Politics
In this June 25, 2012, photo, President Barack Obama addresses supporters during a campaign fundraiser at Symphony Hall in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia) In this June 25, 2012, photo, President Barack Obama addresses supporters during a campaign fundraiser at Symphony Hall in Boston. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)  

Obama backs race-based school discipline policies

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama is backing a controversial campaign by progressives to regulate schools’ disciplinary actions so that members of major racial and ethnic groups are penalized at equal rates, regardless of individuals’ behavior.

His July 26 executive order established a government panel to promote “a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”

“African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline,” said the order, titled “White House Initiative On Educational Excellence.”

Because of those causes, the report suggests, “over a third of African American students do not graduate from high school on time with a regular high school diploma, and only four percent of African American high school graduates interested in college are college-ready across a range of subjects.”

“What this means is that whites and Asians will get suspended for things that blacks don’t get suspended for,” because school officials will try to level punishments despite groups’ different infraction rates, predicted Hans Bader, a counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Bader is a former official in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, and has sued and represented school districts and colleges in civil-rights cases.

“It is too bad that the president has chosen to set up a new bureaucracy with a focus on one particular racial group, to the exclusion of all others,” said Roger Clegg, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

“A disproportionate share of crimes are committed by African Americans, and they are disproportionately likely to misbehave in school… [because] more than 7 out of 10 African Americans (72.5 percent) are born out of wedlock… versus fewer than 3 out of 10 whites,” he said in a statement to The Daily Caller. Although ” you won’t see it mentioned in the Executive Order… there is an obvious connection between these [marriage] numbers and how each group is doing educationally, economically, criminally,” he said.

The order created a “President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.” It will include senior officials from several federal agencies — including the Departments of Education, Justice and Labor — which have gained increased power over state education policies since 2009.

The progressives campaign for race-based discipline policies also won a victory in Maryland July 24.

The state’s board of education established a policy demanding that each racial or ethnic group receive roughly proportional level of school penalties, regardless of the behavior by members of each group.

The board’s decision requires that “the state’s 24 school systems track data to ensure that minority and special education students are not unduly affected by suspensions, expulsions and other disciplinary measures,” said a July 25 Washington Post report.

“Disparities would have to be reduced within a year and eliminated within three years,” according to the Post.

The state’s new racial policy was welcomed by progressives, including Judith Browne Dianis, a director of the D.C.-based Advancement Project. “Maryland’s proposal is on the cutting edge,” she told the Post.

Dianis’ project is also a law firm that litigates race-related questions, and it gains from laws and regulations that spur race-related legal disputes.

“The combination of overly harsh school policies … has created a ‘schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track,’ in which punitive measures such as suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests are increasingly used to deal with student misbehavior,” claimed the group’s website.

This “is a racial justice crisis, because the students pushed out through harsh discipline are disproportionately students of color,” the group insisted.

The administration had previously advertised its support for the campaign to impose race-based discipline policies.

In February, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that “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.”

“This is, quite simply, unacceptable. … These unnecessary and destructive policies must be changed,” he said in his speech, given in Atlanta, Ga.

Holder’s speech did not, however, include any evidence of discrimination toward any individual African-American student. For example, he offered no evidence that school infractions by African-American students prompt stiffer punishments than similar infractions by white, Hispanic or Asian students.

The progressive campaign to impose race-based rules on schools relies on various judges’ decisions, which penalize so-called “disparate impact” in hiring.

According to progressive lawyers, “disparate impact” may occur when companies or state and local governments hire and promote people at rates different from their percentage in the local population.

Because of judges’ decisions, juries can force companies and state agencies — such as city boards that hire police officers and firefighters — to pay heavy financial penalties to plaintiffs, even when hiring policies are recognized as color-blind.

When facing a disparate impact lawsuit, employers have to justify their hiring practices, for example, by showing that the job demands special skills possessed by relatively few members of a racial or ethnic group.

In 1997, however, the Seventh Circuit appeals court barred the practice of racial balancing in school discipline to avoid disparate impact lawsuits, said Bader.

Progressives say the “disparate impact” claims are supported by the 1964 Civil Right Act.

Critics, such as Clegg, say “disparate impact” law is used to trump popular and effective color-blind practices, such as civil-service tests by governments and employment-suitability testing by companies.

Another critic, David Rettig, head of the National Character Education Foundation, told The Daily Caller in February that apparently-disproportionate school discipline practices can be a reflection of local crime reports.

“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 told TheDC.

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