The next federal collection of school-related civil rights data could probe U.S. districts more deeply than the last go-round on how students are disciplined—including how many pre-K pupils are spanked—and whether bullies harassed classmates for their presumed religion or sexual orientation.
The U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights asked for public comment in the June 21 Federal Register on those and other questions it hopes to ask during the 2013-14 and 2015-16 school years.
About every two years since 1968, the civil rights office has collected data from a selection of school districts to monitor and enforce civil rights laws. The 2009-10 version captured information on about 85 percent of public school students in the country, and the 2011-12 iteration, which just wrapped up, took on all districts and schools nationwide.
The 2009-10 version zeroed in on school discipline and climate issues, asking districts how students were disciplined, including whether by suspension, expulsion, or corporal punishment. Schools had to report how the punishment was meted out and break those figures down by students’ race, gender, and disability. The information became public last year for the first time. (“Civil Rights Data Show Retention Disparities,” March 6, 2012.)
But some civil rights and education groups wanted more details on the data points. They could get their wish if the proposed changes are adopted. The proposal has to go through a 60-day public-comment period, revisions, another 30-day comment period, and the White House Office of Management and Budget before becoming final.
Some of the new questions the Education Department wants to ask—generally disaggregated by race, sex, disability status, and English-proficiency status—include:
• How many allegations of harassment or bullying of K-12 students were based on perceptions about sexual orientation or religion? (An Education Department spokesman said that question would not give schools the right to ask about a victim’s sexual orientation or religion but would focus instead on the “likely motive of the alleged harasser.”)
• How many students ages 3 to 5 in preschool received corporal punishment?
• How many times were students in preschool through 12th grade corporally punished? (That question would go beyond an existing one that collects information about how many students were spanked: It would find out how many students were repeatedly corporally punished.)
• How many school days did students miss, collectively, because they were suspended?
• Does the district offer full- or part-day kindergarten because of state law, and is there any cost to parents?
• How many students took an Advanced Placement exam of any kind, including one taken in a foreign language?
• How many 7th graders took Algebra 1? How many passed?
• How many school psychologists, social workers, security guards, school resource officers, and sworn law-enforcement officers are on staff?
• How many of the following incidents would trigger disciplinary action, including referrals to law enforcement and arrests: robbery with a weapon, including a firearm or explosive device, or without a weapon; a physical attack or fight with or without a weapon; rape or attempted rape; incidents of sexual battery other than rape; possession of a firearm or explosive; whether students, faculty, or staff members died as a result of a murder at school; whether there was an incident at the school that involved a shooting?
Some of the 2009-10 data weren’t very accurate, even though superintendents had to certify the information as accurate before transmitting it to the Education Department. But the spokesman said that the 2011-12 collection built in additional steps to ensure better-quality data, including giving districts time to adjust the information provided after a federal review, and that those efforts would be enhanced in 2013-14 and 2015-16.
A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Civil Rights Office Proposes Deeper Dig on Discipline Data