American teachers show significant opposition to an Obama administration effort that pressures schools to suspend and expel fewer blacks and Hispanic students.
On average, blacks and Hispanics in public schools are substantially more likely to be suspended or expelled than students of other races. Activists claim these gaps are due to racial bias rather than different behavior, and in recent years the federal government has started to become involved. In 2012, President Barack Obama released an executive order ordering a government panel to promote “a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.” (RELATED: Obama Backs Race-Based School Discipline Policies)
In early 2014, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder joined the fray by releasing a set of guidelines warning schools that disciplinary policies could not have a “disparate impact” on minorities. Several school districts have also joined the effort, implementing policies that are explicitly intended to reduce the punishment gap between races. In the fall of 2014 Minneapolis superintendent Bernadela Johnson implemented a policy requiring her personal approval before blacks, Hispanics, or American Indians were suspended, and last May Oakland public schools barred teachers from suspending students for “willful defiance,” which includes behavior such as swearing at teachers and deliberately refusing to follow instructions in class. (RELATED: Racial Suspension Policy In Twin Cities Draws Fire)
The policies are intended to eliminate what advocates say is racial bias against minorities. Teachers, though, strongly disagree with such an approach.
According to a poll released Tuesday by Education Next, 59 percent of teachers either somewhat or strongly disagree with federal government policies that attempt to prevent black and Hispanic students from being suspended or expelled. Just 23 percent support such policies. It’s not simply opposition to federal meddling that drives this sentiment, either. Fifty-seven percent of teachers oppose school district-level policies to prevent suspensions, while only 28 percent support them.
The gap is particularly large when accounting for the intensity of belief. Only 9 percent of teachers completely support federal efforts to curb suspensions, while 35 percent are completely opposed.
Teachers are even more hostile to policies regulating suspensions than the general public and the parents of schoolchildren. In fact, the group teachers align the most with on suspensions are self-identified Republicans, a group they normally have major differences of opinion with.
The strong opposition of teachers bolsters critics of the anti-suspension push who argue it creates disciplinary “quotas” and could make schools less safe for other students by keeping chronic troublemakers in the classroom.
The survey was conducted with 700 teachers in May and June of 2015.
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