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Followup on ‘Disparate Impact’ and Education


The Wall Street Journal article I cited in my earlier post this morning highlights, in particular, the Obama administration’s interest in school systems where there are racial disparities in disciplining students. So let’s look at that.

If school systems know that they are going to face a federal investigation whenever there is a numerical disparity in the races of students being disciplined, then what will they do? Well, if they are deliberately discriminating against, say, Latino students, then they may stop that. That’s great — but if the discrimination is deliberate, then you don’t need to attack it with the “disparate impact” approach.

The disparate-impact approach will also pressure school systems who are not engaged in actual discrimination to get their numbers right, so they won’t be investigated. And how will they do that? There are two ways: Either they will start to discipline, say, Asian students who are not really deserving of such discipline, or they will forego disciplining, say, black students who really ought to be disciplined. The former is merely unfair; the latter, which is the more likely outcome, will be disastrous for all children in the school system, of whatever color.


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