Obama’s war on standards coming to a school near you

Scott has taken note of the Obama administration’s promulgation of national guidance on how schools should discipline students. The guidance is couched as an attempt (1) to introduce rationality and uniformity into school disciplinary practices which, allegedly, are unfairly causing students to miss too much class time and (2) to address racial disparities in the meting out of discipline.

The first goal is phony. The federal government doesn’t know as much about how discipline should be handled at this or that school or school district as the people in charge at the local level. And because the people who run the school or the school district (unlike federal officials) must answer to the parents of the students, there is little danger that they will apply irrational, harmful disciplinary policies.

The federal government, as officious as it is under President Obama, would never contemplate becoming involved in school discipline if it were not for the racial disparities it produces. But this turns out to be phony too.

As I observed here, relying on the work of James Scanlan, relaxing disciplinary standards is not likely to reduce racial disparities in suspension rates; rather it likely will increase them. Why? Because lowering cutoffs — be it on a test score or some other selection device — tends to reduce relative differences in “success” rates, but also tends to increase relative differences in “failure” rates. Suspension from school represents failure.

In the school context, relaxing disciplinary standards will mean that only the very worst offenders will be disciplined. There is no reason to believe that black students will be less represented in this cohort than in the group that now receives discipline.

Thus, Eric Holder and Arne Duncan aren’t interested in reducing the disparate impact of school discipline policies; they simply want many fewer students to be disciplined because this will mean that many fewer blacks will be disciplined.

Their approach is consistent with the core redistributionist agenda of Obama and the radical left. Here, opportunity is being redistributed. Obama wants to confer what he takes to be a benefit — the ability to escape discipline — on a group disproportionately composed of blacks and certain other minority groups. This he will do at the expense of another group — those whose educational opportunities will be disrupted by the presence of students whose behavior is unruly or worse.

But this is a particularly perverse instance of redistribution because, as Scott notes, the victims of the redistribution of opportunities are also disproportionately black. I put it this way:

Education remains the pathway to success for minority group members, and education is undermined when unruly students disrupt the process. Thus, black students and their parents have a strong interest in the maintenance of classroom discipline.

The only possible justification for Obama’s interference in school disciplinary practices would be the proven existence of widespread racial discrimination in discipline decision-making. That proof does not exist.

Certainly, it cannot be found where Team Obama looks for it — in statistics showing racial disparities. As I wrote:

No basis exists for inferring victim status from racial disparities in school suspension rates. For one thing, much of the discipline in question is meted out by black teachers and administrators. Surely, they are not basing their decisions on race.

In any event, there is nothing unnatural about the disparities. One would expect a disproportionate amount of disciplinary problems from students raised in homes without a father, homes in which a parent is absent due to incarceration, homes in which one or more parent is addicted to drugs, or homes in which the mother is extremely young. Some, if not all, of these phenomena prevail disproportionately in black homes.

The federal guidelines on discipline are the latest, and probably the most perverse, effort in a campaign to bulldoze standards that stand in the way of equal distribution of society’s benefits and prizes to blacks. But a nation, like an individual, will be only as virtuous and successful as its ability to set and attain high standards of conduct and achievement.

To be sure, standards are not set in stone; there may be good cause to change or even discard some of them. But the inability of a particular group to meet a standard to the same degree as another group does not constitute good cause.

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