In September 2012, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Oakland Unified School District entered into an agreement resolving an OCR investigation of racial disparities in discipline rates. The investigation was one of twenty initiated by OCR following the March 2012 release of data on discipline disparities. The Oakland investigation was the first to be resolved.
In addition to calling for close monitoring of discipline rates, the agreement requires the school district to generally reduce out-of -school suspensions and to provide support services to at-risk students (something that should also reduce suspensions). As explained in many places, reducing suspension rates will tend to increase relative differences in suspension rates. But unaware of such pattern, OCR presumably will continue to examine relative differences in discipline rates in appraising Oakland’s compliance with the agreement.
The agreement’s monitoring provisions require the school district to consult with four advocacy/research groups (The University of California – Berkeley’s Haas Diversity Research Center, the California Endowment, Urban Strategies Council and West Ed)that it identifies as “experts in data analysis.” But whatever the expertise of these groups as to other matters, as with all other putative experts on the analysis discipline disparities (and most other disparities for that matter), to date there is nothing to suggest that the groups recognize that reducing the frequency of adverse outcomes will tend to increase relative differences in experiencing them. Possibly that will change during the course of the agreement.
The agreements also calls for comparing discipline disparities across schools and even at the individual teacher level. Here, too, one can assume that those evaluating the data will fail to recognize the reasons to expect that schools and teacher that are more cautious about suspending students will tend to show larger relative differences in suspension rates.
In addition to calling for general reductions in suspensions, the agreement requires targeted reduction of “suspensions for African American students, Latino students … and African Americans students suspended for defiance.” In contrast to the general reductions in suspensions, the race/ethnic-specific reductions ought not to result in increased relative differences in suspension rates. Rather, such measures will tend to reduce both relative differences in suspension rates and relative differences in rates of avoiding suspension.
Whether such measures are lawful, however, would seem to raise the same issues as targeted reductions in arrests of particular racial or ethnic group.