Obama Administration Aggravates The Minority Achievement Gap, Increases Risk Of School Violence

If you want to fix the achievement gap between black and white students, you must first fix the behaviors that contribute to it, like the disorder and violence in inner-city classrooms that make it hard to teach or learn in such schools, and disproportionately affect the black students in such schools.

But the Obama administration is doing just the opposite, discouraging school districts from disciplining violent or disruptive black students if they have already disciplined “too many” black students, as Heather MacDonald notes in the current issue of City Journal. Since more black kids come from high-crime areas, it is only natural that infraction rates are higher among black kids than, say, Asian kids (Asians have much lower infraction rates than whites, who in turn have much lower infraction rates than blacks, notes MacDonald). So it is entirely foreseeable, and not the product of racism by a school, that more black kids than white kids get disciplined for misconduct in many schools. The Obama administration argues that higher minority suspension rates presumptively violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by constituting “disparate impact,” even though the Supreme Court ruled in Alexander v. Sandoval (2001) that such “disparate impact” doesn’t violate Title VI.

Such discipline is not racism, or something that is harmful to minorities in the long run; instead, discipline is a valuable form of instruction that both teaches students how to interact properly with others (a skill that a kid will need both to maximize his own learning, and to handle a job when he reaches adulthood) and also teaches them essential moral values. Depriving disruptive or violent minority students of such discipline based on their race is itself a form of racial discrimination, since it deprives them of “equal access” to an essential educational “benefit,” namely, moral instruction and instruction in how to get along with others. See Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629, 650 (1999)(civil rights laws forbid denying students access to an educational “benefit” based on their sex or race). Employers require their employees to follow rules and get along with co-workers, and expect them to have “soft people skills,” all traits that are instilled through discipline in school and in the home.

But the Obama administration can’t see this, since it is wearing ideological blinders. Contrary to what it seems to think, it does not help a black kid if a school official is prevented from disciplining another kid for beating him up just because the kid who beat him up is also black. (Violence is usually committed against other members of the perpetrator’s own race.) Doing so is an example of the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that undermines educational achievement among African-Americans.

The State of Maryland plans to do something even more extreme, proposing a rule  that would mandate racial quotas in school discipline. As I previously noted, quotas in school discipline clash with a federal appeals court ruling that schools cannot use racial proportionality rules for school discipline, since that violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. See People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education, 111 F.3d 528, 534 (7th Cir. 1997). That court ruling also said that a school cannot use race in student discipline to offset racial disparities not rooted in school officials’ racism (known as “disparate impact”).

Racial “disparities” in student discipline rates are not the product of racism by school officials, but rather reflect higher rates of violence and other disruptive conduct among African-American students. (The Supreme Court’s Armstrong decision emphasized that crime rates are not the same for different races, and that racial disparities in crime rates and conviction rates are not proof of racial discrimination.) Stopping school officials from disciplining black students who violate school rules just because they previously disciplined more black than white students is as crazy as ordering police to stop arresting black criminals just because they previously arrested more blacks than whites.

As the Manhattan Institute’s MacDonald notes,

Since 2008, more than 530 people under the age of 21 have been killed in the city [of Chicago], mostly by their peers, according to the Chicago Reporter; virtually all the perpetrators were black or Hispanic. In 2009, the widely publicized beating death of 16-year-old Derrion Albert by his fellow students sent Duncan hurrying back to the Windy City, accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder, to try to contain the fallout in advance of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics (see “Chicago’s Real Crime Story,” Winter 2010). Between September 2011 and February 2012, 25 times more black Chicago students than white ones were arrested at school, mostly for battery; black students outnumbered whites by four to one. (In response to the inevitable outcry over the arrest data, a Chicago teacher commented: “I feel bad for kids being arrested, . . . but I feel worse seeing a kid get his head smashed on the floor and almost die. Or a teacher being threatened with his life.”). . .

Nationally, the picture is no better. The homicide rate among males between the ages of 14 and 17 is nearly ten times higher for blacks than for whites and Hispanics combined. Such data make no impact on the Obama administration and its orbiting advocates, who apparently believe that the lack of self-control and socialization that results in this disproportionate criminal violence does not manifest itself in classroom comportment as well. . .

Aaron Benner, a fifth-grade teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, scoffs at the notion that minority students are being unfairly targeted for discipline. “Anyone in his right mind knows that these [disciplined] students are extremely disruptive,” he says. Like districts across the county, the St. Paul public school system has been on a mission to lower the black suspension rate, following complaints by local activists and black parents. A highly regarded principal lost his job because his school had “too many” suspensions of black second- and fourth-graders. The school system has sent its staff to $350,000 worth of “cultural-proficiency” training, where they learned to “examine the presence and role of ‘Whiteness.’ ” The district spent another $2 million or so to implement an anti-suspension behavioral-modification program embraced by the Obama administration.

Benner sees the consequences of this anti-discipline push nearly every day in the worsening behavior of students. He overheard a fifth-grade boy tell a girl: “Bitch, I’ll fuck you and suck you.” (“I wanted to throw him against the locker,” Benner recalls.) The boy’s teacher told Benner that she felt powerless to punish the misbehavior. “This will be one of my black men who ends up in prison after raping a woman,” observes Benner. Racist? Many would so characterize the comment. But Benner is black himself—and fed up with the excuses for black misbehavior. He attended one of the district’s cultural-proficiency sessions, where an Asian teacher asked: “How do I help the student who blurts out answers and disrupts the class?” The black facilitator reminded her: “That’s what black culture is”—an answer that echoes the Obama administration’s admonitions to teachers. “I should have said: ‘How many of you shouted out in college?’ ” Benner remarks. “They’re trying to pull one over on us. Black folks are drinking the Kool-Aid; this ‘let-them-clown’ philosophy could have been devised by the KKK.” . .school systems are jettisoning whole swaths of their discipline practices in order to avoid disparate impact. . .According to a recent hire, a Baltimore high school now asks prospective teachers: “How do you respond to being mistreated? What do you do if someone cusses you out?” The proper answer is: “Nothing.” Predictably, disorder has arisen. A 34-year veteran of the school had to be taken from the premises in an ambulance after a student shattered the glass in a classroom display case.

At a widely-read education blog, a teacher describes the violence and disorder that occurred when her school adopted racial quotas in school discipline:

I was the homeroom teacher in an incident in a school that tried to implement just this criteria for discipline. One kid (scrawny 7th grader) had the {bleep} beaten out of him by a 6-foot, fully-muscled 7th grader – two different races. The little kid was suspended before his copious blood had been cleaned up off the floor. The big kid never did have ANY punishment – that particular ethnic group had been disciplined too many times.

Need I mention that it was a tough month, as word quickly spread that violence against the “under-disciplined” ethnic group was treated as a freebie?