Racial Suspension Gap Not Due to Racism

Hans Bader

Black students are suspended from school at a higher rate than white students. To many people, this might seem unremarkable, given the higher black crime rate, and the fact that black kids are more likely to come from struggling single-parent households that fail to instill discipline. As even the liberal Brookings Institution has noted, “Black students are also more likely to come from family backgrounds associated with school behavior problems; for example, children ages 12–17 that come from single-parent families are at least twice as likely to be suspended as children from two-parent families.”(See Note 1)

The homicide rate is 10 times higher among black teens than white teens. And the Supreme Court rejected the “presumption that people of all races commit all types of crimes” at the same rate, as being “contradicted by” reality, in its decision in U.S. v. Armstrong.

But in February 17 column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond school superintendent Jason Kamras argued that the higher black suspension rate in Virginia is due to “institutional racism.” He cited the fact that in Virginia in 2015, “African-American students received 60 percent of all long-term suspensions but they made up only 23 percent of the commonwealth’s schools.”

In a February 22 column, former state delegate Kristen Amundson lamented the fact that “In 2016-17, black students were suspended at rates five times higher than Hispanics and whites.” She suggested that subjectivity and subconscious racism were causing the higher black suspension rate. She wrote that “black students are more likely than their white peers to be suspended — even for minor violations….Typically, suspensions for major offenses (such as bringing a weapon to school) are not the problem. Rather, it’s the judgment calls, particularly for things like ‘disrespect,’ that account for the greatest racial variance.”

But neither racism nor subjectivity is the primary cause of the higher black suspension rate. A 2014 study by John Paul Wright and several other professors in the Journal of Criminal Justice, found students’ “prior problem behavior,” not racism, explains the racial differences in suspension rates.

Kamras apparently disagrees with this study. As he conceded, some people “have suggested” that the higher black suspension rate “is due to differences in students’ behavior.” But, he argued, “a 2012 investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education found that wasn’t the case,” finding “examples where African American students” were “punished more harshly than white students.”

That investigation didn’t show “institutional racism” in Virginia, as Kamras claimed. First, it didn’t involve Virginia at all. It was an investigation in Delaware of the Christina School District. And while it found instances where individual black students were treated worse, the investigation stated that “statistics alone” don’t prove bias. It didn’t claim that higher black suspension rates are generally proof of racism. The investigation was conducted by the Office for Civil Rights, where I used to work. (Kamras erroneously refers to it as the “Office of Civil Rights,” but it is the “Office for Civil Rights.”)

Kamras’s attempt to cite the Education Department for the proposition that there are no differences in student behavior also fails, because the Education Department now disagrees: It has concluded that the racial gap in suspensions is not “primarily caused by” discrimination, but rather reflects different misconduct rates.

Courts have recognized that misbehavior rates can differ by race. The federal appeals court in Richmond said in 2001 that “disparity” in discipline rates does not “constitute discrimination.” (See Note 3)

Similarly, in 1997, another federal appeals court struck down a rule that forbade “a school district to refer a higher percentage of minority students than of white students for discipline,” calling it an unconstitutional racial quota. (See note 4)

As education expert Michael Petrilli notes, black students admit in surveys to misbehaving at higher rates. In a 2018 commentary for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he noted that black students admitted to “going to class late” at about twice the rate for whites, and nearly three times the rate for Asians, in 2009-10. And blacks admitted to getting into fights at over twice the rate for whites. Other surveys also show black students self-reporting higher rates of fighting or other misbehavior. (See Note 5)

Asians have the lowest school suspension rates of all, lower than whites. That contradicts claims that whites are receiving preferential treatment in school discipline based on their race, and that schools are practicing “white supremacy.” For example, Asians were suspended at about one-fourth of the white rate, while whites in turn were suspended at one-fourth the black rate, in California. (See Note 6)

Kristen Amundson suggested that racial differences in suspension rates were due to subjectivity and “judgment calls” by school officials, decisions that lead to black students being picked on for “minor” offenses such as “disrespect.” But this is not true: the federal appeals court in Philadelphia noted in 1996 that “statistical data” showed larger racial differences in discipline rates for serious, “very objective” offenses than for minor, “less objective” offenses. It also cited a lack of evidence for the notion that “misbehavior” occurs at the same rate among all “racial groups.” (See Note 7)

Amundson called for reducing suspensions of “students of color.” But that could harm innocent African-Americans by reducing their ability to learn and be safe. After all, much violence is black-on-black, and when a black student constantly disrupts class, that harms black classmates’ ability to learn. After suspensions were curbed in New York City, the Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden found that “schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst” effects on school climate and safety. Indeed, the harm from curbing suspensions had “a disparate impact by race and socioeconomic status.” Eden noted in the New York Post that another “study by a University of Georgia professor found that efforts to decrease the racial-suspension gap actually increase the racial achievement gap.” Joshua Kinsler found that “in public schools with discipline problems, it hurts those innocent African American children academically to keep disruptive students in the classroom,” and “cutting out-of-school suspensions in those schools widens the black-white academic achievement gap.”

Hans Bader, a former Competitive Enterprise Institute scholar, is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This column first appeared in the Liberty Unyielding blog.

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Note 1: See Tom Loveless, The 2017 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?, Brookings Institution, March 2017, at pp. 30-31)

Note 2: See U.S. Department of Education, “Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities; Preschool Grants for Children with Disabilities,” 2018 Federal Register, Volume 83, page 31306).

Note 3: See Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.

Note 4: See People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education.

Note 5: See, e.g., National Center for Education Statistics’ “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016,” on page 87, Table 13.2).

Note 6: See “2017 Brown Center Report on American Education,” at pg. 25.

Note 7: See Coalition to Save Our Children v. State Board of Education of Delaware.

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22 responses to “Racial Suspension Gap Not Due to Racism

  1. It’s a well reasoned and well-support argument.

    I’d still like to see specific stats for Virginia and specific categories of behaviors that are sanctioned.

    For instance, do stats hold up for all schools in Virginia – across the board no matter what percent of blacks go to a specific school.

    do schools that are primarily black have the same rates of misbehavior as school that have a higher percentage of white?

    Stats for non-blacks behaviors that are sanctioned.

    Right now – I don’t buy either side of the argument and I WILL allow that there ARE indeed differences among the races – Asian data proves that.

  2. This is a very fine and important article. It is a shame that such articles are so relatively hard to find, since they are based in facts derived from excellent, through and objective research, that anyone serious and objective about this subject has ready access too. This suggests to me how much this subject has been politicized. We all must find better ways to think clearly on these matters, and require the same of our leaders. All of our kids depend on our doing so.

    I see an idea implicit in Hans Bader’s article. The disparities in conduct between individual kids within different groups of kids within any classroom do not occur because of the race of any child. It occurs because different percentages of kids within each racial group encounter certain life experiences growing up that impact all kids the same way, for good or ill, no matter their race, be it white, Asian, black, or whatever.

    I believe this is the case. And that we must understand the best we can why and how these impacts occur, and how best we can rid them from, or enhance them within, all our children’s experience, so that all kids get the best chance at life that they all deserve, no matter the circumstances into which they’re born.

  3. Facts are stubborn things.

    But to build on Reed’s point, simply assuming that the way it is will not change so we need not try, that leads to the wrong conclusion. Unfortunately the first step will be hardest, getting everybody to face facts and accept responsibility. I give our previous president great credit for making this effort:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/16/us/politics/15cnd-obama.html

    But the pushback pops up immediately after on Google:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/10/the-dangerous-myth-of-the-missing-black-father/?utm_term=.2a9a1d4080fc

    He who has ears, let him hear.

  4. I agree with almost everyone of these well documented arguments. But well documented arguments aren’t a panacea and won’t make anyone feel bettter.
    The truth is the racism/ white privelage argument will be pushed and unfortunately in most areas struggling they will double down and make it much much worse. It’s the statues, not enough money, mean evil orange man, people wearing red hats, etc… Everything except damn i need to work hard, smile a little, take care of my family, save a little money for a rainy day, teach my kids to read and count when they start talking, feed them green stuff, smack their hands when they touch things that don’t belong to them, maybe go to church, turn off the music, etc…
    Unfortunately the horrible situations will continue which feed more horrible outcomes.

    • And the one thing I tell my girls…. never ever ever plan to have kids with a man who didn’t have a dad. How can you expect a man to be a dad if no one ever taught him to be a dad? Being a dad doesn’t mean the parents had to stay together, but boys and girls need a dad around to teach those thing dad’s teach and be the enforcer when it is appropriate. Just like boys and girls need a mom to teach the mom things as well.

  5. The “dad” thing has issues in my view just as the narrative that disparate outcomes in behavior sanctions means “racism”.

    It’s a simplistic concept at best and at worst – it really denigrates the idea that “dad” means good outcomes no matter what.

    Sorry.

    But to follow the premise if there is no “dad” around – and as a result bad things happen – like behavior problems .. the obvious question is why Dad is not around?

    Have we had policies over the years that result in “Dads” not being around ?

    If Dad does not receive a decent education and ends up doing whatever he has to do to make a living and falls into the criminal justice system as a result – do we acknowledge that aspect?

    If Mom and child end up without economic support – what happens then when BOTH mom AND DAd are not around and Mom doing whatever work she can to survive and put food on the table?

    And MOM – had her kids when she was 15… ??

    How did such circumstances come to be?

  6. I’d like to see if the stats about behavior hold together uniformly across all schools – rich or poor , rural or urban, high reduced and free lunch, low reduced and free lunch, etc.

    In other words – does the view at 10,000 feet stay in focus when you get down to the schools themselves and the higher number of behavior problems in blacks are shown to be – everywhere – no matter what school or income level , etc?

    And here’s a question about “culture” … does anyone think that a black kid being taught by a white guy might have a potential for “disrespect”?

    Northside Dude talked about Dads… how about teachers that are Male instead of Female? Is there is a difference in the classroom?

  7. The case presented in this post, and similar ones, at best, ignore the basic issue or, worse, are red herrings presented to distract from the basic issue. As a lawyer, Mr. Bader presents the legal argument that the data relating to school discipline does not constitute discrimination. Of course, it does not. For legal purposes, there would need to be disciplinary actions explicitly based on race.
    I take issue with these arguments on two grounds. First, they dispute the argument that race is an underlying, probably subconscious, factor in blacks being suspended or disciplined at higher rates than other students. Sometimes, they argue that studies indicating that race is an underlying cause were not done in Virginia, but elsewhere, as Mr. Bader argues. Paradoxically, however, they use studies and court cases from outside Virginia to counter that argument. But, more to the point, why should we think that Virginians are different from school districts in other parts of the country?

    A better argument put forth in this vein is that the data is statewide or even district wide and does not show the actual circumstances. Maybe the infractions by blacks were more serious or more frequent, thereby causing their discipline to be more severe, for example. However, there are studies that examined the data at a more granular level that concluded that race was the overriding causal factor in black students being disciplined at a higher rate. One study by faculty at American University and University of California, Davis, of discipline rates in North Carolina schools followed individual students over several years. It found that black students were less likely to be removed from school as punishment when students and teachers were the same race. (https://www.educationnext.org/teacher-race-and-school-discipline-suspensions-research/) Another study looked at discipline of elementary students in a “suburban/urban/rural consolidated school district in a mid-Atlantic state”. It controlled for many factors including demographics and past behavior and found that race was a significant factor. (Rocque, Michael, and Raymond Paternoster. “Understanding the Antecedents of the “School-to-Jail” Link: the Relationship between Race and School Discipline.” The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-) 101, no. 2 (2011): 633-65. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23074048)

    The second argument put forth against the proposition that black students are subject to more school discipline implicitly accepts that finding, but contends that those students misbehave more and, therefore, deserve the discipline they get. In this respect, Mr. Bader cites data and studies that conclude that black teens commit rates at a higher rate, they get to school late more often, and they get in more fights. Some offer the explanation provided by the Brookings study: they “come from family backgrounds associated with school behavior problems”.

    That is the point. These kids have problems that lead to school behavior problems. But, that does not mean that we should throw up our hands in frustration and suspend them. Keeping them out of school is not going to solve their problems. On the other hand, allowing them to disrupt classes and the education of other students is not acceptable, either. There are approaches other than suspension that are being tried that seem to be more effective. These approaches try to get at the roots of what is causing the students to misbehave. It is harder and takes more time than just suspending a kid, but it has better results in the long run. For example, Judge Steven Teske in Georgia has worked closely with school officials in his district to cut down on suspensions and arrests for school behaviors. For an explanation of this approach, see his explanation: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/10/11/why-this-juvenile-court-judge-worries-about-school.html. For another discussion of this different approach, see: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/12/when-restorative-justice-works/422088/.

    This is a complicated issue, not easily tackled in an Op-Ed piece. Kamras and Amundsen simplified, and perhaps overstated, their cases in order to get their points over. But, that does not mean that their arguments are not legitimate and should not be taken seriously.

    • Dick, Thanks for your reasoned analysis and reference to other reports and studies. This is exactly the kind of debate I like to see on Bacon’s Rebellion. That said, permit me to take issue with one of your key points, one not addressed by the studies you cite.

      You make the following statement, “These kids have problems that lead to school behavior problems. But, that does not mean that we should throw up our hands in frustration and suspend them.”

      I guess it depends on how severe the behavior problems are, how long they have been occurring, how incorrigible the student is, and how many other students have had their classrooms disrupted as a result. At some point, as far as I’m concerned, chronically disruptive kids should no longer get a pass. Let me ask you, do non-problem students have any rights? How do you propose to protect their interests while keeping disruptive kids in school and lavishing them with disproportionate attention by teachers and staff?

      Is there a “third way” — creating alternative environments (separate tracks, alternative schools) for unruly students, giving them an opportunity to continue to learn while removing their disruptive influence? From what I’ve learned in studying autism-related issues, it takes a special set of skills and aptitudes for teachers to deal with emotionally disturbed kids, or kids who have been raised to be rude, disrespectful, and defiant. Not everyone can do it. For most teachers, getting “training” or being inculcated with a woke consciousness is not enough. You need a special kind of person — someone capable of delivering tough love — to do it successfully.

      • Damn, Jim, you and your hard questions! It’s not enough that I point out problems; I got to come up with solutions, too?

        Yes, of course, the non-problem kids have a right not to have their classrooms totally disrupted all the time. At some point, the chronically disruptive or incorrigible kid has to be removed from the classroom or school. But, based on the data I have seen, it seems that point is coming too early in the process for many black students before they become incorrigible or chronic troublemakers.

        One answer, as suggested in the North Carolina study I cited and the Baltimore experience cited by NorthsideDude, is to have more black teachers in the schools, especially males. They could give the tough love you mention and would be respected. Another answer begins, as so much does, in the early grades. The authors of the study of elementary students suggested that the discipline experienced by some black students in the early grades turned them off school altogether. Finally, i suspect that poor reading and math skills are behind the disruptive behavior of many high schoolers. So, more attention to building those skills in the elementary grades would likely pay off with better behavior later.

        I realize that these are all long-term solutions and do not help the teachers who have to deal with these students today. I also realize that I have the luxury of commenting from the sidelines and don’t have to face these problems in real life. One has to be a saint to be a teacher.

        As for the third way of alternative programs, I am quickly getting out of my depth and comfort zone. In perusing studies and data related to this issue, I came across some on alternative programs. My impression was that they have not proved very successful. I think they would have to be designed very carefully, so as to be substantive and not just serve as a permanent study hall.

  8. According to Baltimore it is important that black kids be taught by black teachers and especially male: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/k-12/bs-md-ci-black-teachers-20180822-story.html
    It appears the “problem” may lie with the white women who disproportionately make up our teaching pool.
    I do not agree schools are here to teach kids to be good responsible people. They are there to teach math, composition, periodic tables, mytosis, etc…Learning to be a functioning member of society needs to be taught by members of society. No one can be expected to take a kid and in 6 hours, 5 days a week, for 9 months, over 12 years – reform what the kid is learning or not learning at home from his relatives or community. Sorry no matter your background being an ass is never acceptable.
    And note in the story where it is pointed out that the man at school is needed to be a father figure to these young men and a disciplinarian. I stand behind my premise that a dad figure in the picture leads to a better outcome most of the time… of course not every time, but most of the time.
    This is the reason most primates take the time to raise their offspring in family units for multiple years. It is a evolutionary leap that leads to potentially better outcomes even though it requires more effort and primates are putting “all their genetic eggs in one basket”. Primates rely on teaching, patterning, and supervision. Sometimes the young guys need a swift kick in the pants or stern toungue lashings to get straight, I know I needed my share and got them from my dad, also my friends’ dads, coaches, and back then neighbors. I was told I was expected to go to school, get a job, work hard, feed my kids, and fend for them above all else. I did that because it’s right and also because my family and friends would shame me if I didnt. That’s what is expected by the people of my community or “culture”. I speak mostly about young men because they typically fail their children by not providing, abandoning, or abusing kids or mom.

  9. Re: “I do not agree schools are here to teach kids to be good responsible people.” Yes it would be far better to have that stable nuclear family with dad at home providing the guidance and example you describe. But what’s out there is: latchkey kids raised by single moms and the streets. Should these be abandoned as “beyond remediation” in order to concentrate on conventional education, or should the Baltimore, etc., schools at least try to do what they can?

  10. Am puzzled my one thing.Why is Bacon’s Rebellion so hot to trot on somehow diminishing or putting down the idea that there is no racism in the public school system? What you have is a bunch of white, financially comfortable, politically conservative (for the most part) guys opining what non white children and their parents go through.

    Reed hit it on the head when he addressed his comment as “gentlemen.”

    How many of you have children or grandchildren in public schools? How many are in inner city public schools? Why are there no people of color posting on this blog which used to be much more policy focussed and bipartisan? If you have never stepped foot in a public grade or high school, why gives you the right to to be so cock sure about your opinions?

    • “Why is Bacon’s Rebellion so hot to trot on somehow diminishing or putting down the idea that there is no racism in the public school system?” You impute a motive to BR, and by implication to every one of us who participate here, for wanting to look at solutions to the obvious problems of our public schools that do NOT presume a racist cause. Indeed some of us think that racism is alleged by, e.g., Mr. Kamras, mainly to preclude intelligent discussion of other solutions. And you do the same when you say we are unqualified to have an opinion because we don’t have children of our own in inner-city schools. Is there zero racism in education today? No one here has made that claim. Is curing racism the answer to what ails our schools? That’s the question. Your ad hominem attacks on our motives are no answer.

    • Racism? Yep. Asian-American students suspended at one fourth the rate of white / Hispanic students. By the numbers – clear evidence of Asian American supremacy and institutional racism against white and Hispanic students. The numbers prove it, right?

      Why do I get a voice? Because it’s my money liberals want to take to cure the ills of what they perceive as institutional racism. You want my money, you get my opinion.

      Bacons’ Rebellion used to be more evenly balanced between left and right. But then you and Risse stopped participating. That was a shame. BR was a better forum when it had active participation from the right and the left.

      As far as never having stepped foot in a public grade or high school … I went to both exclusively. Growing up, I never stepped foot in a private school. My oldest son graduated from public school. How about you?

  11. I agree how with the premise that white guys shouldn’t speak at all about inner city black problems. I agree so much with this point, similar to the Hawaiian Senator telling white men to shut up, that I am in fact shutting up.
    I don’t volunteer anymore in my inner city neighborhood where I used to do scouts and tutor. I also don’t give money to any organization that touts race or diversity as their first message.
    If white men are not welcome in the conversation and can’t offer solutions then my time and money is not needed either.
    And I did attend an inner city high school. I was raised in a broken home where we did get welfare.
    My whiteness will now bow out, I guess growing up in similar circumstances means nothing, skin color, sex, and political affiliation trumps all. How dare I be a white, male, libertarian, and college educated professional offering an opinion on the disenfranchised.

    • I suggest that folks like you NorrhsideDude and also Don, because of your experience, are vital keys to the solutions that can save these innocent children. If you guys, and we all, give up the fight for these kids, who will protect these kids from this corrupt system? No one. We can be sure of that. Look at how these kids have been destroyed, generation after generation, for the last 50 years. See Thomas Sowell. That indictment of chronic destruction going on for generation after generation, now includes all kids everywhere in America, a destruction that is spreading like wildfire, fueled by our entire educational system, top to bottom. A genocide against kids and culture has been going on for decades in American education.

  12. Don,
    I apologize. But I do get annoyed with this constant ranting about how African-American children are creating a great social problem because they grew up without Daddies. It’s the same conservative line of crap I grew up with. It supports the same old narrative dating back to the 1950s and 1960s during integration. Not every African-American grows up in Gilpin Court in Richmond but that’s the impression you might get on this blog. I also take offense at “Social Justice Warriors.” It is so Archie Bunker sounding.Again, it reminds me of older people tut-tutting about “hippies” back in the 1960s when I was in high school.
    Hey, I am all for the free flow of opinion and respect conservative views but “SJWs” is a primitive dog whistle.

    • Peter – WADR, your position sounds like unless you agree with everything the left is doing, you are racist. Now shut up, don’t question anything and pay your taxes, which, BTW, should be higher. And yet we are now hearing silence on the blackface presentation of an about-to-be MD, who first admitted his actions and then denied them like a common burglar. Some polls indicate that this behavior is acceptable to many blacks because Northam is a Democrat.

      What does that tell us?

    • When discussing these matters, it is also useful to study facts like those brought to our attention by the above article, Racial Suspension Gap Not Due to Racism, written by Hans Bader. It’s also useful to study the facts developed over a lifetime of work by Thomas Sowell found in article Don brought to our attention, namely:

      https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/03/the_decline_of_the_africanamerican_family.html

      Such study is far more useful in protecting and promoting the interests of all of our children then our continuing to dwell on myths, red herrings, insult, scapegoat, and race-baiting. A genocide against our kids and culture has been ongoing now for decades in American education. It’s past time to learn from our mistakes, and focus on fixing real problems that for 50 years now have been ruining the lives and futures of ever more of our children.

    • I am more with you than against you. Racism is still alive in Virginia. It’s more simmering than overt but it’s there. A significant percentage of Virginians can’t understand why a gigantic (6 stories?) statue of Robert E Lee in Richmond causes African-Americans heartburn. I recently read an article published by Virginius Darby in 1981. It was a full throttle repudiation of the idea that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with slave Sally Hemmings. Mr. Darby’s emotional outrage at such a claim seeped from the article. As it turns out, DNA evidence analyzed subsequent to Darby’s article demonstrates that Thomas Jefferson was the father of all of Hemmings’ children.

      My understanding is that Virginius Darby was open minded and somewhat liberal. So, why the angry 1981 refutation of a broadly circulated rumor (that proved to be true)? Hmmm.

      Social Justice Warrior is a silly term. Who opposes social justice? And “warrior” is obviously a gratuitous addition.

  13. Most of this ranting and raving stems from the fact that Hillary Clinton was not elected president. The establishment remains enraged that a bunch of deplorables voted for Donald Trump. It’s bad enough losing to any Republican but to Donald Trump. The world that permitted such a travesty must be attacked.

    Here the Democrats had not only a woman but also a Clinton. Hillary Clinton was the political Eve but one who would not fail with her husband Adam. She would not be banished to New York State in defeat but would enter the Heaven of the White House. God/the Fates had designated Hillary Clinton from before all time to be elected the first female president of the United States and leader of the free world. She also had the advantage of being exempt from all the rules that mere mortals, most especially Republicans, are subject to. The eternal truth is that Hillary Clinton was entitled to be elected president.

    Yet deplorables and, yes, even white women as a group, did not vote for her. She lost and to a dud and phony like Donald Trump. History was denied its salvation. More important, a Clinton was denied.

    There is no intention from the left to reach out halfway to the right. The world must be punished for its failure to elect Hillary Clinton president.

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