Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Disparities and Patterns of Suspensions and Arrests in Chicago Public Schools

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 3:30 PM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lauren Sartain1, Elaine M. Allensworth1 and Shanette Porter2, (1)University of Chicago, (2)University of Chicago Consortium on School Research
Across the country, schools have been moving away from zero-tolerance discipline policies that mandate the use of suspensions, expulsions, and police arrests for both minor and serious incidents of misconduct, while encouraging more restorative, supportive practices with students. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have initiated a number of reforms over the past six years to bring about changes in schools’ disciplinary practices. This paper looks at the disparities in suspension rates that remain after six years of reform, shows that these disparities are driven by differences in school-level practices, and characterizes the schools that use suspensions at the highest rates.

Over the period of these reforms, suspension rates in Chicago have been on the decline. However, some students continue to be suspended at high rates, especially in high schools, where 33 percent of African American boys were suspended in the 2013-14 school year. We also find that disparities exist between disadvantaged youth and their more advantaged peers. For example, 27 percent of high school students living in the highest poverty neighborhoods were suspended in 2013-14 compared to 8 percent living in the most affluent neighborhoods. We show that racial disparities in suspension rates are mostly driven by differences between schools in the extent of their use of suspensions.  Differences in suspension rates between different student groups occur primarily because some groups of students are more likely to attend schools with high suspension rates. Among students within the same school there are only small differences in suspension rates.

Using a principal component analysis, we investigate patterns in school disciplinary practices – their likelihood to suspend students both in and out of school and their likelihood to involve police – and find that a subset of schools with high suspension rates account for the bulk of the suspensions in the district, and most of the differences in suspension rates by race/ethnicity.  Most elementary schools and about a third of high schools rarely use exclusionary practices. Students who attend these schools are generally at low risk of being suspended. But at about a quarter of high schools, and about 10% of schools serving the middle grades, students are suspended at very high rates. On average, in high schools with high suspension rates, 43 percent of students receive an out-of-school suspension in a year, and 5 percent of students are involved with the police. At the middle grade and high school level, schools with high suspension and police notification rates almost exclusively serve low-achieving, African American students and these students often live in the poorest neighborhoods and are dealing with many issues at home.

While the district is discouraging the use of suspensions, ultimately discipline practices are determined at the school level. Administrators at individual schools are charged with maintaining order and securing a safe environment for students, and they must decide what is best for the students and staff in their school. Those decisions at individual schools lead to the system-wide patterns in suspension and arrest use that we observe.