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Editorial: Poverty is root cause of racial disparities in school discipline

Editorial: Poverty is root cause of racial disparities in school discipline
Dallas Morning News | March 2, 2011

The latest Texas Education Agency figures show an ongoing, sharp racial disparity in the way school administrators mete out discipline when it’s left to their discretion. Black students are three times more likely to be removed from school for lower-level offenses than whites, according to statistics compiled by Dallas Morning News reporter Tawnell Hobbs.

These are offenses — including fighting, threats and bullying — in which removal is not mandatory, and school administrators control the severity of the punishment. Black students are far more likely to be placed in an alternative education program for the punishment period.

Texas is hardly alone in this worrisome trend. Even outside school, juvenile justice cases also have a historical tendency nationwide in dealing lopsided punishments to minorities over whites.

In the discretionary Texas schools cases, some cynics might be tempted to argue that blacks are simply misbehaving more than whites or Hispanics and therefore deserve harsher punishment. The problem is that the offenses being measured are roughly of equal weight, yet blacks tend to receive harsher punishments.

There certainly is a troubling racial element to this trend, but below the surface are the more telling causes: poverty and stability in the home.

National statistics compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund indicate that growing up in a background of poverty is more likely than race to put a child on a trajectory of misbehavior and punishment.  (Read more)