Previously, I discussed the new statistical findings of the Department of Education that rediscover the differences among racial and ethnic groups in discipline rates. More suspensions and expulsions among blacks and Hispanics than among whites and Asians, according to Secretary Arne Duncan and his associates, raise “fundamental questions of fairness” about how schools are treating members of these different groups.
For a long time, I have argued that schools are simply reflections of the society around them. The discipline issue is a clear case of this. All of the evidence tells us that group variations in discipline within schools result from group variations in social order outside of schools. We can illustrate this with data from the Uniform Crime Reports, published annually by the FBI. I’m using the 2010 UCR because the full data from 2011 are not yet available.
We can start with racial group differences in murder rates. This crime is an especially useful indicator because it is so well reported. Many other crimes may never come to the attention of the police because no one comes forward to complain about a theft or even an assault. But we almost always know when there is a murder because there is a body. Moreover, police have much less discretion in deciding to accept reports of murders than other crimes, so in the case of murder it cannot be claimed (as people sometimes do) that apparent racial differences in crime rates are due to discriminatory police practices.
The figure below gives us murder rates for the entire population, by race, in 2010. Although blacks made up only 13 percent of the entire U.S. population, black offenders were known to have committed well over one-third of all murders. Even if we were to maintain, against all logic, that all murders committed by unknown offenders were committed by whites, we would still have 13 percent of the population committing 38 percent of the murders. If we are more reasonable, and assume that the unknowns are distributed more or less like the knowns, we have a small proportion of the population responsible for the great majority of the killings. The disproportion is even greater when we consider that murders are overwhelmingly committed by young men.
Murders Committed in the United States, by Race of Offender, 2010
Source: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, 2010
How does the school-age population measure up on this indicator? Blacks made up a somewhat greater percentage of the juvenile population than the population at large (about 16.6 percent of all Americans aged under 18 were black in 2010. Since most of the offenders were known in killings that can be attributed to juveniles, the disproportion was even greater. That 16.6 percent of the population committed almost double the number of murders committed by the white majority.
Murders Committed in the United States by Offenders Under 18, by Race of Offender, 2010
Having used murders to dispose of the differential enforcement allegation, we can now turn to arrests. Since, in its arrest rates, the UCR further reports that whites made up 49.3 percent of those actually arrested for murder, while blacks made up 48.7 percent, the evidence indicates that blacks were actually less likely than whites to be arrested for this serious crime. In the following figure, I use arrest rates for various crimes for juveniles (under 18). If there were more legal problems among school-age people in one racial group outside of school, then any reasonable person would have to conclude that schools receive many more behavioral problems when members of the group enter the classroom.
Blacks as Percentage of the Total Juvenile Population and a Percentage of of those Arrested for Selected Crimes Committed in the United States, by Race of Offender, 2010
As I looked at the UCR data, the only crimes that I could see for which black juveniles were underrepresented were liquor offenses and drunkenness. In all other offenses, this 16.6 percent of the school-age population were greatly overrepresented. Black young people made up the overwhelming majority of juveniles arrested for burglaries and prostitution. Should we be at all surprised that members of this group require more discipline from school officials?
In pointing these facts out, I am not “blaming the victim,” nor am I claiming that all members of a group can be held responsible for the actions of some. I am simply acknowledging the reality that seems to elude our Department of Education.