City Journal: Crackdown on Minority Discipline Misguided

After data released this March showed that minority students were disproportionally subject to school discipline measures like detention, suspension and expulsion, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that his department was going to take the a more active role in civil rights enforcement. Speaking at the 45th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” a violent altercation between the police department of Selma, Alabama and civil rights protesters, Duncan acknowledged that the nation has come far since that dark period of racism and inequity, but said that the work has stalled and minority children were suffering as a result.

When the national discipline data was released, Duncan said that the fact that it was African-American and Hispanic students – mostly boys – who were suffering the brunt of the most severe punishments was a sign that their experience was a violation of the principles of equality. Heather Mac Donald, writing for City Journal, says that by forging ahead, Duncan and the rest of the education and administration officials aren’t leaving room for the possibility that — far from being racially motivated — the punishments are doled out to deal with real behavior problems.

Driven by the reformer’s zeal, Duncan launched an investigation into five school districts with the largest disparity in discipline rates between whites and blacks.

 The Department of Justice has already put the Barnwell, South Carolina, school district under a costly consent decree, complete with a pricey outside consultant, and is seeking similar control of other districts. The theory behind this school discipline push is what Obama officials and civil rights advocates call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” According to this conceit, harsh discipline practices—above all, suspensions—strip minority students of classroom time, causing them to learn less, drop out of school, and eventually land in prison.

Which brings up a question of why Duncan, who, after all has extensive experience in overseeing a largely-urban school district, refuses to consider the possibility that black and Hispanic youths are punished more often because they break the rules at a higher frequency than their white peers.

Chicago’s minority youth murder one another with abandon. Since 2008, more than 530 people under the age of 21 have been killed in the city, 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.

It wouldn’t shock anyone to learn that in Chicago, African-Americans get arrested on school grounds, mostly for assault and battery, at 25 times the rate of their white classmates.

Does Arne Duncan really wants the country to believe that teachers, who are, as a group, some of the most lock-step Liberal voters, are in large part racist? That is the only explanation for why Duncan, and the Obama Administration believe that the disproportionate rates of minority discipline has more to do with the people who teach and supervise them than the minority students themselves, suggests Mac Donald.