Prefatory note added May 6, 2019 (rev. Jan. 31, 2020):
The body of this page discusses that, as someone with a sound understanding of statistics would expect, general reductions in suspensions in Denver were accompanied by increased relative racial differences in discipline rate. This prefatory material principally discusses the way that peer reviewed articles, including one co-authored by Denver Public School officials, would lead observers, including leadership of Denver Public Schools, to believe that general reductions in suspensions were accompanied by reduced relative racial differences in suspensions when in fact those differences increased.
Some of the subpages may provide substantial detail, while others simply present statements describing the situations. See also my “Maryland Discipline Study Shows Usual – But Misunderstood – Effects of Policies on Measures of Racial Disparity,” Gunpowder Gazette (Dec. 16, 2019), which discusses a study showing that general reductions in suspension in Maryland schools between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years had been accompanied by an increase in the ratio of the statewide black suspension rate to the statewide white suspension rate, and that, during that period, 20 of the 23 Maryland school districts for which data on black and overall suspension rate reductions could be analyzed there occurred an increase in the ratio of the black suspension rate to suspension rate for other students. See also the Minnesota Disparities page regarding a study finding that in all 73 districts in Minnesota where the matter could be analyzed general reductions in suspensions were accompanied by increases in the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white suspension rate.
The first of the peer-reviewed articles that would lead observers to believe that relative racial differences decreased when they in fact increase was a Spring 2017 article in Future of Children titled “Social and Emotional Learning and Equity in School Discipline.” The article discusses the effects of programs that generally reduced discipline rates on measures of racial disparity. Because the authors apparently did not understand that it is possible for relative and absolute differences to change in opposite directions – much less that, in the school discipline context, this tends to occur systematically – they make a number of statements suggesting or indicating that reductions in discipline rates reduced relative racial differences in discipline rates (although not by very much). One of these statements is discussed on the Oakland (CA) Disparitiespage.
With respect to Denver the article states (at 125):
“From 2006 to 2013 in Denver, the district’s overall suspension rate dropped by half, from 10.58 percent to 5.63 percent. In Cleveland, suspensions dropped by 60 percent over three years.
“Denver saw a slight narrowing of racial suspension gaps: from 2006 to 2013, suspension rates for black students fell by 7.2 percentage points—the largest reduction among the district’s racial groups in absolute terms. Still, in 2013 the suspension rate for black students, at 10.42 percent, remained almost five times higher than that for white students, at 2.28 percent.35”
Readers would assume that the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white suspension had declined, while still remaining high. In fact, however, as shown in Table 10.1 (at 6) of the article’s reference 35 (a 2014 paper by Thalia Gonzalez), over the period discussed the ratio increased from 3.0 (17.61/5.88) to 4.6 (10.42/2.28). (Had the article discussed the percentage decline, it would have been 41% for blacks and 61% for whites, or to use the phrasing employed at the beginning of the excerpt, the suspension rate dropped by less than half for blacks and by more than half for whites.)
The Gonzalez study has also misled many others regarding the effects of restorative justice practices on relative racial differences in suspensions in Denver. A January 20, 2019 issue brief by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, which discusses discipline disparities in terms of the ratio of the black rate to the white rate, relied on the Gonzalez study to report that racial disparities in suspensions were reduced. April 21, 2019 Salon article “How schools are using restorative justice practices to remedy racial disparities in discipline” also cites data from the Gonzalez study is support of the theme reflected in the title. This article, which also discusses the situation in Oakland, shows no awareness of the possibility that relative and absolute differences can show different patterns of changes. A May 2019 report by the Learning Policy Institute read the Gonzalez study finding that restorative practices had reduced relative differences in discipline rate, while presenting figures (at 12) on reductions in absolute differences that, if true, would in fact show a reduction in the relative difference between black and white rates. But the study erroneously presented the white suspension rates at the beginning and end of the period shown in Table 10.1 of the Gonzalez article as the absolute differences between rates at the beginning and end of the period. A December 2018 Rand study of restorative practices in Pittsburg discussed (at 4) the Gonzalez findings with regard to absolute differences in a way that would lead many or most observers to believe that the ratio of the black rate to the white rate had decreased, just as those findings had led the Future of Children article authors to believe that.
“Since the passage of the new policy, OSS rates have steadily declined from 7.4% to 3.6% of all students in the district, as has the proportion of students entering the discipline system (from 15.4% to 8.9%). At the same time, schools’ use of RIs increased from less than 4% of disciplined students to nearly 26%. However, districtwide suspension rates suggest that racial disparities among disciplined students have persisted in recent years, although racial gaps in suspension rates have narrowed over time (Anyon et al., 2014). In 2015 (the most recent data available), 6% of Black students, 5% of Native American students, 3% of Latino students, 1% of White students, and 1% of Asian students were issued one or more suspensions. In contrast, in 2008, before discipline reform was implemented, the rates were as follows: 14% of Black students, 11% of Native American students, 9% of Latino students, 5% of White students, and 2% of Asian students. This represents a narrowing of the suspension gap between White and Black students from 9% to 5% over 7 years, although Black students remain six times more likely to be suspended than their White peers.”
In this instance, data in the paragraph itself show that the ratio of the black suspension rate to white suspension rate did not “remain” at 6.0 (6%/1%), but rather had increased to 6.0 from 2.8 (14%/5%). But it is unlikely that Denver officials reviewing the recent School Psychology Review article to inform their policy would recognize this, just as, apparently, it was not recognized by editors or peer reviewers of School Psychology Review.
The following matters warrant mention with regard to Colorado, however. Pages 3-4 of aforementioned letter to Maryland State Department of Education discuss DOE data showing that nationally and in all but 5 states that black-white ratio of multiple suspension rates is greater than the black-white ratio of rates of one or more suspensions as an illustration of the way that eliminating what would otherwise be first suspensions would tend to increase the black-white ratio of rates of one or more suspensions. But Colorado, where the black-white ratio is 3.6 for one or more suspension and 3.1 for multiple suspensions, is one of the states where the pattern does not hold. I am uncertain of the reasons for this and it would be useful to know the pattern in Denver itself.
Prefatory note added June 2014:
Subsequent to the initial creation of this page, Padres y Jovenes Unidos issued its “3rd Annual Community Accountability Report Card: Toward Ending the School-to-Jail Track in Denver Public Schools 2012-2013.” The report shows that, as the number of suspensions was further reduced in the 2012-13 school year, the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white suspension rates increased from 5.5 to 6.1. The Hispanic-white ratio was unchanged from the prior year. The original version of this prefatory note states that page will eventually be amended to further discuss the recent report. But I am not sure that I will get around to doing that.
Colorado is one of the jurisdictions that relaxed discipline standards based, at least in part, on the mistaken perception that doing so would decrease racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline rates.As discussed in “Misunderstanding of Statistics Leads to Misguided Law Enforcement Policies,” Amstat News (Dec. 2012) (which mentions the Colorado legislation), relaxing discipline standards will tend to increase, rather than reduce, relative differences in discipline rates.The Colorado legislation was enacted in May 2012, so it may be some time before data are available to appraise the results of the legislation.
But even before Colorado relaxed standards, the Denver Public Schools had begun to reduce suspension and expulsion rates.According to a December 2012 report by the group Padres y Jovenes Unidos (DPS Accountability Meeting Report Card), in the 2011-2012 school year, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions were down 13% and 40% from the prior year.But the report also found that race/ethnic discipline disparities remained large.Black and Hispanic students experienced out-of-school suspensions 5.5 and 2.4 times as often as white students.The report did not explain how those disparities compared with disparities from the prior year.
Without knowing precisely how the 5.5 and 2.4 figures were derived, one cannot make exact comparisons with prior year data.But available data seem to indicate, as one knowledgeable about the relevant statistical patterns would expect, these ratios reflected increases from prior years.
The most recent available data from the Department of Education is for 2009.Often observers report racial differences in discipline rates separately for students with and without disabilities.But there is no indication in the Padres y Jovenes Unidos report that the figures are other than total figures.In any case, Table 1 presents the figures for black and Hispanic out-of-school suspension rates compared with white out-of-school suspension rates, separately by total (including students with and without disabilities, which is probably the approach in the report), by students without disabilities, and by students with disabilities.No ratio of the black out-of-school suspension rate to the white out-of-school suspension rate is above 4.0 and no ratio of the Hispanic out-of-school suspension rate to the white out-of-school suspension rate is above 2.0.
Table 1:2009 Out-of-School Suspensions in Denver Public Schools by Race and Ethnicity with Ratios of Minority to White Rates (overall and by disability status) [ref N2/b4920a1]