases worse than – the nation’s. Black students in Massachusetts received 43% of all out-of-school suspensions and 39% of expulsions despite making up only 8.7% of students enrolled.  Black students were 3.7 times as likely as their White peers to be suspended, slightly worse than the national disparity (3.6). Latino students were 3.1 times as likely as their White peers to be suspended, roughly double the national disparity (1.5).  Racial disparities in discipline were at their worst in consequences for non-violent, non-criminal, non-drug behavior.

Similar disparities held for students with disabilities, who were suspended from school at a rate three times that of their peers, compared to a 2-to-1 rate nationally.

“We are sending a message to Massachusetts’ most vulnerable youth that they are not as welcome in school,” Hall said.

According to the report, about 5% of schools accounted for almost half the state’s disciplinary removals. Holyoke had the highest out-of-school suspension rate, suspending 21.5% of its students at least once. Fall River (14.4%), Lynn (12.7%), Brockton (10.8%), Springfield (10.5%), and Worcester (10.5%) all suspended over 10% of students.

“Suspension rates as high as these should make us question whether we are meeting the needs of the students in our schools,” Taylor said. “Educators need resources to ensure that suspension is not the first and only discipline option.”

Charter schools accounted for a disproportionate amount of discipline. While only 4% of Massachusetts’ public schools are charters, they comprised nearly 14% of schools with discipline rates (the rate of students receiving in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions combined) over 20%. Charter schools in Boston had especially high discipline rates, removing 17.3% of students. By comparison, Boston Public Schools had a 6.6% discipline rate, and its non-charter middle and high schools – including its disciplinary alternative schools – had a discipline rate of 11.1%.  Roxbury Preparatory Charter suspended 59.8% of its students out of school. 94% of these suspensions were for non-violent, non-criminal, non-drug behavior.

“Given the extra steps parents take to enroll their children in charter schools, parents should not have to fear their children will be pushed out of them,” Cregor said.

The report also reviews best practices in school discipline that the state’s disciplinary regulations recommend.

The authors will discuss the findings at Northeastern University School of Law on Wednesday, November 19th, at 10am in Dockser Hall Room 240 (65 Forsyth St.).

Below is a table of the highest suspending school districts in Massachusetts.  For a list of the 94 schools with discipline rates (the rate of students receiving in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions combined) over 20%, see the report’s Appendix.


Massachusetts School Districts with Out-of-School Suspension Rates More Than Double the State Average (2012-13)


School District Out-of-School Suspension Rate
Holyoke 21.5%
Fall River 14.4%
Lynn 12.7%
Brockton 10.8%
Springfield 10.5%
Worcester 10.5%
Lowell 9.7%
Athol-Royalston 9.4%
Chicopee 8.7%
State Average 4.3%

Note: Boston Public Schools reported an out-of-school suspension rate of 6.2%.


Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2012-13 School Safety Discipline Report (2014),