Last month, Congresswoman Kathleen Clark (D-MA) called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to resign because the Federal School Safety Commission’s report contained a citation to a study, the findings of which Clark did not like. The Congresswoman did not allege that the study was methodologically flawed. Rather, she simply called the study “racist” because it found that differences in behavior explained the racial disparity in school discipline.
This could have been a teachable moment in the bitter national debate over school discipline. Unfortunately, rather than take this conflagration as an opportunity to review the research literature, journalists seemed more interested in reinforcing Clark’s accusation by innuendo, noting that the study’s author describes himself on Twitter as a “stoic, masculine, conservative.” But for America’s students, the truth matters a great deal more than partisan posturing. Policies predicated on falsehood rarely yield positive results.
If Congresswoman Clark’s contention that the racial discipline gap is not a product of student behavior but rather of “institutional racism” then the Obama administration’s policy of pressuring school districts to decrease discipline disparities by implementing “restorative justice” would have made a great deal of sense. But if, as the study that Clark condemned suggests, the disciplinary disparity is largely a product of behavior, then pressuring school districts toward statistical parity would likely do more harm than good, and Secretary DeVos’s decision to discontinue federal pressure would have been well-founded.
Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of a new report, Safe and Orderly Schools: Updated Guidance on School Discipline. Follow him on Twitter here
Photo by sharply_done / iStock