U. of C. report finds that suspension rates relate to race

Staff Writer

According to a new report from the University of Chicago (U. of C.), racial disparities among Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students are one of the driving forces of suspension rates.

The consortium report, which took two and a half-years to fully research, looks at how discipline is related to schools’ climate and learning, and what that means for students’ futures.

“A subset of Chicago schools-about a quarter of high schools and 10 percent of schools with middle grades-have very high suspension rates, and almost all of these schools predominantly serve African American students,” according to a summary of the recently published report.

The 74-page report goes into detail about student demographics and each of the suspension rates for the 2013-14 school year. The report also points out that neglect or abuse, or the exposure to trauma, also greatly increases a students’ risk of suspension at their school.

Lauren Sartain, the lead author on the report and research analyst at the U. of C., said that while looking at race, there were also other characteristics that were likely to determine whether a student would be suspended or not.

“We were able to show that while these individual characteristics have a strong relationship, the strongest relationship is the school that you attend,” Sartain said.

She said 23 high schools in particular had a higher suspension rate than any other CPS school, although she would not disclose the names of those schools.

CPS has suspension data available online for the public, and local area schools are listed as follows: Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., had 1,296 suspensions in 2013-14, with 91.2 percent of misconducts resulting in the suspensions. In comparison, in the first semester of the 2014-15 school year, Kenwood had 456 suspensions with 35.1 percent resulting in suspensions from misconducts.

While elementary school stats were far lower, they offer interesting perspectives on suspension rates for younger students. For Bret Harte Elementary, 1556 E. 56th Street, there were 35 suspensions in 2013-14, with 39.8percent of misconducts resulting in those suspensions, while 2014-15, there were only 3 suspensions in the first semester at an 11.1percent suspension rate.

For Kozminski Community Academy, 936 E. 54th St., CPS recorded 36 suspensions for the 2013-14 school year at a rate of 83.7percent. For the first semester of 2014-15 school year, that number was 13 suspensions at 52percent. In Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E. 50th St., there were 66 suspensions at a rate of 85.7 percent in 2013-14, while there were only 5 suspensions in the first semester alone of the 2014-15 school year at 9.4 percent.

Other area schools, such as William Ray Elementary, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., had marked data of 53 suspensions in 2013-14 at 98.1percent, with a shockingly high number of suspensions for the first semester of 2014-15 of 47 at a 14percent rate. Reavis Elementary, 834 E. 50th St., had the most suspensions for elementary schools, with 103 documented suspensions in 2013-14 at 27.7percent. That number decreased significantly for the first semester of the 2014-15 school year at only 5 suspensions at a 3.8percent rate.

Sartain said that overall, suspension rates have been going down over the last five or six years and that students have a lower risk to be suspended now than in previous years.

In result of this data and the research from U. of C., CPS has been able to rethink the root cause of behavior in public schools. Karen Zanausdal, the Executive Director for the Office of Social and Emotional Learning at CPS, said that working closely with the university has allowed them to dig deeper into the data.

“When we talk about suspensions, these are the reasons for students to be out of the classroom, and if students are not in school, they are not able to learn,” she said. “We are constantly making revisions to our code of conduct and continue to see improvements.”

Sartain echoed Zanausdal’s statements saying, “A lot of research out there suggests that students who are suspended have worse outcomes and they drop out or have lower test scores or are more likely to be arrested as an adult.”

While each school’s case is individual and depends on the circumtances, Sartain stresses that special and focused action needs to be taken at the 23 schools that had those higher rates.

“For me, one of the big takeaways is that almost all elementary schools and many high schools have low rates of suspension and police involvement, so when you think of policy improvement, there needs to be a targeted intervention in those specific schools,” she said.