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Biden Gives a Boost to Schoolyard Bullies

Allowing a few bad apples to disrupt the classroom destroys a school's chance to provide a pathway out of poverty. Well played Joe!

Sorry, I need to stop being so negative.

Biden Gives a Boost to Schoolyard Bullies

As student misbehavior rises, he urges a return to Obama-era policies that encourage lax discipline.

Jason L. Riley, WSJ

Jan. 17, 2023 5:54 pm ET

A professor at an academic conference I attended earlier this month noted that “antiracism” and the policies that flow from it are a much bigger problem today than racism itself. Some might dismiss that observation as hyperbole, but examples keep piling up.

Living-wage mandates price poor minorities who are desperate for employment out of jobs. Bail-reform measures make bad neighborhoods even more dangerous by going easy on repeat offenders. Affirmative-action admissions policies in higher education boost dropout rates by mismatching black students with schools in the name of diversity. Open-space zoning laws, supported by environmental zealots, have limited the construction of affordable homes and thereby decimated the black population of major cities, such as San Francisco. It’s a long and depressing list.

Learning losses experienced by students during the pandemic, and especially by low-income minorities, have been attributed to an excess of remote schooling that was driven by union demands more than sound science. A study released last week by the U.S. Education Department offers reason to believe that policies being advanced by the equity crowd may be contributing to the challenge of getting our youngsters back up to speed academically.

According to an annual survey of school leaders conducted by the federal Institute for Education Sciences, schools saw a 56% increase in “classroom disruptions from student misconduct” compared with a typical school year before the pandemic. There’s also been a 49% rise in “rowdiness outside of the classroom,” in places such as cafeterias or hallways. Actual “physical attacks or fights between students” are up by one-third, and threats of the same have increased 36%.

Whatever the impact of pandemic education protocols on this behavior, student suspension policies pushed by the political left are no doubt making matters worse. Under President Obama, the Education Department released a study showing that black students are suspended from school at higher rates than white students and concluded that the only possible reason for the disparity was racism. Similar studies have shown that whites are suspended at higher rates than Asians, but progressives stop reading after they find the statistic that fits their preferred narrative. Thus, the administration subsequently issued letters of guidance to school districts that said federal officials would consider higher school-discipline rates among blacks to be evidence of racial discrimination.

The response, predictably, was a reduction in suspensions, which led to more disruption and bullying and to students feeling less safe—especially black students. A federal survey from 2017 found that 37% of black students nationwide reported being bullied, the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group. A policy intended to fight racism wound up harming black kids the most. Equity strikes again!

The Trump administration revoked the Obama-era guidance, but the pandemic made the matter moot until students began returning to the classroom again. President Biden, meanwhile, has pushed to reimplement the Obama policy. In 2021, the Education Department and Justice Department jointly announced that they would assess “the impact of exclusionary school discipline policies and practices, such as suspensions and school-based arrests, on our nation’s students, particularly students of color.” In July of last year, the Biden administration issued its own “guidance” urging schools to discipline students in a “nondiscriminatory manner,” by which it means basing suspension decisions on racial balance instead of behavior and the welfare of students who are in school to learn.

We don’t find anything approaching racial evenness in behavior patterns after young people leave school, so why would we expect to find it before they graduate? And why would we assume that bias is the only plausible explanation for racial disparities, especially given that so many of the teachers and administrators responsible for school discipline are themselves racial minorities?

The likely problem isn’t that school discipline policies are too harsh but that they’re too lax. Better to teach children to behave before they leave school and face far harsher consequences for making bad decisions as adults. Charter schools, which enroll a disproportionate number of low-income black and Hispanic children, have been criticized for employing stricter discipline policies for troublemakers. Yet academic studies have shown that charter students were less likely than their peers in traditional public schools to be incarcerated later in life.

Like so much of the utopian equity agenda, good intentions matter more than results, even if those results leave the intended beneficiaries worse off. Overly lenient treatment for the small minority of misbehaving students can make school a nightmare and learning impossible for the overwhelming majority of disadvantaged kids who are counting on a decent education to make a better life for themselves.

Appeared in the January 18, 2023, print

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