Study Claims Early Discipline of Black, Hispanic Children Causes More Adult Jail Time

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New research published Tuesday at Education Next claims to have found that early strict discipline of black and Hispanic children causes an increase in later adult crime and incarceration, an outcome the authors assert proves the existence of a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The researchers who conducted the study are all from education schools: Andrew Bacher-Hicks, assistant professor of education at Boston University; Stephen B. Billings, associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder; and David J. Deming, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The authors state as the premise of the study:

Black and Hispanic students are far more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled, and Black and Hispanic Americans are disproportionately represented in the nation’s prisons.

They then propose to answer the question of whether or not there is “a causal link between experiencing strict school discipline as a student and being arrested or incarcerated as an adult.”

Despite research that shows completing more years of schooling, enrolling in better schools, and graduating from high school all diminish future criminal behavior, the authors still state there is “little evidence on the mechanisms by which a school can have a long-run influence on criminal activity.”

The researchers proceeded to use measurement of middle school suspension rates in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina where half of all students changed schools in a single year. They estimated a school’s disciplinary “strictness” based on suspension rates before the change in schools and used what they called this “natural experiment” to analyze how a stricter school affects criminal behavior in adults.

The authors found “young adolescents who attend schools with high suspension rates are substantially more likely to be arrested and jailed as adults.”

“These long-term, negative impacts in adulthood apply across a school’s population, not just to students who are suspended during their school years,” the researchers state, elaborating:

Students assigned to middle schools that are one standard deviation stricter—equivalent to being at the 84th percentile of strictness versus the mean—are 3.2 percentage points more likely to have ever been arrested and 2.5 percentage points more likely to have ever been incarcerated as adults. They also are 1.7 percentage points more likely to drop out of high school and 2.4 percentage points less likely to attend a 4-year college. These impacts are much larger for Black and Hispanic male students.

Furthermore, the authors say school principals are “the major driver of differences in the number of suspensions from one school to the next.”

The study claims to have found “early censure of school misbehavior causes increases in adult crime – that there is, in fact, a school-to-prison pipeline.”

“Further, we find that the negative impacts from strict disciplinary environments are largest for minorities and males, suggesting that suspension policies expand preexisting gaps in educational attainment and incarceration,” the researchers state, adding the study showed only “limited evidence” that removing disruptive students from classrooms so that others can concentrate on schoolwork achieves a positive effect.

The authors conclude:

Any effort to maintain safe and orderly school climates must take into account the clear and negative consequences of exclusionary discipline practices for young students, and especially young students of color, which last well into adulthood.

“As the nation continues to grapple with questions about racial equity and police reform, the contributing causal role that school-discipline practices play in raising the risk of criminality in adulthood cannot be ignored,” the authors declare.

The report reflects on the claim of “disparate impact,” that black and Hispanic students experience school discipline in the form of suspension and expulsion at a disproportionately higher rate than white students, and that the difference is due to systemic racism.

The study is released as Catherine Lhamon, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the U.S. Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights – the same post she held in the Obama administration – is expected to restore the Obama-era race-based school discipline practices that rely on leniency for students of color.

After Donald Trump became president and revoked many of the Obama-era policies championed by Lhamon, she chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights until she assumed the role of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) legal affairs secretary.

Attorney Peter Kirsanow, a member of the Civil Rights Commission, told Breitbart News it appears Lhamon “is poised to reinstitute one of the most destructive policies of the Obama administration,” one that she herself delivered.

“That policy essentially forced schools to equalize disciplinary outcome by race,” Kirsanow said. “The obvious problem with such policy is that it ignores the fact that black and Hispanic students engage in violent and disruptive classroom behavior meriting suspension and expulsion at a significantly higher rate than white and Asian students.”

As a member of the Civil Rights Commission, Kirsanow, who also chairs the board of directors of the Center for New Black Leadership, was presented with the evidence showing the policy was “an utter disaster, as would be expected by anyone with a milligram of common sense.”

“The violent and disruptive students remained in class and violent assaults skyrocketed by more than 1000 more assaults per day,” he explained. “In 2016, 130,000 fewer students were expelled than in the previous year; violent assaults increased by 160,000. Those harmed most? The black and brown students who were trying to learn in such an environment.”

Regarding the current study claiming to prove the existence of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” Kirsanow observed the “’stricter’ schools noted in the study are generally those that have a higher proportion of violent and disruptive students.”

“Keeping those students in class will produce the same catastrophic outcome as the first time it was tried – with negligible, if any, reduction in incarceration rates, but a noticeable increase in hospital admission rates,” he asserted.

A study conducted in 2019 by Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) affirmed that unstable family structure, including chaotic households and those with only one parent, is a primary factor in racial disparities in school behavior and suspensions.

Black-led Minnesota-based education and family movement TakeCharge took note of the study in a tweet:

The IFS authors found in their analysis of the National Household Education Survey (NHES) that, in 2016, about 24 percent of black elementary and high school students had been suspended at least once, while eight percent of white students and only four percent of Asian students had the same experience.

The researchers observed NHES also showed “black students are far more likely to be living apart from their married birth parents in the home (72%) compared to white students (37%) or Asian students (26%).”

“These family structure differences, then, are likely to play a role in inter- and intra-racial disparities in student conduct and discipline,” the authors said, adding:

Indeed, among black students who do live with both married birth parents, suspension rates are less than half as large as those for black students living in other family types: 12% versus 28%. The suspension rate for black students living in intact families, 12%, is also less than the suspension rate for white students from non-intact families, 13%.

After the Trump administration revoked the race-based disciplinary policy, under Lhamon’s leadership, six members of the Civil Rights Commission filed a report that stated:

[D]ata have consistently shown that the overrepresentation of students of color in school discipline rates is not due to higher rates of misbehavior by these students, but instead is driven by structural and systemic factors.

Both Kirsanow and Commissioner Gail Heriot dissented from the report.

Upon hearing of Lhamon’s nomination to the same post she held in the Obama administration, Kirsanow predicted to Breitbart News, “Fueled by the Biden administration’s proposed rule that would give priority funding to Critical Race Theory programs, public schools will be immersed in identity-driven discourse.”

“Parents alarmed by the progressive indoctrination currently pervading public schools ain’t seen nothing yet,” he added.

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