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Obama Era School Discipline Reform Decreases Public School Scores, Increases Bad Behavior

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Obama Administration conducted social engineering experiments on public school students. In an effort to frame school disciplinary policies as racist, outcomes rather illustrated that black students simply had a higher rate of suspensions.


Obama’s Justice and Education Departments fused social justice policies by attempting to undermine public school disciplinary policies in their 2014 initiative called the Positive Behavioral Supports and Intervention System (PBIS). Instead of objectively conducting a comparative analysis between disciplinary policies and outcomes in public schools along racial lines, PBIS spun reality to fit the former administration’s political agenda.   

In medical school, bioethics students are taught the danger of making something worse than its present condition. The Latin phrase Primum non nocere means "first, to do no harm.” Similarly, the medical community preaches "given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good." It reminds physicians to consider the possible harm that any intervention might have before proceeding. Obama’s DOE had no such ethical creed, as they should have done, when crafting PIBS.

Liberal politicians and academics rarely consider the effects of their short-sighted experiments on human subjects — students, inmates, and the like — as they analyze disparate impact. It’s commonly referred to as the law of unintended consequences. It has always been more important for liberals to feel as if they’ve done something for a perceived injustice than to worry that the outcome might be worse than what they were trying to remedy.


Disparate impact is a misuse and misunderstanding of percentages and human behavior. 

Noted author and economist Dr. Thomas Sowell has written extensively on the misuse of disparate impact statistics. In a 2015 column, he writes that, "Disparate impact" statistics have for decades been used, in many different contexts, to claim that discrimination was the reason why different groups are not equally represented.”

He further writes that, “The implicit assumption is that such statistics about particular outcomes would normally reflect the percentage of people in the population. But, no matter how plausible this might seem on the surface, it is seldom found in real life, and those who use that standard are seldom, if ever, asked to produce hard evidence that it is factually correct, as distinct from politically correct.”  

An January 2018 study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) properly debunks the misuse of disparate impact statistics by PBIS. It presents hard evidence that racial bias is not behind high numbers of school suspensions for black students. It the most comprehensive review to date of the misguided Obama-era foray into the discipline policies of local Wisconsin public schools via PBIS. The WILL report illustrates how traditional discipline has been replaced by soft restorative programs with positive approaches, even when used as a disciplinary tool against combative and violent behavior. Essentially, that means socially unacceptable conduct continues without consequences.


The study further points out that in 2014, Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued a “Dear Colleague” letter that basically threatened school districts across the country with a federal investigation if they did not decrease black student school suspensions. In other words, the Obama Administration mandated the streamlining of bad classroom behavior.

What liberal academics and politicians do not take into account is that human behavior — both individually and among societies as a whole — will never be equal.  

It’s no doubt that a number of factors might determine student behavior. Many such factors are cultural and manifest in said differences. For example, many black students in urban areas are not ready to learn by their first year of school. Oftentimes, these students were not consistently read to at an earlier age or even intellectually stimulated at all by their parents, which in most cases is a single mother. The chaotic home life many students live in makes them ill prepared to thrive in a challenging group environment like a classroom. Absent fathers further complicate the issue, as they typically take responsibility for the socialization and discipline of their sons. This undoubtedly has a long-term impact on the behavior of young people in schools and therefore suspension rates.

Suspensions aren’t caused by racial bias in school disciplinary standards. They are in large part due to ineffective and bad parenting. Why can’t the left admit this? 


Lowering the bar for acceptable classroom behavior has created a perverse learning environment. It has, in many cases, made classrooms a dangerous place to be for other students and teachers, as many teacher surveys have illustrated.

Cultural differences play a role in classroom behavior, not racially biased standards. A better way to remedy this is for society to demand better parenting. The problem is that the left’s education philosophy, which dominates particularly urban K-12 school districts, automatically rejects such an idea. Their politically correct approach is that it’s better to go with the old reliable. They distract from the issues caused by poor parenting with cries of racism against those who dare criticize the bad performance of predominantly black urban public schools.

What the WILL study determined was that normalizing disruptive behavior has negatively impacted not only on school culture but also academic performance in reading and math. That outcome alone should cause this social engineering experiment to end today before more damage to society is done. This sort of damage is often irreversible.

As a law enforcement professional with 40 years of experience, I have seen first hand the devastating effects of poor school performance. Kids who can’t read and execute mathematics at grade level are more likely to engage in questionable lifestyle choices like dropping out of school, joining gangs, and abusing drugs and alcohol. Once graduated, such individuals struggle to compete in the labor market beyond entry-level blue collar jobs.


Another interesting finding is that school suspensions went up in rural and suburban school districts among white students. I don’t think that the education establishment cares much about that because it doesn’t fit their narrative of racial bias, but I digress.

The encouraging development in all this is that with substantiating research in hand, local officials are beginning to push back against the one-size fits all PBIS experiment. A number of state legal groups have authored a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos imploring her to roll back the Obama-era directive. The letter clearly points out PBIS’s negative impact on test scores and that it is an illegal intrusion into local K-12 public education.

DeVos has been in position for enough time to have reviewed many of the Obama-era policies. She needs to act with a sense of urgency and rescind PBIS before our education system fails an entire generation of Americans.

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