Tag: John Wallace

Banishing Bad Anti-School Discipline Reform Reports

Last week’s Dropout Nation exposes of the use of shoddy data and analysis by anti-school discipline reform types such as Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute and Thomas B. Fordham…

Last week’s Dropout Nation exposes of the use of shoddy data and analysis by anti-school discipline reform types such as Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute and Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Michael Petrilli generated a lot of discussion, both on social media and within education policy circles. This is good. Exposing intellectual sophistry, especially the kinds of data manipulation and trumpeting of poorly-constructed research as done by Eden, Petrilli and their ilk (along with their willing ignorance of high-quality studies based on longitudinal student data that they prefer to ignore) is critical to honest policy and practice in the overhaul of American public education.

Yet we must continually remember that the problem with bad studies based on shoddy data is that they don’t disappear. If anything, they are recycled over and over again, both by advocates who deliberately engage in sophistry in order to further their cause (and influence policymakers who want to agree) as well as by well-meaning pundits who only read the executive statements, less-than-thorough news reports and little else.

Two analysts at the D.C. Policy Center, Chelsea Coffin and Kathryn Zickuhr made this mistake earlier this month when they cited several low-quality anti-school discipline reform studies in their otherwise-interesting policy paper advising the District of Columbia’s city council to provide adequate support for implementing a proposed ban on meting out suspensions for minor infractions. As some of you may know, the Nation’s Capital is considering a proposal from Councilmember David Grosso (who chairs the council’s education oversight panel) that addresses concerns raised by families, traditionalists and some reformers, both over the overuse of harsh discipline by both D.C. Public Schools and charter school operators, as well as revelations that some operators have been understating their out-of-school suspension levels.

One mistake made by Coffin and Zickuhr? Citing the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s latest study of Philadelphia’s school discipline reform efforts. As Dropout Nation pointed out last week, the report’s assertions that asserts that reducing suspensions for non-violent offenses have little effect on achievement is based on two years of school level data that doesn’t actually measure how the reforms impact individual or subgroups student learning. It also doesn’t consider how well individual schools implemented the reforms in that period, a matter that is discussed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education in a similar study also released last month. [By the way: D.C. Policy Center doesn’t even link to University of Pennsylvania’s findings.] As a team of researchers led by Karega Rausch, a leading expert on school discipline who now heads research for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, pointed out last year in a report for the Center for Reinventing Public Education, longitudinal student data, which shows how children are affected by changes in discipline policies, is the best measure, one that Fordham’s researchers could have accessed if they worked with the City of Brotherly Love’s traditional district.

Another problem with Coffin’s and Zickhur’s report? That it also links to Eden’s ‘study’ released on school climate throughout the city and the school discipline reform efforts undertaken by the New York City Department of Education under Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his successor, Bill de Blasio. As your editor also noted last week, it is also too flawed to be taken seriously. One reason why? Eden didn’t just simply measure the raw results from the Big Apple’s school climate studies over the five-year period (2011-2012 to 2015-2016) being measured, which is the most-reliable way of analyzing what is already unreliable subjective data. Instead, Eden cobbled together a “distribution-of-differences” analysis in which any change of 15 percentage points on each of the questions represented “a substantial shift” in attitudes on school safety, especially for each school in the district. How did he arrive at 15 percentage points instead of, say, 20 or 10 or even five? Eden doesn’t explain. The data alchemy, along with the substandard nature of the underlying survey data, makes Eden’s report even less-reliable than it already appears.

Your editor can’t totally blame Coffin and Zickhur for relying on shoddy research. As with everything in education policy, it takes years for the release of high-quality research. In the case of impacts of school discipline reforms that are currently being undertaken in places such as Philadelphia, the need for four-to-eight years of longitudinal student data to gain a good handle on what is happening will make life more-difficult for pundits and wonks who care a lot about policy wins and making big splashes. Which means it will be tempting to base opinions and recommendations on shoddier work product, especially from big-named think tanks who are willing to shovel out shoddy white papers instead of doing solid work.

That said, Coffin and Zickhur could have easily looked at University of Pennsylvania’s report, whose interviews provide much-stronger insights on the challenges districts can face during the first two years of implementing a discipline reform (as well as how schools are implementing them at the beginning), or even gain access to a study of Minneapolis Public Schools’ pilot program to use restorative justice for children facing expulsion for violent infractions (which gives an idea of possible benefits as well as issues in implementation at scale). Both have limitations, but can add some color to the discussion if properly limited. [Happily, Coffin and Zickuhr do cite one of University of Chicago Consortium on School Research’s two reports on school discipline reform efforts in Chicago, which, unfortunately, don’t provide longitudinal student achievement results.] A call to school and community leaders on the ground working on this issue would have also help. This includes Oakland Education Fund Executive Director Brian Stanley, who helped implement the Bay Area district’s ban on suspensions for minor infractions.

As for other wonks and polemicists (as well as traditional news reporters) looking to write more-thoughtful pieces on school discipline reform? Your editor offers some advice. The first? Always read beyond the executive summaries. This includes reading the list of cited references and sources usually in the back of a report or study. Put this way: If the study’s citation and reference lists include the likes of Eden and his Manhattan Institute colleague, Heather Mac Donald (the latter of whom focuses law enforcement and immigration, and tends to dismiss any discussion about racial disparities), ignore it.

Also, if it doesn’t mention work by respected researchers on school discipline such as Russell Skiba of Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University’s Robert Balfanz, John Wallace of the University of Pittsburgh or Rausch (all of whom use longitudinal student data in their research), then it deserves no consideration at all. Therefore, ignore this anti-school discipline white paper on Wisconsin’s efforts making the rounds this week — unless you want to give your child paper for cutting and origami. [Which is what happens to a lot of white papers coming to my office.]

Another alarm bell: When the report or study makes assertions that it later admits cannot be supported either by the underlying data or after going through additional analyses, including stress tests to verify results. In the case of discipline studies using school-level data championed by the anti-school discipline reform crowd, the results are often not going to be “granular enough” (or offer enough detail on how individual or groups of students are impacted by a reform or intervention) to support anything more than the most-tepid assertions.

Additionally, if the study doesn’t admit that other research bears out other sensible reasons supported by research and data for embarking on a school discipline reform, then it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Why? Because the failure to admit this is evidence that the study is little better than the kind of white papers that you would expect out of Forrester Research and other market insight firms whose predictions, as legendary former Forbes Editor William Baldwin would say, won’t come within a country mile of being realized. This is why a study by Boston University grad student Dominic Zarecki, which was used by Eden in an op-ed last week, has little value to anyone seriously discussing school discipline reform.

Finally, school reformers, most-notably those who are champions of discipline reform, must challenge, call out and dismiss shoddy data, especially when used by allies opposed to overhauling how children are corrected in schools. Researchers such as Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, along with advocates on the ground, already do this. There’s no reason why colleagues are allowed to engage in patently dishonest data usage, especially when they chant the mantra of using high-quality data when addressing other issues.

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Betsy DeVos’ School Discipline Problem

There were plenty of responses to Saturday’s piece on whether or not U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a White Supremacist. As I have pointed out, the reality is…

There were plenty of responses to Saturday’s piece on whether or not U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a White Supremacist. As I have pointed out, the reality is that while the education philanthropist-turned-education czar is no White Supremacist, she has continuously collaborated with a regime whose goal is to harm the communities of Black, Latino, and immigrant children as well as the people who love and care for them.

One of the ways she has done this lies with the moves by the U.S. Department of Education to ignore its civil rights obligations as written in the Every Student Succeeds Act as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including stemming the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other harsh traditional discipline that damages poor and minority kids. The move to bring in Hans Bader, who has dismissed decades of research on this issue, is the latest example of DeVos’ aiding and abetting of bigotry.

As Dropout Nation readers know by now, DeVos’ appointee to oversee the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, has already taken steps to end the Obama Administration’s efforts to push traditional districts and charter schools to use new approaches to discipline that actually help all children learn. This includes issuing guidance to regional directors to stop collecting three years of past complaints filed by against a district or charter when investigating a new complaint. Essentially this means investigators can no longer use previous complaints as evidence of a district systematically overusing suspensions, expulsions, spankings, and even restraints and seclusion (solitary confinement) against particular groups of kids.

Now with Bader, a former scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (and brother of its current president), on board as a member of the Department of Education’s legal staff, DeVos and Jackson are likely to take the next step in ending efforts on school discipline reform: Rescind the “Dear Colleague” guidance issued by the Obama Administration three years ago that reminded districts to stop overusing harsh school discipline against Black, Latino, and Native children because it violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The guidance has been widely opposed by traditionalists and so-called conservative school reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Hans Bader (right) will now have a role in shaping federal policy on school discipline. Those who care about the futures of children should shudder at the thought.

Despite having spent little time on studying school discipline and other civil rights issues, Bader has emerged as a go-to guy for movement conservatives and others opposed to federal efforts on school discipline reform (as well as on the effort to address how universities handle rape incidents on their campuses). His arguments against a federal role in school discipline reform can be summed up in two sentences. The first: That the Obama Administration’s guidance is overreach because the federal government has no right to address any form of overuse of school discipline, especially “disparate impact” in which policies can incidentally or deliberately discriminate against poor and minority children. The second: That there is no racial or ethnic bias in how districts and other school operators mete out such discipline in the first place.

There are plenty of problems with Bader’s first argument. On the legal merits, the ability of the federal government to weigh in on disparate impact was settled three years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project that the federal government could address such matters. While the ruling focused on housing, the high court’s ruling effectively kibboshed a previous opinion, Alexander v. Sandoval, that Bader often uses in his arguments against federal oversight on school discipline matters. Put simply, disparate impact is now legally recognized as a form of racism, essentially accepting the reality that bigotry need not be overt to actually exist and harm the most-vulnerable. [More on that in a minute.]

As Dropout Nation noted three years ago in a critique of a similar argument made by Hoover Institution scholar Richard Epstein on the pages of Education Next, Bader fails to recognize that Title IV of the Civil Rights Act is actually fairly broad, giving the federal government plenty of leeway to address any denial of opportunities for equal education. This includes addressing complaints from families over any instance where their children are being denied high-quality learning. More importantly, Bader fails to consider other civil rights legislation, including the Every Student Succeeds Act (the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and IDEA, which grants broad leeway on this front. Particularly with  Title IV of ESSA, which gives the federal government leeway to address and fund efforts to deal with school violence, the federal government is given an expansive role in addressing how districts and states use school discipline.

As for Bader’s second argument: Three decades of data and research demonstrate that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

As a team led by Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA noted in their review of suspension and expulsion data, the out-of-school suspension rate of 23.2 percent for black middle- and high schoolers in 2013-2014 (based on data released by the U.S. Department of Education) is three times the 6.4 percent out-of-school suspension rate for white peers. This, too, has been consistent in analysis of data, this time that of state governments. This isn’t surprising because decades of data have shown this. A team led by University of Pittsburgh researcher John Wallace demonstrated in a 2008 study that young black men in 10th grade are 30 percent more-likely to be referred dean’s offices — and 330 percent more-likely to be suspended — for the same offenses than white peers.

The consequences of overusing harsh school discipline isn’t just limited to time out of classrooms.

As with the overlabeling of young men as special ed cases, a key reason why so many children black and brown have been suspended lies with the perceptions of adults in schools about the kids they are supposed to teach. Recent studies of the perceptions of children held by their teachers echo Vanderbilt University Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s longstanding point that adults in schools end up deeming kids as unworthy because they think they are destined to end up that way. These biases, which data has demonstrated to be clear when it comes to discipline, are often reflected in how White teachers view Black children in their care in other areas of instruction and school culture.

As I pointed out on Saturday, White Supremacy (along with other forms of bigotry) isn’t simply about overt acts and outright statements. It consists of a continuum of actions that are often divorced from personal and social intentions. Even if a person doesn’t intend on being bigoted, they can support, be indifferent to, or unwilling to change policies and practices that maliciously or incidentally damage the lives and futures of poor and minority people. In the case of school discipline, the consequences of policies and practices can be as racialist as overt acts by those engaged in explicit racial discrimination.

Even if teachers and school leaders aren’t explicitly targeting black and Latino children in meting out discipline, the decisions they make can result in educational neglect, malpractice and abuse. This isn’t just true for poor and minority children. Children regardless of background condemned to the nation’s special education ghettos are subjected to even harsher school discipline –including restraints and seclusion (also known as solitary confinement when done to adults) — because teachers perceive them to be unworthy of more-therapeutic treatment. The consequences of these failed practices can be seen in and out of schools, especially in how police officers brought into schoolhouses deal with Black and Brown children and even those who are White with special needs.

Given the voluminous evidence, the fact that Bader continually argues against school discipline reform demonstrates his intellectual sophistry and his lack of fitness for serving in any role that tangentially involves public education. That he has little in the way of experience in addressing civil rights issues, especially on the education front, makes him even less fit to serve.

Yet it isn’t shocking that he is in this role. This is because DeVos has long ago demonstrated her lack of knowledge and general incuriosity about the role the federal government can play in addressing the underlying causes of the nation’s education crisis and advancing systemic reform. More importantly, given her unwillingness to criticize Donald Trump’s bigotry and that of the administration before and after taking up space at L’Enfant Plaza, the Department of Education was bound to be as involved as the departments of Justice and Homeland Security in advancing the administration’s efforts against poor and minority people.

Certainly DeVos isn’t an active White Supremacist. Her past record supporting the expansion of school choice demonstrates that. But she is clearly a collaborator in the administration’s agenda. The hiring of Bader exemplifies this reality.

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