Tracking the Situation: 'We Just Don't Have Adequate Data'

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Many of the recent studies on the status of minorities in higher education contain a caveat about the incomplete, incompatible, or simply inadequate data available on the subject.

From the 1982 final report of the Ford Foundation's Commission on the Higher Education of Minorities: "Most sources of data used in this project were seriously flawed; in certain instances, data pertaining to a given issue were simply not available."

From the American Council on Education's 1984 Third Annual Status Report on Minorities in Higher Education: "We do not now have enough facts at hand to learn what happens to minority groups in American education."

Results Skewed

Researchers in the field complain, for example, that few studies break the figures for Hispanic students into such sub-groupings as Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Puerto-Rican Americans, even though the subgroups vary widely in income levels, cultural influences, family life, and other factors that may skew the aggregate statistical results.

Others charge that the inclusion of Asian-Americans in overall school data for minorities often masks the depth of the educational problems encountered by blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and others. As a senior research scientist from the3Educational Testing Service put it at this month's annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, because of their uniformly high academic achievement "Asians have been made honorary whites in most statistical analyses."

Effort Seen Waning

But what most worries researchers and others concerned about the status of minorities in education is the sense that society's effort to monitor the situation is winding down.

"What many of us in the education community have felt is that there is not a strong desire to have racial-ethnic data published because it could easily refute the Reagan Administration's contention that it is doing a decent job with respect to minorities," said one minority-affairs officer at a Washington-based higher-education association.

In fact, publication of the only comprehensive national information on postsecondary enrollments--the National Center for Education Statistics' campus-by-campus data with racial-ethnic breakdown, collected biennially through the center's Higher Education General Information Survey (hegis)--has been running so far behind schedule in recent years that, according to many college officials interviewed, it is no longer useful as a monitoring device.

Moreover, recent news reports indicate that the Administration has proposed making sharp reductions in all government data collection, requiring that all federal agencies justify to the Office of Management and Budget that all such statistical compilations are "essential to their mission," not duplicated by private sources, and cost-effective.

Data Collection 'Burdensome'

Already, the omb has ordered the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration to stop keeping track of the racial and ethnic characteristics of benefit recipients because, as an omb spokesman told The Washington Post, some required forms were "burdensome" and others "were not consistent."

Last fall, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the naacp Legal Defense Fund criticized the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights for delaying the distribution of the government's biennial civil-rights survey of school districts and for making changes in the survey that, they contend, will make its results less useful. (See Education Week, Sept. 2, 1984.)

Similar charges have been leveled by civil-rights groups at the ocr's monitoring of the progress of 17 states in meeting the requirements growing out of a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring them to integrate their systems of higher education.

But the decline in the close monitoring of minority educational atel5ltainment extends beyond the federal level and includes local schools and school systems--places where previously a feel for the progress minority graduates were making through the educational pipeline was considered a necessary gauge for assessing overall effectiveness.

Officials in some of the nation's largest districts, including New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, said this month that they do not collect data on how many of their minority graduates go on to postsecondary education.

Importance of Data

Yet, said Milton Binns, senior associate at the Council for Great City Schools, "If school districts are to have a clear understanding of what improvements are being made or need to be made," gathering data on college-going rates must be "an integral part of strategic planning."

He said some districts--such as Atlanta, Boston, and Milwaukee--have made great strides in using college-going rates as indicators of school improvement. Others, he said, have not adequately linked those rates with their reform goals.

Of the districts that do track college-going rates, some collect "questionable" data, he added. They ask students what college they intend to go to but do not check to see if the students actually enroll or how well they fare in college. "There is often no follow-up," said Mr. Binns.

--sr & jrs

Vol. 04, Issue 30

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