Prefatory note added May 2, 2019: This page discusses the way observers, including in peer-reviews journals, have led people to believe that restorative justice programs reduced the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white suspension rate in the Oakland Unified School District, even though the ratio actually increased from 9.5 to 11.4. A recent contributor to the misunderstanding is an April 21, 2019 Salon article “How schools are using restorative justice practices to remedy racial disparities in discipline.”
Recent discussions of reducing resource for Oakland restorative justice programs have almost certainly involved situations where all discussants mistakenly believed that the programs had reduce the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white rate or the rate for all non-black students. Discussion in a February 12, 2019 EdSource article “Acclaimed restorative justice program on the chopping block in Oakland” that Oakland restorative justice officials regularly received calls from other school districts for guidance probably almost always involved calls where the callers mistakenly believed that the programs had reduced relative differences in suspensions. Decisions of Oakland City Council to restore some of the funds to the program, such as discussed in this April 18, 2019 East Bay Times article, were very likely premised on the belief that the program had reduced relative racial differences in suspension rates. A May 26, 2019 San Francisco Chronicle article provides some further information on the subject of the actual effects of the program. The article explained that explains that in the 2017-18 school year blacks were 25% of students and 53% of suspended students, while 2012, the year Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigation that led to implementation of the restorative justice program, blacks were 32% of students and 58% of suspended students. From those figures, we can determine that in 2017-18 the black suspension rate was 3.38 times the rate of other students while in 2012 the black suspension rate was only 2.93 times the rate of other students.
I add here that one contributor to this misunderstanding is a statement in the Executive Summary of the report to the Department of Education discussed in the body of this page (Sonia Jain et al., Restorative Justice in Oakland Schools: Implementation and Impacts (Oakland, CA:Oakland Unified School District, 2014)) that is inaccurate or misleading. At page vi the report states: “Suspensions have declined signiﬁcantly in OUSD in the past 3 years. The most signiﬁcant decline has been for African American students suspended for disruption/willful deﬁance, down from 1,050 to 630, a decrease of 40% or 420 fewer suspensions in only one year.” Actually, as shown in Table 7 at page 45 of the report, the decrease in the number of white students suspended for disruption/willful defiance was larger for whites (52.2%) than for African Americans. The table shows that for each category whites experienced larger proportionate decreases in both numbers and rates than African Americans. Technically it is the larger proportionate decrease in white rates than the black rate that leads to increase in the black to white ratio (leading to an increase in the ratio of the black to white rate of suspensions for disruption/willful defiance from 12.3 to 15.6). (See the Offense Type Issues subpage regarding implications of the larger relative difference for disruption/willful defiance than for other offenses.) The statement in the Executive Summary apparently resulted from the compacting of narrative information on page 45, which the reader would more likely understand to mean that 40% decrease was the largest African American increase, not the largest decrease for any group. One would still need to examine the table, however, to recognize that the proportionate decreases were larger for whites than for African Americans.
In March of 2013, I created an Oakland Agreementsubpage discussing an September 2012 an agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and the Oakland Unified School District discussing whether those monitoring the agreement would understand that generally reducing discipline rates would tend to increase, not reduce, relative differences in discipline rates. I did not look into whether the general reductions in suspensions contemplated by the agreement in fact were accompanied by increased relative racial differences in discipline rates. Apparently that did happen, though the article that brought the pertinent information to my attention suggests just the opposite.
A Spring 2017 article in Future of Children titled “Social and Emotional Learning and Equity in School Discipline” discusses the effects of programs that generally reduce 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 stating that reductions in discipline rates reduced relative racial differences in discipline rates (although not by very much). In the case of Oakland, the article states (at 131):
“After several years of reforms, OUSD made progress in shifting disciplinary practices. From 2011 to 2013, its overall suspension rate dropped from 13.2 percent to 10.2 percent; the suspension rate of black students decreased by 7 percentage points—the greatest decrease relative to other groups.63 From 2011 to 2014, the number of referrals issued to black males for disruption or willful defiance declined by 37 percent.64 Yet despite progress over several years of reform, the racial discipline gap persisted. In 2013, the suspension rate of black students (20.5 percent) remained about ten times higher than that of white students (1.8 percent).65 Given these persistently large disparities, the district worked to strengthen its reforms by aligning them with ecologically and equity-oriented SEL.”
Readers would take for granted that, as the article implies or states, the ratio of the black suspension rate to the white suspension rate had decreased, though still remaining very high. But as shown in Table 5 (at 45) of the authors’ reference 63 (Sonia Jain et al., Restorative Justice in Oakland Schools: Implementation and Impacts (Oakland, CA: Oakland Unified School District, 2014)) the ratio of the black rate to the white rates had increased from 9.5 (27.6/2/9) to 11.4 (20.5/1.8) over the period examined.
Compare this page with the Spurious Contradictions subpage of Measuring Health Disparities page of jpscanlan.com, which discusses a situation where the authors’ failure to distinguish between relative and absolute measures caused them regard two studies that found essentially the same thing as finding opposite things.
Other situations where observers, on the basis of the Jain study, have incorrectly reported that relative racial difference in discipline rates were reduced in Oakland are discussed in emails to editors and writers for the journal School Psychology Review and leadership of the National Association of School Psychologists.
See also the Executive Office of the President December 2016 document titled “Report: The Continuing Need to Rethink School Discipline,” which states (at 16): “Compared to six years ago, suspension rates across the District are down by 57 percent, and rates for African-American students have declined by 53 percent over the same period.” The fact that the overall suspension rate showed a larger percentage reduction than the African-American suspension rate necessarily means the ratio of the African-American suspension rate to the suspension rate for other students increased.