Go to the U of M home page

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Survey of Gentrification and Decline: Our Report on American Neighborhood Change

We're very pleased to announce the completion of American Neighborhood Change in the 21st Century, a significant project we've been working on for many months. It's a new study of the ways American cities and regions have evolved since 2000, designed to capture, in unprecedented detail, the process of growth, decline, displacement, and poverty concentration across the nation. The study is available on the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity website.

The study categorizes all US census tracts by the changes they underwent between 2000 and 2016. The report develops and utilizes a four-dimensional model of neighborhood change, which differentiates between overall growth, low-income displacement, low-income concentration, or abandonment. This spectrum of neighborhood change was devised to solve a problem faced by some other studies: the tendency to analyze neighborhood decline or gentrification in isolation, and in the process ignore the relative prevalence of each. As a result, while researchers could suggest a particular area was gentrifying or declining, it was difficult to resolve debates about which type of change was a bigger problem, and where.

Our new study also corrects a major shortcoming of some prior research into neighborhood change, which is the tendency to artificially omit many geographic areas from analysis, either because they are initially deemed "ungentrifiable" or because they fall outside central city borders. Housing markets and population flows do not stop at city borders, and middle-class areas as well as poor areas are constantly facing pressure to change. By considering all tracts eligible for change regardless of location or jurisdiction, we hope our study can provide the holistic view some previous efforts have lacked.

Chart 1, from the report, neatly summarizes those holistic findings (click to enlarge):


As the chart suggests, the study reveals that dramatically more Americans live in areas experiencing low-income concentration than any other form of neighborhood change--and most of those residents live in the suburbs. Low-income displacement, a hallmark of gentrification, is the next most common type of change. A relatively small number of people live in areas experiencing outright abandonment across the income spectrum, although these areas represent some of the most trouble neighborhoods in America.

Other findings from the 50 largest metropolitan areas include:

  • At the metropolitan level, low-income residents are invariably exposed to neighborhood decline more than gentrification. As of 2016, there was no metropolitan region in the nation where a low-income person was more likely to live in an economically expanding neighborhood than an economically declining neighborhood.
  • Low-income displacement is the predominant trend in a limited set of central cities, primarily located on the eastern and western coasts. Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. have the most widespread displacement.
  • On net, far fewer low-income residents are affected by displacement than concentration. Since 2000, the low-income population of economically expanding areas has fallen by 464,000, while the low-income population of economically declining areas has grown 5,369,000.
  • White flight corresponds strongly with neighborhood change. Between 2000 and 2016, the white population of economically expanding areas grew by 44 percent. In declining areas, white population fell by 22 percent over the same span.
  • Nonwhite residents are far more likely to live in economically declining areas. In 2016, nearly 35 percent of black residents lived in economically declining areas, while 9 percent lived in economically expanding areas.

Table 3 from the report, below, shows the population exposure to different kinds of neighborhood change across different metropolitan areas (click to enlarge):


As the table suggests, low-income concentration is commonplace in most metros and the overwhelming trend in many. Declining industrial regions like Detroit or Cleveland the show largest amount of concentration. By contrast, only a few regions have a larger share of overall population living in areas with growth or low-income displacement than in areas with decline.

These findings only scrape the surface of the study. The full study includes a plethora of resources for analyzing neighborhood change, designed to be easily interpreted by policymakers and residents alike. These include an interactive national map of low-income displacement and concentration, detailed tabulations of the effects of neighborhood change on over 20 demographic subgroups, and individual reports tabulating and mapping types of neighborhood change for each of the 50 largest metropolitan areas. We're particularly proud of these regional maps, which we feel are highly informative and easy to read.


We'll be writing up many of the report's other findings over the coming days and weeks, but for now, we'd love for you to peruse the these findings yourself at https://www.law.umn.edu/institute-metropolitan-opportunity/gentrification

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Summit for Civil Rights to Tackle Racial Justice, Economic Equality at Rutgers University

Congressional leadership, major labor leaders, and some of the United States’ top legal and social science thinkers will come together at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey on May 2 and 3 to help rebuild a national movement to defeat segregation, promote racial justice, and provide economic equality. Leaders and advocates for civil rights, labor rights, and economic fairness are invited to join. 

The 2nd annual Summit for Civil Rights comes at a difficult political moment for the civil rights community, when its values are being forgotten in institutions such as the federal Department of Justice and the U.S. Supreme Court. This national Summit is intended to reverse this narrative of defeat and decline, and explore the ways in which this dark political moment is in fact a time of immense social opportunity for racial and social justice, rooted in unexpected places. Growing diversity, particularly in the suburbs that elect a majority of the nation’s political leadership, has made the politics civil rights viable once again. In these places, an unrecognized and untapped coalition is forming, one that could reshape America.

The time and place of the Summit were chosen to take advantage of two major developments in civil rights: the advancement of two major statewide school desegregation lawsuits -- one in New Jersey and the other in Minnesota. At a time when the federal government has often been unfavorable to concerns about segregation, these pioneering lawsuits seek to use state constitutions to require state legislatures to pursue the long-delayed objective of school integration. In both states, this legislative and legal activity has given rise to opportunities for local and community organizing. 

The Summit seeks to leverage these developments to expand its diverse, multiracial coalition. That coalition will work to interweave school integration remedies into efforts to create housing justice and economic opportunity.

The first Summit for Civil Rights, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota in November 2017, was a significant success. It brought together civil rights leaders including then-Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. James E. Clyburn, and former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale to formulate the principles of a state-by-state strategy for racial and economic opportunity. That strategy included legal, legislative, and community organizing components, all of which are reflected in the Minnesota and New Jersey proceedings.

In New Jersey, Summit leaders and other experts will grapple with the political, economic and policy implications of these school desegregation lawsuits. They will consider the role diverse school districts might play in advancing broader civil rights objectives. Local practitioners, local and national activists, and others are welcome to attend. Prominent elected officials and civil rights leaders currently slated to attend include:

  • Rep. James E. Clyburn
  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman
  • Rep. Frank Pallone
  • Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
  • New Jersey Sen. Nia H. Gill
  • Atlantic City Freeholder Ashley Bennett
  • Rev. Cornell Brooks
  • NAACP President Derrick Johnson
  • NEA Vice President Becky Pringle
  • Prof. Diane Ravitch
In addition, speakers will include over two dozen other top labor, faith, political, and intellectual leaders. For more information about speakers, please visit the Summit for Civil Rights website. Registration is available here
WHERE: Labor Center at Rutgers University, 50 Labor Center Way, New Brunswick, N.J.
WHEN: Starts Thursday, May 2 at 1:00 p.m. (welcome reception and recognition ceremony for Rep. James E. Clyburn starts at 6:00 p.m.); Summit concludes Friday, May 3 at 4:00 p.m.
The Summit for Civil Rights is presented by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, the Labor Education Action Research Network at Rutgers, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and Building One America, with support from the Ford Foundation and the UAW. For more details about the event, please visit the Summit website, https://summitforcivilrights.orghttps://summitforcivilrights.org/.

CONTACTS:
  • Myron Orfield, Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity Director, orfield@umn.edu, 612-625-7976
  • Will Stancil, Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity Fellow, stanc047@umn.edu, 612-624-8329


SD News Roundup, Part 1: The big admissions stories

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

It’d be impossible to write a school diversity news roundup for March 2019 without talking about two major stories. On March 12th, we learned about an elaborate bribery scheme that wealthy white parents used as “a side door” into America’s most elite colleges. And, less than a week later, the New York Times wrote a story about appallingly low admission rates for Black and Latinx students in NYC’s elite high schools. A commonly cited example: in the city’s most selective school, Stuyvesant High School, only 7 Black students were admitted for the upcoming fall, out of 895 spots.  
It’s rare for school diversity to make mainstream news, but these stories are apparently shocking enough to be exceptions. (I even found the NYC high school story on Fox News, of all places.) When major outlets pick up this topic, it often has mixed results at best. In this case, understandable outrage over a small number of schools/universities can soak up a disproportionate amount of public attention, ultimately obscuring the many, more subtle and daily ways that racial injustice plays out in education. 
Nonetheless, when covered well, bald injustice like this at least has the potential to reach a broader audience and hopefully inspire greater awareness/debate etc about common school diversity issues. Especially because they came out so close together, these cases combined to illustrate themes that animate many lesser known stories- that, in the name of meritocracy, the system is thoroughly stacked against low-income Black and Latinx students; yet, at the same time, white people enjoy privileges that expose meritocracy as meaningless, invented and even laughable. 
In this post, then, I wanted to highlight a few great pieces that indeed used these stories to talk about broader social and/or historical issues that maintain racial injustice in education. That’s part 1 of the roundup. In part 2, I’ll talk about a topic that may have been lost altogether in the news last month. In particular, there have been a few great op-eds lately, written by white parents in defense of diverse schools. I’ll write about these pieces in light of new research on how white parents make decisions about where to send their kids to school. So, stay tuned! For now, here’s my favorite coverage from the big stories:
College Admissions Scandal
  • “Ignorance Was Bliss for the Children of the College-Admissions Scandal,” by Will Stancil in the Atlantic. Will compares the blatant unfairness of the college admissions scandal with the many, small, daily ways that white people receive unearned benefits. The piece calls for white people to try to become more aware for their unearned privileges and, ultimately, it questions “whether the real fraud is the idea of merit in the first place—that maybe ‘deservingness’ is a shoddy basis for organizing a society altogether.”
  • “Operation Varsity Blues is Just Another Tiki Torch,” by Courtney Everts Mykytyn at IntegratedSchools.org. Similar theme here, as Courtney’s piece calls attention to the more subtle ways that white privilege shapes opportunity for some while foreclosing opportunity for others. In my favorite line from the post, she observes that “while we shame the celebrities who got pinched, we look away from the routine ways that opportunities are hoarded in our pubic ed system. We love the egregious for giving us cover from the everyday.”
NYC High School Inequity
First, in case you missed this one, here’s a few key details from the original story:
  • NYC has eight specialized high schools, and admission to these schools is based exclusively on the scores from a single exam, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). As many articles pointed out, these are the only specialized high schools in the country that use only a single criterion for admissions- imagine, for a second, that there was an elite public university in the country, where tuition was free, and it only used the SAT to decide who gets in.
  • Admissions letters for these 8 schools went out in March, and the rates for Black and Latinx students were indeed appalling. Overall, only 190 Black students were admitted across the 8 schools, which encompasses 4,800 seats. As noted above, only 7 Black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School; that number was only slightly better at 33 for Latinx students. The original story has a great graphic breakdown of admission by race at each school.
A lot of news outlets covered this story. In their recent newsletter, the National Coalition on School Diversity has a good list of stories for anyone who wants to dive in further. For now, I want to use my list to highlight a few perspectives/topics that were missing from the broader coverage:
  • “NYC High School Admissions Creates Winners And Losers. I Lost.” by Muhammed Deen in the Gothamist. This was one of only a very few pieces that features a student’s perspective on the admissions system/process. It was written by a NYC high school grad who is now a freshman at Hunter College. He talks about his experience navigating the complicated high school selection process as an eighth grader and describes the inequities at his high school: “We weren’t allowed to take textbooks home. Our calculators rarely worked. I could not exit the building for lunch due to my school’s metal detector.” The author is an organizer with Teens Take Charge, which just launched an Enrollment Equity Campaign that spans all 450 public high schools in NYC. You can learn more about the group/campaign in this short video or by searching for #IntegrateNOW on twitter.
  • “The New York City school controversy shows why standardized testing is broken,” by Jose Vilson at Vox.com. Written by an NYC teacher and public education advocate, this piece describes how teachers and their students are affected by the rejection letters. The author notes that “I’ve had to console far too many brilliant students who didn’t get chosen for the high school they wanted to go to. They checked off all the proverbial boxes: great attendance, high grades, strong work ethic, and had positive relationships with adults and peers.” But “because a student’s score on that test is the only criterion for high school admissions, the stressful three hours spent taking this exam could determine a student’s future.” This article also makes an important point about the policy that established the SHSAT, which was set by state law (!), not by the city. Nearly every article notes that it will require a change in state law, then, to adjust admissions policies for these schools. However, the discussion almost always ends there, potentially leaving readers with the impression this is just a random/quirky thing that makes the process more complicated. Instead, this article connects the reliance on standardized assessment to the use of IQ tests as “a tool for pundits to argue that people of darker skins were intellectually inferior.” The author notes that the 1971 law – known as Hecht-Calandra – was itself a debate about race and enrollment.
  • “Segregation Has Been the Story of New York City’s Schools for 50 Years,” by Eliza Shapiro in the New York Times. This is a historical look at segregation in NYC, written by the author of the original story about admissions rates. There’s a lot of great stuff in the article, but I want to focus on the background for Hecht-Calandra. As described also in this short podcast, race was central to the debate over the bill. Then, as now, “critics said the exam was ‘culturally biased’ and discriminatory against black and Hispanic students” and supporters of the test argued that the specialized schools “could be saved only if, once and for all, it is established that there can be no tampering with the standards of merit and achievement that have been the basis for admission.”
  • “Assembly Votes High School Curb,” by Francis X. Clines in the New York Times on May 20, 1971. If you have any lingering doubts about the role of race in Hecht-Calandra law, check out the New York Times archive from when the law was passed. It was ugly and sad. At the time, NYC’s mayor and chancellor seemed willing to reconsider the use of the exam. Specifically, when the schools chancellor merely initiated a study to look into whether the specialized high schools “‘were ‘culturally biased’ against blacks and Puerto Ricans,” supporters of the exam bypassed the city and went to Albany where they found “a white cross-section of Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals” to sponsor and pass the bill. 
  • During the debate, opponents of the bill challenged their colleagues in the legislature for “joining the racist conservatives” while others gestured back directly, saying they were “offended and deeply hurt” by the suggestion. After the vote, mostly everyone left the chamber, except a Black lawmaker from Buffalo who lamented that “I thought by coming here I would make some minimal change,” before sitting down with tears in his eyes. Even more heartbreaking, the law has worked exactly as opponents feared. Here’s a table from the 1971 coverage (written in the race/ethnicity categories of that time). As pointed out by Eliza Shapiro, “Stuyvesant was 10.3 percent black then; now it is 0.8 percent black.”
Meanwhile, wealthy folks have been buying their way into elite colleges. While we scoff at the excess, we accept the more common/subtle privileges as natural even when they’ve grown, over time, to become absurd. At the very least, folks who write stories about NYC’s specialized high schools should talk about the history here, and supporters of entrance exams should have to somehow address or respond to it. 
Again, however, despite the egregiousness here, it’s important to remember that any policy changes to NYC’s specialized high schools will only affect the 8 schools. It’s undoubtedly important, but it shouldn’t overshadow other important school diversity efforts in NYC and the larger struggle for school diversity across the country. True of the big stories and the comparatively smaller ones- broader change will come when white people begin to see the value of school diversity for their children, other children and society on the whole, and when they begin to act on it. In an effort to be more hopeful/uplifting, I’ll focus on those efforts in part 2 of the roundup next week.

Friday, March 1, 2019

SD News Roundup: Suburban School Segregation

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

I want to start with an aspect of school segregation history that is important but may not be well known. Starting in the 1970-71 school year, Longview, TX was under a court desegregation order that included busing more than 600 Black students to formerly all-white schools. During the summer before busing was to begin, two white men entered the maintenance yard where the district parked its buses for the summer. They had two dozen bombs, which they arranged under successive rows of buses before detonating all of them simultaneously. According to this article from the NYT archive, 36 buses were damaged in all, with several considered “total losses.” Although suspects were not immediately evident, the two men were eventually found and convicted to 11 years each in prison. One of them had earlier set off dynamite at the home of a Black woman who lived in a white neighborhood. 
This story is retold in a stunning new series called Dis-Integration from the Texas Tribune, which looks at contemporary school segregation in four Texas towns: Longview, Edgewood, Richardson and San Antonio. One major theme: While we’d love to believe that this kind of senseless racism is stuck in the past, it is not so much gone as it has just changed shape. 
These are places where political apathy and a near-complete absence of oversight, guidance or public accountability threatens to allow schools to slide further into resegregation. As always, I recommend a full read- the stories are each relatively short and extremely engaging. Here’s a quick summary that, in the interest of space, focuses mainly on Longview.
Starting in 1970, Longview, along with virtually the entire state of Texas, was under a court desegregation order, following a ruling from a federal judge. Longview was only recently released from its order, leaving just two districts in the state that remain under a desegregation order. Immediately after the order was lifted, the school board voted unanimously to implement a voluntary school integration plan that keeps some of the goals of the long-standing order. Longview is changing rapidly, however, and the the series points out that leaders are faced with new threats to their commitment to educational equity. Notably, the district is struggling with “providing an equal education to an exploding population of Hispanic students — many of them immigrants or first-generation citizens, and many of them Spanish speakers.” 
In this short segment on NPR’s 1A, there’s more detail on demographic changes in Longview and other challenges to preventing further resegregation. Given these challenges, the school board’s commitment to integration rests on a shaky foundation. Of course, integration efforts no longer have the backing of a court order and DeVos/the federal DOE just recently revoked guidance for voluntary integration efforts, like those in Longview. In an election cycle, the composition of the school board could change, and the priorities of the district could change with it. Also, even with a supportive school board, the series notes, “Longview is still a small town where many hesitate to talk directly about race. And people are divided on how they recount the racially fraught history or whether they acknowledge that same racism still exists today.” Preventing further resegregation, then, depends on political success of equity-oriented school board candidates and the willingness, in the larger community, to confront difficult historical truths. 
There are important lessons, as well, from the other cities featured in the series-
  • In Edgewood, students of color have long been neglected by local and state leaders; any progress has come “when the courts forced the state’s hand” to addressing segregation and funding inequity. And, even minimal progress was won only after a complicated series of lawsuits and court rulings. Texas is now considering revisions to its funding formula to address inequity. As one advocate argues, the odds are stacked against proponents of funding equity: “You have to convince people that it’s in their best interest to educate children who don’t look like them.”
  • In Richardson, only one person of color has ever served on the school board of a district that is 60% Black and Latinx. That person recently filed suit against the city, claiming that a board composed exclusively of at-large seats denies fair representation to people of color. The article has a lot of fascinating detail about the struggle for this simple and commonsense form of representation. (See here and here for studies about how/why Black and Latinx school board members matter for students of color.) Ultimately, the district settled the lawsuit by switching to a hybrid school board: 2 at-large seats and 5 individual district seats (with at least 2 of those 5 coming from districts with a majority of people of color).
  • I won’t say much about San Antonio, because a lot has been written about that district’s integration effort, including its own series in the 74 and an accompanying critique of that series on this very blog. While the 74 uncritically celebrates SAISD, I found the Tribune’s coverage to feel much more “real” and complicated. It focuses on an inherent challenge of integration via choice: district leaders have to choose some schools to focus improvement efforts, leaving other schools behind. The story digs into the conflict between school district administrators and the parents/students of the schools that aren’t chosen. Especially if you’ve read the pieces in the 74 or this Ed Week article about San Antonio, I highly recommend checking out the Tribune article. For its part, the SAISD superintendent responded to the Tribune coverage recently, noting that “giving families options helps SAISD compete with charter schools.”
If you want to dive in further, the reporters – Aliyya Swaby and Alex Ura – talk about the background/motivation for the series in this short video. You can also hear from them in this short (5 mins) and more in-depth (48 mins) discussions on public radio. 
Although an interesting and useful complement to previous coverage, the San Antonio part of Dis-Integration is a bit of an outlier for me. What I found most compelling was the look at school segregation in places that aren’t typically a part of this conversation, specifically: the suburbs (broadly defined) and places like small “satellite cities” that are experiencing rapid population change.
In their 2012 book on the Resegregation of Suburban SchoolsErica Frankenberg and Gary Orfield note that “the United States today is a suburban nation that thinks of race as an urban issue” (p. 2). They observe that “the focus of racial and economic change is now clearly in suburban areas” (p. 1), as seen in the demographic changes that have swept over places like Longview and Richardson. That book looked at the characteristics of suburban schools in the largest 25 metro areas from 1999-2007. Among many changes, they found, that the percentage of students in 90-100% minoritized schools rose from 2.5% in 1999 to 13.7% in 2007 in satellite cities that surround the countries largest 25 cities. 
Despite the magnitude of these changes, we know little about how suburban places and their school districts have responded. Their book was an attempt to address that question through case studies of several suburban towns. Here’s its major conclusion:
  • “Suburban school districts are feeling unsupported and unable to formulate a coherent response to the metropolitan demographic change of which their district is one relatively small part” (p. 1). And,
  • “There are no federal or state policies constructively addressing these issues, leaving every suburb on its own” (p. 2).
In the Civil Rights Era, major federal and state policy change at least tried to move towards integration. Of course, much power came from historic court decisions and related court oversight. Now, as resegregation spreads further out to small cities and the suburbs, many of the same issues remain, yet court oversight has been decimated and policy guidance is hard to find. And there’s more. While cities are often home to civil rights groups that work to develop political infrastructure and public will for racial justice, these groups are less common in the suburbs. Though it’s a topic for its own post, the housing market and weak/non-existent enforcement of the Fair Housing Act present further obstacles to integration in the suburbs. 
At the same time, suburbs are growing and changing rapidly. According to a recent study of demographic change conducted by the Pew Research Center, the population in suburbs and satellite cities grew from 150 million people in 2000 to 175 million in 2016. Suburbs account for well more than the population in cities (98 million) and rural areas (46 million) combined. During the time covered by Pew, suburban areas grew at a faster pace than the urban or rural counterparts. They also became less white (8% decline) and poverty in the suburbs increased by 51%. 
This being the case, the importance of the suburbs in the school integration movement should not be overlooked. The Tribune series is an important effort to draw attention to these places and to highlight the complexity of their current political and social context. It’s hard to read these stories and not feel frustrated at the lack of movement on major problems or to not fear the fragility of the efforts that are trying to make some progress. It’s also hard to imagine success in school integration without more consideration of the types of communities (e.g., suburbs and small cities) that are home to the majority of US students. 
Yet despite the magnitude of the suburbs as a demographic category, when you read stories like those in the Tribune, you get such a strong sense of isolation (or, at least, I did). In these places, advocates for educational equity, deal with a complicated and shifting legal terrain, extremely limited funding, and ghosts of open historical violence, among other challenges. They are often in the political minority in their communities, and their success depends on somehow facing the future of school segregation with virtually none of the political supports or infrastructure that existed in the past. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

School Desegregation News Roundup: Trump Administration School Safety Report

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher at Penn State's Center for Education and Civil Rights. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here

In case you missed it, this administration continued its effort to rollback of civil rights protections for K-12 students in its reversal of Obama-era guidance on school discipline. Specifically, the “school safety” commission convened after the Parkland shooting issued a report calling for a repeal of the Obama Administration’s 2014 guidance on school discipline. The report – signed by Betsy DeVos, Kirstjen Nielson and Matthew Whitaker – was released earlier this week (full text here). A few days later, the administration officially revised the Obama-era school discipline guidelines to align with the recommendations in the school safety report. 
Before talking about the guidance, I want to go to this map from ProPublica’s Miseducation website. I have just a screenshot here, but if you follow the link you can get to the interactive version. Under “measure” you can select “discipline” and then you can see a nationwide map of school districts where Black students are more likely to be suspended than White students. If you have a few minutes, try to find one district where this is “less likely.” (The numbers will pop up when you hover over each district.) I’ve spent a decent amount of time with this, and I still haven’t found a single district, in the entire country. As I’ve written previously, research points clearly to the harmful and racially disproportionate effects of unconscious bias and exclusionary discipline, and this has real consequences for students, their families and all of us.

School districts where Black students are more likely to be suspended than White students (via Miseduation/ProPublica)
Nonetheless, the new administration guidance “[gets] rid of Obama administration guidance aimed at making sure students of color and students with disabilities aren’t disciplined more harshly than their peers,” as written in this Ed Week summary. A few quick points:
  • As described in the New York Times, “The 2014 Obama policy advised schools on how to dole out discipline in a nondiscriminatory manner and examine education data to look for racial disparities that could flag a federal civil rights violation.”
  • Here are a few lines from the Obama guidance:
    • Disparities in discipline rates could not be explained solely “by more frequent or more serious misbehavior by students of color.”
    • “In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem”
  • That’s been replaced with:
    • “Research indicates that disparities that fall along racial lines may be due to societal factors other than race”
    • The Obama administration “gave schools a perverse incentive to make discipline rates proportional to enrollment figures, regardless of the appropriateness of discipline for any specific instance of misconduct.” In short, schools may have been right to discipline Black students more harshly than White students. This is what white supremacy looks like in policy.
Because this blog focuses on race and civil rights, I haven’t discussed the report’s recommendations on gun violence in schools. But that part is also quite upsetting. Here are just a few key points from an additional Ed Week summary:
  • The report strongly encourages states to place more armed personnel in school.
  • Along those lines, it recommends that districts make it easier for military veterans and retired law enforcement officials “to become certified teachers,” so that they can carry guns and use them if necessary.
  • It does NOT recommend age restrictions on firearms purchases.  
The New York Times also has a great story about how the report plays down the role of guns in its decision to instead focus on discipline. And there’s a very strange connection between the two topics. Specifically, the report justifies its proposed repeal of the Obama guidance by essentially saying that its approach to discipline was too soft. Again, this entire report was commissioned in response to Parkland. The implication is that the Obama guidance had something to do with the Parkland shooting and/or repealing it will somehow prevent more school shootings. 
Before committing the Parkland massacre, Nikolas Cruz was referred to an alternative discipline program for nonviolent offenses, called the PROMISE program. The report argues that “some alternative discipline policies encouraged by the [Obama] Guidance contributed to incidents of school violence,” as part of its justification for repealing the prior guidance. However, pointed out across several articles:
  • Cruz had been “expelled from school, banned from campus, and had been referred to law enforcement numerous times.” So he’d also been the subject of the harsher forms of discipline favored by the current administration.
  • The PROMISE program was established in 2013, before the Obama discipline guidance had been released.
  • It’s not clear if Cruz even attended the program.
  • And, from Ed Week: “A state panel created to investigate the shooting said in July that the PROMISE program had “no bearing on the outcome” and did not affect the gunman’s ability to purchase firearms, as some had speculated.”
In other words, any connection between Parkland and school discipline reform is completely invented.
For those who wanted to dive into this in more detail, I wanted to briefly highlight a couple key issues. The articles linked here are great resources for those who want to learn more. In particular, I use an article from Dan Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project, to respond to the following common criticisms of the Obama guidance:    
  • Disparate Impact and Quotas – A key element of the Obama guidance was the notion of “disparate impact,” or that schools could be in violation of civil rights law if discipline efforts have disparate impact regardless whether there was any discriminatory intent. Critics of the Obama guidance have claimed that this led school administrators to implement quotas for exclusionary discipline – e.g., making sure that exclusionary discipline was racially balanced. From Dan Losen’s article:
    • “No districts have been found to have adopted disciplinary racial quotas in response to the guidance.” If districts on a large scale had been using quotas, then one would expect suspension rates to decline. Instead, “national school-discipline data from 2013-14 show a slight decline in suspension rates when compared to 2011-12, but the rates today are far higher than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.” In addition, for the “quota” argument to have merit, critics would have to demonstrate that the recent and slight decline has made schools less safe (again – this is the central argument of the recent school safety report). Instead, Dan Losen notes that “there is no evidence that a slight decline of a percentage point or two has caused safety problems.”
  • Government overreach – The Obama guidance was developed as a response to the national trends seen above in the ProPublica map, and therefore encouraged districts to pursue certain types of discipline (e.g., restorative approaches) over other types (especially exclusionary discipline). For this reason, critics cite the Obama guidance as federal government overreach, in dictating how to discipline students from the highest levels of government. Again, Dan Losen’s article is a reminder that:
    • “The core question for disparate impact is whether the policy is justifiable in light of its harmful impact.” The Obama guidance isn’t telling schools that they can’t suspend students; instead, it is encouraging schools to make sure that exclusionary discipline is justifiable. There’s even a flow chart in the Obama guidance to help schools/districts figure out if a suspension decision is “educationally sound and justifiable,” which is especially relevant for cases like tardiness or other non-violent offenses. As Dan Losen notes, the decision to suspend should be balanced against “its harmful impact,” or, in other words – the overwhelming research that links exclusionary discipline to negative future outcomes. For example, he notes that one study followed students for 12 years and found that “students who were suspended were less likely to have graduated from high school or college and more likely to have been arrested or on probation.”
Of course, there’s a lot more to say about each topic. While it’s important to debate these aspects of the new report and guidelines, I don’t want to get lost in the details. I do worry that picking a part individual arguments gives the report more legitimacy than it deserves. In the end, for me, it’s the bigger picture that matters the most here. And, that bigger picture is particularly troubling, even for this administration. Specifically: I don’t want to lose track of the fact that the new guidance uses a national tragedy to justify removing civil rights protections for Black and Latinx students. Or that it leans heavily on harmful stereotypes about Black and Latinx students by strongly implying that racially disproportionate discipline is necessary to keep schools safe. As described this statement from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“It is unconscionable to use the very real horror of the shooting at Parkland to advance a preexisting agenda that encourages the criminalization of children and undermines their civil rights.”
Vanita Gupta, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

It it further troubles me that the administration likely knew what they were doing and tried to bury it by releasing the new guidance on the Friday before Christmas.