Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Vernellia Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

vernelliarandall2015Vernellia R. Randall

 

 

Dear  Senate Education Committee Members:

 

I was deeply disturbed to hear the data I was presenting called shoddy[1] during the Senate Education Hearing, January 15, 2014. 

 

That implies that I am at best negligent or at worst incompetent. While reasonable people may disagree with the conclusions I draw or the remedies I recommend; my work has always been characterized by the professionalism and competency by which I hope it is received.[2]

 

The data that supports my analysis is not based on independent research . the data is self-reported by the school districts to the state. To the extent there are errors in the data, it is in the manner in which it is reported and collected.  Matters outside of my control and the scope of this conversation.

 

I argue that expulsions and suspensions are disproportionately applied based on race, disability and other factors.  That conclusion does not require a statistician to reach, and is not open to interpretation. A greater proportion of black and disabled students are dismissed than the proportion of white students receiving the same discipline. It is axiomatic that correlation does not equal causation.  However, while this truth is often used to dismiss conclusions we don’t find palatable, doing so ignores another truth. Finding causal links is often difficult and sometimes impossible. Consequently we frequently act where a correlative link is found, even in the absence of fully understanding the causal links. If we waited to understand the causal link before acting, many of us would never turn the ignition in our cars.  Because it is often difficult to get at causation, the best we can expect to do is to present alternative hypothesis and act on the one we think most likely to be true. And, sometimes we act on a hypothesis, not because we believe it most likely to be true, but because the harm in failing to act is significantly greater than the potential harm in acting.

 

The focus of my testimony was on expulsion and suspension. I focused on that because zero tolerance allows suspensions for even minor offenses.  Furthermore, in working on the issue, local administrators have said that they are restricted in their ability to implement alternative discipline approaches because of the existence of the zero tolerance law.

 

The data from the state shows a significant correlation between expulsion and suspension and race and there are at least two working hypothesis which explains the disproproportionality. I dealt with them both in my written testimony.  The first hypothesis is black students are actually behaving worse so the disproportionality in out-of-school suspension is due to differences in frequency and intensity of student misbehavior.  The second hypothesis is that black students receive harsher discipline for the same behavior and are disciplined more frequently for minor infractions.

 

I reject the first hypothesis "Black Students are actually behaving worse" the published peer-review research doesn’t support it. The research has consistently demonstrated that even when you control for behavior, black students are suspended and expelled more. That is, if you choose to believe the research, blacks are not disciplined more because they engage in more unacceptable behavior at a greater intensity. [3]  Some on the committee want to see the studies backing that conclusion.  I have included them the citations below with links to the complete article.

 

The second hypothesis is that black students receive harsher discipline for the same behavior. The same research supports this hypothesis.[4]  In addition, Ohio state data on truancy, tobacco use and alcohol use[5] also help demonstrate that black students are disciplined more frequently and more harshly.  If race is not a factor than you expect to have similar level of suspensions.  In fact, there are significant difference in the suspensions for truancy based on race.[6] Even more telling is the difference in discipline for alcohol use and tobacco use.  Health research shows that white teenagers binge drink more and smoke at similar rates as Blacks. Yet, the suspensions for the behavior was greater in black students.[7]

Finally, on another note it is a bit disconcerting to be a part of a community that is having a significant problem with school discipline and have our law makers want to dismiss or sideline the racial component. You  should not implement school discipline rules of any kind without considering the disproportionate impact it will have in implementation.  The potential racial impact of any school discipline rule has to be address to avoid the very problems that we are experiencing now with zero tolerance rule .  That can’t happened without a straightforward and honest discussion about impact not just intent.

 

[1]1. Made of or containing inferior material. 2. a. Of poor quality or craft. b. Rundown; shabby. 3. Dishonest or reprehensible"

 

[2] In addition to my law degree, I have a master’s degree in nursing and post-graduate work in public health. I have taken several courses in statistics. Furthermore, over the last 45 years I have done several studies involving statistical analysis,

[3]Michael Rocque  & Raymond Paternoster, Understanding the Antecedents of the “School-to-Jail”   Link: The Relationship Between Race and School Discipline, 101 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 633 (2011) (http://bit.ly/19WlbLu );

 

Russell J.   Skiba et al., Race Is Not Neutral: A National Investigation of African American and Latino Disproportionality in School Discipline, 40 Sch. Psychol. Rev 85 (2011); (http://bit.ly/19Wlndx)

 

A. Gregory & A.R. Thompson, African American High School Students and Variability in Behavior Across   Classrooms, 38 J. Community Psychol. 386 (2010); (http://bit.ly/19WlwxF)

 

R.J. Skiba, R.S. Michael, A.C. Nardo & R.L. Peterson, The  Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment, 34 Urban Rev. 317   (2002);  (http://bit.ly/19WlOoi)

 

Michael Rocque, Office Discipline and Student Behavior: Does Race Matter? 116 Am. J. Educ. 557 (2010) (http://bit.ly/19WmHgA)


Russell J. Skiba, Megan Trachok, Choong-Geun Chung, Timberly Baker and Robin Hughes,   Parsing Disciplinary Disproportionality: Contributions of Behavior, Student, and School Characteristics to Suspension and Expulsion (April, 2012) (http://bit.ly/M1H2pG)

 

[4]Id.

 

[5] These are three disciplinary occurrences that are least likely to be open to interpretation.

 

[6]Testimony of Vernellia Randall, Ohio Senate Education Committee, Jan. 15, 2014.

 

[7]Testimony of Vernellia Randall, Ohio Senate Education Committee, Jan. 15, 2014. 

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