Research & Commentary: Race-Based School Discipline

Published August 27, 2012

In July, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating two federal panels to review public schools’ discipline policies and actions toward African-Americans, citing data that schools suspend black students more often than white students. His panels will create policies that, among other goals, aim to ensure all racial groups receive equal school punishments, regardless of individual behavior.

The media and progressive activist groups have long claimed institutional racism causes black students’ poor education outcomes. They, Obama, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said higher dropout rates, suspensions, school disciplinary actions, access to fewer good teachers, and lower college-going rates among black students indicate discrimination in U.S. K-12 and higher education. They say race-based policies such as quotas, affirmative action, and further wealth redistribution from white families to black families are necessary to begin fixing this imbalance.

Proponents of individual liberty, however, note the United States has implemented quotas, affirmative action, and tax redistribution for decades and this has only made minorities more likely to depend on government and less self-reliant. These policies break down families and undermine personal responsibility, leading to more student infractions and further blame-shifting. The data show African-Americans have higher rates of social pathologies and engage in behaviors, such as unwed childbearing, that lead to social pathologies.

In the same data the president referred to, white students were shown to be suspended more often than Asian students. This would indicate racism against white students if Obama’s premises were correct.

It is unfair and indeed racist to punish children according to race-based discipline quotas rather than their actual behavior. Ignoring these root causes will make already unruly urban schools even more chaotic because fewer students who deserve and in fact need discipline will be held accountable for their disruptive actions, thus imposing additional harm on the nation’s minority students.

The following documents offer further information about race-based school discipline.


Obama Backs Race-Based School Discipline Policies
President Barack Obama has signed an executive order backing a controversial campaign to regulate schools’ disciplinary actions so members of different racial groups are penalized at equal rates regardless of individuals’ behavior, reports The Daily Caller. This will mean white and Asian students receive suspensions and other school discipline for actions black students will not, a civil rights lawyer notes. Maryland recently has implemented such a policy.

Obama’s Proposed Solution Doesn’t Address Root of the Problem
Neither Obama’s race-based executive order regarding school discipline disparities nor a new Maryland policy to mandate equal school discipline outcomes note the disparity among student actions, only a disparity in punishment, writes Brad Shurett for The Daily Sentinel of Alabama. He points out much higher incarceration and single-parenting rates among blacks and says, by the president’s logic, we should start rounding up white people to put in prison and force more whites to divorce because higher numbers of black people currently experience these troubles, too.

Why Are More Minority Kids Suspended from Washington-Area Schools?
More minority children are suspended because far more live in single-parent homes that lack the structure or energy to discipline their outbursts, writes Charlotte Hays for the Independent Women’s Forum. It is more difficult for one “put-upon” parent to instill good habits than for two, she writes. This means school discipline problems require policies that promote adult authority and family cohesion.

A Little Context on Racial Disparities in Suspension Rates
All manner of social pathologies—poverty, single parenthood, addiction, among them—impact the black community disproportionately, notes Michael Petrilli for Education Next. Considering what most black children are up against, it’s reasonable to believe they are more likely to commit suspension-level infractions, he writes.

Obama’s Educational Excellence Initiative
The president’s executive order will accomplish absolutely nothing to improve the education of black students because his order does not address the root causes of educational rot among black Americans, writes Walter Williams. It does not address youth violence in inner cities, which makes education impossible. It will exacerbate unruly behavior by forcing schools to discipline fewer black children even if the individuals require restraint. And it refuses to address the root problem: high rates of illegitimacy and poor parenting among black families.

Undisciplined: The Obama Administration Undermines Classroom Order in Pursuit of Phantom Racism
Heather MacDonald discusses in City Journal the Obama administration’s campaign against disproportionate minority discipline rates. The possibility that student behavior, not educator racism, drives those rates lies outside the Obama administration’s conceptual universe, she observes. The country will pay dearly for this, she says, as the cascade of red tape and lawsuits emanating from Washington will depress student achievement and enrich consultants, activists, and attorneys for years to come. She buttresses these conclusions with scenes from violent city schools, reactions from teachers, and information from federal databases.


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If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].