4 Things to Know About Ed. Dept.'s Massive Civil Rights Database

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The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday released its new Civil Rights Data Collection, the most comprehensive information to date on educational opportunity and equity in every public school and district in the country.

This year was marked by concerns over the new and existing data collections. Civil rights groups, including the NAACP, objected to the office for civil rights’ push to scale back the data it collects on potential disparities among students taking Advanced Placement courses and tests. Groups that use the data to provide context for school ratings, such as GreatSchools.com, also voiced concerns that the data would be delayed. So far those concerns have been allayed: The 2015-16 collection is out earlier than in previous years, and still includes detailed information on the number of students—broken out by race, sex, disability status, and English-language proficiency—who participated in the International Baccalaureate program or Advanced Placement courses, particularly for math and science subjects.

As you dive into the data, here’s what you need to know:

What Is the Civil Rights Data Collection?

Every two years since 1968, the Education Department has collected information on demographics and educational opportunities for students of different genders, races, English-proficiency levels, and disabilities. These data are used both for enforcement of federal civil rights laws and for research to improve education for these students.

The data released Tuesday are from the 2015-16 school years; the Education Department is collecting 2017-18 data now.

Which Schools Are Included in the CRDC?

For most of the collection’s history, it has included only a representative sample of districts from each state. In 2000, and then from 2011-12 onward, the Education Department collected information from every public school in the country that spends at least 50 percent of each day on educational services. This includes charter and magnet schools, juvenile justice facilities, virtual schools, and alternative schools for students with disabilities. Note, the collection does not include public schools on tribal lands and military bases, or private schools, day-care centers, or programs for children under age 2.

What’s New in the CRDC?

The collection released this year is significantly more detailed than the original 1968 survey. Schools and districts must report the general demographics of their students, as well as statistics on exclusionary discipline and education behind bars, bullying, uses of restraint and seclusion, English-language learners, early-childhood education (from age 3 on), pathways to college and career, school finance, and teacher quality and equity.

The 2015-16 collection no longer includes data on students who transferred to another “regular” school for disciplinary reasons, but does provide new information on the number of students who were transferred to alternative schools for discipline, as well as the number of students participating in education programs of different lengths in juvenile justice facilities. In addition, the collection provides new details on other discipline issues, such as how many preschool students received corporal punishment and how much school students miss when they receive out-of-school suspensions.

Among other new data:

• How many students participate in different types of distance education, dual-credit, or credit-recovery programs;

• How many high schools have biology, physics, and chemistry teachers with science certification in those subjects;

• What preparation schools provided students for both general educational development and state-authorized high school equivalency exams; and

• How many 2-year-olds participated in district preschool programs.

How Accurate Are the Data?

Most of the data are broken down by race/ethnicity, sex, disability, and English-language-learner status, highlighting disparities for key indicators throughout a child’s academic career. Historically, about 95 percent of surveyed districts responded—and that proportion is up to more than 99 percent in the most recent collection—however, data are self-reported by schools and districts, and previous collections have been criticized for missing and inaccurate data.

In 2013-14, the Education Department added in more reviews and audits to check the data before it is made public, a practice it continued for the 2015-16 data collection. The department held precollection focus groups and training to ensure those reporting the data understood the questions being asked. Each district must review its own data and certify that they are accurate before the information is included, and any missing data will be marked in the collection’s tables.

Also, the Education Department continuously refines its definitions to dig out the information important to equity decisions. For example, the 2013-14 data included a count of students who enrolled in Algebra I classes in grades 7-8 collectively, while the 2015-16 collection separates out the number of students enrolled in the course in each grade.

The data are available at ocrdata.ed.gov.

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