The race card: making sense of the Duncan discipline report

The big news last week was the release
of data
by the U.S. Department of Education showing that, as the press
release stated,

Minority students across America face harsher discipline,
have less access to rigorous high school curricula, and are more often taught
by lower-paid and less experienced teachers, according to the U.S. Department
of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The report, part of the annual Civil Rights Data Collection
(CRDC) survey, included data from 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the
nation’s students and found, among other things, that black male students “are
far more likely to be suspended than their peers.” In fact, it reported, though
black students make up 18 percent of the students in the sample, they accounted
for 35 percent of the students suspended once and 39 percent of the students
expelled.

When I read this, I yawned. 
It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district.

When I read this, I yawned. 
It matches perfectly the statistics in my school district.  But just as my district pays little attention
to the academic environment that these “bad” kids swim in, so too the ensuing national
melee over OCR data didn’t mention curricula and teachers.  Everyone wanted to talk about “discipline” practices,
school “safety” and “racism.” 

Wrote Jason Riley in the Wall
Street Journal
,

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?

No mention of the knuckleheads inflicting inferior academic
standards and teachers on black kids. Or the connection between the three. In
my experience, by the time kids start acting out seriously—fourth and fifth grades—they
are so frustrated by their ignorance (vis lousy curriculum and inexperienced
teachers), that they use their fast-maturing cognitive abilities to ask, “what’s
the point of paying attention?” And let’s throw poverty into this brew: if
you’re learning little and have parents who aren’t so hot and your chances of
getting mugged while walking to the bus stop are one in five—well, Mr. Riley
says it best,

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.

Safer—and smarter.

I have been working on a major Fordham report on successful
high schools for the poor and minorities in Ohio and have discovered that discipline,
academic rigor, and devoted teachers go together. In fact, all of these
black-majority schools are safe because, as staff and students testify, “we don’t
have time to get in trouble.” Curriculum matters. Good teachers matter. School
culture matters.

What this report tells us is that schools matter.

I urge everyone to read the OCR report in the context that
it was presented. It is hardly a rigorous study, but it definitely is, as
Secretary Duncan put it, “a wake-up call to educators at every level” to “address
educational inequities.”

What this report tells us is that schools matter. And they
matter in very old-fashioned ways: as institutions of learning. Do that right,
as kids of all color know, and we won’t have to try to fool them into thinking
that the prison they are attending is a school.

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