A federal commission on school safety has repudiated the use of disparate-impact analysis in evaluating whether school discipline is racially biased. The Trump administration should go further and extirpate such analysis from all federal regulations.
Disparate-impact analysis holds that if a facially neutral policy negatively affects blacks and Hispanics at a higher rate than it does whites and Asians, it is discriminatory. Noticing the behavioral differences that lead to those disparate effects is forbidden.
In schools, disparate-impact analysis results in the conclusion that racially neutral rules must nevertheless contain bias, since black students nationally are suspended at nearly three times the rate of white students. In 2014, the Obama administration relied on this method to announce that schools that suspended or expelled black students at higher rates than white students were violating anti-discrimination laws.
To understand how absurd that is, consider Duval County, Fla., which has the Sunshine State’s highest juvenile homicide rate. Seventy-three children, some as young as 11, have been arrested for murder and manslaughter over the last decade.
Black juveniles made up 87.6 percent of those arrests and whites 8 percent. The black population in Duval County was 28.9 percent in 2010 and the white population 56.6 percent, making black youngsters 21.6 times more likely to be arrested for homicide than white youngsters. Nationally, black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined.
Beneath those homicide numbers is a larger juvenile crime wave, and the same family dysfunction and lack of socialization that create this wave inevitably affect classroom behavior. Duval County Public Schools also have the highest number of violent campus incidents of any Florida school district.
Nationwide, schools with the highest minority populations report the highest number of disciplinary infractions. Schools that are 50 percent minority or more experience weekly gang activity at nearly 10 times the rate of schools where minorities constituted 5 percent to 20 percent of the population, according to the 2018 “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” report produced by the US Justice and Education Departments.
Gang violence in schools with less than 5 percent minority populations was too low to be usable statistically. Widespread weekly disorder in classrooms was reported in schools with at least 50 percent minority populations at more than five times the rate as in schools with 5 percent to 20 percent minorities.
Even so, the Obama administration held that the only possible reason why blacks are disciplined in school more than whites is teacher and administrator bias. Never mind that teaching is the most “woke” profession in the country after social work.
And so school districts left disruptive students in the classroom rather than remove them. The results were predictable: chaos and less learning than ever.
In 2018, a cellphone video captured a classroom assault emblematic of the post-disciplinary era. A physics teacher in Texas had confiscated a student’s smartphone. “Give me my f - - king phone,” the teen yelled, towering over the teacher sitting frozen behind his desk, grinning nervously, the very image of submission.
Then the student violently shoved the teacher in the face. Still impassive, the teacher pushed the phone across the desk back to the student, who grabbed it with a self-righteous shrug and strode away. The school principal explained that it “was just a bad day the student was having,” and commended the teacher’s response.
Excusing insubordination and aggression in the name of racial equity isn’t a civil rights accomplishment. The third-party victims of such behavior are themselves disproportionately minority.
But the alleged beneficiary of a racial double standard in conduct is also a victim. Schools are usually the last chance to civilize children if their family has failed to do so. They accomplish that civilizing mission through the application of a color-blind behavioral code, neutrally enforced, that communicates to students that their behavioral choices have consequences. A student who perceives that his race is an excuse for bad conduct will be handicapped for life.
This essay was adapted from City Journal, where Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor.