Racial bias in US school discipline? Some shocking correlations

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The GAO has published a 98 page report on discipline in US schools. In a perhaps somewhat irresponsible manner of formatting, it suggests that teachers seem to pick on particular races and disabilities for those reasons alone. It is as if teachers are pushing kids with wheelchairs uncontrollably down ramps. Yet, ‘disability’ of course includes mental problems which could range from anxiety to depression. 11.7% of students are classified with a disability. Yet delving deeply within the stats, of the 56 million K-12 students, 5.7% have been in detention, only 0.4% of the total have been referred to law enforcement, 0.3% have been expelled, 0.2% received corporal punishment and less than 0.1% have been arrested. In short, 99.6% of students stay out of ‘big’ trouble and 94.3% stay out of detention. Single parent households and poverty levels are highly correlated to discipline. Reporting the headlines of the GAO makes for shock and awe but had they reported the 0.X% stats it would deflate the rhetoric.

The NY Times article implied there must be some sort of unconscious bias as teachers were being bigoted bullies. Doesn’t the mainstream media defend the very same people as the last bastions of educational excellence against the tyranny of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. 80% of teachers are white. Although this has been on a long term decline.

If white students (K-12) represent 50.3% of the total is it fair to assume that they should hold an equal % of disciplinary actions? Do crime stats and incarceration rates reflect race based demographics anywhere in the world? In America, 24.7% of students are Hispanic and 15.5% are black. When it comes to higher levels of poverty, Hispanics are way under-represented in the disciplinary stats despite being higher proportions of the students. Whites are punished more or less in line with their population in that bracket.

In the interests of gender equality, why are girls, at 49% of all students punished at half the rate of boys? Unconscious bias or is it through our own experiences, women are far less likely to bring the wrath of teachers in class? A reasonably safe assumption to make.

Nearly half of all public school students went to schools where 50% or more of the students were low-income, and about a quarter went to schools where 75% or more of the students were low-income. Of the 11.5mn students in 75-100% low income backgrounds, 1 million spent time in out of school detention. Of the 9.9 million students in 0-25% low income schools, 217,000 spent time in out of school detention. 128,500 of those were white. Whites make up 78% of 0-25% low income school populations and only 16% of 75-100% low income schools. Therefore it stands to reason statistically that if students in less poverty stricken schools trigger fewer disciplinary issues, then the stats would naturally bear out such differences rather than it being pure racial profiling.

So it would appear that low income would impact the rates of delinquency. Referring to number of kids living with both parents/step-parent (according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study) in America we find:

Asian: 82%

White: 71%

Hispanic: 55%

Black: 31%

The GAO stats make clear that Asian kids get caught up in the least amount of disciplinary action both by absolute and percentage wise. Blacks the most, Hispanics second and whites 3rd. Could it be an inverse correlation? Psychological studies have shown boys seem to be more impacted by the lack of a father in the house than do girls. Children (especially boys) raised by single mothers are more likely to fare worse on a number of dimensions, including their school achievement, their social and emotional development, their health and their success in the labor market. They are at greater risk of parental abuse and neglect (especially from live-in boyfriends who are not their biological fathers), more likely to become teen parents and less likely to graduate from high school or college.

survey taken by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the US back in January of 1993 revealed poverty, alcoholism, student apathy and absenteeism were cited as big problems in secondary public schools. Lack of a parent was also high on the agenda.

The American Psychological Association, “poor (bottom 20 percent of all family incomes) students were five times more likely to drop out of high school than high-income (top 20 percent of all family incomes) students…Family poverty is associated with a number of adverse conditions — high mobility and homelessness; hunger and food insecurity; parents who are in jail or absent; domestic violence; drug abuse and other problems — known as “toxic stressors” because they are severe, sustained and not buffered by supportive relationships…Community poverty also matters. Some neighborhoods, particularly those with high concentrations of African-Americans, are communities of concentrated disadvantage with extremely high levels of joblessness, family instability, poor health, substance abuse, poverty, welfare dependency and crime

Broken homes and poverty are undoubtedly a big issue. The report said, “Besides lack of parent involvement, the school problems viewed as serious by at least 10 percent of public school teachers included student apathy, poverty, student absenteeism, student disrespect for teachers, parental alcoholism and/or drug abuse, and student tardiness. Behaviors and attitudes of students were more likely to be seen as problematic by teachers at the secondary level than by teachers at the elementary level. Parent alcoholism, on the other hand, was described as “serious” as often by elementary teachers as by secondary teachers and poverty was described as “serious” more often by elementary teachers.”

85% of kids likely to go to college or higher levels of education came from stable family backgrounds. 61% of kids likely to drop out before graduating high school are from broken homes. Sixty One Percent!

So before reading into it that teachers must be subconsciously racially profiling students in handing out punishment, perhaps the overwhelming weight of societal evidence points to far bigger problems that need addressing. Poverty, single parent households and a whole raft of issues need dealing before the government watchdog should report back racial bias at a top down level. According to the logic, perhaps teachers should be forced into student discipline quotas. That way (un)conscious bias won’t afflict teachers and whites can be punished in line with their demographically representation.

Let’s not forget that financial institutions have often been targeted for charging black customers higher interest rates on loans than whites. What they always fail to mention is that Asians pay even lower rates than both. That is the problem with selectivity in data without meaningfully looking at the broader picture. Just like the recent Florida school shooting where a look at what is going on in terms of school security over decades paints a different picture to what the mainstream narrative would want us to believe.

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