Sunday, January 16, 2011

Another Study--Another Wrongheaded Conclusion

The Philadelphia Inquirer leads with the following paragraph in an article about the Philadelphia schools: "Though city public schools are often dangerous places, the Philadelphia School District's zero-tolerance approach to discipline makes schools less safe and less effective at educating students, according to a report released Thursday." Naturally, the wire services picked it up, and it was repeated as gospel truth by such truth-tellers as the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Context is vital, and the agenda behind a study is equally important. Most of us have read about just how foolish zero-tolerance policies can turn out to be. There have been multiple examples of outrageously draconian punishment for such violations as a student giving a friend an aspirin (zero-tolerance drug policy) or a boy scout coming to school with a Swiss Army knife (zero-tolerance weapons policy). For such excesses, most of us conservatives have condemned mindless zero-tolerance policies because they punish behavior that has nothing to do with the purpose of the policy. Considering how overpaid administrators and teachers tend to be these days, we have a right to expect that they could at least exercise a little judgment.

So at first blush, the Philadelphia study might not seem too far out. But on reflection, look at who conducted the study, and consider what agenda they might have and what real expertise they might bring to the topic. The study was put together by Youth United for Change, a local student organizing group (no comment necessary), the Advancement Project, a Washington-based "civil rights" organization (even less comment necessary), and the Education Law Center in Philadelphia (a radical group of "children's advocates").

And what did the study conclude? I'm probably insulting your intelligence by giving you the answer, but I'll risk it. "The report says the policy too often targets black and Latino students." Those over-the-top examples I reminded you of in the second paragraph occurred in suburban schools, and were examples of poor judgment and bad administration of policy. Philadelphia schools are among the worst of the urban schools--academically and violence-wise. And considering the hefty majority of public school students who are black and Latino at the urban school locations, it's really not much of a surprise that blacks and Latinos are disciplined in higher numbers than whites (and Asians).

It's like reporting that 80% of criminals arrested in South Central Los Angeles are black, and therefore being targeted by unsympathetic police. Never mind that about 80% of all people of every color who live in South Central Los Angeles are black. The statistic is true, the conclusion is ludicrous.

So is it numbers alone that causes these leftist organizations to draw their conclusion? I would have to say yes. Looking beneath the numbers and percentages, it's necessary to look at the type of activity that was followed by discipline, and ask if it was the type of activity for which the policy was designed. Forget aspirins and Swiss Army knives. These violations were of several distinct types, and would draw discipline even in suburban schools where administrators are using genuine judgment and discretion. Knives carried on campus were not Swiss Army or penknives--most were switchblades. "Disruptive behavior" included destroying school property and physically threatening or menacing administrators, teachers or other students. Suspensions and expulsions for fighting included beating other students senseless, and use of baseball bats and other dangerous weapons.

The discovery of racism and unfairness is the heading, the body and the conclusion of the study. The actual reasons for discipline are buried in footnotes and back-page statistics. In fact, this study indicates that the Philadelphia schools are overly-tolerant, considering what level the "violence" has to reach before a student is actually suspended or expelled.

In fact, within the body of the study, a conclusion disguised as a fact rears its ugly editorial head: "District students are too often punished harshly for minor infractions (minor?), and suspensions, expulsions and transfers are overused according to the study's authors who represent groups being opposed to zero tolerance," says the Inquirer. The Inquirer neglects to mention that the study's authors actually have the same agenda as many radical groups--strict numerical equality. If two blacks are disciplined for an offense, and only one white is disciplined for the same offense, it's the result of systemic racism.

This is not really about zero tolerance, which has been much abused. It is about using zero-tolerance policies as a straw man for those who simply feel that discipline is being used as a substitute for feel-good group therapy, and it therefore unfairly targets "minorities" in urban schools. It's a false premise, and a false conclusion. The Inquirer says "this study comes amid a national debate on how best to stem violence in the public schools." I thought the debate was over years ago. We decided to get the thugs and education-disrupters out of the schools. Bringing up zero-tolerance is nothing more than a red herring.

For all its bravado, the study only reinforces the notion that zero-tolerance is just a starting place for administrators to make reasonable determinations. It does not prove, in any way, shape or form, that zero-tolerance, for all its abuses, "makes schools less safe (ridiculous)" or "less effective at educating students (a dubious conclusion subject to logical attack on multiple fronts)." Like its big brothers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the Inquirer has once again announced an editorial conclusion supported by a highly-skewed study and called it "news reporting."

19 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Boy have I done battle with the editorial board of the Inquirer over the years. Still your comment "context is vital and the the agenda behind it is equally important" is absolutely 1000% true. I watched somebody make the comment that "all the studies show repealing healthcare reforma act" would add to the deficit. They, of course, didn't mention which studies and I expect the C.B.O, was really the only thing being referenced, but some out there who don't listen closely assume the person knows what they are talking about.

In this case, once you mentioned Philadelphia Inquirer, the context and agenda became crystal clear.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Hawk
All are reasons for the Home and Charter School boom.

Ops is boom a threat word?

AndrewPrice said...

So yet another stupid liberal policy is "racist" because it doesn't catch people in the precise ethnic numbers in which they appear throughout the country? Shocking. Just shocking.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: The old quote is "there are lies, damned lies, and statistics." Most "studies" on the left are a toxic combination of the three.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tehachapi Tom: The public schools have certainly contributed to the lack of serious inquiry (no, that wasn't a pun on the Inquirer). But once they're adults, we still need to make sure that they demand that "studies" actually prove what they claim to prove.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I know. It's hard to believe, isn't it? LOL

JB1000 said...

Didn't the study also conclude that the public schools need billions more in funding? I thought all public school studies had to conclude that all the problems could only be solved with billions of dollars in new funds?

BevfromNYC said...

Tom -
We regret to inform you, that after considerable due diligence, we have been forced to report you to the new Director In Civil Kindness for the illegal use of vitriolic onomotopeaia (i.e."boom"). They have assured us that you will be treated with civility and kindness during your mandatory Civility Realignment Access Program evaluation and treatment.

LawHawkRFD said...

JB1000: It was almost that bad. They did conclude that money currently being spent on disciplinary matters could be better spent on (fill in crazy "educational" scheme of the day).

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: I have it on the best of authority that Tom has already been involuntarily enrolled in CRAP.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

Have you noticed that the conclusions are not much different than they were in the 60's? The same solutions to the same problems that were never solved in the first place. In fact the solutions have the distinction of creating the problems they supposedly solved.

Could it be that "To Sir With Love" and "Blackboard Jungle" did a disservice to the students and the teachers by misrepresenting actual events? And that "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave it to Beaver" were actually closer to reality?

Another way of putting it, in one location, it was a blackboard jungle. But it was only ONE location and it was assumed that those conditions were all over.

Tehachapi Tom said...

Thanks Bev

Hawk is right I have all ready had my Civility Realignment Access Program evaluation and treatment.

Let me firmly restate,BOOM,BOOM,BOOM as I really want to establish the position to which I subscribe.

Thanks for the attention and insight.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Yep. The creation of the "juvenile delinquent." As one of the boys in West Side Story said "we're depraved accounta we're deprived." The education establishment has been doing just about everything except educating since they decided that kids were not just young humans--they're an entirely different species. Therefore, they can't be treated with logic or successful traditional modes of teaching, but must be experimented upon by the Secret Order of the Schools of Education. The day "spare the rod, spoil the child" was replaced with "we don't hate you, we hate what you do" common sense and reality flew out the windows of the public schools.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tehachapi Tom: One more "boom," and we can bring on the strippers.

patti said...

"The statistic is true, the conclusion is ludicrous."

you have just exposed (deviant!) one of the left's hat tricks. they're not gonna like this...

bravo.

LawHawkRFD said...

Patti: Don't forget, I learned all their tricks before I switched sides. LOL

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: I've been accused of worse--lots worse.

rlaWTX said...

"liars figure and figures lie." - Dr. Jones, poly sci stats class, ASU early '90's --- unfortunately that's all I remember, since I have just begun my grad level Stats class...
What's slightly perverse is I am kinda looking forward to being able to decode the stats portion of articles!

as for education - my sweet (lib) aunt has just begun a second career as a bi-lingual 3rd grade teacher in the DFW area. we had a looooong discussion about her job over C'mas (- and she was sounding just nearly conservative!) Anyway, the short of it was that in a perfect world, on paper, this process they use (producing 5th graders who are totally literate in both native (Spanish) & English) is peachy, but her 3rd graders are already behind because their 2nd grade teacher was being "nice & fun" instead of teaching. But ALL of the stats say that THIS program is the BEST. Meanwhile in one of the other DFW districts, they use the "get 'em English literate and on the way" process and have MUCH better results - but the stats say it doesn't work! go figure...

LawHawkRFD said...

elaWTX: The version I learned was "figures don't lie, but liars sure can figure."

The left is particularly adept at making their statistical "studies" so arcane that any conclusion could be drawn from them. Naturally, they pick their own.

In my junior year, I had a poli sci professor ("statistical political behavior" was the title of the course) who had a large lecture hall. There were chalkboards at the front, and all the way up the side of the hall. One day he arrived hours early, and started writing a statistical analysis of something or other. He was just completing it when the students arrived. He gave a quick introduction, started to explain the chart, and couldn't remember what the hell it stood for. We never did find out (and to this day, I wonder if he did)

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