There’s an old Mark Twain saying that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But without any statistics to support its point, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has stamped its imprimatur on the central lie of school discipline reform, that “students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their peers.”
If true, this would be astonishing. Black students are disciplined at more than three times the rate of white students. If their actual rates of misbehavior were precisely statistically equal, then the only explanation for the discipline disparity would be that teachers and administrators are tremendously, deplorably, and irredeemably racially biased.
But even the commission’s chair, Catherine Lhamon, won’t defend the claim. When Washington Post reporter Laura Meckler pointed out that the commission’s report, “Beyond Suspensions,” contained no citations that actually supported this point, Lhamon fell back to the position that the statistical disparity in school discipline “is not explained by differences in behavior.”
As I have covered in my review of the literature, there are several studies suggesting that the disparity is not entirely explained by differences in behavior. But as researchers have made more rigorous efforts to control for behavior, the remainder that could plausibly be attributed to teacher racial bias has shrunk dramatically