Soundings

Heather Mac Donald
There’s a Quota for That
Tucson schools determine to fix minority discipline rates.
Autumn 2009

As part of its plan to comply with a federal desegregation order now decades old, Tucson’s school district adopted racial quotas in school discipline this summer. Schools that suspend or expel Hispanic and black students at higher rates than white students will now get a visit from a district “Equity Team” and will be expected to remedy those disparities by reducing their minority discipline rates. The Tucson equity plan shows that when Hispanics replace blacks as the dominant ethnic minority, as in Tucson and throughout the Southwest, the regime of double standards for behavior remains unchanged.

Tucson’s school district is 54 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, and 7 percent black. It boasts an active “Mexican American Studies Department” that sponsors classes in high schools and middle schools to provide “social equity for Hispanic students.” Despite these attentions, the Hispanic high school suspension rate—10.5 percent of all Hispanic students in 2007–08—is 40 percent higher than the rate for white students (7.4 percent), though it’s dwarfed by the black suspension rate (16.3). Tucson’s new plan, first reported by the Arizona Republic, instructs schools to move away from “discipline” and toward “restorative justice.” (In the adult context, restorative justice typically features face-to-face encounters between criminals and their victims in lieu of jail or prison time.)

Tucson’s administrators explain their disciplinary quota pressure on the ground that students removed from class lose valuable learning time, exacerbating the already great ethnic academic achievement gap. Such thinking ignores the students who are not disrupting class or threatening teachers and who also lose valuable learning time when unruly or violent students remain in the classroom. Surely those students have a greater claim to “equity” in school resources than gang members do.

The administrators want local principals to examine disparate suspension rates “in detail for root causes.” I can save them some time: the root cause of disparate rates of suspension is disparate rates of bad behavior. As for the root cause of that bad behavior, the biggest one is single parenting. If the Tucson school board wants to publicize the essential role of fathers in raising law-abiding children, it might start solving the problem of disciplinary imbalance. But until then, it should let schools resolve their discipline problems in a color-blind fashion, without worrying about a visit from an “Equity Team.”

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Research for her article was supported by the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

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