Chief Diversity Officers Harm the Students They Say They Help

COMMENTARY Education

Chief Diversity Officers Harm the Students They Say They Help

Oct 16, 2023 2 min read

Commentary By

Jay P. Greene, PhD @jaypgreene

Senior Research Fellow, Center for Education Policy

Madison Marino

Senior Research Associate, Center for Education Policy

Minority students had significantly greater learning loss during the pandemic in school districts that had hired chief diversity officers than in districts without one. grandriver / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

In practice, these bureaucrats enforce ideological orthodoxies on matters of race and gender that are educationally harmful for minority students.  

Hiring a senior district official who insists that Black and Hispanic students not be held to the same standards...obviously undermined minority student success. 

School district officials should start cutting their spending. The first and most obvious expense they should eliminate is the chief diversity officer. 

At the height of the pandemic, Congress appropriated an additional $190 billion to the nation’s schools in the hopes of preventing students from losing ground academically. One thing school districts did with that influx of cash was to hire chief diversity officers. Rather than stemming learning loss, however, chief diversity officers exacerbated the problem, especially among minority students. 

School districts create chief diversity officers or similar-sounding positions ostensibly to close racial achievement gaps by advocating for minority students and their particular needs. In practice, these bureaucrats enforce ideological orthodoxies on matters of race and gender that are educationally harmful for minority students.  

Our national analysis of test scores finds that minority students had significantly greater learning loss during the pandemic in school districts that had hired chief diversity officers than in districts without one. Black and Hispanic test scores plummeted in districts with a chief diversity officer by an even wider margin than they did among White students in the same districts. 

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The extra decline in math achievement for Black and Hispanic students in districts with diversity officers was roughly one-quarter as large as the decline in learning for all students during that period. This additional learning loss translates into more than 4.5 percentile points on a nationally normed achievement test—a significant drop by any measure.  

The negative effect of chief diversity officers held true even after we controlled statistically for how wide racial achievement gaps were in districts before the pandemic as well as for the trend in those gaps during the preceding decade. Racial achievement gaps went from bad to worse in these districts during the pandemic. 

Hiring a senior district official who insists that Black and Hispanic students not be held to the same standards of behavior or academic achievement as other students because of structural racism obviously undermined minority student success. 

In 2021, 39% of school districts with at least 15,000 students had a chief diversity officer. After $190 billion poured into schools, that percentage rose to 48%. Among the largest school districts (those with more than 100,000 students), 89% now have those bureaucrats.  

But even among smaller districts with between 15,000 and 20,000 students, 40% have such a position. Federal COVID-19 money has facilitated the spread of this idea from universities into school districts, starting with the large ones but eventually making its way into modest-sized districts. 

As chief diversity officers creep into every educational institution, they fail to improve academic achievement, but they do succeed at their true purpose: spreading their ideological orthodoxies on issues of race and gender. While school districts with these officers were more likely to suffer greater learning loss among minority students during the pandemic, they were also significantly more likely to adopt policies to hide information from parents about their own child’s gender issues.  

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Among school districts with a chief diversity officer, 40% recently adopted policies not to tell parents about their own children changing names, pronouns, or the bathrooms they use, compared to only 23% among districts without one. 

We don’t know whether these diversity officers directly contributed to districts adopting these policies, but we can clearly see that districts with them are more focused on advancing contentious ideological agendas than attending to student learning.

As school districts are obligated to spend the last of the $190 billion they received by the end of next year, many district officials and their fellow travelers fear that schools need to be rescued from this fiscal cliff by another injection of extra federal funds.  

Rather than bleed the nation’s taxpayers further with nothing but destruction to show for it, school district officials should start cutting their spending. The first and most obvious expense they should eliminate is the chief diversity officer. 

This piece originally appeared in Fox News

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