School Climate & Safety

‘Concentrated Disadvantage’ Drives Chicago Discipline Disparities, Study Says

By Evie Blad — September 22, 2015 2 min read
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High suspension rates in Chicago schools are driven by a cluster of schools with high concentrations of “extremely disadvantaged students,” a new report finds.

That means a Chicago student with the same ethnic background, family income level, and gender is less likely to be suspended in a school with low concentrations of extreme poverty than in a school with higher concentrations, says the study from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Because schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students largely enroll students of color, their high suspension rates create disparate rates of discipline between black and Latino students and their white peers districtwide, the study says. That suggests that school systems must tackle systemic issues as well as building-level policies to ensure fair discipline practices.

From the report:

“It is the concentration of many low-achieving students from high-poverty neighborhoods that seems to increase the likelihood that a school will have high suspension rates. Almost all of these schools have predominantly African American students. About one-quarter of high schools, and 10 percent of schools serving the middle grades, assign out-of-school suspensions to a third or more of their students each year. At many of these schools half of the students receive an OSS in a year. These schools also have the highest rates of in-school suspensions and arrests at school, and they tend to give out the longest suspensions. The suspension practices at these schools, coupled with the fact that they serve African American students, drive the racial/ethnic disparities at the district level. Furthermore, at the high school level, at least 1 in 10 students at these schools has a confirmed history of having been abused or neglected, though all students are at high risk of suspension in these schools—even students with no prior risk factors.”

What might drive down the rates of suspension in these schools? Researchers suggest the answer is a combination of emotional and behavioral supports to help students confront the challenges associated with deep poverty, low academic achievement, and exposure to trauma and alternative discipline forms, such as restorative practices. Some of the high-poverty schools in the study have tried such approaches, but they need more support and resources to be successful given the high needs of their student population, the study says.

Researchers also combined discipline data with child welfare data and found that 30 percent of the students with a history of abuse or neglect were suspended in the 2013-14 school year. “Students with a history of abuse or neglect are concentrated in schools with high suspension rates;" the report says, “in almost all high-suspending high schools, at least 10 percent of students had a documented history of abuse or neglect.”

Read the whole report here for more insights on discipline trends in Chicago schools. What conclusions do you draw from its findings?

Related reading on school suspensions:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.