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Editorial Bias in schools?

December 26, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should take a close look at new suspension figures for Houston students. They provide more evidence that the Trump administration would be wrong to abandon Obama-era guidelines aimed at reducing racial disparities in school discipline.

HISD reported last week that while suspensions overall during the 2017-18 school year dropped significantly from the prior year, black and Hispanic students continued to be disciplined at disproportionately higher rates than their white peers.

The rate of out-of-school suspensions for black students, 20.8 percent, was nearly eight times higher than that for white students, 2.7 percent, and nearly three times higher than Hispanic students, 7.3 percent. The in-school suspension numbers were: black students, 14.9 percent; Hispanic students, 9.4 percent; white students, 2.7 percent.

No explanation for the disciplinary discrepancies were provided by HISD. The district’s student population last year was 62 percent Hispanic, 25 percent black and 8 percent white.

A federal General Accounting Office report this year said black students nationally accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school.

“Studies we reviewed suggest that implicit bias — stereotypes or unconscious associations about people — on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students’ behaviors differently based on the students’ race and sex,” said the GAO report, which DeVos has ignored.

“Research has shown that students who are suspended from school lose important instructional time, are less likely to graduate on time, and are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and become involved in the juvenile justice system,” said the GAO report.

The Federal Commission on School Safety recommended last week that school discipline guidelines concerning race issued by the Justice and Education Departments in 2014 be rescinded. Since DeVos chaired the commission, her compliance with its recommendations is likely a foregone conclusion.

It’s not even clear why the commission took time to address the racial disparity guidelines. The panel was created to address school violence after the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 students and adults at a Parkland, Fla., high school. The former student charged with the crime is white and his apparent participation in an alternative discipline program at the school occurred before the Obama guidelines existed.

There are good reasons to make sure racial bias plays no role in which students are suspended from school. If the Trump administration ignores those reasons, all taxpayers will eventually pay the cost.

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