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Malkus: U.S. Department Of Education Wants Some Major Changes To Civil Rights Data Collection. They’d Be A Huge Mistake

Malkus: U.S. Department of Education Wants Some Major Changes to Civil Rights Data Collection. They’d Be a Huge Mistake

The U.S. Department of Education has recently put forth proposed changes to the 2019-20 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which is a biannual survey that collects information from all public schools and districts. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the department utilizes this data to monitor civil rights issues in schools. The CRDC has been a source of contention, particularly regarding student discipline and chronic absenteeism, and it has been both positively and negatively used by OCR to advocate for changes in schools. The survey covers a wide range of topics, and OCR must strike a balance between the effort required from schools and districts to respond to the survey and the significance of the information collected for civil rights enforcement, especially considering whether it is already collected through other means. Maintaining this balance necessitates regular revisions to the CRDC, which can be both routine and politically sensitive.

Regrettably, the current proposals from the department are inadequate in maintaining this balance, with some of them being particularly unwise. Each proposal should be evaluated on its individual merits while the public has the opportunity to provide comments.

One proposal from OCR is to collect additional data on sexual violence, including rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, and religion-based harassment. They justify this request by pointing to a supposed ten-fold increase in sexual violence cases between 2009 and 2018. While such additions could provide valuable insights, they also come with significant additional burden. The collection of rape and assault data is relatively new for many schools and districts, and capturing the victims’ perceived faith in cases of religion-based harassment would be challenging as well. This means that schools would need to develop new data systems to gather this information, and there are concerns about the accuracy and reliability of the data collected.

Other proposed changes include questionable justifications for removing certain items from the CRDC, purportedly to reduce the burden on schools. However, some of these items have been crucial for informative research in the recent past. The items on the chopping block include disaggregated reporting of data on Advanced Placement participation, preschool enrollment, and preschool suspensions based on race, sex, and other civil rights categories. The problem with these changes is that the reduction in burden resulting from no longer disaggregating the data is minimal. Moreover, disaggregating subpopulations is relatively straightforward, as the additional workload is primarily in the reporting rather than the collection of data. For instance, if schools already have data on student characteristics and are still required to report total suspensions, the subsequent step of reporting disaggregated suspensions would not require significant effort. On the other hand, the new data elements proposed by the department are entirely different and would demand new procedures for gathering and reporting. Without a clearer explanation from the department, the claim that these proposed changes aim to reduce burden is not convincing.

The department also seeks to eliminate the reporting of school-level finance data and the number of students participating in credit recovery programs. While it is justified to drop items that are already collected elsewhere, such as school-level finance data required under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), the same cannot be said for credit recovery data. In fact, abandoning the reporting of credit recovery programs may be the most egregious error in the proposed changes. The CRDC is the only national source for data on these programs, and the federal government played a role in creating incentives that led to their abuse. Therefore, collecting data on credit recovery is crucial. The CRDC is the only data collection effort that can examine the widespread use of these programs, which many people fear are lowering educational standards for graduates. Additionally, the emphasis on raising graduation rates, mandated by federal law, has driven schools to adopt questionable credit recovery programs. As researchers Adam Tyner and Nicholas Munyan-Penney point out, there is a clear potential for educational misconduct due to the pressure on school administrators to boost graduation rates while minimizing costs. By eliminating this item, which districts already collect data on, the department would turn a blind eye to the misconduct for which the federal government bears responsibility.

Instead of reducing the reporting on credit recovery, the CRDC should include more data on this topic. Participation in credit recovery programs appears to be disproportionately higher among minority students, who rely on OCR’s protection. However, it is challenging to draw definitive conclusions about this imbalance because the current CRDC credit recovery data do not provide a breakdown by race. Adding a minor additional burden to collect more detailed data on credit recovery would benefit researchers, states, and the civil rights community by allowing them to closely monitor these programs, which lack sufficient oversight. Since the CRDC is the only regular national data source for credit recovery programs, removing this item would effectively remove these programs from public scrutiny.

The costs do not align for several modifications in the latest proposal. Luckily, there is an opportunity to provide feedback on these changes until November 19. The department still has the chance to rectify or support these proposals for a robust CRDC.

Nat Malkus, an expert in K-12 education, serves as a resident scholar and deputy director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

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  • emmetthouse

    Emmett House is a 29 yo school teacher and blogger who is passionate about education. He has a vast amount of experience in the field and is always eager to share his insights with others. Emmett is a dedicated teacher who truly cares about his students' success. He is also an expert on using technology in the classroom, and is always looking for new ways to engage his students.

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