August 3 2012
President: Hey, Maybe We Need a Suspension Quota in Public Schools!
The discipline in all too many public schools is so bad that children who want to learn can’t. President Obama has just done something to make that worse.
In a July 26 executive order the president pretty much ensured that, if the order is not reversed, the discipline in America’s schools will deteriorate.
The president’s order may sound innocuous. As the Daily Caller describes it:
His July 26 executive order established a government panel to promote “a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”
“African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline,” said the order, titled “White House Initiative On Educational Excellence.”
Because of those causes, the report suggests, “over a third of African American students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular high school diploma, and only four percent of African American high school graduates interested in college are college-ready across a range of subjects.”
“What this means is that whites and Asians will get suspended for things that blacks don’t get suspended for,” because school officials will try to level punishments despite groups’ different infraction rates, predicted Hans Bader, a counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Bader is a former official in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, and has sued and represented school districts and colleges in civil-rights cases.
What the higher level of discipline for black students may actually mean is that more of them come from single-family households and are therefore less likely to have the discipline to flourish in school. The president, however, attributes the discrepancy to racism.
In other words, the kids and their families don't build their bad behavior: society does. The Washington Post’s Donna St. George addressed the issue of why more minority kids are suspended from Washington-area schools in a clueless story last December. It is a serious problem.
St. George wrote:
Across the Washington area, black students are suspended and expelled two to five times as often as white students, creating disparities in discipline that experts say reflect a growing national problem.
St. George never considered that the possibility that the “disparities” result more from differences in the conduct of the children than in the way discipline is applied. There was no evidence in the story at Ms. St. George even considered this notion.
I wrote at the time:
I submit that, if there is a “national problem”—and there is—it is not that school officials are mean to minority kids but that all too many minority kids come from single-parent households. It is more difficult for one put-upon parent (usually the mother) to instill good habits than it is for two parents.
Ms. St. George acknowledges that frequently these children come from single-parent families:
Experts say disparities appear to have complex causes. A disproportionate number of black students live below the poverty line or with a single parent, factors that affect disciplinary patterns.
But she can’t bring herself to rule out discrimination as the prime motivating factor behind the high proportion of disciplinary actions directed at minority kids:
[E]xperts say those factors do not fully explain racial differences in suspensions. Other contributing factors could include unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles.
Ms. St. George seems to see the problem almost as one of statistics. I am almost tempted to ask her if it could be solved simply by suspending more non-minority students.
Please allow me to brag: I was prescient. It seems that under the new executive order schools will do just that: suspend more white kids or fewer black kids, regardless of the disciplinary problems, to bring the statistics in line. In other words, there will be what amounts to a discipline quota. This will mean that disruptive kids, the kids who keep others from learning, will stay in the classroom, unless the racial quota has been met and he or she can be sent home.
Who is going to suffer most from this executive order? The kids who goes to public school to learn. This will only enhance the Hogarthian atmosphere that prevails in too many of the nation’s public schools. Thanks, Mr. President.