The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Strikes Again

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has issued a report on school discipline. The report claims that students of all races misbehave in school at the same rate.

Black students are disciplined in school far more frequently than other students. Thus, the Civil Rights Commission wants us to believe not only that schools (mainly teachers) frequently discriminate against Black students, but that absent discrimination the rates of discipline would be equal.

Our friend Gail Heriot explodes the Commission’s report in her dissent. Responding to the claim that “Students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers. . .” Gail writes:

The report provides no evidence to support this sweeping assertion and there is abundant evidence to the contrary. Not the least of that evidence comes from teachers. When one looks at aggregate statistics concerning which students are sent to the principal’s office by their teachers, there are strong differences. Denying those differences amounts to an accusation that teachers are getting it not just wrong, but very wrong. It is a slap in the face to teachers.

School teachers, as Gail points out, are among the most liberal cohort in the U.S. They vote Democratic rather than Republican by a ratio of about 3:1. How odd, then, that the Civil Rights Commission believes they systemically single out Black students for discipline.

Gail doesn’t just rely on evidence from teachers. She also cites evidence from students:

The National Center for Education Statistics has asked students in grades 9-12 every other year since at least 1993 whether they have been in a physical fight on school property over the past 12 months. The results have been consistent. Each time, more African American students have reported participation in such a fight than white students.

In 2015, 12.6% of African American students reported being in a fight on school property, as contrasted with 5.6% of white students. Put differently, the African American rate was 125% higher than the white rate.

What about gun possession? Same basic story:

Among 10th grade boys, 3.0% of whites and 7.9% of African Americans confess to having possessed one in the last 12 months. That means the rate reported for African Americans was 163.3% higher than the rate reported by whites. Similarly, the rate reported by American Indian boys (7.4%) was 146.7% higher than that for white boys.

Asian American boys on the other hand were at 2.7%, which is 10% lower than that for white boys (although the sample size for Asian American boys was too small to yield statistically significant figures at the p < .01 level preferred by the authors of the underlying study being cited).

Clearly, all races do not commit this offense, among the most serious there is, at the same rate.

What about gang membership? Same basic story:

In Gang Membership Between Ages 5 and 17 Years in the United States, David C. Pyrooz and Gary Sweeten took data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. They found that while Hispanics were 12.9% of the young people in the sample who had never been in a gang, they were 20% of those who had been. Similarly, African Americans were 15.6% of the young people who had never been in a gang, but they were 23.6% of those who had been.

Asian Americans were also over-represented in gangs with 2.3% never in a gang, but 2.5% of those who had been in a gang. Whites were the only group to be under-represented in gangs. They were 72.6% of the non-gang members, but 58.4% of those who had been gang members.

There are other forms and indicators of disciplinary misbehavior. However, the Commission presents no evidence that they are disproportionately committed or exhibited by whites and Asian Americans, such that they might cancel out the large disparities described above. It’s also noteworthy that, as Gail says, the disparities reported by students are roughly consistent with those in teacher referrals for discipline.

It’s possible that, although Black students commit far more disciplinary offenses per student than their White and Asian counterparts, these differences do not fully account for the racial disparity in the discipline numbers. Gail acknowledges this possibility, but finds that the evidence marshaled to support it fails to demonstrate that discrimination is even a partial explanation for the disparities in discipline rates.

You can read her critique of that evidence in her dissent. For present purposes, though, the main point is that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s finding that racial discrimination is the entire reason for disciplinary disparities is inconsistent with the available evidence. Scandalously inconsistent.

Pretending, as the Civil Rights Commission does, that Black students do not commit disproportionately more offenses than non-Blacks does a disservice to everyone except, perhaps, identity politics activists. To quote Gail one more time:

[The pretense] certainly does not benefit minority children. To the contrary, they are its greatest victims. African American students disproportionately go to school with other African American students. . .If teachers fail to keep order in those classrooms out of fear that they will be accused of racism, it is these minority students who will suffer most.

Children can’t learn in disorderly classrooms.

For the left, identity politics trumps nearly everything. We shouldn’t be surprised that it now trumps the urgent need for quality education.

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