<< News Scan | Main | Attorney General Sessions >>


Anarchy in School

| 0 Comments
Once upon a time, when American education was run by people with sense, it was understood that learning to be a good citizen was part of education, along with academics and phys ed.  An environment with fair rules that are fairly administered and where breaking them has adverse consequences develops in children a healthy respect for the norms of behavior and for the rights of others.

Katherine Kersten describes in the City Journal the disastrous effect of St. Paul school giving control of school discipline to ideologues who believed that "disparate impact" in school discipline was the result of teachers' biases and that dramatically reducing standards of behavior and frequency of discipline was the solution.  In fact, it produced anarchy.

St. Paul's experience makes clear that discipline policies rooted in racial-equity ideology lead to disaster. This shouldn't be surprising, considering that the ideology's two major premises are seriously flawed. The first premise holds that disparities in school-discipline rates are a product of teachers' racial bias; the second maintains that teachers' unjustified and discriminatory targeting of black students gives rise to the school-to-prison pipeline.
In 2014, a groundbreaking study in the Journal of Criminal Justice by J. P. Wright and others discredited both these claims.   The study utilized the largest sample of school-aged children in the nation. Unlike almost all previous studies, it controlled for individual differences in student behavior over time. Using this rigorous methodology, the authors concluded that teacher bias plays no role in the racial-equity suspension gap, which, they determined, is "completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student." Racial differentials in suspension rates, they found, appeared to be "a function of differences in problem behaviors that emerge early in life, that remain relatively stable over time, and that materialize in the classroom."

Why do black and white students, as groups, behave differently at school? Black students, on average, "are less academically prepared for school entrance" and bring with them deficits in many social and emotional skills, the study found, over which their parents do not exert control. The authors point out that, while a number of earlier studies have suggested pervasive teacher bias as a factor in the racial-equity discipline gap, "some scholars and activists" show "clear motivations" to present the discipline gap as a civil rights issue, "with all the corresponding threats of litigation by the federal government."

As for the school-to-prison pipeline, the authors appear to view the concept largely as an effort to link "racial differences in suspensions to racial discrimination." Under these circumstances, they emphasize, "where careers are advanced, where reputations are earned, and where the 'working ideology' of scholars is confirmed, the usual critical and cautionary sway of scholarly investigation, critique, and insight becomes marginalized or usurped." Schools should make efforts to correct the problem behaviors of young students, the authors say. If they fail to do so, early patterns of "disruptive and unregulated behavior" can become entrenched, and lead eventually to school failure, dropping out, and potentially to encounters with the justice system. In the St. Paul schools, however, equity ideology makes such constructive correction impossible.

The deepest source of the racial-equity discipline gap is profound differences in family structure. Young people who grow up without fathers are far more likely than their peers to engage in antisocial behavior, according to voluminous social-science research. Disordered family life often promotes the lack of impulse control and socialization that can lead to school misconduct. The City of St. Paul does not make out-of-wedlock birth data public. However, Intellectual Takeout, a Minnesota-based public-policy institution, has determined through a FOIA request to the Minnesota Department of Health that 87 percent of births to black, U.S.-born mothers in St. Paul occur out of wedlock, compared with 30 percent of white births. Tragically, the problem we confront is not so much a school-to-prison pipeline as a home-to-prison pipeline.

Who pays the greatest price for misguided racial-equity discipline policies? The many poor and minority students who show up at school ready to learn. The breakdown of order that such policies promote is destined to make these children's already-uphill struggle for a decent education even more daunting.
Personally, I agree that schools use suspension too much.  The solution, though, is to find alternatives to suspension, not to leave serious misconduct without consequences.  Kids who do not learn good citizenship at home are in particular need of being taught it at school.  Excusing their misbehavior and letting them continue down the path to becoming adult criminals is the worst thing we could do to them.

Leave a comment

Monthly Archives