Newly-released data on the nation’s public schools document what every Black school kid already knows: African American students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled than whites. Most striking, is how closely school discipline data tracks with racial incarceration numbers. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection statistics for the 2009-10 school year, more than 70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement for school related incidents were Black or Hispanic – an approximate match to the ethnic composition of the nation’s prisons.
The school-to-prison pipeline is a much talked about phenomenon, although volume should never be mistaken for clarity. The apparent “tracking” of Blacks and, to a lesser degree, Hispanics, from classrooms to cellblocks, is the direct result of the behaviors of teachers and administrators who perceive and treat Black kids as if they are already criminals – just as cops act on the assumption that Black pedestrians and drivers are probably guilty of…something.
The Department of Education figures have only recently become available, and have yet to be thoroughly sliced and diced. But the raw stats are damning. A Black student is three and a half times more likely to be kicked out of school than her white peer. Students with disabilities, who are disproportionately kids of color, make up only 12 percent of enrollment, but comprise 70 percent of those disciplined by being strapped down or otherwise subjected to physical restraints.
There would be much more federal information on public schools to study, if the racial data collection had not been halted by the Bush administration in 2006. At the time, Ward Connerly and other Republicans were busy trying to ban governments from keeping information on race, on the theory that racism would disappear as a point of controversy if there were no reliable data to discuss. White privilege would also be relegated to anecdote.
An earlier study of federal data by the Southern Poverty Law Center, published in 2010, showed that suspension rates in U.S. public schools nearly doubled – from 3.7 percent to 6.9 percent – from the early 1970s through 2006. This is also the period when modern mass Black incarceration makes its entrance, following the Black Freedom Movement of the Sixties. On both the streets and school campuses, whites responded to the end of strict apartheid with increased official repression. The New Jim Crow was taking shape.
As reported by educator and BAR contributor Sikivu Hutchinson, in August of last year, a study of Texas schools by the Council of State Governments concluded that Black and Latino students “were disciplined far more harshly than white students who had committed similar offenses” – just as in the adult criminal justice system, where Blacks face harsher penalties at every stage of the process, from arrest through final charges through length and conditions of incarceration. White students were much more likely to get counseling or on-site suspension or detention, rather than kicked out of the building – just as so-called “diversion” programs to keep offenders out of prison are disproportionately awarded to whites.
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Black students were more likely to be kicked out of class for making too much noise, showing teachers disrespect, for loitering, or appearing to present a “threat,” according to June, 2000, Indiana University study titled “The Color of Discipline.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center study concluding that “race and gender disparities in suspension were due not to differences in administrative disposition but to differences in the rate of initial referral of black and white students.”
The fault, said the Texas report, lay with teachers and administrators who piled charges on the Black and Latino kids. The disparate discipline was rooted in negative teacher perceptions about Black and Latino students, rather than the actual behavior of the students.
In Los Angeles, such race-based perceptions were shared by white, Black and brown faculty, alike, according to a study of the school district. Sikivu Hutchinson reported that “South L.A. schools with significant or majority black faculty and administrators are just as culpable” as their non-white cross town colleagues in disproportionately suspending Blacks – an internalized version of white racism that is reflected on the streets and in the cellblocks where Black cops and prison guards are just as brutal as their white co-workers. When Black life is cheap, everybody behaves accordingly, including Blacks.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he hopes the report will be an “eye-opener.” Racism, of course, is able to hide in plain sight because – well, because the racists are the ones in charge. We cannot expect Mr. Duncan to see the light, to propose a radical national program of community control of schools and school budgets, or to call off the Obama administration’s massive school charter privatization campaign. He will, therefore, continue to systematically degrade the public schools so that charters appear to be the only alternative. Duncan and his corporate masters are able to pull off the destruction of American public education by placing the dynamite in the inner cities, where Black children are already stigmatized – New Jim Crowed! – as criminals.