This is one of numerous subpages of the Discipline Disparities page of jpscanlan.com. Such pages, like the main Discipline Disparities page, mainly discuss the mistaken belief that generally reducing adverse public school discipline outcomes will tend to reduce, rather than increase, relative racial differences in rates of experiencing the outcomes. The mistaken belief involves the failure to understand the pattern inherent in most risk distributions whereby the rarer an outcome, the greater tends to be the relative difference in rates of experiencing it and the smaller tends to be the relative difference in rates of avoid it, something I have explained in many scores of places since 1987. I explain matter fairly succinctly with respect to school discipline outcomes in “Misunderstanding of Statistics Leads to Misguided Law Enforcement Policies,” Amstat News (Dec. 2012), and “The Paradox of Lowering Standards,” Baltimore Sun (Aug. 5, 2013), and recently explained it at some length with respect to such outcomes in Comments of J. Scanlan on Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Request for Information Regarding the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline (FR Doc ID RD-2021-OCR-0068-0001) (July 23, 2021) (2021 DOE RFI Comments)(Section B(at 38-43)of which more fully addresses the subject of the note to the body of this page, that is, the impossibility of quantifying a demographic difference based on the proportion a group makes up of a population and the proportion it makes up of persons experiencing an outcome).
The body of this page concerns the failure to understand a manifestation of the aforementioned pattern, specifically, that places like Massachusetts that have comparatively low suspension rates will tend to have comparatively large relative demographic differences in suspension rates (though comparatively small relative differences in rates of avoiding suspensions). The broader failure to understand that the same pattern exists as to all adverse outcomes was the subject of my November 2015 seminar at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) titled “The Mismeasure of Health Disparities in Massachusetts and Less Affluent Places” (Abstract) and discussed toward the end of my “United States Exports Its Most Profound Ignorance About Racial Disparities to the United Kingdom,” Federalist Society Blog (Nov. 2, 2017), and is explained briefly with regard to perceptions about adverse health outcomes in advantaged places like Norway, Sweden, and Minnesota in the above-mentioned “It’s easy to misunderstand gaps and mistake good fortune for a crisis,” Minneapolis Star Tribune (Feb. 8, 2014).. But the Boston Lawyers’ Committee study discussed in body of this page also reflected the perception underlying a 2012 Massachusetts law that generally reducing suspension rates would tend to reduce relative racial differences in discipline rates, which is the exact opposite of reality and the exact opposite of what is being observed all across the country. See the second paragraph after Table 1 of the body of the page. The data from the Boston Lawyers’ Committee study also formed the basis for Table 6 (at 7) of my December 8, 2017 testimony at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Briefing titled “The School to Prison Pipeline: The Intersection of Students of Color with Disabilities” (Dec. 8, 2017), as well as Tables B1 and B2 (slides 67 and 68) of the UMMS seminar.
As discussed in the second paragraph after Table 1 of the body of this page, eventually data would presumably be available that would show whether the Massachusetts school discipline legislation in fact led to increased relative differences in suspension rates as an informed observer should expect. In Spring 2016, Massachusetts Appleseed released a study titled “SCHOOL DISCIPLINE IN MASSACHUSETTS - HOW ARE WE DOING? An Analysis of the First Year of the State’s New School Discipline Law, Spring 2016” that showed (in Figure 6) that in fact the reductions in suspensions under the new law between the 2012-13 and the 2014-15 school years were accompanied by an increase in the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white suspension rate (from 3.27 to 3.33) and an increase in the ratio of the suspension rate for students with disabilities to the suspension rate of students without disabilities (from 2.36 to 2.45). The study, however, appraised the changes in terms of percentage point differences, and as commonly occurs in the circumstances, that difference decreased. Had the study discussed in the body of this page examined suspension disparities in terms of absolute differences between rates, it would have found that suspension disparities in Massachusetts were lower than nationally rather than higher than nationally. While the January 18, 2018 report appears to regard itself as follow-up on the Boston Lawyers’ Committee report discussed in the body of this page, it show no hint of an awareness the methodology of Lawyers’ Committee report would yield opposite conclusions as to most or all matters regarding patterns of changes in disparities.
This is a commonplace example of the fog in which demographic differences are analyzed. While Massachusetts Appleseed (like the Boston Lawyers’ Committee) may be an unsophisticated group, analyses of this kind – relying on one measure while seemingly unaware that a different measure would yield an opposite result (even when the other measure is the one more commonly used) – is not different from what would find at Harvard Medical School or Harvard School of Public Health. See the concluding pages of “Race and Mortality Revisited,” Society (July/Aug. 2014) and the Spurious Contradictions subpage of Measuring Health Disparities page of jpscanlan.com. See also my letters to Texas Appleseed (Apr. 7, 2015) and Boston Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (Nov. 12, 2015). Certain authors of the aforementioned July 23, 2021 comment by Anyon et al. were researchers whose apparent failure to understand that absolute and relative differences in suspensions could (or usually would or in fact did) change in opposite directions had led to papers that promoted the mistaken belief that general reductions in suspensions in certain locales had led to decreased relative racial differences in suspensions when in fact those differences had increased.
The Massachusetts Appleseed report (at 1) thanks certain persons for their assistance in preparing the report, including certain authors of the Boston Lawyers’ Committee report and Dan Losen of the UCLA Civil Rights Project. Notwithstanding the aforementioned letter to the Boston Lawyers’ Committee (and a December 4, 2014 email to one of the authors of the report), it is improbable that anyone at Boston Lawyers’ Committee understands either that places with comparatively low suspension rates will tend to have comparatively high relative demographic differences in suspension rates or that generally reducing suspensions tends to increase relative demographic differences in suspension rates. The various Lawyers’ Committee arms around the country have long been promoting the mistaken view that reducing an adverse outcome will tend to reduce relative racial differences in rates of experiencing the outcomes. See my “When Statistics Lie,” Legal Times (Jan. 1 1996). There is little chance that any of those arms will anytime soon will figure out that the opposite is the case.
I discuss Mr. Losen’s curious role in causing the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to continue to promote the mistaken belief that generally reducing suspensions tends to reduce racial differences in suspensions in the DOE RFI Comments (at 7-19). As discussed there, Mr. Losen well understood that generally reducing suspensions could (and usually would) increase relative racial differences in suspension rates at the same time that it reduced absolute differences between such rates and even acknowledged that to the Commission. But he went on to add the confusing discussion that led to the Commission’s continuing to promote the mistaken belief. When providing advice on the Massachusetts Appleseed report, probably sometime in early 2016, Mr. Losen may not have been as aware of the tendency for generally reducing suspensions to increase relative differences in suspension as he was when he provided his January 18, 2018 response to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. But as early, as discussed in my letter to Antioch Unified School District (Sept. 9, 2016) (at 14), as early as February 15, 2015, Mr. Losen had recognized that it was possible for reductions in suspension to increase relative differences in suspensions at the same time that they reduce absolute differences in suspensions, and it would presumably been evident to him that the data in the Massachusetts Appleseed report reflected one such situation. Apparently, however, Mr. Losen did not effectively communicate either an understanding of what typically happens or what in fact had happened in Massachusetts to authors of the Massachusetts Appleseed report. The result was a report that both created the false impression that general reductions in suspensions in Massachusetts had reduced relative differences in suspensions and promoted the false belief that reductions in absolute differences between rates will be accompanied by reductions in relative differences between rates.
In November 2014, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice issued a report titled “Not Measuring Up: The State of School Discipline in Massachusetts,” discussing racial and other disparities in discipline rates in Massachusetts.The report made the following points that will be treated on this subpage at this time.
At page 3, the report stated:
While Massachusetts’ overall out-of-school suspension rate was less than the national average, the same cannot be said for Massachusetts’ racial disparities in suspension. Black students in Massachusetts were 3.7 times as likely as their White peers to receive an out-of-school suspension, which is slightly worse than the national average (3.6).
On the same page it stated:
Students with disabilities were disciplined at a rate (37%) double their enrollment (18%), and were suspended out-of-school at three times the rate (8.5%) of their non-disabled peers (2.8%), a disparity much larger than the national average.
The data underlying the statements that disparities out-of-school suspension rates were larger in Massachusetts than in the nation were set in the report’s Table 6 (on page 12).[i]The suspension rates are set in Table 1 below.In order to put the data in one table, the “Type” column shows the type of comparison (i.e., between whites and blacks or between nondisabled and disabled students), with rows for Massachusetts and for the nation. For the white-black comparison the advantaged groups (AG) and disadvantaged groups (DG) are whites and blacks; for the Gen-Ed – Special Ed comparisons AG and DG are students without disabilities and students with disabilities.The column “DG/AG Ratio Susp” shows the ratios the DG suspension rates to the AG suspension rates.These are the figure on which the report’s statements about the comparative size of disparities in Massachusetts and nationally are based.
The column “AG/DG Ratio No Susp” shows ratios of AG’s rate of avoiding suspension to DG’s rate of avoiding suspension.”Together the two ratio columns show the common pattern, described in the prefatory note, whereby the setting where the adverse outcome is less common shows the larger relative difference in the adverse outcome, but the smaller relative difference in the corresponding favorable outcome, than the setting where the adverse outcome is more common.
The “EES” column, which as discussed in "Race and Mortality Revisited" is the most plausible measure of the strength of the forces causing outcome rates of AG and DG to differ, the strength of those forces in fact is smaller for the Massachusetts than the nation.The table can be compared with Table 8 or "Race and Mortality Revisited,” which examines racial differences in suspension rates in preschool and K-12, though in that case of the preschool/K-12 comparison, the EES figures were approximately equal.
Table 1: Out-of-school suspension rates for AG and DG (as identified in the text), in Massachusetts and nationally, with measures of difference [ref b7111a1]
AG/DG Ratio - No Susp
Gen Ed - Spec Ed
Gen Ed - Spec Ed
Like most discussion of demographic difference in discipline rates the report reflects the mistaken view that generally reducing discipline rates will tend to reduce demographic differences in discipline rates and it discusses favorably the 2012 law aimed at generally reducing discipline rates (An Acct Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from Schools).The suspension figures in the report, however, are from a period prior to implementation of the act.
Once data are available following full implementation of the act, we can learn whether general reductions in discipline rates have led to increased demographic differences in discipline as has typically been the case across the country.See the following subpages of the Discipline Disparities page (which indicate in their titles the jurisdictions to which they pertain):
Recent letters explaining this issue to government agencies include an August 24, 2015 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education and a March 9, 2015 letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Ferguson, Missouri.The latter explains the fact that findings in the DOJ’s March 4, 2015 report on the disparate impact of Ferguson’s police and court practices is based on the mistaken premise that reducing the frequency of adverse interactions between the police/courts and the city’s residents would tend to reduce the proportion African Americans make up of persons subject to those interactions.The letter explains that the opposite is the case.
A September 8, 2015 letter to the Chief Data Scientist of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and an October 8, 2015 letter to the American Statistical Association urges those entities, among things, to explain to the federal government that reducing the frequency of an outcome tends to increase, not decrease, (a) relative differences in rates of experiencing those outcome and (b) the proportion groups most susceptible to the outcomes make up of persons experiencing the outcomes.See also my October 19, 2015 letter to the House Judiciary Committee.
[i]In the statement that students with disabilities “were disciplined at a rate (37%),” the 37% figure is actually the proportion students with disabilities make up of persons disciplined. Problems of comparison between the proportion that a group makes up of persons potentially experiencing an outcome and persons experiencing are addressed, among many other place, on the IDEA Data Center Disproportionality Guide subpage of the Discipline Disparities page, in slides 97 to 108 of the October 10, 2014 University of Maryland methods workshop, and Section I.B of the November 17, 2014 amicus curiaebrief in Texas Department of Housing and Community Development, et al. v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., Supreme Court No. 13-1731. I do not address those issues here, though I do note that reductions in adverse outcomes will tend to increase the proportions groups most susceptible to the outcomes make up of persons experiencing the outcomes.