Discipline Quotas: The Obama Administration’s Evil Lives On

In 2014, the Obama administration promulgated a “guidance” to America’s public schools that threatened federal investigations and litigation against schools where black students are disciplined (e.g., by suspension) more often, on a pro rata basis, than white students, on the ground that such numerical discrepancy is evidence of discrimination. Many schools responded by adopting discipline quotas, which meant in practice that after a certain number of students of a particular race had been suspended, teachers and administrators were helpless to enforce any kind of discipline in classrooms.

The Obama administration is gone, thankfully, but its “guidance” has not been revoked. Meanwhile, state governments and federal courts that are in liberal hands have taken up the claim that disparate incidence of discipline must be discriminatory, a theory that flies in the face of common observation that misbehavior in school is not randomly distributed in the student population.

In Minnesota, the Department of Human Rights has reportedly sent letters to 43 school districts and charter schools, telling them that they are under investigation because of racial disparities in discipline. There is an added Orwellian element in that news of the letters has leaked out, but no one knows what 43 school districts have gotten the letters, or what the letters say. Under Minnesota law, it apparently is difficult if not impossible for the public to get that information. So the far-left administration of trust fund billionaire Mark Dayton is able to bully school districts in the shadows, without public knowledge or recourse.

My colleague at Center of the American Experiment, Katherine Kersten, has a brilliant op-ed on the Dayton administration’s phantom letters in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Brace yourself, parents of Minnesota. Here’s what’s coming soon to a school near you: increased violence, brazen challenges to teachers’ authority and a chaotic environment where learning is an uphill battle. Teachers who try to exert control will find their hands tied, and some kids — no longer accountable for their behavior — will feel free to provoke mischief and mayhem.

If this happens at your school, you’ll be able to thank the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR). In fall 2017, the department sent letters to 43 school districts and charter schools across the state, announcing that the schools are under investigation because their student discipline records suggest that black and Native American students are disciplined at a rate that exceeds their proportion of the student population.
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Here, in essence, is MDHR’s position: The primary cause of racial discipline gaps in schools is racist teachers and discipline policies, not differing rates of student misconduct. Schools must move to end these statistical group disparities. If administrators don’t agree to change their practices in ways that reduce black and Native American discipline rates, according to MinnPost, “[Human Rights Commissioner Kevin] Lindsey says the state will initiate litigation.”

We’ve seen this movie before, most recently in the St. Paul Public Schools. There, it had devastating consequences for students of all backgrounds. MDHR bureaucrats must have been the only people in St. Paul who weren’t paying attention to this debacle.

In St. Paul schools — as virtually everywhere in the country — black students, as a group, are referred for discipline at higher rates than other students. Starting around 2012, the district’s leaders tried to narrow this gap by lowering behavior expectations and removing meaningful penalties for student misconduct. For example, they spent millions of dollars on “white privilege” training for teachers, and dropped “continual willful disobedience” as a suspendable offense.

Violence and disorder quickly escalated. In some schools, anarchic conditions made learning difficult, if not impossible, according to teachers. In December 2015, after a vicious attack by a student left a high school teacher with a traumatic brain injury, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi labeled the trend of violence a “public health crisis,” according to news accounts.

By that time, suspensions — which had initially fallen — had surged to their highest rate in five years. Black students, about 30 percent of the student body, were 77 percent of those suspended. The St. Paul teachers’ union threatened to strike over safety concerns, and families who valued education began flooding out of St. Paul schools. In June 2016, the school board voted out the superintendent.

Today, MDHR seems intent on duplicating this failed social experiment throughout Minnesota.

It’s a funny thing about liberals–they are undaunted by failure. It’s almost as though they don’t really care whether their policies work or not.

Kathy talks about the fact that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights’ power grab is being carried out in secrecy, and continues:

The fact is, public scrutiny is vital here, to expose the three deeply flawed premises on which MDHR’s race-focused discipline campaign is based.

The department’s first faulty premise is that teachers, not students, are to blame for the racial discipline gap. MDHR bureaucrats’ key (if unspoken) assumption is that students with widely different socioeconomic and family backgrounds — as groups — all misbehave in school at the same rate. Relying on this premise, the department attributes any significant group disparities to discriminatory teachers and discipline practices, by default.

But consider this: Nationally, white boys are suspended at more than twice the rate of Asian and Pacific Islander boys, while boys in general are suspended much more often than girls.

Is this because teachers are biased against white students and boys? Or does it reflect real differences in conduct?

Liberals who claim that disparate discipline rates must be evidence of racist teachers never want to talk about the fact that Asian students are suspended much less often than whites.

There are, in fact, real differences in group behavior. For example, nationally, young black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at 10 times the rate of whites and Hispanics of the same age. Behaviors that lead to criminal conduct are also likely to produce school misconduct. Tragically, black students’ discipline rate is most likely higher than other students’ because, on average, they misbehave more.

A groundbreaking 2014 study by J.P. Wright and colleagues in the Journal of Criminal Justice appears to confirm this. Using the largest sample of school-aged children in the nation, the authors found that teacher bias plays no role in the racial discipline gap, which is “completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student.”

What accounts for group differences in behavior? A primary factor appears to be profound demographic differences in family structure. Nationally, about 72 percent of African-American and 66 percent of Native American children are born out of wedlock, as opposed to 29 percent and 17 percent of white and Asian children, respectively. Young people who grow up without fathers are far more likely than their peers to engage in antisocial behavior, as voluminous research makes clear.

These facts are well known, apparently to everyone except the Obama Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

MDHR’s second flawed premise is that black students’ higher suspension rates give rise to a “school to prison pipeline,” which reduces their chances for future success. Lindsey told MinnPost that kids who miss school because of suspensions aren’t as likely as others to learn or graduate, and so are more likely to land in prison.

But the problem of missed school days goes far beyond days missed for suspensions. Chronic absenteeism, defined in Minnesota as missing more than 10 percent of school days, is linked with poverty and home conditions. In 2015-16, 37 percent of Native American and 21 percent of black students were chronically absent, compared with 11 percent and 8 percent of white and Asian students, respectively.

The whole “school to prison pipeline” myth is disingenuous. It shouldn’t be surprising that teenagers who bring weapons to school, get into fights, assault teachers, are chronically disobedient and disruptive, take drugs on school property, and so on, are disproportionately likely to commit crimes that land them in prison. Only a liberal could be surprised at this correlation.

MDHR’s third flawed premise is that discipline policies that focus more on race than on a student’s actual conduct somehow benefit poor and minority children.

In fact, the greatest victims of such policies are the children — many poor and minority — who come to school ready to learn. The classroom disorder these policies promote can add insurmountable obstacles to their quest for a decent education.

There is more to Kathy’s column, which you can read here. As you know, if you are a regular Power Line reader, I am now President of Center of the American Experiment, Minnesota’s pre-eminent conservative voice. If you would like to support the work of policy analysts like Katherine Kersten, and help us to reform a backward blue state, you can go here to donate. All contributions are appreciated!

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