As the late Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson observed, the “truth is often unpopular,” and people will frequently choose “agreeable fantasy” over “disagreeable fact.” This is particularly true of liberal reporters writing about intractable racial problems, like the persistently high-rates of crime and misbehavior among black and inner-city students.
They claim that high black student suspension rates are simply the result of poorly trained teachers harboring unconscious racism, rather than student misconduct, and thus can be solved simply by changing school discipline to reflect the latest progressive fads, such as “restorative justice.” In reality, suspensions of black students often reflect serious misbehavior by students from broken homes, who bring their disorderly home environment with them to school. Most black kids are born out of wedlock, and it is harder to raise a well-behaved child when you are a single parent with no partner to help you, living in a community with a high crime rate and lots of misbehaving children, than it is to live in a stable home environment with two parents to instill discipline in a child.
But that reality is just too politically incorrect for many liberal reporters (almost all education reporters are liberal) to accept. A recent example is provided by Joe Davidson, who writes the Federal Insider column for the Washington Post. In his Monday column, “Preschool suspensions are made worse by racial disparities,” he claims that suspensions of preschool students show not misbehavior by kids, but an “adult behavior problem” by bad teachers who need to learn “constructive methods of discipline.” Since “black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely” to be suspended “as white preschool children,” Davidson claims teachers must harbor veiled “bias” that “feeds an implicitly racist system.” But this is simply untrue. That statistic just reflects the fact that black kids misbehave more. Students who repeatedly bite or attack their classmates, or constantly disrupt class, need to be suspended, even if they are preschoolers. Even preschoolers deserve to be safe from violence when they go to school.
As Katherine Kersten wrote months ago in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, black students’
discipline rate is higher than other students’ because, on average, they misbehave more. In fact, a major 2014 study in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that the racial gap in suspensions is “completely accounted for by a measure of the prior problem behavior of the student.” That problem behavior can manifest itself in other ways. Nationally, for example, young black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at 10 times the rate of white and Hispanics of the same ages combined.
Why such a gap? A primary reason is likely dramatic differences in family structure. Figures for St. Paul are not available, but nationally, 71 percent of black children are born out of wedlock — with the rate much higher in many inner cities — while the rate for whites is 29 percent. Research reveals that children from fatherless families are far more likely than others to engage in many kinds of antisocial behavior.
Both school misconduct and criminal behavior likely stem from the same source — the lack of impulse control and socialization that can result from chaotic family life. Tragically, the problem we confront is not so much a “school-to-prison” pipeline as a “home-to-prison” pipeline.
Davidson’s column ignores that study in the Journal of Criminal Justice,which has been cited not just in the Star-Tribune, but also by other publications, such as Investor’s Business Daily and the National Review. [See John Paul Wright, Mark Alden Morgan, Michelle A. Coyne, Kevin M. Beaver, & J.C. Barnes, Prior problem behavior accounts for the racial gap in school suspensions, Journal of Criminal Justice, Volume 42, issue 3, May-June 2014, Pages 257-266].
Instead, he cites the discredited work of Russel Skiba, who pretends there are no differences in misbehavior rates.
Davidson lectures his readers that “Those who think black students are suspended at higher rates because their behavior is worse should find the facts, as Russell J. Skiba and Natasha T. Williams did for a report published by the Equity Project at Indiana University. The top line of their 2014 study asks “Are Black Kids Worse?” The answer is no.” But its Davidson who is wrong. Even the so-called “study” he cites had to admit that “once referred to the principal, white students were expelled at the same rate as black students.” It only managed to cry racism by recasting common-sense, colorblind disciplinary decisions as suspicious signs of racism: It labeled offenses committed fairly evenly by students of all races as “objective,” but called offenses committed heavily by black students — like threats — “subjective” even when there was nothing subjective about them, in order to minimize their seriousness and imply that discipline was improper. As National Review explained, Skiba and his colleagues claim that offenses such as “threat” are “subjective” and that when discipline of many black students results for such an offense, it shows that “schools were arbitrarily disciplining blacks.” But “try telling a teacher being threatened with physical retaliation that her plight is merely “subjective.'”
Given the staggering percentage of black kids born into fatherless homes, higher rates of misbehavior among black kids are to be expected. Consider these frightening statistics about how the vast majority of juvenile delinquents and young criminals come from broken homes:
85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Source: Center for Disease Control)
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Source: Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26, 1978.)
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988)
85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Source: Fulton Co. Georgia jail populations, Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992)
Given that out-of-wedlock births are so much more common among blacks than among whites, it would be astonishing if the crime rate and juvenile delinquency rates were not significantly higher among blacks. This is just basic common sense. But Skiba disregards this basic reality in his reports.
Federal crime statistics prove misbehavior rates aren’t the same among different ethnic and racial groups. 51.3% of all Americans charged with murder or manslaughter are black, even though only about one eighth of the U.S. population is black. [See U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2014 Uniform Crime Reports: Crime in the United States, Table 43A, Arrests by Race, 2014]. The murder rate is eight times as high for blacks as for non-Hispanic whites.
These higher arrest and conviction rates reflect higher crime rates among blacks, not racism in the criminal justice system. Black victims themselves tend to identify their assailants as black. As City Journal has noted, “the race of criminals reported by crime victims matches arrest data. As long ago as 1978, a study of robbery and aggravated assault in eight cities found parity between the race of assailants in victim identifications and in arrests—a finding replicated many times since, across a range of crimes. No one has ever come up with a plausible argument as to why crime victims would be biased in their reports.” For example, 43.7% of all rapists in state prisons were black, according to a 1997 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, even though blacks are only 13% of the general population. [See Lawrence A. Greenfeld, Statistician, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sex Offenses and Offenders (Feb. 1997) (NCJ-163392)].
Amazingly, from reading Skiba’s reports, you would never know this. The recent Skiba & Williams report that Davidson places such blind faith in never even mentions or admits this basic fact. It’s like describing what’s in a room, while leaving out any mention of the 800-pound gorilla. He forfeits any claim to credibility by doing so.
While denying unpleasant realities, Davidson’s column also manages to bury what could have been the lead: the Obama administration’s freshly-minted policy against preschool suspensions for even the most violent or behaviorally disordered kids. Davidson writes that a recent “joint agency document” from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services “says it is federal policy to ‘prevent, severely reduce, and ultimately eliminate expulsion and suspension in early childhood settings.'” Where on Earth did that “policy” come from, and where did the executive branch get the power to make it? The federal government doesn’t operate the nation’s preschools, and Congress hasn’t authorized a federal takeover. Is this just another example (as in the immigration context) of the Obama administration essentially ruling by decree? Where did DOE and HHS get this sort of power? The executive branch is supposed to enforce laws passed by Congress, not make up new policies of its own. Is this, as seems likely, yet another example of overreaching by the Obama administration.