What should be a priority in K-12 education, the physical safety of students, or the racial balance in school suspension rates? Barack Obama and Donald Trump had different answers to this question, and it probably won’t surprise you where President Biden comes down.
In 2012, the education department released a study showing that black students were more likely than their white peers to be suspended and kicked out of school. This disparity was seen as evidence of racial prejudice, and two years later the ministry issued threat letters “guidance” to school districts across the country. The letters essentially warned that schools would face federal civil rights inquiries if suspension rates for blacks did not drop. Schools were forced to discipline students, or not, on the basis of race rather than behavior, and many administrators and teachers were forced to do so.
In New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the country’s three largest school systems, cuts in suspensions and expulsions have been followed by an increase in bullying and other disruptive behavior. Students and teachers reported feeling less secure. Fighting, gang activity and drug use have increased. A 2018 study of Wisconsin schools found that “looser discipline policies, pushed by the Obama administration, negatively impact student test scores.”
The sad irony is that black students, on whose behalf this was done, have been the most affected by racial quotas in school discipline. A 2017 federal school safety survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 25% of black students nationwide reported being bullied, the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group. .
To his credit, the Trump administration revoked these policies in 2018 under the leadership of then Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who understood the strong link between violent school environments and poor academic performance in a way that seems lost on progressives. Being kind to troublemakers makes life much more difficult for children who are in school to get an education.
However, the Biden administration is positioning itself to restore the orientations of the Obama administration. Last month, officials from the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Education and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice announced that they were holding a discussion on “Strategies to Address Racial and Other Disparities in the administration of school discipline ”. The aim is to assess “the impact of exclusionary school discipline policies and practices, such as suspensions and arrests in schools, on students in our country, in particular students of color” and “also to share various strategies to fight against harmful and discriminatory disciplinary practices in schools and to create positive school climates.
School systems across the country may again find themselves forced to choose between a civil rights inquiry and more violent schools, all in the service of racial paranoia-based theories that cannot withstand scrutiny. As Gail Heriot, a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission, noted, black students disproportionately attend school with other black students. “If teachers fail to maintain order in these classes for fear of being accused of racism, it is these minority students who will suffer the most.”
If, as critics of school punishment insist, white adult racism rather than student behavior is the root cause of the black-white disparity in suspensions, why are white students disciplined twice as much? Asians rate? And what explains the fact that many teachers, principals and school administrators who decide which children are suspended are themselves black and brown?
The reluctance of these critics to even consider non-racial explanations for group differences in rates of school discipline is also troubling. In a 2019 report from the Institute for Family Studies, sociologists Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox found that black students living with both married parents had suspension rates that were not only half as high as those of other blacks, but also inferior to those of other blacks. the suspension rate for white students from non-intact families. Statistical disparities cannot automatically equate to discrimination, and pretending otherwise can lead to bad policies that harm the people you want to help.
Politicians and policymakers who tell us easing student discipline will slow down the “school-to-prison pipeline” need to explain why students who attend public charter schools with tougher discipline policies have lower rates of schooling. criminal activity and incarceration later in life. The data suggests that by punishing, rather than indulging in lawless behavior among young people, we are doing them a service. Antisocial habits don’t start after graduation and it makes no sense to wait until then to fix them.
Black children are already more likely to attend lower performing schools and be taught by less experienced teachers. Unlike most low-income families, most teachers have a choice of school. The Biden administration might keep this in mind before reverting to a policy that can only make the lives of these children more chaotic than necessary.
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