ED’s causation confusion
The Education Department fired up civil rights advocates this week with the release of new data showing that schools subject black and Latino students to discipline at higher rates than their white peers. "The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school,” lamented Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The statistics are indeed troubling—black students made up 18 percent of students in ED’s sample, but were 35 percent of students suspended once, and 39 percent of students expelled—but so is Duncan’s spin, which was echoed even more starkly by sundry civil rights groups and commentators. What we know: Minority students are disciplined more often than non-minorities. This may be, as Duncan implies, because schools punish them unfairly and undeservedly, perhaps the result of institutional racism, inexperienced teachers who struggle with classroom management, or countless other explanations. But that doesn’t mean U.S. schools are run by racists. It may also be because black and Latino students commit infractions more often than white students and are therefore disciplined at a higher rate. It may be because teachers and principals are appropriately attentive to the rights of well-behaved youngsters who are eager to learn without disruption. The truth is probably a mix of these and more—but we just can’t tell from ED’s data. Rather than pretending to have the answers on this crucial issue, the Education Department should redouble its efforts to find them.
Kimberly Hefling, “Report: Minority students face harsher punishments,” Associated Press, March 6, 2012
Tamar Lewin, “Black Students Face More Harsh Discipline, Data Shows,” New York Times, March 6, 2012
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