Morning Joe Interview

APRIL 1, 2018, Washington, D.C.--Today, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) called on Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to resign after it came to light during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee that the Secretary used a study claiming that African American children are inherently more disruptive to justify revoking a 2014 policy meant to combat racial discrimination in school discipline practices. 

“Secretary DeVos rescinded a policy meant to protect the civil rights of students and cherry-picked racist research to back it up,” said Congresswoman Clark. “She has failed to live up to her basic job responsibility: making sure that kids have equitable access to public education. She is unfit to carry on in this job.”

The research cited by Secretary DeVos doesn’t acknowledge institutional racism and implicit bias as factors that contribute to race discrimination within school discipline practices. Instead, the study concludes that African American children are disciplined more because of “pre-existing behavioral problems of youth that are imported into the classroom, that cause classroom disruptions, and that trigger disciplinary measures by teachers and school officials.” The research goes on to say that “the association between school suspensions and blacks and whites reflects long-standing behavioral differences between youth and that, at least in the aggregate, the use of suspensions may not be as racially biased as many have argued.”

The research was published in the Journal of Criminal Justice by John Paul Wright, a professor at the School of Criminal Justice, and was quoted in a recent U.S. News & World Report article saying that researchers like him are “branded as racists or even eugenicists”.

DeVos rescinded the guidance in December 2018 as part of the School Safety Commission, which was formed by the White House following the Parkland, Florida shooting and tasked with providing recommendations to reduce violence in schools. When the policy was rescinded in December, over 100 leading civil rights and education organizations called for the guidance to be reinstated citing the importance of combating racial discrimination in schools.

Racial discrimination in school discipline is well-documented and has a significant, long-term impact on students of color. Data released by the Department of Education Civil Rights Division highlights this reality:

  • Black students accounted for 19 percent of all public preschool students but represented 47 percent of students suspended from preschool.
    (2018 Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection)
  • Black students represented 15.5 percent of all public-school students and accounted for 39 percent of students suspended from school, an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points. (2018 Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection)
  • On average, 5% of white students are suspended, compared to 16% of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1% of the student population but 2% of out-of-school suspensions and 3% of expulsions. (2014 Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection)

During the hearing, Secretary DeVos had no answer for the Congresswoman on why she selected this research. Instead, she robotically repeated a statement in direct contrast to the cited research, saying that “all students should be treated equally.”

This isn’t Congresswoman Clark’s first eye-opening interaction with Secretary DeVos. In 2017, the Congresswoman questioned Secretary DeVos’ policy of allowing federal funding to support private schools that deny enrollment to LGBTQ students and families. The Congresswoman also spoke out against Secretary DeVos’ School Safety Commission recommendations to arm teachers as a way to help reduce violence in schools.