Thursday, May 11, 2017

Treat Everyone Equally

Historically he civil rights movement was largely a struggle to gain equal opportunity for minorities. All that was being asked for was a chance to show that african Americans could compete with everyone else if given the chance. Eventually, however, the movement morphed into an effort to grant preferential treatment to minorities. One contemporary example of this is the demand that university campuses establish "sanctuaries" for black students from which whites would be excluded. Another much more serious example is the executive order issued by President Obama that required public schools to tolerate misbehavior from black students that would never be accepted from other students.

Max Eden elaborates on this in an article at The Federalist:
Activists, advocates, and academics had been ringing the alarm over the racial disparity in suspension rates. And it is certainly troubling that African-American students are suspended at three times the rate of white students.

A sober mind might assume that [these statistics] might largely reflect tragic realities in our society. As Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has argued, “it cannot surprise us if minority students today misbehave at ‘disproportionate’ rates. African American and Latino children in America are much more likely to face challenges,” such as living in poverty, growing up in a single-parent family, or living in a dangerous neighborhood, that puts “them ‘at risk’ for antisocial behavior.”

But Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared flatly that this is “not caused by differences in children,” but rather “it is adult behavior that needs to change.” Now, implicit bias likely accounts for some share of the disparity. But if you assume that it accounts for all of it, then the solution isn’t to support teachers with better training or professional development. The only solution is to prevent teachers from doing what they’ve been doing. And that’s exactly what the Obama Department of Education did.

Duncan issued “Dear Colleague” guidance in January 2014 telling districts they could be subject to federal investigation for unlawful discrimination if their discipline policy “is neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.” In other words: “We may decide to come after you, even if your policy is entirely fair, if we see differences on a spreadsheet.”

Over the past five years, 27 states have revised their school discipline laws and 53 districts serving 6.35 million students implemented discipline reforms. From 2011-12 to 2013-14, suspensions dropped by nearly 20 percent nationwide. The Obama letter didn’t start this fire, but it certainly fanned the flames. As the Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn noted, the intent of the letter was “to scare the bejesus out of U.S. educators when it comes to disciplining minority students.”
The Obama Education department's directive not only mandated unequal treatment based on race it had several predictable negative consequences: 1) It encouraged worse behavior among minority kids, 2) it sent minority students the message that they can't be expected to meet the standards other kids are expected to meet, 3) it made it impossible to discipline white and Asian kids who would reasonably ask why they're being punished for something that black kids are allowed to do, and 4) it went a long way toward fostering increased bitterness and resentment among whites toward blacks.

Eden's piece gives some data:
Judging by press accounts, the results are rather horrific. After the federal government forced Oklahoma City to change its discipline policies, one teacher reported she was “told that referrals would not require suspension unless there was blood.” In Buffalo, a teacher who got kicked in the head by a student said: “We have fights here almost every day…. The kids walk around and say, ‘We can’t get suspended—we don’t care what you say.’” In St. Paul, the county attorney declared that the threefold increase in assaults on teachers constituted a “public health crisis.”

Teacher surveys also indicate these policies are backfiring. Significant majorities of teachers in Oklahoma City, Denver, Tampa, Santa Ana, Jackson, and Baton Rouge report that the discipline reforms either weren’t working or were escalating school violence.

Judging by student surveys, schools have become less safe as these policies went into effect. In Los Angeles, the percent of students who said they felt safe in their schools plummeted from 72 percent to 60 percent after the district banned suspension for non-violent offenses. In Chicago, researchers found a significant deterioration in school order, according to students and teachers.

I dug into school climate surveys in New York City, and found that as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reductions were implemented school climate plummeted, especially in schools comprised of 90 percent or higher minority students: 58 percent reported a deterioration in student respect (compared to 19 percent that saw an improvement); 50 percent reported an increase in physical fighting (compared to 14 percent that saw an improvement); and drug use and gang activity increased in about four times as many schools as decreased.
Fortunately, the occasion for Eden's column is the executive order issued by President Trump last week which gives Education Secretary Betsy DeVos the authority to rescind Mr. Duncan's ill-conceived "guidance." For the sake of kids both black and white, she should forthwith make it clear that all students will be held to the same standards of conduct regardless of their race. The idea that black kids can't be expected to conduct themselves appropriately in school is nothing more than racial bigotry masquerading as liberal compassion. There may be no better first step to improving race relations in this country than holding everyone to the same behavioral expectations.