Suspensions down in CPS, but stats for black boys still highest

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The number of students suspended and expelled in Chicago Public Schools declined a bit in 2009, after rising to new heights in 2008.

While experts warn of a tendency to under-report disciplinary actions, the decline could be the result of efforts in some schools to implement alternative forms of discipline, such as peer juries and in-school suspension rooms.

The number of students suspended and expelled in Chicago Public Schools declined a bit in 2009, after rising to new heights in 2008.

While experts warn of a tendency to under-report disciplinary actions, the decline could be the result of efforts in some schools to implement alternative forms of discipline, such as peer juries and in-school suspension rooms.

Also, it is worth noting that CPS likely still has one of the highest suspension rates in the U. S., with 11 of every 100 students suspended last year. In the May/June  2009 issue of Catalyst In Depth , we reported that Chicago imposed the harshest discipline of 10 big-city school districts, with 13 of every 100 students suspended in 2008. Houston was right behind, suspending 11 of every 100 students.

That issue of In Depth also reported on the disproportionate impact of discipline on African-American male students, who comprised 45 percent of all students suspended in CPS in 2008 but only about 25 percent of the student population. Research has shown that being suspended just once increases the likelihood of dropping out by threefold. This ripple effect is apparent on black boys in CPS: Not only are black male students more likely to be suspended, they also have the highest dropout rate of any group, at 55 percent.

The total number of suspensions decreased in 2009, but the percentage handed out to black male students rose slightly.

Another area of concern: Slightly more black male high school students were suspended more than once in 2009 than in 2008.

 Suspensions of …

 2007-08  2008-09
 All students

 50,031  43,972
 Black male students

 22,512 (45%)
 21,190 (48%)

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was head of CPS when suspensions and expulsions began to surge. He supported efforts to make punishment less punitive through restorative justice and other alternatives, but the approach did not become widespread in the district and Duncan never publicly took principals to task for suspending and expelling large numbers of students.

But now, as the nation’s top education official, Duncan seems willing to confront the issue. In a June address to the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference, Duncan noted that his administration has “launched dozens of equity investigations around issues like school discipline, teacher quality and access to rigorous coursework” and called such action “a moral obligation.”

 

Under former President George W. Bush, the U.S. Department of Education never found a school district out of compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination by government institutions, including school districts, says Jim Freeman, project director for the Advancement Project, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.

But over the last year, the department’s Office of Civil Rights initiated 38 compliance reviews of school districts, three of which have been discipline-related. Chicago is not among the three.

Although Freeman points out that the office is now “much more aggressive in looking at these issues,” he is skeptical that the department will look into Chicago’s situation because of the Duncan connection.

However, Ron Huberman, Duncan’s successor, has discipline issues on his radar. He has said that he would like to see a decrease in suspensions and expulsions, though he hasn’t announced a specific plan for accomplishing this.

In a presentation in late May, Huberman said that suspensions declined by 77 percent at six schools that each received about $1 million this year to promote a “culture of calm.” Official school-by-school data on suspensions for this year are not available yet, so Huberman’s claim has yet to be fact-checked.

Last year, in 2009, those six schools experienced an up-tick in discipline, suspending an average of 500 students compared to an average of 450 in 2008.

The Illinois State Board of Education is now using its individual student tracking system to glean statistics on suspension and expulsion, ostensibly a more reliable method than the previous system that depended on districts to report information. 

But the change resulted in a discrepancy between the reports from CPS and ISBE for 2009. The difference for expulsions is significant: CPS reports 612 expelled students, while the state reports just 144. For suspensions, Chicago and the state had a relatively small difference of about 2,000 students. (In 2008, both CPS and ISBE reported the same figures for suspensions and expulsions.)

Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for ISBE, says that the difference is most likely the result of a difference in categorization. For example, the state counts a student as expelled only when he or she is not offered any educational services, a practice that eliminates hundreds of CPS students under age 16 who are expelled but offered a spot in special alternative schools. (Under state law, students under age 16 cannot be denied an education.)

ISBE’s new student-based system does not generate discipline data school-by-school, however. (In 2008, Catalyst analyzed school-level data from the state’s old system.)

Catalyst was not able to obtain complete school-level statistics from CPS for 2009. As they did in 2008, CPS officials only released partial school level data, citing the federal law protecting student privacy. The law prohibits the district from releasing data for schools where fewer than 10 students of the same demographic group were suspended or expelled.

However, districts are not prohibited from releasing data for other schools. In 2009, about 355 schools were outside the federal restriction.

Catalyst is examining the available school-level data to pinpoint trends and will report back on what is happening.

 

Catalyst was unable to obtain reliable demographic data from CPS or ISBE on expulsions for 2009. In 2008, 60 percent of those expelled in CPS were black males.