12 Aug 2021 Biden’s equity agenda will make schools less safe, by Stacy Washington
To comply with President Joe Biden’s racial equity executive order, the Departments of Justice and Education will likely reinstate, and possibly strengthen, Obama administration rules for public schools that judge student punishments by quantity rather than context. Mere numerical race disparities become de facto discrimination.
This puts teachers in a tenuous position. While American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten pushes a social justice agenda embracing critical race theory, she must also have the backs of members who will be judged by metrics portraying them as vicious racists. A union’s first obligation is protecting members who pay their dues. Weingarten risks becoming, as the woke folk say, “literally Hitler.”
Even though teaching is among the most woke vocations, applying statistics to race-neutral discipline policies will make monsters out of one of the White House’s most loyal and fervent constituencies. It will also spoil educational opportunities for innocent children this president says he deeply cares about.
The root problem is reliance on a disparate-impact approach to analyze student discipline. It essentially sets up racial quotas on how many members of a particular minority can receive appropriate punishment at a given school. This creates a death spiral for quality of life among large minority student bodies. When students are less likely to receive punishment for their misbehavior, students around them are affected.
Under this proposal, discipline means disparity, and disparity means discrimination. That’s what teachers and administrators want to avoid.
In the White House announcement of its intent to resurrect disciplinary quotas, it cited a report on such alleged disparities from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It failed to note this report was rebutted by Commissioner Gail L. Heriot. In her first dissent to a report in her 14 years of service on the commission, Heriot wrote that her colleagues “seriously misunderstood the empirical research that purportedly forms the basis for its conclusions.”
The commission’s report alleged students of color “do not commit more disciplinary offenses than their white peers.” But Heriot noted her colleagues “provide[d] no evidence to support this sweeping assertion and there is abundant evidence to the contrary” and that this “is a slap in the face to teachers.”
I can only surmise that the Commissioners who voted in favor of the Finding have misread the studies that purport to find that discrimination may account for some portion of the differences in the rate of discipline imposed on African American students. Somehow they have conflated that with a finding that all of the differences in rates of school discipline are caused by discrimination or by some factor other than differing behaviors. To my knowledge, no researcher makes such a claim.
Factors in increased disciplinary problems affecting minority schools include disproportionately higher reports of gangs, guns, drugs, and fights.
It’s wise to incorporate Heriot’s warning when crafting new rules. Or, perhaps, this idea should be abandoned altogether as it will likely lead to chaos in the classrooms and destroy the reputations of well-meaning educators.
To improve disciplinary numbers, consider school choice options. In minority communities with disproportionate disciplinary problems, zip codes and property lines dictate enrollment and limit access to schools with programs that fit the needs of children. When families have choices, they will demand and get safer schools. Proper discipline will be rewarded rather than vilified. And students with special needs, such as behavioral disorders, can go places that better serve their conditions rather than force mainstreaming to the detriment of all.
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the Obama-Biden rules caused “statistics [to] become more important than the safety of students and teachers” and that “discipline is a matter which classroom teachers and local school leaders deserve and need autonomy.” Why are the Biden-Harris rules expected to fare any better?
Teachers shouldn’t be judged by statistics, and students deserve better classrooms. That’s why the disparate-impact domination of discipline deserves a failing grade.
Stacy Washington is co-chairman of the Project 21 black leadership network and host of the “Stacy on the Right” show on SiriusXM. She is a former elected school board member. This piece was first published by the Washington Examiner.
New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.