Prefatory note added May 22, 2018: This text of this page concerns the failure to understand that a place like Massachusetts with 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). This was the subject of my November 2015 seminar at the University of Massachusetts Medical School 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). 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 differences in discipline rates, which is the exact opposite of reality and the opposite of what is being observed all across the country. See the second paragraph after Table 1 of the body of the page. A more recent list of places where this pattern is being observed may be found in note 6 (at page 5) of my Letter to the Comptroller General of the United States (Apr. 12, 2018).
As discussed in the second paragraph after Table 1, eventually data would presumably be available that would show whether the legislation in fact led to increased relative differences in suspension rates as an informed observer should expect. In January 2018 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 hears were accompanied by an increase in the ratio of the black suspension rate to the whites 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 change in terms of percentage points, and as commonly occurs in the circumstances, that difference decreased. Had the study in discussed in the body of this page examined suspension differences that way, it would have found that suspension disparities in Massachusetts were lower than nationally rather than higher than nationals.
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 no 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).
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.