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. As shown in Table 5 (at 45) of the authors’ reference 63, however, 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.