Former President George W. Bush found a way to sit still on this problem. After over 30 years of collecting data on racial disparities in our public schools, his administration chose to simply discontinue the practice. There wasn't much push-back to that. It was simply a matter of "what we don't see doesn't exist."
Early on in the Obama administration, that changed. The Civil Rights Office in the Department of Education began collecting the data again. And the picture wasn't pretty.
- 55% of high schools with low black and Hispanic populations offer calculus while only 29% of schools with high minority populations do so.
- Black and Hispanic students made up 44 percent of the students in the survey, but were only 26 percent of the students in gifted and talented programs.
- On average, teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues elsewhere.
Armed with this information, the Departments of Education and Justice set out to do something about it. For example, DoE's Civil Rights Division began investigating school districts with significant disparities in their school discipline practices. And DoJ filed suit against the school district in Meridian, MS for some of the most egregious practices in the country - leading to a consent decree.
"Ordinary troublemaking can sometimes provoke responses that are overly severe, including out of school suspensions, expulsions and even referral to law enforcement and then you end up with kids that end up in police precincts instead of the principal's office," Holder said in a statement.In no way do these guidelines suggest that schools give a pass to student misbehavior. What they do suggest is that there are alternatives to either kicking these kids out of school or criminalizing their behavior with a referral to law enforcement. And apparently, while these are simply guidelines, they will have some teeth behind them for this administration.
The recommendations are nonbinding, but, in essence, the federal government is telling school districts around the country that they should adhere to the principles of fairness and equity in student discipline or face strong action if they don't.Beyond being an issue that is important to me personally, all of this strikes me as a significant rejoinder to those who continue to suggest that the Obama administration hasn't done much for the black community. Go into any large urban area with high concentrations of families of color and right next to a concern about violence in their community, you will hear this as the number one cause of concern. As one young activist told me recently, this is THE civil rights issue of our time. For the families affected, they see their own babies being fed to the school-to-prison pipeline and are crying out for someone to notice. That the Obama administration has done so much to tackle this problem while the media and so many progressives ignore it speaks volumes about who is sitting still while the machinery of racism rolls on.