Focusing on the wrong aspect of school discipline

Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute explains at National Review Online why people worried about school discipline statistics are focusing on the wrong issue.

After a rocky start, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has done an admirable job of reining in Barack Obama’s executive overreach. From giving states more freedom on K–12 schooling to paring back heavy-handed higher-education regulations, she’s taken step after step toward restoring a limited and principled federal role. But there is, unfortunately, one glaring exception: The Obama administration’s guidance on school discipline remains in full force.

That guidance extended Black Lives Matter’s ideology down into America’s classrooms. Social-justice activists assumed that just as racial disparities in the criminal-justice system must be evidence that cops are (at least implicitly) racist, so too racial disparities in school suspensions must be evidence that teachers are (at least implicitly) racist. Therefore, teachers — like cops — have to be restrained. …

… Suspension rates have plummeted, and every time the numbers go down, social-justice activists celebrate. This would be a happy story if schools were as safe as ever. But if they’re getting less safe, then activists are cheering on a twisted tragedy.

In most places, we don’t know because we don’t measure. We have only anecdotes from teachers, like the woman in Oklahoma City who said she was told “referrals would not require suspension unless there was blood,” or the man in Buffalo who lamented that he sees fights every day and “the kids walk around and say, ‘We can’t get suspended — we don’t care what you say.’”

But in the handful of districts where student and teacher surveys let us measure school climate, we tend to see one of two things happen as suspensions drop: Schools get less safe or school administrators cheat.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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