discipline disparities

Black students in New York City receive harsher suspensions for the same infractions, report finds

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Advocates protested the city's suspension policy.

Black students don’t just bear the brunt of suspensions in New York City — they also are more likely to receive harsher punishments for committing the same infractions as students from other racial groups, according to an analysis released Thursday by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

The report zeroed in on the top 10 infractions that cause roughly 80 percent of student suspensions and found that black students were more likely to receive harsher punishments for eight of them. In three of those suspension categories — bullying, reckless behavior, and altercation — black students were suspended for roughly double the number of days as students from at least one other racial group.

Black students who were suspended for “reckless behavior,” for instance, were suspended for 16.7 days on average. For Asian students, it was just 7.3 days, and for whites 10.9 days. The IBO report found that black students were not overrepresented in just two of the top 10 suspension categories: insubordination and drug possession.

Those findings, based on data from the 2016-17 school year, come against the backdrop of discipline reforms under Mayor Bill de Blasio that contributed to a substantial reduction in the number of overall suspensions, including in subjective categories such as “insubordination.” However, overall suspensions still disproportionately affect black students and students with disabilities.

The IBO report does not include any analysis of whether the harsher punishments are the result of discrimination, differences in student behavior or the interplay of these or other factors, even within the same suspension categories.

There is research that some — though not all — of the disparities in school discipline are the result of bias from teachers and administrators. A study in Louisiana found that black students receive slightly harsher punishments than white students do while looking at the same altercation; other research has shown that black students are more likely to be suspended for discretionary offenses (think insubordination).

Black teachers are also less likely to suspend black students than white teachers. (In New York City, although 83 percent of students are Asian, black or Hispanic, less than 40 percent of their teachers are, according to data from the 2015-16 school year.)

“We’ve invested $47 million in school-based resources and support that have helped lead to a 34 percent decrease in suspensions, and we continue to expand restorative practices that address the underlying causes of conflict, reinforce positive behaviors, and hold students accountable for their actions while keeping them in a learning environment,” education department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said in a statement.

“We recognize there is more work to do to address these national disparities at a local level and continue to remain focused on improving school climate,” she added.

You can read the full IBO report here.


Chicago school applications are due midnight Friday. Here’s your last-minute cheat sheet.

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff
At a fall open house, students at Benito Juarez Community Academy greeted visitors. As more students choose schools outside their neighborhood, schools have to work harder to impress families.

Families have until 11:59 pm Friday to apply to schools outside of their neighborhood through Chicago’s online portal, GoCPS.

On Thursday afternoon, wait times stretched nearly 10 minutes for callers to the Office of Access and Enrollment, which serves as a help-desk for GoCPS.

Families interested in options beyond their assigned neighborhood school must apply to attend magnet schools that draw students based on lottery, selective enrollment programs that require tests, and specialized programs such as dual-language or International Baccalaureate.

The application process is particularly fraught for students entering high school. Eighth-graders can choose from among 250 programs in nearly 150 high schools. Demand varies widely, with some schools receiving thousands of applications beyond what they can accommodate and others receiving too few.

While choosing a high school is serious business for students, their collective choices can become a do-or-die point for schools competing for a shrinking pool of students. The dozens of Chicago high schools labeled as under-enrolled risk falling into an unforgiving downward cycle. Schools losing enrollment also lose district revenue, which is doled out per student, and then they find it even more difficult to offer popular programs to appeal to applicants.  

Here’s some of our other coverage on the universal application system, which is now in its second year:

  • To see how many students applied to each high school last fall and compare it to the number of offers made this spring, click here.
  • To read how the race to impress students is leading high schools to behave more like small colleges, with swag bags, mariachi bands, and flashy brochures, click here.
  • To find our coverage of the first in-depth research report that evaluated the GoCPS system, click here. The system is mostly working as intended, according to an August report released by the University of Chicago Consortium of School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The majority of high school students who used GoCPS ultimately got one of their top three choices. But the study also disclosed problems that the district now faces: There are too many empty seats in high schools.
  • To follow-along in the discussion about high-quality neighborhood options, read this story about a recent meeting at Kelly High School, which we covered here.
  • To learn more about a controversial school inventory report made public in August that shows that fewer than half of Chicago students attend their designated neighborhood school, click here.
  • To look up the latest round of SAT scores by school, click here. To find our database of high school graduation rates, click here. 



Lawsuit seeks to halt program designed to increase integration at New York City’s specialized high schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat
Asian-American parents and community leaders gathered in Brooklyn on Thursday to learn about a lawsuit against part of the city's plan to integrate specialized high schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to integrate the city’s specialized high schools now faces a legal challenge, which could potentially disrupt the current admissions cycle to the elite schools.

On Thursday, Asian-American parents and community organizations filed a lawsuit claiming the city’s diversity plans unfairly hurt their children’s chances of getting into a specialized high school, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

The suit targets the city’s planned expansion of the Discovery program, which offers admission to students who scored just below the cutoff on the exam that is the sole entrance criteria.

The law firm representing the plaintiffs has also asked for a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit is pending. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit firm with conservative, libertarian leanings, argues that “the challenged plan will impact imminent admission decisions — i.e. this admissions season.” If an injunction were granted it could unsettle an  admissions process already underway for the city’s current eighth graders, who took the test that determines admissions in October or early November.

The lawsuit arrives atop a  wave of anger from some in the city’s Asian-American community, whose children make up a disproportionate percentage of the enrollment at specialized high schools. Citywide Asian students represent 16 percent of the student population but comprise 62 percent of those at the sought-after subset of schools.

Currently, Discovery participants are mostly Asian: This year, those students made up 64 percent of those admitted to specialized schools through the program.

The city is planning a two-year expansion of Discovery to eventually account for 20 percent of seats at each specialized high school. Officials are also tweaking the program so that, in order to qualify, students must come from a middle school where at least 60 percent of students are economically needy. By doing so, the city estimates black and Hispanic enrollment in specialized high schools will increase from about 10 percent to about 16 percent. Citywide, those students comprise almost 70 percent of enrollment.

But the lawsuit argues the changes are discriminatory and would disproportionately shut out Asian students. It also claims the program’s expansion would make it more difficult to get into a specialized high school by limiting the number of seats available to students who aren’t in Discovery.

“We all have the American dream of equal opportunity,” Yi Fang Chen, a mother who is part of the suit, said in a press release. But she said the changes to Discovery are like “taking someone else’s dream away.”

An education department spokesman did not comment directly on the lawsuit, but said the city’s plans would “expand opportunity and raise the bar” at specialized high schools.

“Our schools are academically stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city,” spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email.

At a community meeting in Brooklyn to discuss the suit, Asian parents were encouraged to keep up public pressure on the city to help build support for their cause.

“We’re just here to fight for our rights,” one father said. “We want to be heard.”