School Climate & Safety

Vulnerable Chicago Students Face Frequent Discipline, Report Finds

By Corey Mitchell — March 20, 2015 2 min read
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Crossposted from Education Week’s Rules for Engagement blog

By Evie Blad

Chicago public schools have successfully decreased suspension rates while teacher and student perceptions of school safety have improved, according to a new report.

Released by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research on Thursday, the report examined suspension and arrest rates for the city’s public school students between the 2008-2009 school year and the 2013-2014 school year.

The findings show that across those six years, the rate of out-of-school suspensions decreased from 23 percent to 16 percent in high schools and from about 14 percent to 10 percent in middle schools, though the entirety of the middle school decline came in the final year of the study.

Since 2009, the Chicago public school system has been introducing a string of policies aimed at improving safety and reducing reliance on exclusionary punishment.

These policies included providing several high schools with funding to create counseling and behavioral support programs, as well as changing the student code of conduct to require principals to get district approval before suspending a student for more than five days.

Though critics of these policy changes argued that concerted efforts against suspension would worsen school environments, the report found otherwise. In fact, during periods of declining suspension rates, students reported feeling more secure and teachers saw higher levels of order in their classrooms.

While overall suspension rates did decrease, the report also emphasized disparities in suspension rates between genders and among students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. In the past six years, the number of high school in-school suspensions has doubled for African American students, but remained the same for students of other races and ethnicities.

Within races, boys were more likely to receive suspensions than girls. Across races, African American boys had the highest out-of-school suspension rate at 33 percent, while white and Asian girls had the lowest at 2 percent.

The report also found high rates of suspension among Chicago public schools’ most vulnerable learners. At the high school level, 24 percent of students with disabilities and 27 percent of students with low test scores received suspensions in the 2013-2014 school year. Suspension rates were also high--16 percent and 17 percent, respectively--at the middle school level.

Other reports have found similar trends. Data collections in 2012 and 2014 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights showed minority students and students with disabilities faced harsher discipline and had disproportionate rates of suspension and arrest.

The report is the first in a series by the consortium on Chicago public schools’ disciplinary practices. Another report that will look more thoroughly at suspension rates and school climate is scheduled to come out in summer 2015.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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