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No Thug Left Behind

Obsessed with “racial equity,” St. Paul schools abandoned discipline—and unleashed mayhem.

By Katherine Kersten | Winter 2017

CITY JOURNAL — In the Obama years, America’s public education system embarked on a vast social experiment that threatened to turn schools into educational free-fire zones. The campaign—carried out in the name of “racial equity”—sought to reduce dramatically the suspension rate of black students, who get referred for discipline at much higher rates than other students. From the top down, the U.S. Department of Education drove the effort; from the bottom up, local educational bureaucrats have supported and implemented it.

“Racial equity” has become the all-purpose justification for dubious educational policies. Equity proponents view “disparate impact”—when the same policies yield different outcomes among demographic groups—as conclusive proof of discrimination. On the education front, “equity” does not seek equal treatment for all students. Instead, it demands statistical equivalence in discipline referrals and suspensions for students of every racial group, regardless of those students’ actual conduct.

Equity advocates’ central premise is that teachers, not students, are to blame for the racial-equity discipline gap. They claim that teachers’ biases, cultural ignorance, or insensitivity are the gap’s primary causes. The key to eliminating disparities, they maintain, is to change not students’ but adults’ behavior. Equity supporters justify their agenda on grounds that the racial-equity discipline gap severely hampers black students’ chances of success in life. Kids who get suspended generally fail to graduate on time and are more likely to get caught up in the juvenile-justice system, they say.

President Obama’s Department of Education made racial equity in school discipline one of its top priorities. “The undeniable truth is that everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise,” according to Arne Duncan, who served as education secretary until early 2016. “It is adult behavior that must change,” Duncan stated repeatedly. “The school-to-prison pipeline must be challenged every day.”

Donald Trump’s Department of Education won’t have to wait to see how this project has played out in the real world. The public schools of St. Paul, Minnesota, are ahead of the curve in the racial-equity crusade. The violence and chaos that racial-equity policies have produced there should sound alarms across the nation about what can be expected by pursuing this course. […]

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