PJ Media

The Democrats’ Fixation On 'Disparate Impact' Denigrates Minorities

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has had a busy week or two trying to stamp out equal treatment of minorities.

First, the Miami Herald reports, it “has quietly revived an investigation of Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships,” which are awarded in part on the basis of SAT or ACT scores. Inside Higher Ed points out that critics of Bright Futures, and all programs that rely on similar tests, regard those tests as discriminatory because “on average, black and Latino students’ scores lag behind those of whites and Asians students.”

State Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who chairs the Florida House education subcommittee on appropriations, replies to charges of bias by insisting that “Bright Futures, from its inception, has always been race, gender and creed blind…. [T[he program is unbiased and based only on the merit of individual students.”

That, of course, is precisely why the Obama administration, which regards  color- and gender-blindness as simply Jim Crow dressed up in modern garb, objects to Bright Futures. An Office for Civil Rights spokesman stated in an  email to the Miami Herald that OCR was “investigating allegations that the state of Florida utilizes criteria for determining eligibility for college scholarships that have the effect of discriminating against Latino and African-American students on the basis of national origin and race.”

If Florida’s Bright Futures program is discriminating against blacks and Latinos by relying in part (but only In part) on the SAT and ACT, then so is virtually every selective college in the country. Is OCR planning to investigate them all, and if not, why not? Perhaps OCR could also explain why it does not regard racial and ethnic favoritism as discriminatory so long as race or ethnicity is only one factor among many weighed by college admissions officers seeking “diversity,” but using test scores even as only one of several methods of determining academic merit is sufficient to call in the federal discrimination police. Apparently the Obama administration regards “diversity” as compelling for colleges, but not academic merit.

There is an additional, interesting twist to this conflict over merit in Florida: like the Asians in California who recently derailed a return to affirmative action there, some Latinos are refusing to play their assigned role as victims needing special treatment.

“Bright Futures was meant to be for our best and brightest,” said state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami. “As we’ve raised the standards and achievement level in schools across the state, it made sense to raise the bar for Bright Futures. I don’t think it is fair to say that just because someone is Hispanic or African-American, he or she doesn’t have to make that bar.”

In addition to investigating colorblind standards of merit in Florida, the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights issued its latest report this week accusing the nation’s schools of disparate treatment of black pre-schoolers, who “represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of- school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension.”

In a predictable March 26 editorial The New York Times declares it “an outrage” that “minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled,” even though its editorial notes in passing that “[f]ederal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.”

Indeed they do not, nor do they provide any evidence beyond disparate impact statistics for any discrimination at all, such as, for example, any indication that minority students are disciplined more often or more harshly for the same offenses as whites or Asians, who received the least disciplinary punishment. That’s because these federal officials, and the Democrats who appoint and support them, regard “disparate impact” alone as the smoke that never exists without the fire of discrimination.

The New York Times editorial endorsing the administration’s disparate impact solutions to racially disproportional school discipline generated a good deal of controversy, to which Times opinionator Brent Staples replied in an odd non sequitur column. Both the new government report and the supportive Times editorial justified finding schools guilty of disparate impact discrimination based on statistical disparities alone. Neither offered evidence of frequent racially different punishment for identical offenses, but Staples’ column emphasizes only such examples. Even if his examples of different treatment for identical offenses are valid — something those familiar with the government’s civil rights police may reasonably doubt — they do not justify the draconian disparate impact solutions — essentially, as Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has pointed out in detail, the imposition of racial quotas in school discipline.

This latest report merely presents disparate impact data, but it follows on the heels of several warnings issued by DOE that disparate disciplinary treatment exposes schools to civil rights investigations.

  • In his widely reported March 2010 speech on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised that the 600+ employees of the Office of Civil Rights would henceforth “reinvigorate civil rights enforcement,” and he pointed specifically to troubling “deep disparities in discipline.”
  • In March 2012 Secretary Duncan released data indicating that “Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions.” In a telephone briefing with reporters he stated that “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”
  • A January 8, 2014, “guidance” letter signed by assistant secretaries at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice’s  Civil Rights Division summarized data on racially disparate discipline and warned schools that “both Departments are collaboratively and proactively initiating compliance reviews nationwide focused on student discipline.” As I noted at the time, the clear message to schools was, if you want to avoid being descended upon by a plague of federal discrimination police, “Let The Punishment Fit The Race,” not the actual behavior of students.

Now, however, based on this report the United Negro College Fund just released (March 26) on an “urgent crisis” involving the “Parent Plus” loan program administered by the Department of Education, if the administration is willing to practice what it has been preaching about disparate impact, it will have to investigate … itself.

“Until 2011,” the Chronicle of Higher Education points out,

applicants were approved for a PLUS loan as long as they were not more than 90 days delinquent on any debt, and did not have any foreclosures, bankruptcies, tax liens, wage garnishments, or student-loan defaults in the past five years. Under the new standards, unpaid debts in collection and student loans written off as unpayable in the previous five years also count against applicants.

“PLUS-loan denials shot up by 50 percent for parents of students at historically black colleges and universities last year,” the Chronicle reported, and this “spike in rejections had a disproportionate effect on financially strapped HBCUs.” The National Urban League and the Congressional Black Caucus sent letters to Secretary Duncan strongly protesting the disparate impact this change in credit requirements was having on HBCUs and calling for its reversal.

The Department of Education replied, sounding just like the targets of its own investigations, that it had no discriminatory intent, that its purpose was simply to reduce the number of defaults and bring its lending practices in line with that of commercial lenders. Perhaps some of the institutional victims of DOE’s new credit policy can take up a collection to buy Secretary Duncan a pétard on which he can hoist himself, along with a pair of jars of sauces for both goose and gander.

Writing here recently, Roger Simon argued that the Democratic Party for a generation or more has been waging war on black people. “All these social welfare programs, affirmative actions, etc.” he noted, “were a signal to African Americans that they were inferior, that somehow they couldn’t make it without help.” Under the Obama administration what had been largely a war of attrition has been vastly escalated by its increasingly aggressive attempt to suppress what few vestiges remain of colorblind equal treatment as disparate impact discrimination.

The Obama administration believes — and by its aggressive pursuit of “disparate impact” discrimination complaints has elevated that belief to the front and center of its civil rights policies — that insisting on high academic merit for scholarship recipients and even good behavior is unfair to minorities, who are thus assumed to be incapable of meeting standards applied to others.