Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Numbers Don't Add Up to One Diagnosis

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Numbers Don't Add Up to One Diagnosis

Article excerpt

COMMENTARY

The numbers are so startling that they begged for an explanation.

As a front-page Herald-Tribune story reported on Monday, Sarasota County has for years had oddly high numbers of black students identified as having emotional behavior disorder, or EBD.

If EBD was a medical diagnosis confirmable with a blood test, the county would be a confirmed hot spot for emotional and behavioral issues, but only for one race. And I don't mean there is a modest statistical spike here. While one of every 148 white kids is designated EBD, and one of every 233 Hispanic kids is, the ratio for black students is one in 31.

That news inspired some people to form instant opinions without knowing enough. The racists, for instance, tended to chime in and blame anything bad they can think up about black people, while inanely missing the obvious question: In Florida, why the heck would Sarasota be a hot spot?

It isn't really one, of course. Thinking so is like assuming drunk driving increases whenever there is more DUI enforcement, and citing DUI arrest counts as evidence. The more cops on DUI patrol, the more drunk driving there is!

By which I mean, EBD designations reflect the people and the system doing the designating much more than they show the numbers of kids with serious issues.

The high number of black kids so designated could be a sign of racism in the system, of course,

and so can't be shrugged off as a meaningless statistical oddity. The mystery: Why does an apparently pretty good county school system, as other numbers indicate, have anomalous EBD numbers unlike those in any similar part of Florida?

I believed right away that the explanation would show that Sarasota County has been doing something better than most counties, or something worse, but certainly something different when making EBD designations.

But I was not confident Florida's education bureaucracy, known for frequent foul-ups, had the right response: Basically, the state ordered Sarasota County to make the weird numbers start going away. That is, reduce the numbers of black students being newly designated EBD.

Bad idea? Maybe not. Sarasota County schools could well be grossly over-diagnosing, and doing harm if those labeled were being channeled into failed programs that ostracized them and did no good. …

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