School Climate & Safety

Next Massive Federal Data Drive Could Dig Further Into Discipline

By Nirvi Shah — June 25, 2013 3 min read
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The next federal collection of data about every U.S. school district could probe districts further on how students are disciplined, how many pre-K kids are spanked, and whether bullies harassed classmates because of their religion or because they thought their peer was lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The U.S. Department’s office for civil rights last week asked for public comment on these and other questions it hopes to ask of every district in the country 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 districts to monitor and enforce civil rights laws. (Check out some of the EdWeek reporting on the data.) The 2009-10 version captured information 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. (A quarter of those districts have just one school, a federal education department spokesman said.)

The 2009-10 version zeroed in on school discipline issues, including asking districts how students were disciplined, including whether by suspension, expulsion, or by corporal punishment. Schools had to report how the punishment was meted out and break those figures down by students’ race, gender, and disability. All of the information became public last year.

But some civil rights and education groups wanted more details about those data points. They could get it, if these proposed changes to the so-called civil rights data collection are adopted. Some of the new questions the department wants to ask—generally disaggregated by race, sex, disability status, and English-proficiency status:


  • How many allegations of harassment or bullying of K-12 students were on the basis of perceptions about sexual orientation or religion? (The department spokesman told me that this doesn’t give schools the right to ask about a victim’s LGBT status or their religion. “This is focusing on the likely motive of the alleged harasser not the actual status of victim,” he said.)
  • How many students without disabilities, and how many with 504 plans, were removed from school for disciplinary reasons and sent to another school or an alternative school?
  • How many students ages 3-5 in preschool received corporal punishment?
  • How many times were students in preschool through 12th grade corporally punished? (So this goes beyond collecting information about how many students were spanked and captures students who were repeatedly disciplined this way.)
  • How many school days did students miss, collectively, because they were suspended out of school?
  • How many of the following incidents would trigger disciplinary action, including referrals to law enforcement and arrests: robbery with a weapon, with a firearm or explosive device, or without a weapon; physical attack or fight with a weapon, without a weapon, or with a firearm or explosive; rape or attempted rape; incidents of sexual battery other than rape; possession of a firearm or explosive; whether students, faculty, or staff died as a result of a murder at school; whether there was an incident at the school that involved a shooting.


  • Did any students participate in single-sex athletics?

Early Childhood Education

  • Does the district offer full- or part-day kindergarten because of state law and is there any cost for parents?

College and Career Readiness

  • Are students taking distance-education courses, and if so how many do?
  • Are students taking dual-enrollment or dual-credit courses, and if so, how many do?
  • Do any students participate in credit recovery programs?
  • How many students were absent 15 or more days?
  • How many students took an AP exam of any kind, including in a foreign language?
  • How many 7th grade students 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?

Some of the 2009-10 data weren’t very accurate. But an Education Department spokesman said the 2011-12 collection built in additional steps to ensure better quality data, including giving districts time to adjust information provided after a federal review, and those efforts would be enhanced in the 2013-14 and 2015-16 collections.

Many districts found the entire process to be a pain in the neck, and they are likely to weigh in with those concerns considering the proposed data collections would be even bigger.

The 2015-16 version could also be done as a representative sample of the country instead, the department spokesman said.

The proposed changes have to get through a 60-day public comment period, revisions, another 30-day comment period, and the Office of Management & Budget before becoming final.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.