(Jan. 26, 2018)
Prefatory note (rev. March 14, 2020): This subpage discusses discipline disparities issues involving Milwaukee Public Schools. The subpage discusses a study showing that general reductions in discipline rates were accompanied by increased racial/ethnic differences in discipline rates. In that regard, the subpage may be compared to the many subpages on the Discipline Disparities page on this site that concerns the fact that contrary to the near universal belief (promoted by the Departments of Education and Justice and the social science community) that generally reducing public school discipline rates will tend to reduce relative racial differences in discipline rates, in fact generally reducing discipline rates tends to increase such differences. The subpage is similar to the following subpages of that discuss the many situations where (in the jurisdictions indicated in the titles of the subpages) general reductions in discipline rates were accompanied by increased relative racial/ethnic differences in discipline rates: California Disparities, Colorado Disparities, Connecticut Disparities, Florida Disparities, Illinois Disparities, Maryland Disparities, Massachusetts Disparities, Minnesota Disparities, North Carolina Disparities, Oregon Disparities, Rhode Island Disparities, Utah Disparities, Virginia Disparities, Allegheny County (PA) Disparities, Aurora (CO) Disparities, Beaverton (OR) Disparities, Denver Disparities, Evansville (IN) Disparities, Henrico County (VA) Disparities, Kern County (CA) Disparities, Los Angeles SWPBS, Loudoun County (VA) Disparities, Minneapolis Disparities, Montgomery County (MD) Disparities, Nashville Disparities, Oakland (CA) Disparities, Portland (OR) Disparities, Richmond Disparities, Seattle Disparities, St. Paul Disparities, Urbana (IL) Disparities.
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 suspensions 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 subpage 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.
Other useful related readings regarding the pervasive misunderstanding of this issue include my December 8, 2017 testimony explaining the issue to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, my letters explaining the issue to the United States Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice (July 17, 2017), Comptroller General of the United States (Apr. 12, 2018), Minnesota Department of Human Rights (May 14, 2018), and Maryland State Department of Education (June 26, 2018), as well as my “Misunderstanding of Statistics Leads to Misguided Law Enforcement Policies,” Amstat News (Dec. 2012), “The Paradox of Lowering Standards,” Baltimore Sun (Aug. 5, 2013), “Innumeracy at the Department of Education and the Congressional Committees Overseeing It,” Federalist Society Blog (Aug. 24, 2017) (which specifically discusses misperceptions about Richmond, Virginia),“The Pernicious Misunderstanding of Effects or Policies on Racial Differences in Criminal Justice Outcomes,” Federalist Society Blog (Oct. 12, 2017).
Some recent discussions of the continuing failure of the U.S. Department of Education and other agencies of federal and state governments to understand this issue may be found in “COPAA v. DeVos and the Government’s Continuing Numeracy Problem,” Federalist Society Blog (Sept. 12, 2019) (the appendix to which discusses the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ treatment of the above-mentioned testimony) as well as the above-mentioned Gunpowder Gazette commentary. Especially pertinent to the subject of this page is the Appendix to my recent “Usual, But Wholly Misunderstood, Effects of Policies on Measures of Racial Disparity Now Being Seen in Ferguson and the UK and Soon to Be Seen in Baltimore,” Federalist Society Blog (Dec. 4, 2019. The Appendix discusses the fact that the most prominent reportage of instances where reductions in suspensions – the subject of the Massachusetts Disparities, Allegheny County (PA) Disparities, Denver Disparities, Oakland (CA) Disparities subpages – were accompanied by decreases in relative racial differences in suspensions rate involved situations where the relative differences in fact increased (but observers failed to understand that absolute differences and relative differences could change in opposite directions and that, in the school discipline context, this usually occurs). The Virginia Disparities subpage discusses another such situation.
Also of note is a 2019 article in Educational Psychologist by Girvan et al., “Tail, Tusk, and
Trunk: What Different Metrics Reveal About Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline.” The article is noteworthy because it is by members of the Positive Behavioral Support and Intervention Community that has long promoted the belief that generally reducing suspensions will tend to reduce relative differences in suspensions. At the sixth and seventh pages, however, the article, while generally employing the reasoning of my “Race and Mortality Revisited,” Society (July/Aug. 2014), recognizes that generally reducing suspensions will tend to increase relative racial differences in suspensions while reducing absolute differences in such rates. This is one of the few instances where educational researches even recognized that it was possible for relative racial difference in rates of experiencing and outcome and absolute differences in rates of experiencing the outcome to change in opposite directions.
This page will likely be updated to reflect the developments since the page was created that are discussed in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article of March 13, 2020 titled “Two Year After Agreeing to address racial disparities in discipline, MPS shows little progress.”
In October 2017, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty issued a study titled “Feds in the Classroom: The Impact of the Obama Administration’s Discipline Policy on Wisconsin Public Schools.” The study found (at 9) that during a period of general declines discipline rates in Milwaukee between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 school years, the black suspension rate fell by 51.0% while the Hispanic and white rates fell by 60.5% and 67.9%. These figures mean that the relative differences between black and white rates, black and Hispanic rates, and Hispanic and white rates all increased.
The study did find that for Wisconsin as a whole the Hispanic and black rates fell proportionately more than the white rate. But the study found that that larger statewide reduction for blacks was likely a function of the large declines in Milwaukee where blacks make up an especially high proportion of students. Possibly that explains as well the fact that the Hispanic decline was proportionately more than the white decline.
Pressures to reduce discipline rates (based on the mistaken belief that generally doing so will tend to reduce relative differences in discipline rates) are likely to be especially great in areas with comparatively large black representations among students. Thus, it is possible that some states will be observing larger proportionate reductions in black than white discipline rates (with corresponding reductions in relative differences) even though whites experience larger proportionate reductions in discipline rates in each district. So far, however, most reportage regarding general reduction in discipline rates have found increasing relative racial differences in discipline rates (as reflected in the first introductory paragraph).
Meanwhile in January 2018, it was reported that Milwaukee Public Schools entered into an agreement with the Department of Education aimed at reducing racial disparities. Typically such agreements will be based on the mistaken belief that generally reducing discipline rates will tend to reduce that above-mentioned (a) and (b).