U.S. Civil Rights Commission Urges Continuation of Obama-Era Student Discipline Policy
Six members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission have recommended to the White House and Congress the continuation of Obama-era race-based school discipline practices that employ leniency for students of color and other minority groups.
The commission’s report, titled “Beyond Suspensions: Examining School Discipline Policies and Connections to the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Students of Color with Disabilities,” states, “[D]ata have consistently shown that the overrepresentation of students of color in school discipline rates is not due to higher rates of misbehavior by these students, but instead is driven by structural and systemic factors,” such as institutional racism.
According to the report:
When schools use exclusionary discipline as a way to punish a student, students not only miss valuable instruction time, but they also lose a sense of belonging and engagement in school. Students can begin to feel like they are not valued and lose interest in their education. These feelings can be compounded when schools send the message that they are singling out students because of the students’ race, ethnicity, national origin, and/or disability.
In a letter sent to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Catherine Lhamon, an Obama-era appointee and chair of the commission, wrote its investigation into school discipline practices suggests “students of color with disabilities face exclusionary discipline pushing them into the school-to-prison pipeline at much higher rates than their peers without disabilities.”
The Trump administration revoked the Obama administration’s 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter in December, following a federal school safety commission report that found the race-based student discipline practices “may have paradoxically contributed to making schools less safe.”
The commission’s report is released as the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has issued its report indicating a rise in serious incidents of violence in the nation’s public schools.
NEW FINDING: During SY 2017–18, an estimated 962,300 violent incidents occurred in U.S. public schools nationwide.
— NCES (@EdNCES) July 25, 2019
Two members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission – Peter Kirsanow and Gail Heriot – dissented from the commission’s report.
Kirsanow wrote at National Review the report is “essentially a defense of the Obama Department of Education’s 2014 ‘Dear Colleague’ letter that used disparate-impact theory to interpret racial disparities in school discipline as evidence of racial discrimination.”
To progressives, “any racial disparity necessarily means invidious racial discrimination,” Kirsanow asserted, adding:
It’s undisputed that black students, as a group, are disciplined more than white students. For the commission majority, this is evidence of racially disparate treatment, as it’s an article of faith that discipline disparities aren’t due to disparities in behavior.
Kirsanow observed the commission’s report ignores key statistics in order to craft its narrative of racial discrimination against students of color.
He pointed to Heriot’s statement in which she said, “In the report, the Commission finds ‘Students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers.’”
“That would be a good thing if it were true, but there is no evidence to support it and abundant evidence to the contrary,” she asserted, adding that what accounts for differing rates of misbehavior among students of color “likely” includes “differing rates of poverty, differing rates of fatherless households, differing parental education, differing achievement in school, and histories of policy failures and injustices.”
For example, one of the primary goals of the Obama-era Common Core State Standards was to eliminate the “achievement gap” between white students and black and Hispanic students.
However, In April of 2016, only about 37 percent of U.S. 12th graders were shown to be prepared for math and reading at the college level, according to the 2015 NAEP – also known as the Nation’s Report Card.
Additionally, results released by NCES showed that on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the U.S. had declined in performance from fifth in international ranking in 2011 to 13th in 2016 out of 58 international education systems.
The PIRLS also revealed achievement for the top-performing 20 percent of students became flat over time, while the lowest 20 percent declined further.
“We seem to be declining as other education systems record larger gains on the assessment,” said Peggy G. Carr, NCES associate commissioner, according to the Washington Post. “This is a trend we’ve seen on other international assessments in which the U.S. participates.”
Education analyst Ted Rebarber of AccountabilityWorks observed Common Core is the “worst large-scale educational failure in 40 years.”
As an example of how the U.S. Civil Rights Commission ignored misbehavior that may have resulted in suspension or expulsion, Kirsanow himself wrote in his statement the commission’s report “cites statistics from the Department of Education that indicate that ‘in 2015 approximately 7.8 percent of students reported being in a physical fight in the prior 12 months before the survey was conducted.’”
The Commission’s report does not mention that there were pronounced disparities by race and sex among those who engaged in fights on school property. Males were far more likely to engage in fights on school property than females (10.3% vs. 5.0%). Racial disparities were so stark that in some cases they overwhelmed the sex disparities. Black females (9.4%) were more likely to report engaging in a physical fight on school property than were white males (8.0%). Overall, 12.6% of black students and 8.9% of Hispanic students had engaged in a physical fight on school property in the previous year, as opposed to 5.6% of white students.
Kirsanow also noted the commission’s use of the phrase “children of color with disabilities.”
“When the majority refers to ‘disabilities,’ they’re not referring, by and large, to children who are, e.g., deaf or in wheelchairs,” he observed. “’Disability’ includes ‘emotional disturbance,’ which essentially means ‘bad behavior for which there is not another clinical diagnosis.’ Unsurprisingly, when ‘disability’ is defined to mean ‘bad behavior,’ ‘children with disabilities’ are more likely to be disciplined.”
Kirsanow called for those truly concerned about improving education in the United States to “disregard this report.”
“Claiming that racism or dislike of children with disabilities accounts for disparate rates of discipline only stokes resentment and erodes personal responsibility,” he asserts. “The supposed cures of ‘restorative practices’ and ‘positive behavioral interventions and supports’ only make it more likely that children in minority neighborhoods who want to learn will be less able to do so, and that teachers and children will be at the mercy of school bullies.”