In its 2022 Legislative Platform, the Indiana Association of School Principals (IASP) errs by grounding critical areas of their agenda in racial discrimination with policies that are inconsistent with both American law and morality. In a section entitled Ethnic and Racial Minorities, IASP warns that it is “paramount….that leaders are reflective of the diversity found in our schools.” Addressing student discipline, IASP calls on school leaders to “build on and support best practices…” to reduce “minority suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.” These priorities rely on the false premise that skin color, or ethnicity, can and should be used as measuring tools for Indiana’s students. This is a failed strategy that may feel good but ultimately misses the mark.
First, the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that the claim of racism is not enough for an administrative body to consider race in its hiring practices. In Hazelwood School District v. the U.S (1977), they upheld three principles to this point; only the court has the ability to establish the existence of discriminatory hiring practices, and the existence of statistical disparities is not enough to prove a ‘pattern or practice’ of discrimination, and that available data on teacher hiring must be measured against the number of available and qualified applicants. Yet, even if the courts found that Indiana schools have engaged in discriminatory hiring practices, this would result in additional oversight and penalties, similar to those used to secure minority voting rights in some Southern states, that I highly doubt IASP intends to subject its members to.
Additionally, IASP’s insistence that minority students must have minority teachers to succeed in school is an illogical claim that has little basis in reality. In Indiana, Asians represent 2% of the state’s K-12 population, but only account for .05% of its full-time educators. In spite of this, Asians have the highest graduation and Advanced Placement rates. Similarly, only 1.8% of full-time educators identify as Hispanic, with 4.6% who identify as black. Yet, Hispanics enjoy a higher graduation rate at 86%, as opposed to 77% for blacks.
Addressing IASP’s desire to implement discriminatory discipline practices, both the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit public and private schools that receive federal funding from treating students differently based on their racial classification or skin color. Thus, disciplining students based on their immutable traits such as skin color or ethnicity denies them the right to be treated fairly and equally. Astoundingly, this simple fact seems to be either unknown or intentionally ignored by a large number of education leaders and legislators, many of whom are attorneys, a failing that was on full display during the 2022 legislative session. Legislators’ refusal to educate the public on this area of law may be the primary reason that so many well-meaning groups like IASP take policy positions that lead to unproductive and divisive debates.
The subjective nature of IASP’s disciple proposal also creates a contradictory and confused jumble of standards for teachers who deserve clarity from leadership. For instance, under Indiana Code 21… Sec. 6. “Minority means an individual identified as black or Hispanic.” This means that it is left to the educators to determine, in each moment, how a student identifies, an impossible task in a world where we are constantly told that identity, at least in regards to gender, is fluid.
Yet even if teachers had a clear understanding of each student’s racial or ethnic identity, how would these policies work in practice? What does the IASP propose we do with mixed-race or minority children that are adopted by white parents? How would they fairly implement this policy within multi-racial families like mine, where the three youngest, who are black and mixed-race, have white siblings and parents? Now throw in my Samoan son and part Latino daughters. What standard applies to my bi-racial friend or his quarter-black son?
None of this is to deny that some unfortunate disparities persist between educational success and some minority groups, but using race as a stand-in for broader societal issues like class or broken families is not the answer. Despite popular claims of “systemic racism” neither skin color nor ethnicity is the cause of the failures or a characteristic that can be countered. It’s a confusion of categories, a grouping error, one that leads to illegal and impractical policies that only serve to further erode agency in minority students. Because of this, IASP should resist the urge to promote discriminatory policies that are unlikely to increase student achievement, when data shows that high-performing schools are enough.