America's public schools are starting to resemble war zones.
Recently, a fistfight between two female students at an
Alabama high school erupted into a campus-wide fracas that ended in
gunfire. A massive brawl at a North
Carolina school resulted in multiple arrests.
And in San Diego, several teenage boys were rushed to the emergency room
with stab wounds after a fight broke out.
The Obama administration, state and local school officials
are largely to blame. Their fealty to a politically correct agenda prevents
them from restoring order in the classroom. School choice measures like
education savings accounts, tax credits and voucher programs can offer students
an escape from such dangerous environments -- and give those students the
opportunity to learn in peace.
School violence has reached epidemic proportions. Two in
three public schools report at least one violent incident per year -- and one
in ten schools report at least one serious violent offense, such as rape,
robbery, or assault with a weapon. More
than 750,000 crimes are committed on school grounds annually.
Despite these ills, many school administrators refuse to
crack down on violent students. Activists claim that traditional punitive
measures, like suspension, discriminate against minority students. Tough
punishments, they say, cause kids to fall behind in school, making them more
likely to drop out and wind up incarcerated.
This view was effectively inscribed into law by a 2014
letter from the Obama administration's Office of Civil Rights. The letter
warned public school administrators that traditional disciplinary measures
could violate federal nondiscrimination law.
As a result, half the states and several large municipal
districts installed severe restrictions on school discipline. The Los Angeles
Unified School District has effectively banned suspensions entirely.
This shift has resulted, predictably, in more violence.
Take a decision by the past superintendent of the St. Paul,
Minnesota district to significantly limit the ability of school staff to
interact with the police or impose harsh punishments on bad students.
Violent student behavior quickly spiked to an all-time high.
One brawl got so bad, school staff had to close the doors on all the classrooms
to prevent any more students from joining in. As one veteran teacher put it:
"We have a segment of kids who consider themselves untouchable."
Other anti-suspension districts have suffered similar
results. In both Oklahoma City and Baton Rouge, two in three teachers have
reported an uptick in bad behavior. Nearly 70 percent of teachers in Jackson,
Mississippi say their classrooms spin out of control on a regular basis.
It's impossible for teachers to restore order if they can't
remove chronically disruptive students from class. Ironically, the victims are
often poor students of color the politically correct advocates claim to care
Students need an escape. They shouldn't be forced to attend
violent public schools. Expanding school choice programs can give these kids a
shot at a better future.
Consider Zaya Lumumba, a teenager subjected to bullying at
her public school in Indiana. Her parents applied for a state-run scholarship
program for low- and middle-income students and then used the money to move
Zaya to a private school nearby. Her mood immediately improved, as did her academics;
she registered a top grade point average her first semester at her new school.
Politically correct administrators are trapping young people
in violent schools. School choice can liberate them.
Lance T. Izumi is the Koret Senior Fellow in Education
Studies at the Pacific Research Institute. He is also the author of the newly
released book, "The Corrupt Classroom."