School discipline has been at the forefront of ed-reform for years. The debate around just how much discipline is too much discipline has dominated the conversation for at least the last decade. The Department of Education’s new school safety report is going to add some fuel to that fire.
A federal commission led by Betsy DeVos released a report that recommends ending policies designed to protect students of color from excessive discipline. This is just the latest attempt of Betsy DeVos to roll back Obama-era education policies.
Rolling back the discipline protections for students of color would be a mistake. It was 2014 when the Obama administration notified districts they could be held accountable for civil rights violations around suspensions and expulsions. The policies are just as necessary now as they were then for a couple of reasons:
- Black students face significantly harsher discipline than their white counterparts.
There is little doubt that students of color are disciplined more than white students. Both anecdotal evidence and objective data back this up. Even when you control for the types of offenses committed and only compare punishments for the same violations, minorities are still punished more harshly. Such was the case in North Carolina public schools where black students were suspended eight times more often for cell phone violations and six times more often for dress code violations. According to the Department of Education’s own data, black boys are three times as likely to be suspended than white boys, and black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls.
- Implicit bias is a real.
Many people labor under the mistaken impression that it takes overt hatred or nazi-esque style racism to treat people differently, and according to research, that is simply not the case. Many well-intentioned otherwise good people fall victim to negative stereotypes about people, and they may not even know it. Research shows that these stereotypes negatively affect students as early as preschool, like in the study where pre-k teachers were found to look more often towards the black students when they expected “bad behavior”.
- Excessive discipline doesn’t work.
Out of school suspensions and expulsions seldom actually solve any of the problems they are associated with. They may, in fact, make the situation worse. Research shows suspensions are normally the first stop on a line that leads to crime and prison. Suspensions or expulsions are useful for schools to remove problem students from the classroom which is sometimes necessary, but there is little to indicate that it actually curbs the behavior itself. If it doesn’t fix the behavior, why is it being used at such a high rate?
These policies were created to protect students of color from the very real, quantifiable, and independently verified threat of over-discipline. That threat has not passed. So, there is no reason to let these policies lapse.