Despite studies that consistently point to discrimination as the cause for disproportionately harsh discipline on students of color, a National Review Online article falsely suggested that unrelated black crime rates and “family breakdown” are to blame.
On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released new data, including this snapshot on school discipline which found “disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color.”
In a March 24 post, NRO's Heather Mac Donald criticized the Department of Education study for highlighting the racial disparity in school discipline, claiming without evidence that the black crime rate, not discrimination, “explains the school-suspension rate”:
Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at ten times the rate of white and Hispanic males of the same age combined. Given such high crime rates, what do the civil-rights advocates and the Obama administration think is going on in the classroom -- docile obedience and strict self-discipline? In fact, the same weak impulse control that leads to such high crime rates among young black males inevitably means more disruptive behavior in school.
Mac Donald proceeded to discuss the recent story of a 14-year-old who opened fire on a New York bus, asking, “Did anyone doubt the race of the killer, even though the media did not disclose it?” She concluded her piece blaming “family breakdown” as another factor behind student behavior that leads to the disparities in discipline among children of different races, calling it “common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive”:
None of the federal studies mention or control for single-parent households, of course. Instead, we are supposed to believe that well-meaning teachers, who have spent their entire time in ed school steeped in the doctrine of “white privilege” and who are among the most liberal segments of the workforce, suddenly become bigots once in the classroom and begin arbitrarily suspending pacific black children out of racial bias ... Given the black-white crime disparities, it is equally common sense that black students are more likely to be disruptive in class as well.
The refusal to take student behavior and family breakdown into account in interpreting student discipline rates means that more millions of taxpayer dollars will be wasted suing hapless school districts for phantom racism and sending teachers and administrators back to anti-racism training. The advocacy and anti-bias training complex cleans up, while the root cause of student misbehavior still goes unaddressed.
Despite Mac Donald's claims, experts and studies find discrimination as a cause of the racial disparity in school discipline. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that research shows "[e]ven when they commit the exact same offense as white students, black students suffer more severe consequences," and the Education Department's snapshot showed similar discipline disparities even between students with disabilities, finding "[b]lack students represent 19% of students with disabilities served by [the Integrated Disability Education and Awareness Program], but 36% of these students who are subject to mechanical restraint."
In addition, the Department of Education and Department of Justice reported that the racial disparities “are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color,” adding students may be subject to illegal differential treatment or “adverse discriminatory impact”:
[R]esearch suggests that the substantial racial disparities of the kind reflected in the CRDC data are not explained by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color. Although statistical and quantitative data would not end an inquiry under Title IV or Title VI, significant and unexplained racial disparities in student discipline give rise to concerns that schools may be engaging in racial discrimination that violates the Federal civil rights laws. For instance, statistical evidence may indicate that groups of students have been subjected to different treatment or that a school policy or practice may have an adverse discriminatory impact. Indeed, t e De me s' investigations, which consider quantitative data as part of a wide array of evidence, have revealed racial discrimination in the administration of student discipline. For example, in our investigations we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students. In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.
This inflammatory rhetoric isn't new for Mac Donald, who hyped black crime rates in the New York Post, advocated for “stop-and-frisk” in The Wall Street Journal, and opposed diversity initiatives in previous NRO columns. But her tactics are par for the course when it comes to right-wing media coverage of attempts to combat racial discrimination in schools, including the “school-to-prison pipeline.”