Heather Mac Donald
Editors' note: this piece has been adapted from the summer issue of City Journal.

In March 2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that his department was “going to reinvigorate civil rights enforcement” in the nation’s schools. What was the pervasive racial injustice that led Mr. Duncan to redouble such efforts? Black elementary and high school students are three and a half times more likely to get suspended or expelled than their white peers, according to federal data.

And so the Departments of Education and Justice have launched a campaign against disproportionate minority discipline rates, which show up in virtually every school district with significant numbers of black and Hispanic students. The possibility that students’ behavior drives those rates lies outside the Obama administration’s conceptual universe. The theory behind this school discipline push is what Obama officials and civil rights advocates call the “school-to-prison pipeline.” According to this conceit, harsh discipline practices—above all, suspensions— strip minority students of classroom time, causing them to learn less, drop out of school, and eventually land in prison.

The feds have reached their conclusions, however, without answering the obvious question: Are black students suspended more often because they misbehave more? Arne Duncan, of all people, should be aware of inner-city students’ self-discipline problems, having headed the Chicago school system before becoming secretary of education. Chicago’s minority youth murder one another with abandon. Since 2008, more than 530 people under the age of 21 have been killed in the city, mostly by their peers, according to the Chicago Reporter; virtually all the perpetrators were black or Hispanic.

Nationally, the picture is no better. The homicide rate among males between the ages of 14 and 17 is nearly ten times higher for blacks than for whites and Hispanics combined. Such data make no impact on the Obama administration and its orbiting advocates, who apparently believe that the lack of self-control and socialization that results in this disproportionate criminal violence does not manifest itself in classroom comportment as well.

Like school districts across the county, the St. Paul, Minnesota, public school system has been on a mission to lower the black suspension rate, following complaints by local activists and black parents. The district has sent its staff to $350,000 worth of “cultural-proficiency” training, where they learned to “examine the presence and role of Whiteness.” The system spent another $2 million or so to implement an anti-suspension behavioral-modification program embraced by the Obama administration.

Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald is a John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.