Discipline Data: Hard To Get, Harder To Ignore

Jul 19, 2018

Delia Barajas and Elizabeth Morales, members of the community group Ixchel, review materials they’ve used to educate Cicero and Berwyn residents about school discipline and racial disparities.
Credit April Alonso / The Chicago Reporter

This is one of those good news/bad news stories. A series of state laws meant to reduce the number of kids getting kicked out of school appears to have worked. That’s the good news. But the bad news is: Those same laws also seem to have magnified racial disparities in school discipline.

Kalyn Belsha covers education for the Chicago Reporter, and she analyzed three years worth of discipline data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

“If you reduce the overall number, obviously black students are being suspended and expelled less often,” she says. “But if when you compare them to their white classmates to see who gets suspended and expelled more, black students are being expelled at even more disproportionate rates than they were in the past,” she says.

In 2015, black students were four and a half times more likely than whites to be suspended or expelled; last year, they were six times more likely. (Read her entire report here)

“I knew that nationally, when suspensions and expulsions start going down, that racial disparities often get worse. But I didn’t quite expect it to get as bad as it did for black students. For Hispanic students, the gap barely widened at all, but for black students, it was significant,” Belsha says.

Champaign has had one of the highest disparity rates over the past three years; Springfield has had one of the highest rates of suspensions statewide.

What surprised Belsha most was just the struggle to get the data. A law passed in 2014 required districts to report discipline data. Districts with the worst data were supposed to come up with plans for improvement. But as Belsha discovered, the state wasn’t fully enforcing the law, and data wasn’t being published.