The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Leah Walker, director of equity and community for the Virginia Department of Education

Two days ago, a bureaucratic entity known as the “Special Committee to Review the Standards of Accreditation” held a teleconference to discuss, among other issues, the disproportionality of punishments meted out to students of different races in Virginia public schools.  In that discussion, Leah Walker, director of equity and community for the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), made a remarkable admission: the sea change in disciplinary policies across the state, designed to reduce disparity between blacks and whites, is not working. In fact, she implies, the disparity might be getting worse.

Walker doesn’t put it that way, of course. As VDOE’s equity czar, she’s not about to admit that the policies she’s been advocating are failing. Here’s what she said (my emphasis).

If we don’t begin to hold our school personnel accountable for the biases and other factors that can contribute to that type of discipline dispensation, we’re not going to actually see any change in the system. So, we’ve been measuring and reporting school discipline disproportionality for many, many, many years. In fact, in the past several years the department has placed an increased emphasis on the reporting and created greater transparency just in the fact that we now display the data in a proportional way: the percentage of student population versus the percentage of student suspensions. …

We would like to say that that resulted in some positive change amongst outcomes that we’re seeing for students. But in fact it hasn’t. What we’re seeing is that discipline disproportionality has continued to rise in the state despite all of our efforts at increased transparency and using the bully pulpit and all of the other levers that are available to us as [unintelligible] and education leaders.

According to a recent VDOE report, “Discipline Disproportionality: Measurement and Reporting,” black students comprise 22% of all student enrollments but 54% of all students suspended. This is true despite the fact that VDOE and its allies in local school districts have foisted into place a new paradigm for dealing with disciplinary issues. The old system system, as I explained here, referred violent offenders to law enforcement, meted out suspensions liberally, and kicked trouble makers out of class. The McAuliffe and Northam administrations replaced the system with one built around the therapeutic approach of coaching, de-escalation, “restorative justice,” and returning discipline-challenged students to the classroom.

Those changes date back to 2015 and 2016. More recently, the Northam administration has overlaid them with programs designed to heighten awareness of racial “inequities” in all aspects of public education and to achieve greater cultural sensitivity at all levels of teaching and administration. As Walker put it, VDOE has been using every policy “lever” it can think of to reduce the “discipline disproportionality.” The changes have had one intended impact: Disciplinary infractions reported by school districts have gone way down.

Yet, after years of effort, according to a recent VDOE report, “Discipline Disproportionality: Measurement and Reporting,” black students still account 22% of all student enrollments but comprise 54% of all students suspended. I don’t know how that compares to previous years — the report did not say — but Walker implies that the disparity has gotten worse. As she said, “disproportionality has continued to rise.”

Clearly, something is not working as hoped. What could explain the divergence of good intentions and hard reality? Walker cites a need to “hold our school personnel accountable for the biases.” Have school teachers and principles have become more racist over the past few years? Are they, despite all of Team Northam’s efforts, less attuned to the differential in rates of suspension and other punishments for disruption? Is it possible that school officials are still targeting black students — even though do not appear to be targeting Asian or Hispanic students, people of color supposedly victimized by the same white-supremacist institutions?

If these things are true, then the VDOE has been a colossal failure. VDOE has made the system more racist, not less. I don’t buy it. To the contrary, I have argued for the following chain of causation: the more “woke” a school system is, the more teachers and administrators harp on racial injustice and talk about white bias, privilege, and fragility; the more black students feel victimized and aggrieved; the more black students defy illegitimate “white” norms of behavior, and the more disruptive they are; and the more teachers and administrations feel compelled, despite all incentives to the contrary, to punish the most severe incidents.

Is that an explanation that the Northam administration would ever embrace, or even explore? Not an ice cube’s chance in hell. To do so would be to admit to monumental failure. Team Northam will resolutely continue down the same path, making matters steadily worse.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


2 responses to “The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”

  1. Time will tell whether equity officers/officials will function like other state and local government officials and employees or whether they function like political commissars who impose political and ideological conformity on other state and local government officials and employees.

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    I always liked the expression you’ve chosen for the title because it completely ignores the flogger. Nothing like a cat-o-nine for getting a good workout.

Leave a Reply