Obama’s Race-Based School Discipline Plan

Published September 7, 2012

In his latest in a steady stream of Executive Orders, President Barack Obama now seeks to scuttle the ideal of equal educational opportunity in favor of race-based equal outcomes mandated by government.

The first goal of his new policy entails disciplining students by racial quota to ensure that blacks are not punished in disproportion to their enrollment numbers, even if individual behaviors warrant it. But equalizing outcomes could come to encompass grades, test scores, graduation rates, merit scholarships, and more.

It is a breathtaking application of statist ideology to education, and it contradicts a theme the president sought to stress early in his administration.

In his heralded back-to-school speeches to American children, Obama emphasized the importance of kids taking responsibility for their own actions.

“Here’s your job,” Obama told elementary and secondary children in 2010. “Showing up to school on time. Paying attention in class. Doing your homework. Studying for exams. Staying out of trouble. That kind of discipline and drive–that kind of hard work–is absolutely essential for success.”

That was then, this is a presidential election year. In place of individual responsibility, Obama’s July 26 Executive Order creates more bureaucracy with something called the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Yes, this is an initiative for the sole benefit of black children, without regard to needy children of America’s many other racial or ethnic backgrounds.

On the White House blog, Valerie Jarrett, the ultraliberal senior advisor of the president, contended improving the “educational outcomes of African Americans” would yield such benefits for the country as “increasing college completion rates, employment rates, and the number of African American teachers.”

But if Obama could bring about all those good things with the stroke of a pen, why didn’t he do it in the first 100 days of his four-year term instead of near the end of it? Don’t black families have to wonder if they are being suckered by an election-year hoax?

With regard to school discipline, Obama’s Executive Order seeks to ensure “a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”

The Executive Order further asserts, “African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline.”

What this sets up is a federalized, race-based school disciplinary policy long advocated by education progressives. On July 24, Maryland became the first state to require that sort of racial proportionality in school discipline.

While black children constitute 18 percent of the nation’s K-12 enrollment, they commit offenses leading to 46 percent of suspensions and 39 percent of expulsions. Much evidence suggests this has a lot more to do with poverty and out-of-wedlock births than with teachers and administrators exercising discipline in a discriminatory manner.

So instead of addressing the core problem of the breakup of black families, the Obama regime will treat the symptoms, and further undermine discipline in public schools. The children who attend schools worst plagued by disorder will find their academic environment worsening under this plan. How is that going to help African-Americans’ academic achievement?

It is noteworthy that Asians constitute 6 percent of enrollment but are expelled or suspended at just a 1 percent rate. Wouldn’t it be worthy of inquiry to see how stable, two-parent families contribute to those good numbers?

This federalization of policy will result in unequal treatment of children who commit exactly the same transgressions. Some black children could receive a get-out-of-detention-free pass simply to avoid reaching a quota, while students of other colors (including Latinos) would receive stiffer punishments in order to make the numbers come out right.

Presumably, Obama’s “working group,” which will be housed in the Department of Education and include agents from Labor and Eric Holder’s Department of Justice, will want disciplinary reports from all the school systems in the country.

This gross power grab, for which no Constitutional authority exists, exposes the kind of interventions Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have in mind when the Common Core national standards and assessments are fully implemented across the curriculum and in every state.

If Obama wins reelection, one can only imagine what additional Executive Orders he might have in mind. Perhaps to cut the pretense, he ought to resort to Russian and call them ukases, given that he already has shown his fondness for appointing czars.

Robert Holland ([email protected]) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.