There’s been a lot of talk over the years about unfairness and inequity in our schools from Obama, his former education secretary Arne Duncan, and the current one, John B. King, Jr. In fact, the latter’s photo just happened to top the recent USA Today article, “Black pupils 4 times more likely to be suspended,” with the added, “Education chief cites ‘systemic failure.’
That statement is backed by such 2014 data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights as:
- Black preschoolers represent 18% of enrollment but 48% of preschoolers receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.
- 5% of white students are suspended vs. 16% of black students—a rate three not four times more likely as headlined.
- 12% of black girls are suspended vs. 2% of white girls.
- While black students represent 16% of the total, 27% of them were referred to law enforcement and 31% of them were subjected to school-related arrests. Whites represent 51% of enrollment with 41% of them referred to law enforcement and 39% arrested.
In light of such reported discrimination, the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights have partnered up and given schools notice that they must increase data collection on the “inequitable treatment in schools” and see to their ongoing responsibilities.
The result reports Education Week: Civil rights complaints have exploded during Obama’s reign. Indeed, back in 1990 under President H.W. Bush’s watch, 3,384 such complaints were received and 3,130 were processed. Under the current administration, those figures stand at 9,950 received and 10,128 processed.
However, says Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, “I think this has been a very aggressive OCR [Office of Civil Rights], and I don’t say that in an admiring way… Especially on the issue of school discipline, they have gotten into the daily routines of schools in a way that is not about promoting students’ civil rights but is about promoting some very prescriptive rules about school discipline. I don’t think that’s an appropriate federal role.”
That overreach includes replacing traditional disciplinary actions with the practice known as restorative justice, a program based on “respect, responsibility, relationship-building, and relationship repairing” with these three main steps:
- Classroom circles whereby the teacher and any affected parties gather to work things out.
- Intervention follows with such practices as mediation and family/group circles to talk about the event and the resulting harm done.
- Reentry is the final stage for those who have been suspended, expelled, truant, or incarcerated, aiming for, as in Oakland schools, “a wrap-around supportive group.”
Needless to say, it has its proponents, among them recently resigned Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In a 2014 address at Howard University, he said, “Young people are now taking control of the environment. It’s sort of a counter-intuitive thing for many of us adults, but the more we give up power, the more we empower others, often the better things are. And empowering teenagers to be part of the solution, having them control the [classroom] environment, control the culture, be the leaders, listening to them, respecting them—when we do that, wonderful things happen for kids in communities that didn’t happen historically.”
Not surprisingly then, that same year, he and then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent schools what’s called a Dear Colleague letter saying, “School discipline policies could be considered unfair if they have a disproportionate impact on students from certain racial or ethnic groups, even if those policies weren’t written with a deliberately discriminatory intent.”
One result, reports the Washington Post’s Paul Sperry, is the San Francisco based Pacific Education Group which has been paid millions by numerous districts to present workshops designed to “achieve racial justice in our schools.” Here’s a descriptor he discovered for one of its restorative justice workshops: “Institutions are infested with token people of color and racist white people who uphold White Supremacy, causing a survivor mentality among those who encounter daily micro-invalidations, -aggressions, and –assaults in hostile environments. Through a historical overview, learn about the oppressive system known as the American Education System, a school system that was never designed for children of color.”
No surprise, then, is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Suspension and Expulsion Reduction Plan,” whereby, for instance, a bully can’t be removed from a classroom except in the very worst cases—and then, only with a district supervisor’s consent. Then there’s New York City’s public schools’ 32-page discipline code reminding educators that “Every reasonable effort must be made to correct student behavior through… restorative practices.”
The upshot? Just as Duncan promised, the kids are in control in many of our schools, so much so that Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, wrote to the Syracuse Post-Standard saying, “In place is a systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive behaviors that put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible.”
Indeed, it seems that nowadays, kids are no longer suspended for fights, drugs, disrespectful behavior, not even after threatening to stab a teacher. It’s gotten so bad that an April 6 New York Post article headlined with, “You’re now a racist if you say schools need to be safer” and led with a paragraph that reads, “Under pressure from Obama educrats, public school districts are no longer suspending even violent students; but now, under pressure from Black Lives Matter, they are suspending teachers who complain about not suspending bad kids.”
Need proof of teachers in harm’s way? Here’s a sampling:
- Theo Olson, a St. Paul teacher, was labeled a racist by Black Lives Matter for saying that a lack of discipline disrupts education.
- New York City has just endured its most violent school year ever.
- Carrie Giesler, a Colorado teacher, was fired for contacting police after receiving death threats from a 13-year-old who’d allegedly punched her in the ribs and broken her thumb. She’s currently suing the Thompson School District for its reliance on restorative justice.
- A New York State United Teachers union survey of 830 Syracuse teachers found that more than 33% reported having been assaulted at least once in the classroom.
- According to a 2015 National Center for Education Statistics report, 6% of all public school teachers have been physically attacked, the highest rate in the agency’s history.
No wonder, then, that the American Psychological Association calls this trend “a silent national crisis” and advises schools to be at the ready to replace the countless teachers leaving “prematurely.”
So now, maybe, just maybe, the next time you read a headline like Perry Stein’s “Suspension and expulsion rates at D.C. schools continue to drop, report finds,” you’ll think twice before applauding.
Oh, yes, the evidence for said report was compiled by the Center for Reinventing Public Education…