Last summer, the Obama administration's Departments of Justice and Education came together to form the Supporting School Discipline Initiative.
A new undertaking from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education targets school discipline policies that end up pushing children into the juvenile-justice system for crimes and rule-breaking on campus—and keeping them from pursuing their education.
Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the Supportive School Discipline Initiative at a meeting of a Justice Department committee meeting Thursday afternoon.
"When our young people start getting locked up early... they start to move out of schools, out of the pipeline to success," Mr. Duncan said. He recalled how when he led Chicago public schools, he found that 7 percent of schools were responsible for more than half of the arrests of young people in the city. A small group of principals were calling the police too often to deal with minor disciplinary issues, he said, while schools with similar demographics handled the same behavior problems in other ways.
"People wanted to do the right thing. They just didn't know better," he said. "So many of these children need assistance. What they don't need is to be pushed out the door."
And now we learn that the Department of Education, which began to collect information on civil rights and education back in 1968 but stopped during the Bush administration, has started collecting data once again, including for the first time information about school referrals to law enforcement. This week they are releasing that data...and results are alarming.
In a more focused analysis of school systems with more than 50,000 students enrolled, the data showed that African American students represented 24 percent of enrollment but 35 percent of arrests. White students accounted for 31 percent of enrollment and 21 percent of arrests...
Additional data is equally troubling.
Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.
One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies...
While the disciplinary data was probably the most startling, the data showed a wide range of other racial and ethnic disparities. For while 55 percent of the high schools with low black and Hispanic enrollment offered calculus, only 29 percent of the high-minority high schools did so — and even in schools offering calculus, Hispanics made up 20 percent of the student body but only 10 percent of those enrolled in calculus.
And while black and Hispanic students made up 44 percent of the students in the survey, they were only 26 percent of the students in gifted and talented programs.
The data also showed that schools with a lot of black and Hispanic students were likely to have relatively inexperienced, and low-paid, teachers. On average, teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues elsewhere. In New York high schools, though, the discrepancy was more than $8,000, and in Philadelphia, more than $14,000.
Many of the nation’s largest districts had very different disciplinary rates for students of different races. In Los Angeles, for example, black students made up 9 percent of those enrolled, but 26 percent of those suspended; in Chicago, they made up 45 percent of the students, but 76 percent of the suspensions.
As the saying goes..."Houston, we have a problem." These statistics tell us why we are seeing other disparities - like the fact that over half of African American males don't graduate from high school on time and yet are significantly over-represented in our juvenile justice system.
In terms of responses, Thomas Sowell captures how too many in this country react. He thinks that paying attention to these statistics is "a hoax."
The latest example of this hoax is the joint crusade of the Department of Education and the Department of Justice against schools that discipline black males more often than other students. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this disparity in punishment violates the "promise" of "equity."
Just who made this promise remains unclear, and why equity should mean equal outcomes despite differences in behavior is even more unclear. This crusade by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is only the latest in a long line of fraudulent arguments based on statistics.
If black males get punished more often than Asian American females, does that mean that it is somebody else's fault? That it is impossible that black males are behaving differently from Asian American females? Nobody in his right mind believes that. But that is the unspoken premise, without which the punishment statistics prove nothing about "equity."
As Sowell goes on to describe his take on things, he uses words like "disruptive hoodlums" and "thugs" to describe the students who are being disciplined. It becomes pretty clear that he has no problem with tossing increasing numbers of African American children aside and feeding them to the prison industrial complex.
Of course, these issues have much deeper and more complex roots than simply the idea of individuals not behaving appropriately in the classroom. I know this because the organization I run places staff in middle schools to deal directly with these kids. In other words...we not only hold them accountable, we listen to their stories.
If we really want to tackle these issues - we've got a lot of work ahead of us. Like dealing with the fact that:
* Most of these students live with poverty, violence and trauma as every day occurrences
* Most of their teachers are white suburban women who frankly, are more scared of them than compassionate and who, as this data shows, are inexperienced and underpaid
* As this country went from imprisoning 300,000 people in 1972 to 2.3 million (mostly as a result of our failed war on drugs), we sent their fathers, uncles, brothers to jail and taught them this was their fate in life
That list could go on with increasing details. But the reality is that we have a choice to make...do we continue to lay the blame for these failures on our children and simply throw them away when they fail? Or do we get busy and at least act like we care?
For me - this is the ultimate "long game" for the Obama administration. It's about throwing a lifeline out to the next generation.