Feds’ crusade on disproportionate minority school discipline rates

by Walter Olson on August 10, 2012

Don’t miss Heather MacDonald’s account at City Journal of one of Washington’s most troubling regulatory initiatives. Legal background:

Unfortunately, the Bush administration failed to rescind the Department of Education’s disparate-impact regulation, guaranteeing that the next Democratic administration would again unleash it upon hapless school districts. Advocates inside and outside the executive branch are now celebrating the resuscitation of disparate impact.

Also includes a sidebar on the feds’ somewhat contrasting “anti-bullying” campaign. More: Hans Bader, plus a letter from him in the Frederick News-Post; update on similar plans by Maryland state board of education; Ted Frank with a link to a fairly horrifying comment at Joanne Jacobs’s site.

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PointOfLaw Forum
08.15.12 at 4:08 am
Maryland roundup - Overlawyered
08.17.12 at 9:15 am
Back to school roundup - Overlawyered
09.04.12 at 12:30 am

{ 9 comments }

1 ctrees 08.10.12 at 12:13 pm

So… if schools are disciplining more minority students than whites (or asians, but as always in these things, they don’t count), and that’s a sign of disparate impact and grounds for penalties against the schools… how does one not look at the criminal justice system, say, “hey, more minorities are in prison than whites, that must be evidence of disparate impact!” and then follow the example of the federal government against schools, and decide this is grounds to sue the disciplinarians (in this case, police departments, judiciary, and governments)? Except for the problem of immunity (which is why you sue the city/county/etc.), it’s not even an analogy-it’s direct application of the same policy on the same targets (bodies responsible for imposing punishments).

2 Anonymous Attorney 08.10.12 at 1:45 pm

To believe all this, as MacDonald notes, you have to believe that teachers are racist. Not just occasionally, but systematically and uniformly across the country. That’s right, the fuzzy helper-people who make up one of the most politically liberal professions in America are all just a bunch of closet bigots.

Will teachers respond?

3 Bumper 08.10.12 at 2:51 pm

The previous attempt to right this supposed wrong was called Zero Tolerance, and it’s failure has been covered many times over the years in this blog.

This too will fail, but what it most unfortunate is that it is being done in an effort to curry black support for Obama for the up coming election.

4 Hugo S. Cunningham 08.10.12 at 9:04 pm

If the Feds want to argue that a school district is unfairly disciplining students by race, they should pay to install surveillance cameras in all classrooms and common areas where disputed cases are likely to arise. Does software exist to alter video footage so the race of alleged perpetrators, victims, and disciplinarians is not clear? A panel looking at racially sanitized videos could clarify whether the bias is in the school administration, or in their accusers.

5 William Nuesslein 08.11.12 at 4:25 am

I think that Cunningham above missed the point (or maybe I did). Disparate-impact does not look at individual events but at cumulative counts. All that cameras would show is that the disparate-impact resulted from disparate behavior.

C-span had two programs in tandem a couple of days ago. One program was on stand-your-ground laws. People are upset that a child (17 years old and capable of assault) was killed by a white guy. The other program had mayors discussing the shooting deaths of children under 5 in their cities by black gang bangers.

6 gasman 08.11.12 at 2:11 pm

Alternate interpretation:
Relative to the rates of actual transgression, minorities are suffering from disproportionately low rates of discipline. As a result, they persist in having high rates of maladaptive behaviors in schools, resulting in poor academic achievement, poor job skills, and escalation of unsocial activities which translates to increased rates of crime outside of school with subsequent conviction and incarceration. Ultimately this practice of soft expectations and weak corrective action early in life leads to the persistence of weak education and job skills, poverty, and crime in the minority communities.

7 Kurt 08.12.12 at 6:29 am

So if we combine disparate-impact with Title IX it would mean that the same number of girls need to be disciplined. What are the chances of that happening?

8 Melvin H. 08.12.12 at 4:49 pm

Hugo, if you pixelate or otherwise alter footage somehow to hide the race of those involved, how do you tell if there is any racial disparity in discipline to begin with? What or how they wear their clothes?

9 Jim Collins 08.13.12 at 6:04 pm

This reminds me of the City Councilwoman in Pittsburgh a few years ago. She was complaining that too many Blacks and not enough Whites were being arrested in her district. She had statistics that showed that 85% of the people who were arrested in her district were Black. She didn’t care when it was pointed out to her that her district WAS 87% Black.

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