What About the Kids Who Behave?


Wall Street Journal – March 10, 2012
A new Education Department study reveals disturbing sensibilities on the left when it comes to education in general and black education in particular.

The Obama administration is waving around a new study showing that black school kids are “suspended, expelled, and arrested in school” at higher rates than white kids. According to the report, which looked at 72,000 schools, black students comprise just 18% of those enrolled yet account for 46% of those suspended more than once and 39% of all expulsions.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the administration is “not alleging overt discrimination in some or all of these cases,” but that’s certainly what he’s implying when he bleats on about the “fundamental unfairness” of the situation. “The undeniable truth,” said Mr. Duncan in a press call this week, “is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.” Of course, if racial animus toward blacks explains higher black discipline rates, what explains the fact that white kids are disciplined at higher rates than Asian kids? Is the school system anti-white, too?

The reaction to studies like this reveals disturbing sensibilities on the left when it comes to education in general and black education in particular. The data were compiled by the Education Department’s civil rights office, which probably thinks that it’s doing black people a favor by highlighting these racial disparities and pressuring schools to reduce black suspension rates. No thought, it seems, was given to whether this course of action helps or harms those black kids who are in school to learn and not act up.

The Obama administration’s sympathies are with the knuckleheads who are disrupting class, not with the kids who are trying to get an education. But is racial parity in disciplinary outcomes more important than school safety? Going easy on the students who behave badly—especially in inner-city schools where the problem is pronounced—is an odd way of advancing black education and closing the learning gap. Black kids already tend to be stuck in dropout factories with the most inexperienced teachers. Must they be consigned to the most violent schools as well?

This is yet another argument for offering ghetto kids alternatives to traditional public schools, and it’s another reason why school choice is so popular among the poor. One of the advantages of public charter schools and private schools is that they typically provide safer learning environments. So even if voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., and high-performing charters like KIPP Academy weren’t producing higher test scores and graduation rates—even if the academic results were no better than the surrounding neighborhood schools—parents can take comfort in knowing that their children are safer.

That might not seem like a big deal, but five students were arrested every day in New York City schools in the last three months of 2011, according to data released by the New York Police Department. The New York Civil Liberties Union subsequently issued a press release to highlight the fact that 90% of those arrested were black or Latino, which is the story that the press and the politicians ran with. Kids who attend school to learn can be forgiven for wondering why their well-being is treated as a secondary concern.

Mr. Riley is a member of The Journal’s editorial board.

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