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Our Request For Simple Data From The District Of Columbia

For our 2015 report, “The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education,” we requested data on teacher race and ethnicity between roughly 2000 and 2012 from nine of the largest school districts in the nation: Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; District of Columbia; Los Angeles; New Orleans; New York; Philadelphia; and San Francisco.

Only one of these districts failed to provide us with data that we could use to conduct our analysis: the District of Columbia.

To be clear, the data we requested are public record. Most of the eight other districts to which we submitted requests complied in a timely fashion. A couple of them took months to fill the request, and required a little follow up. But all of them gave us what we needed. We were actually able to get charter school data for virtually all of these eight cities (usually through the state).

Even New Orleans, which, during the years for which we requested data, was destroyed by a hurricane and underwent a comprehensive restructuring of its entire school system, provided the data.

But not DC.

And it was not from lack of trying on our part. Indeed, our efforts to acquire these simple data from DCPS spanned over two years, including the months that have elapsed since we published our report. We made requests to District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) proper, the District’s human resources division, and DCPS’s parent organization, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) – for more detail go to page 112 of our diversity report.

After receiving two deliveries of datasets that were incomplete and/or not what we requested, we submitted another request to OSSE asking for the exact same data from 2002-2015. The request was initially denied. However, after a successful appeal to the Mayor’s office, OSSE provided us with the requested data, but only for 2007-2013. There are, however, among other alarming anomalies, missing and/or invalid values for the race and ethnicity question for roughly 10-25 percent of teachers in all but two of these years (strangely, the only two exceptions being the first two years, 2007 and 2008). Over 20 percent of teachers have missing values in 2012, and there are no data at all for 2013; these are the two years that have elapsed since we made our initial request. The data are mostly unusable.

To reiterate, our request was quite modest. We asked for several variables if they were available, but our primary goal was simply a multi-year dataset of teachers with their races and ethnicities. This issue is particularly important in DC. We know from alternative data sources (presented in our report) that the teaching force in DC has undergone dramatic change over the past 10-15 years, with the proportion of black teachers declining at a alarming rate. We had hoped to shed light on this trend and its causes. We could not.

Moreover, during this period of repeated requests, we saw the release of several papers presenting analyses of DC datasets far more complex than what we requested. We do not, of course, believe that DC is deliberately withholding data. There is only one conclusion we can reach: DC has no good data on the race and ethnicity of its teachers, even over the past few years. This is unfortunate, given the aforementioned trend among District teachers.

One of the recommendations we made in our report was that the U.S. Department of Education step up its role in requiring districts to collect data on the race and ethnicity of their teachers. DC provides a perfect example of why we made this recommendation. 

*****

UPDATE: After publishing this post, we were contacted by a DCPS official who was very helpful in getting us some of the data we requested (only for the past 6-7 years). As with the previous, problematic data, however, between 10-18 percent of DCPS teachers had missing race and ethnicity values for every year of data. This means that, while we very much appreciate DCPS’ timely attempt to ameliorate the problem, we are still unable to calculate the race and ethnicity distribution of DC teachers without serious caveats.

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