"Chicago Public Schools has one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates and the disproportionate use of suspensions." -- Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Feb 7, 2014
This morning, I'm being asked by a reporter to respond to CPS's recently-reported remarkable drop in the rates of suspensions and expulsions since 2012 (67% and 74%) along with a corresponding rise in graduation rate (74%, 85%) and improvements in math and reading scores.
My response won't be much different from the one I gave to the NYT when I took issue with their previous glowing reports on Chicago's graduation and drop-out rates.
First, I am elated to hear about any improvements in city schools, including lower suspension and expulsion rates. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan and advocate for public schools and unlike those who currently run CPS and the D.O.E, have sent all three of our children to CPS schools. Currently, my grandson is enrolled at a neighborhood high school in Chicago.
The lowering of suspension/expulsion rates is a key indicator of school improvement. It only makes sense that the more children are in the classroom instead of sitting at home or running the streets, the better chance they have of graduating and going to college (if that is their goal). There's tons of research showing that students who are suspended or expelled have a much greater chance of dropping out altogether.
Despite reported overall reductions in CPS suspension rates, there are still deeply-rooted inequities in the way school punishment is meted out.
The number of suspensions among black and Hispanic students has been cut in half since 2012. But those two groups combined made up more than 96 percent of the district’s total suspensions in the 2015-16 school year, and more than 99 percent – all but three – of its 329 total expulsions.
This past school year, CPS recorded 55,270 total suspensions. Black students within the district were suspended more than 76,000 times in the 2012-13 school year. That total fell to 39,000 in the 2015-16 school year. The number of Hispanic students receiving suspensions also fell from more than 25,000 down to 13,800 between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years.It's also unclear if the overall drop in suspensions resulted from policy changes at the top, the way those changes were implemented (ie. Zero-Tolerance was discarded as a district discipline policy back in 2006 but is still being used to different degrees in different schools), or from external factors.
By external factors, I mean large-scale demographic shifts and the resulting loss of 100,000 CPS students (mainly poor and African-American) over the past decade. You know the old dictum. Get rid of those poor kids and test scores will surely rise.
Finally, it's difficult to trust the data now that data itself has become so politically charged and there's so little transparency over at City Hall where all the important decisions about schools are made. So much of it has been misreported in the past. Fudging the numbers has almost become a way of life at the board. Even more with CPS schools still under the autocratic control of the mayor.
Then there's the privately-run charter schools whose boards are rarely inclined to reveal their suspension rates and who routinely, after broad-brush attacks on CPS school, reject students with behavioral issues, learning disabilities or other problems. CPS teachers and principals who despite these external issues, have managed to lower suspension rates, deserve a SmallSchools Salute.
And finally we have a know-nothing, fact-free president and his appointed rube, Betsy DeVos, who sits atop the D.O.E., making sweeping statements about "failing" city schools without presenting a shred of evidence. The under-funding of city schools at federal and state levels, means that more troubled kids won't get counseling and other badly-needed services. As a result, more school violence and bad behavior being left for teachers to handle by themselves.