Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why DeVos Should Rescind Obama’s Ban On Disciplining Minority Kids In School

Last week, after nearly 100 days in office, President Trump issued an executive order declaring that “it shall be the policy of the executive branch to protect and preserve State and local control in education.” The order gives Education Secretary Betsy DeVos 300 days to itemize regulations and guidance where the federal government overstepped its bounds. But DeVos would need little more than a minute to rescind perhaps the single most destructive action taken by the Obama Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights: federal “guidance” on school discipline.

Activists, advocates, and academics had been ringing the alarm over the racial disparity in suspension rates. And it is certainly troubling that African-American students are suspended at three times the rate of white students.

A sober mind might assume that might largely reflect tragic realities in our society. As Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has argued, “it cannot surprise us if minority students today misbehave at ‘disproportionate’ rates. African American and Latino children in America are much more likely to face challenges,” such a living in poverty, growing up in a single-parent family, or living in a dangerous neighborhood, that puts “them ‘at risk’ for antisocial behavior.”

But Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared flatly that this is “not caused by differences in children,” but rather “it is adult behavior that needs to change.” Now, implicit bias likely accounts for some share of the disparity. But if you assume that it accounts for all of it, then the solution isn’t to support teachers with better training or professional development. The only solution is to prevent teachers from doing what they’ve been doing. And that’s exactly what the Obama Department of Education did.

Duncan issued “Dear Colleague” guidance in January 2014 telling districts they could be subject to federal investigation for unlawful discrimination if their discipline policy “is neutral on its face—meaning that the policy itself does not mention race—and is administered in an evenhanded manner but has a disparate impact, i.e., a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.” In other words: “We may decide to come after you, even if your policy is entirely fair, if we see differences on a spreadsheet.”

Over the past five years, 27 states have revised their school discipline laws and 53 districts serving 6.35 million students implemented discipline reforms. From 2011-12 to 2013-14, suspensions dropped by nearly 20 percent nationwide. The Obama letter didn’t start this fire, but it certainly fanned the flames. As the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn noted, the intent of the letter was “to scare the bejesus out of U.S. educators when it comes to disciplining minority students.”

What have the results been? Largely because these reforms are so recent, rigorous academic research is nonexistent. But increasing evidence supports the common sense intuition that when you tie teachers’ hands on maintaining order, bad things will happen.

Judging by press accounts, the results are rather horrific. After the federal government forced Oklahoma City to change its discipline policies, one teacher reported she was “told that referrals would not require suspension unless there was blood.”

In Buffalo, a teacher who got kicked in the head by a student said: “We have fights here almost every day…. The kids walk around and say, ‘We can’t get suspended—we don’t care what you say.’”

In St. Paul, the county attorney declared that the threefold increase in assaults on teachers constituted a “public health crisis.”

Teacher surveys also indicate these policies are backfiring. Significant majorities of teachers in Oklahoma City, Denver, Tampa, Santa Ana, Jackson, and Baton Rouge report that the discipline reforms either weren’t working or were escalating school violence.

Judging by student surveys, schools have become less safe as these policies went into effect. In Los Angeles, the percent of students who said they felt safe in their schools plummeted from 72 percent to 60 percent after the district banned suspension for non-violent offenses. In Chicago, researchers found a significant deterioration in school order, according to students and teachers.

I dug into school climate surveys in New York City, and found that as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s  school discipline reductions were implemented school climate plummeted, especially in schools comprised of 90 percent or higher minority students: 58 percent reported a deterioration in student respect (compared to 19 percent that saw an improvement); 50 percent reported an increase in physical fighting (compared to 14 percent that saw an improvement); and drug use and gang activity increased in about four times as many schools as decreased.

Rescinding This Directive Is Common Sense

Yet after 100 days in office, the guidance still stands. In fact, just two weeks ago the Department of Education opened a new investigation into Richmond, Virginia for disparate suspension rates. After 100 days, why hasn’t DeVos rescinded this misguided guidance? Perhaps in part because of the simple fact that she’s still operating with a skeleton crew and bureaucratic inertia is an almost irresistible force even with a full cohort of political appointees.

Or perhaps in part because education journalists and activists will surely make her pay for it. They’ll write story after story about how she’s rescinding “protections” for minority students, all but endorsing “institutional racism,” and opening the sluices in the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Whatever the case, the guidance could be rescinded with no more than a stroke of a pen. Unlike with the rushed retraction of the transgender bathroom guidance, DeVos could send a loud and clear message about her principles and educational philosophy. She could declare that her administration will not put ideological activism over student safety. It will not blame teachers for society’s inequities. It will not coerce school administrators into second-guessing teachers’ judgement and tying teachers’ hands.

Rather, it recognizes that meaningful progress comes from teachers and administrators working hand-in-hand, with the flexibility and freedom to do what they believe is right for their students. It recognizes that there is a meaningful and robust role for civil rights protections, but that the Department of Education ought to be a backstop against discrimination, not an engine to impose nationwide policy change.

Rescinding the guidance is the easy part. The real challenge for DeVos will be articulating and implementing a principled role for civil rights enforcement that could withstand the whims of future progressive administrations. Here’s hoping she’s up for that task, because civil rights “protections” ought never be weaponized in a way that could hurt children.


Theology professor pressured out of Duke after protesting liberal racism ‘training’ program

A professor is resigning from the Duke Divinity School after colleagues and administrators tried to punish him for publicly criticizing a “training” program espousing a liberal view of racism.

Paul Griffiths, Warren professor of Catholic theology, is just the latest academic to find himself out of a job for refusing to toe the progressive line.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said viewpoint intolerance is becoming more common in higher education as “politically correct administrations pull out all of the stops to silence the last few remaining non-progressives on their faculty.”

“Most of the silencing that occurs on college campuses occurs invisibly,” Mr. Wood said. “There is no public trace of it because people self-censor. Or if they come under pressure, they concede the point and shut up. A case like Griffiths‘ stands out because Griffiths decided to go public.”

“Public” is an understatement. The theologian created a firestorm on the Durham, North Carolina, campus this year when he responded to a facultywide email, sent by associate professor Anathea Portier-Young, that encouraged attendance at a two-day anti-racism program.

“I exhort you not to attend this training,” Mr. Griffiths wrote in the Feb. 6 email. “Don’t lay waste your time by doing so. It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there’ll be bromides, cliches, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show.”

Several colleagues replied that they were looking forward to the Racial Equity Institute training session, which was scheduled for March 4-5 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Elaine Heath, dean of the divinity school, took a different tack.
She condemned Mr. Griffiths for using mass email “in order to humiliate or undermine individual colleagues or groups of colleagues with whom we disagree.”

“The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable, especially in a Christian institution,” she wrote in the email, also sent Feb. 6.

Mr. Griffiths sent another facultywide email months later detailing the disciplinary procedures brought against him after the initial email exchange, which was first reported by Rod Dreher of the American Conservative.

Ms. Heath tried to schedule a meeting with Mr. Griffiths but refused to let him bring a sympathetic colleague, English professor Thomas Pfau, to serve as a witness. She eventually barred him from faculty meetings and threatened to take away his access to research funds.

“It is unacceptable for you to refuse to meet with me as the Dean of the Divinity School,” Ms. Heath wrote in a March 10 memo to Mr. Griffiths. “I cannot physically force you to meet with me, but your refusal to meet with me will have consequences.”

Ms. Portier-Young filed a complaint with the Office for Institutional Equity claiming the use of “racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace,” Mr. Griffiths‘ email said.

Neither of Mr. Griffiths complainants responded to a request for comment before press time.

Rather than go through with the disciplinary procedures, the theologian will resign after the 2017-18 academic year.

Mr. Griffiths joins a growing list of academics who have been forced out of the university for holding beliefs that run contrary to the prevailing campus orthodoxy.

Political science professor John McAdams was suspended from Marquette University in 2014 for writing a blog criticizing another instructor, Cheryl Abbate, who told a student not to oppose same-sex marriage because it would be “homophobic.”

Mr. McAdams sued the Catholic school, but a circuit court judge ruled Thursday in favor of the university despite two affirmations of academic freedom in the faculty handbook.
His attorneys plan to appeal the decision.

Valerie Cooper, Duke Divinity School associate professor of religion and society and black church studies, said the university’s treatment of Mr. Griffiths did not violate its commitment to academic freedom because the progressive view of diversity is not a subject up for debate.

“As you read Prof. Paul Griffiths‘ complaint, below, please bear in mind that Duke University has a clear statement in favor of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Ms. Cooper wrote on Facebook this month. “Because this statement *is* Duke University policy, being against diversity isn’t an issue of academic freedom. It is academic malpractice. If you can’t abide by Duke’s policies, you shouldn’t work for Duke.”

Mr. Wood said the Marquette and Duke incidents show the university’s willingness to bend the meaning of academic freedom to the tenets of progressivism.

“No matter how hard and fast academic freedom may be specified and a university avows of its relationship to faculty members,” he said, “if a faculty member expresses an unpopular opinion, or an opinion disliked by the administration, some evasion of the rule will be invented for that purpose.

“The only thing you can count on is that all of the exceptions will be exceptions favored by the academic left.”


Fighting to Deny School Choice

What do a failing school, a recently passed law granting parents greater authority in demanding change from underperforming schools, and a petition signed by a majority of parents seeking to start a new charter school in response to the failing public school have in common? All of that still isn’t enough to stop a local government from preventing parents from having the power of choice.

California’s Anaheim Elementary School District sought to throw out a petition signed by parents attempting to convert a failing school into a charter school. Fortunately, an appellate court rejected the school district’s request and the battle will continue.

While it may be easy to see the teachers union’s fingerprints all over this attempt to prevent choice, the larger issue is that of statist control. As Vladimir Lenin famously stated, “Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Leftists do not believe in school choice because they know that doing so would lead to a diversity of training and ideas. Such actual diversity would then yield a wide range of thought and decisions, especially regarding society and more specifically politics.

For leftists, school is about indoctrination over education. Opening up the public school system to competition — greater opportunities for students to learn and for parents to gain the choice of where their child attends — poses a significant threat to the leftist education complex. And that’s just not acceptable.


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