(The Daily Signal) – Administrators focused on diversity, equity and inclusion have ballooned in public school districts across the country, but their presence doesn’t translate to educational improvement for black and Hispanic students, nor to the inclusion of parents in decisions about their kids’ health and well-being.
According to a new report from The Heritage Foundation, the percentage of large school districts with a chief diversity officer rose from 39% to 48% from 2021 to 2023, while school districts with a chief diversity officer experienced a decline in minority student performance and a greater likelihood of secretive transgender policies. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“Taxpayers provided $190 billion in extra funding to schools so that they could prevent learning loss during the pandemic,” Jay Greene, a senior research fellow at Heritage’s Center for Education Policy, told The Daily Signal. “Schools then decided to use a bunch of that money to hire chief diversity officers, who actually exacerbated learning loss among black and Hispanic students, rather than prevent it.”
“We found that black and Hispanic students in districts that had hired chief diversity officers lost an additional 4.5 percentile points on their math achievement tests relative to districts that did not have a chief diversity officer,” he added.
“While chief diversity officers were academically counterproductive, they appear to have accomplished ideological goals,” Greene noted. “In particular, we found that school districts with chief diversity officers were significantly more likely to have adopted policies to keep gender transition secret from parents by withholding information about their own children changing names, pronouns, or bathroom use.”
The report, “Equity Elementary Extended: The Growth and Effects of ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ Staff in Public Schools,” provided first exclusively to The Daily Signal, analyzes the 555 school districts across the U.S. with enrollments of at least 15,000 students. The report identifies which school districts employ a chief diversity officer or an administrator with an equivalent title and role, and compares those districts with data from the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University showing how well students performed in standardized math tests.
It also compares those districts with a list of school districts with policies requiring that information about students’ changes in names, pronouns, or bathroom usage remain secret from parents. The parental rights group Parents Defending Education maintains that list.
Of the 555 school districts with at least 15,000 students, 265 (or 48%) employed a chief diversity officer as of August. In 2021, only 214 (39%) of those school districts employed such an officer. While 13 school districts appeared to have eliminated this kind of DEI officer, 64 districts had hired one.
In school districts that employed a DEI officer, black students were 4.5 percentile points more likely to have lower math scores between 2019 and 2022. This represents about a third of the average learning loss in math for all students in this time. Even when taking the math learning loss of white students into account, the black students’ learning loss still translates to 2.7 percentile points, according to the report.
Hispanic students in a school district with a DEI officer fared even worse, according to the report. Between 2019 and 2022, these students experienced a learning loss of 4.8 percentile points worse than students in districts without a DEI officer. Adjusting for the change in white achievement in those same districts shrinks the number to 3.2 percentile points.
In other words, at least according to math scores measured by the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, the employment of DEI officers correlates with larger racial performance gaps between white students and black and Hispanic students.
Yet DEI officers also translated to a higher likelihood of policies keeping parents in the dark when their children claim to “identify” as transgender, the study also finds.
Forty percent of school districts with a chief diversity officer had policies directing teachers and staff not to notify parents if their children claim to identify as a gender opposite their biological sex at school, while only 17.2% of districts without a chief diversity officer had such policies.
Even narrowing the comparison to districts within the same states, a district with a DEI officer is 15.7% more likely to have a gender-secrets policy than non-DEI districts in the same state, the study finds. Some states have banned such policies, so an analysis of districts within each state helps illustrate the facts on the ground. The impact of larger, liberal states such as California does not account for the greater likelihood of DEI districts having a gender-secrets policy.
DEI staffs also dominate universities, and that trend may trickle down to K-12 schools.
A previous Heritage Foundation report measured the size of DEI bureaucracies at the 65 universities that in 2021 were members of one of the Power 5 athletic conferences (the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12, the Southeastern Conference, and the Atlantic Coast Conference), finding that the average university listed more than 45 people as having formal responsibility for promoting DEI goals.
DEI staff outnumbered professors at the average university’s history department (by a factor of 1.4 to 1). The average university had 3.4 employees working to promote DEI for every 100 tenured or tenure-track faculty members.
The more recent study suggests that the growing impact of diversity, equity, and inclusion officers translates to less racial equality and the exclusion of parents from decisions about their own children. The study urges parents, school districts, and state legislators to reexamine the effectiveness of chief diversity officers and consider eliminating their roles in public schools.