This blog post started out as a reply to readers who commented
today’s story discussing discipline data. The data show
discriminatory discipline is a real phenomenon at the local, state
and national levels.
My reply got a little lengthy, so I had to put it in the
Vitaeus, you asked, “Is there any research into how many
discipline cases are upheld on higher review?” You also were
worried about districts being subject to quotas.
Regarding whether cases were upheld, I assume you’re talking
about the federal
review of complaints of possible civil rights violations in
schools. My understanding is that the evidence of discriminatory
discipline referred to in the report was based on cases that had
been vetted (not those that were unfounded), as well as
investigation of school districts’ discipline practices across the
Larry Croix: Yes, it is possible for a snapshot of data to be
taken out of context. But the feds have been following this issue
for years (as I will elaborate on in part 6 of this series).
None of the many school officials, youth advocates and education
policy analysts I talked to denied that discriminatory discipline
exists, including Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute (quoted
in this story). But Petrilli doesn’t like the idea of sanctions,
which he says could drive schools toward a quota-driven approach to
reduce suspensions and expulsions.
That seems a valid and fair concern, especially given recent
history in districts, like Philadelphia, where school officials
tried to reduce suspensions and expulsions without a systematic
approach to maintaining control of the classroom. The
schools became chaotic and dangerous, according to the
Data from the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public
Instruction is different from the federal data. It comes from
Washington schools’ annual reports in the number of incidents and
disciplinary actions (as in the database, above in the story). That
gives a snapshot of each district per school year, showing what was
the most prevalent reported offense at each. Was it bullying,
drugs, fighting without major injury? And so on.
On OSPI’s website, you can also drill down to each school. They
are working on making that information easily accessible/ sharable,
but when we checked, their “report builder” wasn’t ready for prime
time. And we’re talking a ton of data here, so transferring it by
hand would have been prohibitive for our staff. We will try to pull
that data to our website when it becomes available.
Schools, in the past, also have reported demographic information
on race, socioeconomic status and disabilities. As of 2012-2013,
they must now show disciplinary action by demographic group.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is
incorporating this new data (not new to the schools) into its
public database, which will be out some time this spring, according
to the OSPI spokesman I talked to.
What will all this new data do? Going forward, districts and
other interested parties can track discipline data by demographic
group over the years by district and down to the school level.
Hopefully, analysts and the public will look at patterns and not
snapshots taken out of context, a concern of one school official I
In theory, districts are consistent in their recording and
reporting of incidents, but that may not be so, at least yet,
according North Mason’s Superintendent David Peterson, whose
district had the highest rate of suspensions and expulsions of all
local districts in 2010-2013. Peterson says differences in how
districts view, record and report offenses can account for at least
part of this.
Larry Croix, you make the point that data could be manipulated.
School officials and a spokeswoman from the Washington State School
Directors association, also were concerned about this, especially
given that (in theory) anyone could make their own data report from
OSPI’s website. Cherry picking in theory is a possibility, so
certainly one would want to consider the source.
state report referenced in this story analyzed discipline data
by demographics for the 2009-2010 school year. Data for the graphic
illustration in the newspaper today came from the 2012-2013 school
year, analyzed for us by Washington Appleseed, an organization
focused on education policy and social justice. Appleseed has a
data sharing agreement with OSPI.
The state report, co-authored by data analysts at Washington
Appleseed, appears well vetted. Lawmakers considered it heavily in
recent legislation addressing discipline that got bipartisan
Bottom line, regarding discriminatory discipline, we’re talking
about a decade or more of local, state and national data. I talked
to dozens of school officials and teachers. Only one denied that
discriminatory discipline is a real phenomenon.
Will the data get better as districts become more consistent in
their reporting and as the state improves its system of collecting
and reporting that data? Hopefully. That’s the idea. This is all a
big work in progress.
In the meanwhile, educators are moving forward with “best
practices” aimed at helping troubled students while reducing
“I don’t need to know the exact number of students they’re
suspending and expelling and the exact rates,” said Linda Mangel of
the ACLU of Washington. “We have enough data to know we have a
serious problem with racial disparities in discipline in our
But, Mangel added, “The data only tells part of the story.”
You can’t make the assumption of bias in discipline just based
on data, she said.
“What data can help us do is identify teachers in schools who
may need extra support,” she said.
That will be the topic of tomorrow’s story.
Local officials have argued that solutions to discipline issues
are most appropriately found at the district and building level.
Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how behavior can get misinterpreted and
where some teachers may need support in working with
Thanks all, for your interest.
Chris Henry, reporter
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