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August 26 2012

Parental Choice, Not Race-Based Mandates, Promote Safe Schools Conducive to Learning

Vicki E. Alger

President Obama recently signed an executive order mandating racial discipline quotas and “promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”

A recent Civil Rights Project study found a higher percentage of black students than white students receive school discipline such as suspensions or expulsion. CRP recommended that the federal government “step up federal civil rights enforcement to address the large disparities.” But this policy is based on “junk science,” according to Manhattan Institute fellow Heather MacDonald, who writes in a recent City Journal article:

Civil rights attorneys make a number of unlikely propositions to support their claim that disproportionate discipline equals discrimination. First, of course, is their implicit assumption that teachers and school administrators are a racist bunch—an assumption that’s “ridiculous,” says Brett Rosenthal, an assistant principal in Rockville Center, Long Island, who also worked for years as a dean of students in Jamaica, Queens. “I’ve never seen anything unfairly done, not once. Teachers are good-natured people who try to help out.” … Yet if we’re to believe the Obama administration, when they enter the classroom or become administrators, these eager proponents of white-privilege theory suddenly become retributive bigots, favoring fractious white students over pacific black students. …

The research base for the Obama administration’s claim that minority students receive harsher punishment than whites for “the same or similar infractions” is laughably weak. None of the studies alleging disproportionate discipline actually observed students’ behavior or examined students’ full disciplinary histories, including classroom interactions and warnings, teacher and counselor observations, and efforts at informal resolution that preceded more formal measures. …When pressed, the advocates say that this omission does not matter. (The Department of Education did not respond to repeated requests to explain how it determines that minorities are disproportionately disciplined.)

One of the stated purposes for Obama’s race-based executive order is promoting better academic outcomes for black students. All students—regardless of socio-economic backgrounds—should be in schools that are safe and conducive to learning. Rather than imposing racial quotas, parents should be free to choose their children’s schools without government interference. Meanwhile, schools should be free to enforce uniform rules of conduct that affect all students equally. If parents are dissatisfied with those policies, they can transfer their children. That freedom, more so than any federal mandate, would better ensure rigorous and equitable discipline policies that contribute to better learning opportunities for all students.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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