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A decade after Decatur fracas, racial gap in school discipline widens
Associated Press

In this Nov. 7, 1999 photo, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, leads a march in Decatur with Jeffrey Perkins, left, the only Decatur School Board member to vote against the two-year expulsion imposed on six black boys for fighting at a football game.


Associated Press file

In this Nov. 17, 1999, photo, Brenda Carson, left, the mother of an expelled student, is joined by the the Rev. Marshall Hatch of Chicago, the Rev. James T. Meeks of Chicago, second from right, and the Rev. Jimmy Waddell, of Decatur.


Associated Press file

In this Nov. 9, 1999, photo, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, joins with expelled students and supporters at a prayer service at a church in Decatur.


Associated Press file

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Published: 11/23/2009 12:04 AM

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A look at the data

Here is a summary of findings after an Associated Press analysis of state data for public school suspensions and expulsions the last 10 years.


From 1999-00 to 2007-08:

• Overall suspensions have increased 47 percent

• White suspensions have declined 5.4 percent

• Black suspensions have increased 74.5 percent

• Hispanic suspensions have increased 114.7 percent

In 1999-00:

• Whites made up 44 percent of the suspensions

• Blacks made up 43.2 percent

• Hispanics made up 11.7 percent

In 2007-08:

• Whites made up 28.3 percent of the suspensions

• Blacks made up 51.3 percent

• Hispanics made up 17.1 percent

Of all suspensions from 1999-00 to 2007-08:

• Whites made up 34.4 percent

• Blacks made up 49.4 percent

• Hispanics made up 14.5 percent


From 1999-00 to 2007-08:

• Overall expulsions increased 43.7 percent

• White expulsions increased 16.2 percent

• Black expulsions increased 56.1 percent

• Hispanic expulsions increased 81.2 percent

In 1999-00:

• Whites made up 41.2 percent of the expulsions

• Blacks made up 44.6 percent

• Hispanics made up 12.9 percent

In 2007-08:

• Whites made up 33.3 percent of the expulsions

• Blacks made up 48.4 percent

• Hispanics made up 16.3 percent

Of all expulsions from 1999-00 to 2007-08:

• Whites made up 37.7 percent

• Blacks made up 45.7 percent

• Hispanics made up 14.9 percent

Average school population from 1999-00 to 2007-08:

• White: 57.0 percent

• Black: 20.1 percent

• Hispanic: 17.1 percent

Note: Not all racial groups are represented in the above figures.

Source: Illinois State Board of Education

History of school punishment

The number of Illinois public schoolchildren expelled from school in the middle of the decade was more than three times greater than the number 20 years ago. Expulsions have fallen but are still far higher than they were in the 1989-90 school year, as are suspensions. Here is a history.

Year Suspensions Expulsions Enrollment
1989-90 193,647 1,112 1,758,607
1991-92 190,556 1,224 1,801,166
1992-93 214,012 1,369 1,823,608
1993-94 223,034 1,787 1,840,631
1994-95 249,590 2,077 1,861,238
1995-96 257,364 2,208 1,886,083
1996-97 277,183 2,599 1,910,507
1997-98 281,484 2,765 1,926,402
1998-99 239,651 2,779 1,935,519
1999-00 239,770 2,100 1,953,377
2000-01 264,369 2,323 1,972,856
2001-02 254,450 2,533 2,029,821
2002-03 276,084 2,530 2,044,539
2003-04 311,097 2,703 2,060,048
2004-05 321,960 3,322 2,062,912
2005-06 324,328 3,413 2,075,277
2006-07 352,599 3,451 2,077,856
2007-08 351,904 3,018 2,074,167
Chg 90-08 81.7% 171.4% 17.9%

In 2003-04, the state stopped collecting figures on suspensions lasting 11 or more days.

Source: Illinois State Board of Education

SPRINGFIELD - In the decade since mass protests over the punishment of six black students in Decatur, the state's racial gap in discipline has split wide open. It's such a gaping hole that now more than half of all Illinois children suspended from public schools are black, even though they represent less than one-fifth of the enrollment, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Expulsions also have disproportionately hit blacks, worrying education experts and state lawmakers about the effect of so many minority students missing classroom time.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson fixed the nation's attention on the disparity when he led protests in November 1999 over two-year expulsions of six Eisenhower High School students for brawling in the bleachers at a football game. Joined by thousands of people who marched the streets of Decatur, the civil rights leader questioned whether discipline policies were fair to all students.

The AP analysis of state discipline records shows the racial divide has only worsened since then, from Chicago's troubled schools to rural areas with few minority students:

• Suspensions of black students have escalated by 75 percent since 1999, while those of white students have dropped more than 5 percent.

• When it comes to the more serious punishment of expulsion, white students are kicked out 16 percent more often than a decade ago, but black students are expelled 56 percent more often.

• Whites make up nearly three-fifths of public school enrollment, yet in the most recent data, they account for one-third or fewer of both suspensions and expulsions.

The proportion of blacks facing discipline has soared in all parts of the state even though the percentage of Illinois' black enrollment has steadily fallen in the past decade.

Hispanic suspensions are up too, but so is Illinois' Hispanic population. Latino students now slightly outnumber blacks with 20 percent of school enrollment, but account for just over 17 percent of all suspensions in the latest data, compared to 51.3 percent for blacks.

Experts see many factors at work: cultural differences between students and teachers, poverty, academic achievement, problems with classroom management and teacher training. They also see the possibility of racial bias in the way students are treated.

"There's a lot more going on than poverty and the characteristics of kids," said Russell Skiba, an Indiana University researcher who studies school discipline.

State Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Chicago Democrat, predicting a legislative response next spring, said the numbers show not "an ounce of objectivity in terms of how these policies are applied to children of color. The facts are overwhelming in terms of who's being targeted."

It matters little where in the state a child answers the bell. Whether it's a poor urban district, a rich suburban district, or a rural area, blacks are getting written up in proportions far exceeding their white classmates.

In the largely black and Latino Chicago Public Schools, for example, suspensions for those groups jumped more than 150 percent in a decade; white suspensions were up 44 percent.

In the suburban counties surrounding Chicago, white suspensions fell while black ousters soared 94 percent. White suspensions fell in downstate schools too, while black suspensions increased 37 percent.

Putting students out of school has an obvious downside - lost education. Even if administrators offer schooling at "alternative" schools for pupils with problems, there are disruptions.

Missed class time can lead to dropouts, joblessness and prison, Jordan said.

Skiba said a predominantly white teaching corps - 85 percent in Illinois, compared to 9 percent black - may be culturally mismatched with minority students. White teachers without proper training, he said, can misinterpret student actions that aren't meant to be disruptive or threatening.

He has found little difference in the numbers of whites and blacks suspended for fighting, but punishment for "noncompliance" and "defiance" overwhelmingly is doled out to blacks, a more subjective transgression that might mean there's a cultural misunderstanding between a teacher and a student.

Julie Woestehoff, director of the Chicago advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education, said black boys are particularly likely to be labeled troublemakers. There's a "very serious problem with the school system and its ability to serve the needs of that population," she said.

The Illinois data AP analyzed do not include the reason behind the punishment or who's meting it out.

And one recent study shows the complexity of the issue. University of Georgia professor Jeffrey Jordan and a colleague found that black teachers in a school district near Atlanta recommended discipline for black kids in larger proportions than white teachers.

There are also too many failing students who tend to get in trouble more, said Rep. Esther Golar, a Chicago Democrat and chairwoman of the House Black Caucus.

"They don't fit in. They're not at the level they should be. There's a shame level," Golar said. "So what do they do best? Fight and get into all sorts of things."

Still, Golar said, too few Chicago schools follow guidelines ensuring that all teachers respond the same way to problems. A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools did not return a phone message or e-mail seeking comment.

Teachers, particularly new ones, want more training, Illinois Education Association spokesman Charles McBarron said. The IEA wants a mentoring program pairing veterans with rookies expanded throughout the state.

Colvin said members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in recent weeks have begun discussing the racial gap and what lawmakers can do. The Illinois State Board of Education is scheduled to discuss school violence in December, a spokesman said.

State officials now face a situation that experts describe as something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Minority students come to school expecting to be disciplined. When they are, it reinforces their attitude, which prompts teachers - both black and white - to label them troublemakers.

Georgia's Jordan wonders whether the system is sending a message to some kids that they're expendable.

"So from their point of view, why bother?" he asked.

School punishment totals

In the decade since the Rev. Jesse Jackson protested the expulsion of six black students from a Decatur high school, the racial gap between white and black punishment in Illinois schools has grown. Here is a history of suspensions and expulsions for white, black and Hispanic males and females:

Year White Male White Female Black Male Black Female Hispanic Male Hispanic Female Total
1999-00 79,950 25,234 70,984 32,425 21,043 7,001 239,161
2000-01 78,172 25,080 83,947 39,100 25,930 8,586 263,595
2001-02 79,183 25,468 78,039 36,901 23,683 8,078 253,957
2002-03 79,493 25,483 89,850 41,765 26,538 9,311 275,226
2003-04 80,089 26,836 104,999 50,935 33,180 11,826 311,097
2004-05 75,689 26,065 112,811 55,971 33,898 12,817 321,960
2005-06 75,693 25,439 108,736 55,923 37,767 14,671 324,328
2006-07 75,286 24,944 120,796 66,766 40,149 15,338 352,599
2007-08 74,468 25,027 118,825 61,589 43,191 17,018 351,904
Chg. 00-08 -7% -1% 67% 90% 105% 143% 47%

Figures for other racial groups not listed individually are included in totals. Does not include 2,700 suspensions from 2000-03 that lasted 11 or more days. The state stopped collecting such numbers in 2003-04.

Source: Illinois State Board of Education

Year White Male White Female Black Male Black Female Hispanic Male Hispanic Female Total
1999-00 705 161 663 273 233 38 2,100
2000-01 789 229 614 255 340 63 2,323
2001-02 752 225 812 331 289 55 2,503
2002-03 731 256 827 328 303 62 2,530
2003-04 835 274 808 310 404 42 2,703
2004-05 822 266 1,238 487 385 86 3,322
2005-06 871 270 1,286 442 407 76 3,413
2006-07 914 445 1,029 438 427 84 3,451
2007-08 765 241 1,092 369 429 62 3,018
Chg. 00-08 9% 50% 65% 35% 84% 63% 44%