Yesterday I caught parts of a Talk of the Nation interview with Russlyn Ali, a Department of Education official in charge of civil rights. Here’s the transcript. They were talking about the new DOE report showing that black students are disciplined in schools disproportionately. It’s worth quoting this exchange at length:
[HOST:] … In terms of African-American students and more so boys than girls, having these really disproportionately high rates of expulsion, is there a perception either that they’re misbehaving at a higher rate, or is a different thing, that they’re misbehaving at the same rate as everybody else but that they’re being punished at a different rate, that there’s a double standard in operation?
ALI: Unfortunately in too many circumstances, we have seen the double standard. We’ve seen instances across the country where students with the very same histories of conduct, who can – who for the very same offense received differing punishment, oftentimes with African-American students receiving a much harsher punishment.
But that is not the only answer. These data, as you mention, portend a very disturbing picture. The reason for them vary. These data, though, raise a lot more questions than they answer, and step one is getting to the root cause of why these patterns exist.
You mentioned, John, on boys versus girls. Yes, we’re seeing in the sample, for example, that although boys and girls represent about half each of the sample size, boys – 74 percent of the expulsions are given to boys. It could be the perceived or very real behavioral struggles that happen too often in our schools, but when we unpack those data further and, for example, look at the rate of suspensions for those students suspended out of school, when we look at the rate for black boys and the rate for black girls, we realize that African-American students are suspended at significantly higher rates than their peers.
African-Americans, about one in five will be subject to at least one out-of-school suspension sometime during their schooling career and over one in 10 African-American girls. So while there is no one answer or one solution to these problems, for sure we know that this kind of disparity is hugely concerning. Where there is treatment, different treatment or disparity impact in violation of the nation’s federal civil rights laws, we will enforce vigorously.
But it requires a lot more supports and training for schools and school leaders that are struggling with classroom management and school culture issues is one way.
Notice how she sidesteps the rather huge issue of whether or not black students are disproportionately behaving in ways likely to lead to their suspension and expulsion. She says that there have been “instances” across the country where black kids were punished more harshly than non-black kids for the same offense. I can well imagine that that’s true. But how many “instances”? Is it anecdotal, or is there evidence that it’s happened so often that it’s clear evidence of racism? It seems more likely that Russlyn Ali believes that “disparity impact” is conclusive evidence of racism.
The transcript goes on to include several phone calls, including one from a school security officer who said that in his experience, most of these serious disciplinary problems come from kids who have no family support at home. And then there was this call:
DIANE: I’m a 40 – retired 40-year teacher. I spent a lot of time in classrooms where oftentimes I was the only white person in the classroom. It’s all black kids. I want to focus and address that kid who comes to class – black, white, boy, girl – who’s done his homework, who’s here to learn, and nothing can get done in the classroom. He’s – because of the bad behavior of some kids. And the teacher spends well over 50 percent of the time trying to get that kid to cooperate with the lesson.
And what’s happening is all the kids are watching, and they’re – what lesson are we teaching if we just keep – I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I mean, I went to the very end of it before I kicked the kid out of class. But it – but when the kid was gone, learning took place for that little quiet kid sitting back there who comes every day.
I’m on the side of that little quiet kid. Thomas Sowell calls the DOE report a “big hoax.” Excerpt:
Among the many serious problems of ghetto schools is the legal difficulty of getting rid of disruptive hoodlums, a mere handful of whom can be enough to destroy the education of a far larger number of other black students — and with it destroy their chances for a better life.
Judges have already imposed too many legalistic procedures on schools that are more appropriate for a courtroom. “Due process” rules that are essential for courts can readily become “undue process” in a school setting, when letting clowns and thugs run amok, while legalistic procedures to suspend or expel them drag on. It is a formula for educational and social disaster.
Now Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder want to play the race card in an election year, at the expense of the education of black students. Make no mistake about it, the black students who go to school to get an education are the main victims of the classroom disrupters whom Duncan and Holder are trying to protect.
What they are more fundamentally trying to protect are the black votes which are essential for Democrats. For that, blacks must be constantly depicted as under siege from whites, so that Democrats can be seen as their rescuers.