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What About the Kids Who Behave?

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School discipline and criminal punishment have some things in common.  Indeed, failure to teach children to behave at a young age is one of the true "root causes" of crime.

Another thing the two have in common is the political left's obsession with "disparity" and its willingness to assume that any difference in statistics is the result of racial discrimination.  Jason Riley has this column in the WSJ on a new study and the Education Secretary's predictable reaction.

The reaction to studies like this reveals disturbing sensibilities on the left when it comes to education in general and black education in particular. The data were compiled by the Education Department's civil rights office, which probably thinks that it's doing black people a favor by highlighting these racial disparities and pressuring schools to reduce black suspension rates. No thought, it seems, was given to whether this course of action helps or harms those black kids who are in school to learn and not act up.

The Obama administration's sympathies are with the knuckleheads who are disrupting class, not with the kids who are trying to get an education. But is racial parity in disciplinary outcomes more important than school safety? Going easy on the students who behave badly--especially in inner-city schools where the problem is pronounced--is an odd way of advancing black education and closing the learning gap. Black kids already tend to be stuck in dropout factories with the most inexperienced teachers. Must they be consigned to the most violent schools as well?

This is yet another argument for offering ghetto kids alternatives to traditional public schools, and it's another reason why school choice is so popular among the poor. One of the advantages of public charter schools and private schools is that they typically provide safer learning environments. So even if voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., and high-performing charters like KIPP Academy weren't producing higher test scores and graduation rates--even if the academic results were no better than the surrounding neighborhood schools--parents can take comfort in knowing that their children are safer.

Riley is right, of course, but the programs he supports will only help the kids blessed with the PWGAD factor:  Parents Who Give A Damn.  That's a lot, but not all.  Along with charter and voucher schools, we also need to fix discipline in the public school.  Schools use suspension and expulsion way too much and discipline within the school way too little.  The reasons, I suspect, are litigation avoidance and punishment aversion.  When I was a kid, the vice principal was the school disciplinarian and uniformly hated by the kids.  Nobody wants to be that person.  Nobody wants to be the guy in The Breakfast Club.  So much easier to suspend or expel the misbehaving kid.  Out of sight, out of mind.

So a kid who hates school and doesn't want to be there is "punished" by suspension, tossed out of a place he doesn't want to be.  He learns that misbehavior has no consequences that he considers undesirable in his short-sighted view.  That is not a good lesson to teach.

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"Schools use suspension and expulsion way too much and discipline within the school way too little."

Amen.

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