Finding Patterns in School Suspension Figures

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Tuesday was a big day for education news in New York, with the release of the annual Nation's Report Card; a first accounting by the city of school discipline and violence reports; some announcements about capital spending in the city; and a report by the teachers' union about crowding and the effects of the budget cuts on the city's schools.

The discipline statistics are endlessly fascinating, and factual nuggets were unearthed in the variety of reports about them:

SchoolBook reported that of the 73,441 suspensions last year, half were given to black students, who make up only a third of city students, and 37 percent were given to Hispanic students, who make up about 40 percent. Nearly a third were given to special education students, who make up less than 20 percent of the student body.

Gotham Schools reported that three schools suspended 5-year-olds at least 10 times; seven schools suspended 6-year-olds at least 10 times. Thirty suspensions of 6- and 7-year-olds were issued to one school, Public School 152 Dyckman Valley, last year.

The New York Post said two schools — P.S. 106 in Queens and P.S. 272 Curtis Estabrook in Brooklyn — administered about a dozen superintendent suspensions, which are the longer and more serious of school suspensions, to children in second grade.

SchoolBook also reported that one school, Junior High School 13 Jackie Robinson, had only 266 students but gave out 294 superintendent or principal’s suspensions.

SchooolBook points out that the release of the figures, which were mandated by the City Council, was incomplete, with figures for only 462 of the 1,700 schools.

Most schools had their data withheld because they had fewer than 10 suspensions in either category last year, and officials of the city's Department of Education said that releasing this data could lead to the identification of individual students, violating students’ privacy rights.

But without those figures, Anna M. Phillips wrote, "it’s difficult to compare suspension rates across the city accurately."

In the last decade, the city’s Education Department has opened many small schools that with only 500 or 600 students, are less likely than their larger peers to give more than 10 suspensions in a year. The department also did not release citywide totals, which would indicate the average length of a student suspension, at what age most students are given suspensions, and what types of infractions are most common.

SchoolBook will be adding the reported figures to those schools' SchoolBook pages in the next few days, as part of the trove of data we have compiled for every school in the city.

On the national level, Ron Nixon writes in The New York Times about the battle shaping up in Washington over federal efforts to improve the healthiness — and lower the calories — in school lunches. With the school lunch industry worth $11 billion, the lobbyists have come out in droves to attack the initiatives, he writes.

With some nutrition experts rallying to the Obama administration’s side, the battle is shaping up as a contentious and complicated fight involving lawmakers from farm states and large low-income urban areas that rely on the program, which fed about 30 million children last year with free or subsidized meals. Food companies have spent more than $5.6 million so far lobbying against the proposed rules.

And these are some of the events planned around the city for Wednesday:

Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott is scheduled to appear at a District 23 town hall-style meeting at P.S. 156 Waverly, 104 Sutter Avenue, Brooklyn, at 6 p.m. — and demonstrators have already said they will be there to greet him.

The focus of these demonstrations is to prevent the closings of P.S. 298, K631 and K634, which are on the list of struggling schools that are scheduled for extra help to improve or be shut. The demonstrations are scheduled to start an hour before the town hall meeting at P.S. 156 begins.

And here is some happy news that SchoolBook will be reporting more on later Tuesday. From the news release:

Two New York City youth programs have been honored by the White House with the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. The Gilder Lehrman Saturday Academies (G.L.S.A.) and Young People’s Chorus of New York City are among 12 after-school and out-of-school programs across the country to receive the award — the highest honor such programs can receive in the United States. First lady Michelle Obama will present student representatives with the award tomorrow (Nov. 2) at 2:30 p.m. The ceremony will be streamed live on