‘Disparate impact’ debate on discipline

Educators criticized — and defended — the use of  “disparate impact” in school discipline cases in a hearing before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, reports Ed Week.

Obama administration officials announced last spring that they’ll question discipline policies disproportionately affect blacks, Hispanics or some other subgroups, even if there’s no intent to discriminate. However, discipline policies would be “out of compliance only if an equally sound policy would have less of a disparate impact.”

At the Feb. 11 briefing, Ricardo Soto, the deputy assistant secretary for the Education Department’s office for civil rights, said, “there is no universal, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline that will be right for every school or all students.” However, the department will release new federal guidance on school discipline this year.

Commissioner Todd F. Gaziano told Soto the new approach puts “an extremely heavy burden on the school to justify any disparity.”  Educators might avoid imposing warranted discipline to avoid overrepresentation, Gaziano said.

Allen Zollman, a teacher of English as a second language at an urban middle school in Pennsylvania that he did not name, said he . . . is opposed to having to give “a thought to disparate impact” if he needs to remove a disruptive student from class, saying he views it as a constraint on effective discipline.

Should his school require such a policy, Mr. Zollman said, he would respond in one of three ways: disregard it and continue to refer whatever students he sees fit for disciplinary action, do nothing and tolerate chaos in his classroom, or take an early retirement from teaching.

Jamie Frank, who said she has been a teacher for 11 years in the suburban Washington area, said she worked in a district that stopped failing students who cut class because the policy was disproportionately affecting some groups of students. Teachers were required to reteach and retest students who’d missed class and give them time to make up work, she said.

Some district administrators supported the administration’s new policy.

For example, Hertica Y. Martin, the executive director of elementary and secondary education for Minnesota’s Rochester public schools, reported that from the 2007-08 to 2009-10 school years, the district reduced an overrepresentation of expelled African-American males. She credited a disciplinary approach gaining traction in schools nationwide, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, with helping to support fairer disciplinary action. She also emphasized the importance of classes about racial and ethnic diversity that the school district has provided to teachers, with titles such as The Role of Whiteness and The Culturally Relevant Classroom.

It’s possible expulsions fell because the discipline model worked well. Or teachers got the message to go easy on black male students.

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  1. Boys are even more over-represented in disciplinary actions than students of color are. Instead of trying to massage the discipline system to even out that disparity, thoughtful people are asking what it is about the interface between boys and school that leads boys to act out. Some of those lines of thought are good and some are silly, but at least people are looking at the pipeline rather than the outcome, which is helpful.

  2. Reason # 465 why my children would never attend a public school.

  3. “Disparate impact ” is an abomination. If there were some evil, hidden conspiracy, plotting the downfall of people of color, some secret “Elders of the Confederacy,” they could not have come up with something more insidious.

    Look at what the concept entails:. Blacks are to be excused for dysfunctional choices because more Blacks make dysfunctional choices. Think for a moment. What does such a regime mean for the esteem in which Blacks generally are to be held by the rest of us?

  4. Discipline policies ought to be race-, ethnicity-, and gender-neutral. The Civil Rights Commission should only get involved if one group is punished more harshly than another for the same offense.

  5. Crimson Wife:

    You forget, the Left is only concerned with outcomes. Any process, no matter how fair and just, that results in more members of a victim demographic being “punished” is definitively a violation of civil rights.

  6. As always, it is far easier to reduce the number of suspensions than it is to reduce the number of suspendible offenses – just like it is far easier to adjust grades than to adjust learning. A little bit of fraud keeps both parents and the government from coming into your office and screaming at you. What’s not to like?