Problems with CPS’ (Chicago Public Schools) Racial and Ethnic Demographic Data

Unless you like talking about population and demographic data this is going to be a rather boring post, if you DO like talking about population and demographic data then settle yourself down and make sure to keep your eyes on the screen. If you are saying “I am about to check out and click away to something more interesting on the big wide interwebs” bear with me for a little while, and I promise you that there will be an important message at the end of all of this.

OK lets gets started here! I originally put all of this together for a presentation that I gave at a small psychology conference, but the pretty graphs that I made were hardly visible, so I decided to publish them here, because… why not? All of the data comes from the CPS website and is freely available for download. If you navigate to the page click on the tab that says “demographics”

This is were you find the first problem…
Ruh roh Shaggy!

What a MESS!

This data is a mess… like a serious mess… like if I taught my cat how to use excel, he could do a better job… but he is to lazy and impatient to learn excel…but anyways back to the data. Through out the course of 17 years CPS went through about 4 different formats for organizing this data. It makes comparing across the years quite frustrating. But what is even worse that is how CPS changes up the categories that they classified some of the children in.

This basically means that CPS changed the race of the children, at least from an administrative point of view… which is a bad thing to do. Race is one of the most basic and essential elements of a person’s identity. To change it around willy-nilly from year to year to make the students fit into your spread sheets is wrong. But this is nothing new (unfortunately) and collecting racial demographic data has a long history fraught with problems.

OK, enough pontificating for now (more to come later though!),lets start actually looking at the CPS data.

total popultion

This first graph shows the entire population of CPS since 1998, which is the furthest back the data on the CPS website goes. There is really nothing supper mind blowing going on here, the overall population of CPS has been shrinking for the past 17 years. Why that has been happening is a complex question, well beyond the scope of this post, but if anyone is interested I might do a post looking at that.    raw numbers

This graph is the first one to show some of the breakdown by ethnic and racial demographics. The data points are made up of the total number of students enrolled in CPS who fall into each category. However, this data is a bit clumsy because it uses the raw numbers, and it isn’t adjusted for the fluctuation of total population from year to year.


percentage of whole

Which is why I made this graph. In this graph I converted each data point to a percentage of the whole population. This way we can look at how much of the CPS population is composed of each race and ethnicity. If you are not following any of this, don’t worry, what I did is not that important. The important part of this graph is the top two lines, the blue one represents the Hispanic population and the red one represents the African American/Black population.

What we see here is an inverse correlation (look at that grad school training finally paying off). All that means is that as the the Hispanic population of CPS has been growing, the African American/Black population of CPS has been shrinking. Before 2010 African American/Black students were the majority of the CPS population, and post 2010 Hispanic students are now the majority. Also, this trend does not seem to be slowing down.

As someone who is interested in CPS/data/schools/etc… this should be interesting to you. Naturally if you were a CPS administrator, as the Hispanic population is growing in your school district you would want to know more about them, right? Maybe look at their country of origin? Well for a while CPS did this, and I was able to make the following graphs.

HIspanic breakdown by individual race

You might notice that the data stops after 2007. This wasn’t because I was lazy and got bored playing with excel (which can’t happen), but for whatever reason CPS just up and decided to stop collecting this data. This is pretty frustrating in and of itself from the perspective of trying to analyse this data (a reduction of data being collected is never a good thing people). However, this decision makes no sense considering that in 2007 the Hispanic population of CPS was rapidly approaching being the primary demographic. My suspicion is that stopping this data collect may be something related to money somehow…   


This is when the data starts to get weird. Outside of the data for White and African American/Black CPS students, everything is a mess from here on out. First they had a category for multiracial-Hispanic, then they took it out for two years, then they put it back in for four years, then last year they took it out again. This indecision has really screwed up the general multiracial category as well.

CPS changes pretty rapidly when they have the general multiracial category and when they don’t. On the years where they eliminate it they don’t explain where those students went. Did every single one of them graduate or drop out? The numbers also swing pretty dramatically from year to year. In 2007 they recorded over 11k students in the multiracial category, then they didn’t include that category for two years. When the category came back it had dropped to about 5.6k students.

OK great, but who cares?

At the end of the end of the day you might be saying to yourself, “Who really cares that CPS has screwed up it Demographic data? Only nerds like you actually look at this stuff anyways.” That is true, I am a nerd, and most people don’t care about stuff like census data. But there are a few problems with CPS being so haphazard about this.

1. It doesn’t allow them to properly serve their children. If you don’t know the ethnicity or race of who is sitting in your classrooms how can you best serve them? Accommodations made need to be made, considerations need to be considered, culturally relevant material that could have been included may be left out. Without proper data you don’t know what to do.

2. The Hispanic population of CPS is growing. CPS used to collect some good data on this category, breaking things down into country of origin, but as I said,they stopped this for some inexplicable reason. When you lump everyone together into one category you are effectively erasing all of the culture of these students… and that’s bad.

3. We pay for this. CPS is funded by the state and the federal government, and you can bet that someone was paid a crap load of money to collect this data and publish it for them. If we as tax payers are paying for it and the data is a complete mess, then there is a problem.

4. It sends a bad message. If you are one of those children being shuffled from category to category, year after year, what does that say to you? What does that communicate to that kid about the way the school views their race and ethnicity? My guess is that it probably feels like the school system doesn’t even understand one of the most basic things about you.

OK I care, now what?

Moving forward lets hope that CPS may be able to get things right next year, although, I doubt they will. But perhaps we can do something about it. Next time you have a parent teacher conference, or next time you are at a PTA meeting, bring this up. CPS will never get better about this if they don’t know that people care about it. So lets start to show them that we the community of Chicago care about this issue.

Best regards,
B.G. Carter

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