Friday Reading List: Calling BS on School Discipline Junk Science and Student Debt Forgiveness

RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation isn't buying political conservatives' red herring about the linkages between school shootings and discipline policies:

As argued by less-reputable outlets and conservative writers such as Breitbart and Ann Coulter as well as supposedly respectable types such as Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden (based mostly off a clip job of a Washington Post article) and (with a little more reason) David French of National Review, if the Broward district, as part of its PROMISE school discipline reform initiative, didn’t team up with the county’s sheriff to reduce the number of students being arrested for minor offenses, Cruz would have been arrested and kept from doing harm to his former schoolmates. Particularly for Eden, the Parkland massacre is another way to oppose school discipline reforms happening throughout the country, as well as overturn the Obama Administration-era guidance advising districts to not overuse suspensions and other discipline, especially against poor and minority children.

Biddle explains the backstory on this, and why the overheated rhetoric on this topic is so dangerous. If you strip away all of the polite policy language, what the conservative reformers are actually saying is, "A bunch of white guys with guns are killing people, so the answer is to suspend and expel more black students."

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I'm dead serious. The only thing that seems to happen in schools, when they adopt the discipline policies that commentators like Max Eden favor, is flagrant over-suspension and over-expulsion of non-white students. There is absolutely no evidence that these suspensions and expulsions lead to safer schools, while there is ample evidence that those actions permanently affect the life trajectories of students, particularly black boys.

You know what does prevent gun violence, though? Having fewer guns, making them harder to procure, and banning the kinds of weapons that were used in the Parkland shooting.

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Speaking of Parkland, P.R. Lockhart of Vox digs into how the students at that schools are challenging the racial dynamics of gun safety campaigns:

In the weeks since the February 14 shooting, the survivors from the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have seized national attention with a call for gun control. Their activism has not been without its detractors, but for the most part has drawn considerable support from celebrities and the media. To some observers, the reaction to the Parkland students’ activism appears very different from how the public and politicians usually respond to gun violence in other communities. “Young black people have been fighting to save lives through gun reform laws for years without the support and energy given to the Stoneman Douglas students,” noted Teen Vogue columnist Lincoln Anthony Blades. “In fact, black youth, who’ve been passionately advocating for gun control measures, have been demonized, obfuscated, and overlooked.“

There is a significant racial disparity in shooting deaths in this country, and while mass shootings consume media attention for days on end, the average gun violence victim, demographically, has more in common with a young person in Chicago than one in Parkland.

Those geographic demographic differences are the result of centuries of residential segregation, reinforced by both policies and personal decision-making. As Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard points out, "white flight" is still very much a thing:

In the journal Social Science Research, [Samuel] Kye used Census Bureau data from 1990 to 2010 to examine white flight in suburban neighborhoods in the country's 150 largest metropolitan areas ... Of the 27,891 Census tracts he looked at, 3,252 experienced "white flight," which he defines as a neighborhood losing at least 25 percent of its white population between 2000 and 2010. These tracts experienced "an average magnitude loss of 40 percent of the original white population" ... "Whites continue to leave neighborhoods with significant levels of non-white residential growth," he reports.

Detractors will argue that those white families are not making a choice about race, per se, but rather are making a "rational decision" about the potential future value of their homes. Those detractors will not realize that this argument relies on racist assumptions, which could be undermined and obviated if those families didn't leave. Property values do not magically decline because those properties are proximate to black families; property values decline because white families make irrational assumptions about race, which drive down prices. The real estate market is neither "moral" nor "neutral."

Finally this week, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine wants to cancel all outstanding student debt:

In America today, 44 million people collectively carry $1.4 trillion in student debt. That giant pile of financial obligations isn’t just a burden on individual borrowers, but on the nation’s entire economy. The astronomical rise in the cost of college tuition — combined with the stagnation of entry-level wages for college graduates — has depressed the purchasing power of a broad, and growing, part of the labor force. Many of these workers are struggling to keep their heads above water; 11 percent of aggregate student loan debt is now more than 90 days past due, or delinquent. Others are unable to invest in a home, vehicle, or start a family (and engage in all the myriad acts of consumption that go with that).

Levitz goes on to make the important point that almost any critique of this idea could be applied similarly to the tax bill that the president just signed into law. The author does not provide a sense of how the country might handle college costs on an ongoing basis, which seems like an important problem to tackle simultaneously. That said, it's clear that student debt is a huge drag on GDP, while the benefits of the debt accrue to a small number of questionable lenders.

Have a great weekend!