In a study released last week that will probably surprise nobody, researchers from the Department of Education found that “sharp disparities between how black and white students are disciplined in school.”

Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to get one or more out-of-school suspensions as their white counterparts, the report said. Black children represent 19 percent of preschoolers, yet they account for 47 percent of pre-school kids getting suspended. The comparison to white students: they make up 41 percent of preschoolers, but represent only 28 percent of pre-school children with suspensions.

I’ve never taught pre-K, never even been in a pre-K classroom, but the concept of pre-K out of school suspensions seems to border on the absurd. Throw in the racial-disparity component and this just seems unfathomable.

One big positive in the report was a sharp drop in overall suspensions.

Across the country, 2.8 million K-12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions — a nearly 20 percent drop from the number reported two years ago.

“A 20 percent reduction, overall, in suspensions is breathtaking,” said Lhamon. That’s a “tremendous testament to our educators’ commitment to making sure the students are in school and can learn.”

Taken at face value, a 20-percent reduction in suspensions over two years seems like incredibly positive news. However, we don’t know if the 20-percent reduction in suspensions was accompanied by a 20-percent reduction in the unproductive behavior that resulted in the previous suspensions, nor do we know if schools are finding reasonable alternatives to suspension that allow students to learn productive behaviors and learn from their experiences.

And if schools have experimented with alternatives, we don’t know if those alternatives have been effective. That’s what we need to find out. Seeing a drop in suspensions makes us feel better, but unfortunately that number alone gives us no way to know if that means kids are learning more as a result.

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