GAO report on racial disparities in school discipline 'fatally flawed'

Heather Mac Donald, writing in City Journal, focuses her considerable analytical powers on a new report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) that examines racial disparities when it comes to school discipline. The report confirms what the Obama administration and racial advocates have been saying all along; that blacks are disciplined far more often and more severely than whites.

The Obama administration issued rules - under threat of loss of federal funding - that forced schools to adopt racially neutral disciplinary policies. This has led to a spike in violence against teachers and other students and made learning in some school nearly impossible.

Mac Donald dissects the GAO report piece by dishonest piece, leading to an entirely different conclusion than the report reached.

The GAO report ignores the critical question regarding disciplinary disparities: do black students in fact misbehave more than white students? The report simply assumes, without argument, that black students and white students act identically in class and proceeds to document their different rates of discipline. This assumption of equivalent school behavior is patently unjustified. According to federal data, black male teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white male teenagers of the same age (the category “white” in this homicide data includes most Hispanics; if Hispanics were removed from the white category, the homicide disparity between blacks and whites would be much higher). That higher black homicide rate indicates a failure of socialization; teen murderers of any race lack impulse control and anger-management skills. Lesser types of juvenile crime also show large racial disparities. It is fanciful to think that the lack of socialization that produces such elevated rates of criminal violence would not also affect classroom behavior. While the number of black teens committing murder is relatively small compared with their numbers at large, a very high percentage of black children—71 percent—come from the stressed-out, single-parent homes that result in elevated rates of crime.

The GAO report makes no effort to control for family structure in looking at different discipline rates. The report did control for the percentage of poor students in any given school, which is defined by the proportion of students receiving free lunches. It found that black students in schools with lower rates of student poverty are still disciplined more than white students. But we don’t know whether those black students themselves were more likely to come from single-parent homes, and we most certainly do not know how those suspended black students actually behaved in class compared with their white counterparts—the most relevant question of all.

The report focuses on outcomes rather than underlying causes. Disparity in wealth is examined exactly the same way. More blacks are proportionally poor than whites, ergo, racial discrimination. 

Mac Donald bores in on facts that the GAO simply didn't take into account:

Observational studies of classroom behavior are in short supply, the result of the taboo against researching racial behavioral disparities. But the GAO did not even avail itself of what data do exist on student behavior. The Justice and Education Departments recently released their annual report, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety.” Black students self-reported being in a physical fight at school at over twice the rate of white students in 2015—a data point certainly relevant to the question of racial rates of school discipline.  Schools that were 50 percent minority or more reported weekly gang activity at nearly ten times the rate of schools where minorities constituted 5 percent to 20 percent of the population. Reports of gang violence in schools with less than 5 percent minority populations were 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. More than four times as many high-minority schools reported weekly verbal abuse of teachers compared with schools with a less than 20 percent minority student body. Widespread disorder and teacher abuse at schools with less than 5 percent minority populations was again too low to be statistically reliable. These facts are also relevant to judging the likelihood of student misbehavior and resulting discipline. 

One can immediately see why statistics like this are ignored or buried. The narrative on racial disparities in school discipline is set - established by the Obama administration and liberal academics. It is not a question of understanding a problem that probably doesn't even exist. It's about advancing an agenda that won't make schools safer, won't make it easier to learn, but will definitely make the education establishment and government bureaucrats feel better about themselves for demonstrating such tolerance and sensitivity to racism.

Heather Mac Donald, writing in City Journal, focuses her considerable analytical powers on a new report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) that examines racial disparities when it comes to school discipline. The report confirms what the Obama administration and racial advocates have been saying all along; that blacks are disciplined far more often and more severely than whites.

The Obama administration issued rules - under threat of loss of federal funding - that forced schools to adopt racially neutral disciplinary policies. This has led to a spike in violence against teachers and other students and made learning in some school nearly impossible.

Mac Donald dissects the GAO report piece by dishonest piece, leading to an entirely different conclusion than the report reached.

The GAO report ignores the critical question regarding disciplinary disparities: do black students in fact misbehave more than white students? The report simply assumes, without argument, that black students and white students act identically in class and proceeds to document their different rates of discipline. This assumption of equivalent school behavior is patently unjustified. According to federal data, black male teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white male teenagers of the same age (the category “white” in this homicide data includes most Hispanics; if Hispanics were removed from the white category, the homicide disparity between blacks and whites would be much higher). That higher black homicide rate indicates a failure of socialization; teen murderers of any race lack impulse control and anger-management skills. Lesser types of juvenile crime also show large racial disparities. It is fanciful to think that the lack of socialization that produces such elevated rates of criminal violence would not also affect classroom behavior. While the number of black teens committing murder is relatively small compared with their numbers at large, a very high percentage of black children—71 percent—come from the stressed-out, single-parent homes that result in elevated rates of crime.

The GAO report makes no effort to control for family structure in looking at different discipline rates. The report did control for the percentage of poor students in any given school, which is defined by the proportion of students receiving free lunches. It found that black students in schools with lower rates of student poverty are still disciplined more than white students. But we don’t know whether those black students themselves were more likely to come from single-parent homes, and we most certainly do not know how those suspended black students actually behaved in class compared with their white counterparts—the most relevant question of all.

The report focuses on outcomes rather than underlying causes. Disparity in wealth is examined exactly the same way. More blacks are proportionally poor than whites, ergo, racial discrimination. 

Mac Donald bores in on facts that the GAO simply didn't take into account:

Observational studies of classroom behavior are in short supply, the result of the taboo against researching racial behavioral disparities. But the GAO did not even avail itself of what data do exist on student behavior. The Justice and Education Departments recently released their annual report, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety.” Black students self-reported being in a physical fight at school at over twice the rate of white students in 2015—a data point certainly relevant to the question of racial rates of school discipline.  Schools that were 50 percent minority or more reported weekly gang activity at nearly ten times the rate of schools where minorities constituted 5 percent to 20 percent of the population. Reports of gang violence in schools with less than 5 percent minority populations were 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. More than four times as many high-minority schools reported weekly verbal abuse of teachers compared with schools with a less than 20 percent minority student body. Widespread disorder and teacher abuse at schools with less than 5 percent minority populations was again too low to be statistically reliable. These facts are also relevant to judging the likelihood of student misbehavior and resulting discipline. 

One can immediately see why statistics like this are ignored or buried. The narrative on racial disparities in school discipline is set - established by the Obama administration and liberal academics. It is not a question of understanding a problem that probably doesn't even exist. It's about advancing an agenda that won't make schools safer, won't make it easier to learn, but will definitely make the education establishment and government bureaucrats feel better about themselves for demonstrating such tolerance and sensitivity to racism.