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Explore Racial Disparities in Hundreds of Illinois Schools and Districts

Takeaways from our “Miseducation” app and how you can use it, too.

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

This week, ProPublica launched “Miseducation,” an interactive database where you can search, examine and compare racial disparities in thousands of schools and school districts across the United States. The tool — based on data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection program — measures these disparities in four ways: enrollment in advanced classes, student discipline, gaps in academic achievement and level of segregation at the district and state level.

Since I helped build the tool and live here in Illinois, I’m going to break out some important takeaways from our state’s data and explain how you can use it to find information important to you. And, please, let us know what you discover about the data from your school district. Does it match your experience? Do you know more about factors that could explain what you see? Send us an email or tweet at us.

1. Nationally, black students are more likely to be disciplined than children of other races. Illinois follows this pattern.

In most of the country, black students are overrepresented in discipline (defined as an out-of-school suspension). That goes for Illinois, too, as you can see on this page.

In 312 of the 326 Illinois school districts where disparities could be calculated, black students were at least twice as likely to be disciplined as white students. In 59 districts, black students were more than 10 times as likely to be disciplined. In only five districts that together represented fewer than 1,200 students, discipline rates for black students were equivalent to or less than white students.

Discipline is particularly worth your attention because it’s a clear-cut metric. Researchers found that when Chicago cut back on discipline, attendance rose and test performance improved among black students. Disparities in discipline often have a significant effect on educational attainment and outcomes.

2. Hispanic students in Illinois are underrepresented in Advanced Placement classes, except in Chicago.

In Chicago Public Schools, 46 percent of Hispanic students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes, which can give students college credit. That’s the same percentage for Hispanic students in the entire school district. Outside Chicago, it’s a different story. Many districts with Hispanic students see a much smaller proportion of those pupils enrolled in advanced classes.

Take suburban Barrington Community School District, which serves one of the wealthiest areas in the country. In Barrington, Hispanic students make up 18 percent of the population but represent 5 percent of all students taking at least one AP class. Hispanic students are, on average, at least three grade levels behind their white counterparts and 2.3 times as likely to be suspended.

Barrington

Chicago

3. Performance and discipline disparities inside individual schools are low in Chicago, but high across the district. Why? Segregation.

If you explore individual Chicago schools in the app, you’ll see that most schools are made up largely of one race. Take Phillips Academy High School, in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Our app shows Phillips is 97 percent black. Unsurprisingly, all students who take Advanced Placement classes at Phillips are black. In this way, Phillips isn’t so different from Juarez Community Academy. Juarez is 94 percent Hispanic, and Hispanic students make up 93 percent of AP class enrollment.

In Chicago, the disparities are between schools. That’s in part because Chicago has one of the most segregated school systems in the country. Juarez Community Academy suspends 9 percent of all students, while Phillips suspends 39 percent.

Juarez Community Academy (left) and Phillips Academy High School

To understand those disparities, you have to look at it on a larger scale: the district. At the district level, the systemwide disparities come into focus.

We want you ... to use our app!

Our “Miseducation” tool includes nearly 100,000 schools and more than 17,000 districts nationally, and 4,081 schools and 935 districts in Illinois. There’s a lot more to learn about racial disparities in Illinois education aside from the three takeaways I mentioned. That’s why we hope you’ll use the app to explore the schools in your community and tell us what you find. In the coming weeks, we’ll be adding even more Illinois-specific school data to provide deeper insight into the schools here. So keep checking back.

Again, tell us: Does the data collected by the Department of Education ring true to your experience? What else should we know about factors that could explain what you see? Do you know about Illinois education data and have ideas about what we could show that would be meaningful and impactful? Let us know!

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David Eads

David Eads is a former news applications developer at ProPublica Illinois, where he combined journalism with software development.

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