Become a Catalyst member

Celebrating 25 years of Catalyst


Join the conversation

We encourage our readers to leave comments and engage in dialogue about our stories. But before you do, please check out our "rules of the road."

Subscribe to by e-mail feeds

Current Issue

The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

For the Record: Digging deeper into suspensions data

CPS has spent the last week touting what officials say is a big decrease in suspensions, culminating with a school visit and press conference by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday, where the mayor declared that curbing suspensions was just the “right thing to do.”

But a confidential document obtained by Catalyst Chicago shows that suspension data from last year is more troubling than something to boast about. Last year, young elementary-age students were suspended far more than in previous years.

Plus, the racial disparity in suspensions of black students compared to whites and Latinos—long a problem in CPS and something that current CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett says she cares personally about—has widened over the past few years. (Catalyst Chicago has been covering the issue of racial disparities in discipline since 2009.)

The statistic that officials are playing up is a 23 percent decline in high school suspensions, from 46,000 in the 2010-2011 school year to 36,000 in the 2012-2013 school year. But the drop occurred at the same time that enrollment in traditional, district-run high schools has fallen by more than 6,000 students.

The enrollment decline in traditional school is a critical factor because of the simultaneous increase in students at charter schools--where CPS does not collect information on suspensions. Charter schools do not have to adhere to the CPS discipline code and often have tougher discipline than in traditional schools.

When asked about the current disparities at Tuesday's press conference at Wells, Byrd-Bennett said district officials have yet to analyze last year’s data and that she would not comment until she has “accurate” information.

Mariame Kaba of the group Project Nia, says the organization pushed for the district to provide detailed school-level information because overall data “tells us little.” CPS is supposed to release the school-by-school data broken down by race and gender within a few weeks. Project Nia won a huge victory by getting CPS to release the data. 

“We need to know where the issues are so we can address them,” Kaba says. “It is not enough to know that we are trending in the right direction. We need to know if we are trending in the right direction at certain schools, among certain racial groups. We need to know if we are addressing the issues where most of the issues are.”

CPS officials stressed that the PowerPoint dated December 2013 and obtained by Catalyst was a draft. However, the City of Chicago’s data portal has had school suspension rates posted for at least two months, and the data appears to come from the same source as the PowerPoint.

According to the PowerPoint:

-- Among pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students, suspensions increased 48 percent between school year 2012 and school year 2013, even though the Student Code of Conduct does not allow the use of either in-school or out-of-school suspension among young children.

--Every elementary grade level posted an increase in suspensions.

--Areas with predominantly black elementary schools saw the biggest year-to-year increases, while areas with white and Latino student populations stayed about the same or experienced a decline. The Englewood-Gresham, Burnham Park and Austin-North Lawndale areas posted steep jumps in elementary suspensions.

--Among elementary school students who were suspended, 80 percent were black in 2012-2013, compared to 76 percent in 2010-2011. In comparison, just 40 percent of students in CPS are black.

 --Among high school students, 71 percent of those suspended last year were black, up from 66 percent in 2010-2011, according to state and CPS data.

CPS spokesman Joel Hood notes the long-standing problem of racial disparities and says the district clearly has more work to do reduce the gap. Hood also says that though much of the district’s effort to reduce suspensions has been aimed at high schools, district officials are concerned about reducing suspensions in elementary schools and preschools. 

At the press conference on Tuesday, Byrd-Bennett said she attributes the drop in suspensions at the high school level with a 2012 change in the student code of conduct. The change instructed principals to suspend students for only a maximum of 10 days for the most serious offenses, and reduced the maximum number of days allowed for lesser offenses. 

According to the PowerPoint, both elementary and high school students are missing fewer days due to suspension.

Byrd-Bennett says the district will further revise the code of conduct to ensure that no child is suspended for minor infractions, such as having a cell phone.

Byrd-Bennett and Emanuel also said there has been a change in philosophy since they took over the school system, saying that they have encouraged the use of strategies like peace circles and peer juries to address student misbehavior and avoid suspensions.

However, it is unclear how many schools have implemented these restorative justice practices, or what resources the district has put toward helping schools develop programs. At Wells, the school has extra resources as part of a three-year, $5.7 million federal School Improvement Grant. The grant will run out this year.

Tomale Williams, a junior at Wells High School, recalled that he often got in trouble and was suspended numerous times in elementary school and in his first years in high school. As a young black male, Williams felt targeted for harsher discipline.

But last year, the principal of Wells took him aside and got him interested in being a part of the peer jury.

“This taught me a lot of self-discipline and my grades increased from Ds and Fs to As and Bs,” Williams said.

Emanuel added: “Peer jury instilled in them a sense of who they are. It gave them ownership of accountability and responsibility.”


George N. Schmidt wrote 47 weeks 6 days ago

Helping kids -- or juking the stats?

Years ago, before the era of "standards and accountability," whenever a statistical miracle showed up on some CPS data set, there was an audit which brought the claims closer to reality. This was especially true with test data on the old (non high-stakes) test scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the (high school version) Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP).

Auditing was a good idea which avoided many school-level problems and helped the kids.

If a group of students with a certain teacher showed very large "gains" from one year to the next, the old Department of Research and Evaluation re-tested the students, using a different form of the same test.

The first year I taught AP English at Amundsen High School (after a decade when the school didn't have any AP classes in humanities or social sciences; only calculus held out), my students had a large increase in the TAP scores -- and we were audited. The audit showed an even greater gain than the previous test, so the reality of the gains was verified.

What had happened was simple: More instruction, more intensely.

I registered all the students (about 20) for that class that year, and told them and their parents that they would have to do a lot more work and also be in contact with me over the summer about the "summer reading list." They read (and discussed by mail, there was no email or Google Crome then) four books over the summer, then began the new school year in September with four short novels, including "Heart of Darkness" and "Benito Cereno." In October we had the ball buster -- a novel for which there was no Cliffs Notes or movie -- John LeCarre's "Honourable Schoolboy". (I had helped re-developed the AP curriculum guide the previous year and insisted that we include certain "contemporary classics" which had yet to be recognized as part of the canon).

The only way to pass my tests on LeCarre was to read the whole book, do the homework nightly, and work hard on the Friday tests (which were always open book but too difficult to "pass" if you hadn't read the text). Several students who were used to "A's" were sad at first, and in one dramatic case I had to tell a very bright young lady that she could read the book, but just had to put aside more time to do it. As her grades moved up in the source of the month, she thanked me. And later semi-publicly (for being the first teacher who made her use all her talents, instead of allowing classroom politics and sort cuts to bring "up" her grades).

Why this long essay as part of the elaboration of your very good coverage of the latest Rahmstuff?

Once again, Rahm's solution in a "data driven" system is to "Juke The Stats" (to reprise the great phrase from "The Wire") rather than improve things for the benefit of the kids. A few years ago, we had a similar staged event with two other Rahm sychophants -- this one at Police Headquarters featuring Gery McCarthy and Jean-Claude Brizard, Rahm's CEO 1.0.

The publicity stunt, also featuring "data," was called COMPSTAT CPS and supposedly showed a bit meeting of police officials and principals doing, with a straight face, COMPSTAT for reporters. It was straight out of "The Wire," including a bunch of ass-kissing principals who sat on the side waiting to sing the praises of Chicgo's latest Rahm induced miracle.

The event was never held again, and after a year I stopped trying to get information under the FOIA about the "monthly" COMPSTAT CPS meetings. (I suspect they stopped existing as soon as the headlines had been grabbed).

Now let's fast forward to the moral of the story in February 2014.

I was busy on February 11 with the CORE Second City preparations, so I (sadly) missed the publicity stunt at Wells High School. It was really glad to read Fran Spielman's noting that the child's "peer jury" as a media event was kind of tacky -- even for Rahm and "BBB" (CEO 2.0).

That kind of exploitation of children is supposed to be a NO NO -- but not in Rahmland in Rahmtime.

I served as "Director of Security and Safety" during the Debbie Lynch years (2001 - 2004) and we spent a lot of time working with the police on aligning CPS discipline with CPD security and court needs. Having worked as "Security Coordinator" at Bowen High School for several years in the late 1990s, I had worked hard to make sure that the school's discipline policies were aligned with the law enforcement realities -- including court.

The problem was simple. When a child committed a crime, we discovered, the schools often neglected to suspend the student even though the police had accomplished an arrest. One of the more dramatic examples in my time at Bowen came when a member of the Latin Dragons fired five shots a car load of Latin Kings behind the school (we were posted on 89th St.; the shooting took place on 88th St.). No injuries, but shooting at someone on school property is a crime, so we insisted that the Kings ID the shooter, which they did (based on our assurance that fair was fair, and that we would have arrested them had they tried the same stuff).

I prepared the suspension paperwork, under Group VI (maybe category VI at that point) of the Uniform Discipline Code of CPS. The police prepared the arrest paperwork, with each of the three Kings as witnesses.

The next morning, the shooter walked proudly into the school as usual, and the police promptly (but quietly) took him into the office and arrested him, while I presented him with the suspension paperwork. Ten days for attempted murder.

Had we not done that, the Dragon would have been the hit of the "Folks" at the school that day, having gotten away with trying to "light up" a bunch of "People." Instead, he was locked up -- and suspended.

We are not doing kids a favor when we teach them as official policy that they can get away with attempted murder. I can only imagine what "Juanito" (the Dragon in question) would have cooed to a "jury of his peers" inside the school had we been forced NOT TO SUSPEND him under some dangerously lopsided policy. It would have increased his cynicism and undermined out ability to keep everyone at the school safe.

That was my first suspension for attempted murder.

A year or so later, I wrote up four students for murder after the December 1997 murder of Antwan Jordan outside the Bowen Annex at the end of a school day when the Spanish Disciples decided to "light up" the Black Stones and King. I was charged, as "coordinator of security" with verifying that the young man, who had a bullet through his head, was dead, having to wait for para-medics to tell me that his "lights are out" forever. (They also showed me the exit wound; I had been watching that surprised look in his eyes while I stood over him awaiting the para-medics for a professional version of what I couldn't verify over my walkie talkie...).

Thanks to good police work and our own security work, we were able to ID the four students who had been passing their "Nine" from one to the other and "cranking rounds" in the general direction of their enemies that fateful afternoon. The fact that they got off a "lucky" shot (a lot of times these shooters are really trying NOT to hit anyone) was probably a surprise to most there, not the least of whom was young Mr. Jordan, whom I watched die.

All four of those we suspended and arrested were "minority males." I have wondered every time I've heard stuff like the February 11, 2014 nonsense from Rahm and BBB whether we would have had to adhere to some kind of quota system in our suspensions. Would I have been quoted so that I could only suspend one Black murderer and on Mexican American murderer?

Chicago may be helping some students with this publicity stunt version of discipline, but I have a hunch that once the worst kids (the younger gang bangers are good candidates) learn to game the system, things will get much much worse. As for me, I will not allow any school to put my sons on a peer jury. Can you imagine the pressure on a kid going through the peer ritual in the face of "Juanito" or any of the other major gang bangers in the community.

Sure. And the mayor and Gery McCarthy will protect the student on the peer jury who argues that the students who just beat up, or raped, or mutilated (I suspended for all three of those, and more) should be arrested and suspended.

Juking the stats, whether in fiction in "The Wire" or in reality in Rahm's Chicago, is just another Hollywood script that crashes quickly into the reality of Chicago's streets.

Sallie wrote 47 weeks 5 days ago

strategies that work

Parents, as well as schools share a stake in children becoming competent adults and productive citizens. Raising emotionally healthy, self-confident, motivated, and self-disciplined children is a challenge for parents. Supporting, developing, and implementing programs that foster healthy parent–child relationships enable children to become caring, responsible, and contributing members of society.

Proactive Parenting is “upstream”, helping parents develop predictable behavioral templates in the early years with the goal of providing children with the tools necessary to tackle challenges , navigate relationships and develop respect for and cooperation with others.

The challenges families are facing today are genuine – record high school dropout rates, rising crime and a growing underclass. Providing effective parent education to families with young children is critical in changing the path for these children. The evidence-based strategies taught by Proactive Parenting are making a difference.

contact us:

Add your comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
go here for more