The soft bigotry of low expectations

The Obama administration’s Department of Education has announced that it will crack down on “civil-rights infractions” in public schools, including alleged disparities in the disciplining of white and black students. This means that the administration will identify and investigate situations in which a facially neutral discipline system — offense X brings punishment Y — results in blacks being discplined more often than whites. School systems will face the prospect of being punished unless they can explain the disparities, presumably based on a painstaking analysis of each disciplinary decision.
As Roger Clegg points out, the easy way out for schools — and what school bureaucrat won’t prefer the easy way out — is to make sure the numbers pass muster, i.e., to make discipline decisions based not solely on the merits, but also on the basis of race. And since administrators aren’t likely to mete out punishment just to balance the numbers, they will balance them by going easier on black students because they are black.
As a result, school discipline will be further eroded, making it increasinigly difficult for students of all races to learn.
It’s bad enough that the Obama-Duncan Education Department is intent on trapping students in bad public schools. Now, it plans, though aggressive “civil rights” enforcement, to undermine whatever measure of discipline these schools have been able to maintain.
Duncan announded his “civil rights” initiative during a speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., scene of the “Bloody Sunday” civil-rights confrontation 45 years ago. That’s good PR, I suppose. But did the civil rights protesters of the 1960s really march so that school administrators would be intimidated into not disciplining black students who violate the rules?
Naturally, no student should be disciplined due to his or her race. But the way to prevent this abuse is to identify and address (at the local level, I would argue) specific cases where administrators treat minority students differently due to race. Such cases are not likely to go unnoticed given the tendency these days for students and their parents to complain. Imposing a presumptive quota system for discipline and forcing administrator’s to justify deviations from the numbers is wrongheaded and corrosive
Once, it was axiomatic that education is a local matter. Today, many believe that there are aspects of the eduational process as to which the federal government has a proper role. But it’s difficult for me to see how classroom discipline is one of them.

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