During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education made “racial equity” one of its top priorities. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the mayhem that it would produce (“No Thug Left Behind,” City Journal, Winter 2017).
The public schools in St. Paul, Minnesota are a case in point. When Valeria Silva became superintendent in Dec. 2009, she made racial equity the centerpiece of her Strong Schools, Strong Communities initiative. She was determined to see that black students would not be excluded from schools at a rate more than twice that of Asian students, who had the lowest rate of suspensions.
To achieve that goal, Silva engaged in tactics that should outrage all teachers. She said that white privilege was the root cause of the disparate rates of discipline. When black students engaged in disruptive behavior, including violent acts, it was the fault of teachers who didn’t understand their culture. Teachers who complained were the target of serious repercussions. This blame-the-teacher policy not surprisingly destroyed teacher morale.
To engineer statistical equivalence, behavior expectations for black students were lowered to the point that virtually anything was tolerated. As a result, it became almost impossible to teach the students who wanted to learn. Asian students, who constituted the district’s largest minority, especially resented the new discipline policy. But I bet many black students also were appalled because they too went to school to learn.
I saw how the obsession with racial equity can slowly but surely alter a school. When forced busing began at the high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District where I spent my entire 28-year career, teachers began to walk on eggs when black students were involved in misbehavior. They were afraid of being called racist. I never saw anything of the sort among the 100-teacher staff at my high school. Nevertheless, the threat was always present.
When a racial gap exists in discipline, I believe it is because of problems that students of any background bring to class. The differential is not the result of teacher bias. But the issue is so inflammatory that it is impossible to try to address it objectively. I maintain that no racial group is a monolith. There will always be a few from every group who tarnish the reputation of others. The military is color-blind in its discipline policies. Why can’t public schools be the same?
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.