Holder targets school discipline practices: ‘unacceptable,’ ‘destructive’

Attorney General Eric Holder cherry-picked educational statistics from a flawed study during a Feb. 25 speech in which he lambasted school administrators for disciplining students on the basis of race.

“We’ve often seen that students of color, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and students with special needs are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled,” Holder said in Atlanta, Ga.

“This is, quite simply, unacceptable. … These unnecessary and destructive policies must be changed,” Holder said at the meeting, which was hosted by 100 Black Men of Atlanta Inc.

Holder attributed his claim of racial disparity in school discipline to a 2011 study that he said showed “83 percent of African American male students and 74 percent of Hispanic male students ended up in trouble and suspended for some period of time.”

However, Holder’s speech ignored the report’s conclusion that 59 percent of white males are also disciplined. He ignored other data suggesting that the different discipline rates roughly align with actual schoolyard behavior.

“Look at the demographics around that school and see if the same percentages are logged in the police reports [because] if the police are singing the same song, that issue [of disparate treatment] will not stand up,” said David Rettig, head of the National Character Education Foundation.

“Outside the walls of the school, how many of these kids are coming from not just dysfunctional homes, but homes that are not supportive of their children?” he asked.

The 2011 study Holder cited analyzed discipline in Texas schools. It was completed by the Council of State Governments’ justice center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University. It concluded that “students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system.”

Holder’s speech reflects a growing demand by government-funded professionals for federal government intervention to ensure that school officials discipline students in each racial or ethnic group at roughly the same rates, without regard to classroom behavior. This campaign has generated funding for many studies, as well as a stream of supportive articles in outlets such as The Washington Post.

But claims of racial imbalance in school discipline, from both Holder and the Texas 2011 report, ignored relevant data on behavior outside the school walls.

For example, a 2000 report on the Texas legal system showed that African-Americans are seven times as likely as whites to be incarcerated. The report, titled “Texas Tough,” was published by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, based in Washington D.C. and San Francisco.