Home > Uncategorized > “Assembly Line Justice”: an Apt Metaphor for a Department of Education Driven by Efficiency

“Assembly Line Justice”: an Apt Metaphor for a Department of Education Driven by Efficiency

Late yesterday I read an article by Erica Green of the NYTimes titled “Education Department Says It Will Scale Back Civil Rights Legislation”. The overarching purpose of  the “scaling back” is to reduce the backlog of cases in the department that are primarily the result of former President Obama’s directive to perform thorough and comprehensive investigations where they were warranted.

The office’s processing times have “skyrocketed,” the Education Department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said, adding that its backlog of cases has “exploded.” The new guidelines were to ensure that “every individual complainant gets the care and attention they deserve,” she said.

In the memo, which was first published by ProPublica, (the acting head of the department’s office for civil rights, Candace) Jackson emphasized that the new protocols were aimed at resolving cases quickly.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and justice for many complainants has been denied for too long,” Ms. Hill said in a statement.

But to civil rights activists, the real problem isn’t that justice will be denied to complainants. It’s that justice will not be rendered at all.

But civil rights leaders believe that the new directives will have the opposite effect. They say that Education Department staff members would be discouraged from opening cases and that investigations could be weakened because efficiency would take priority over thoroughness.

If we want to have assembly-line justice, and I say ‘justice’ in quotes, then that’s the direction that we should go,” said Catherine Lhamon, who was the assistant secretary of the Education Department’s civil rights office under Mr. Obama, and who now heads the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

Ms. Green’s article explores the difference between the approaches Ms. Lhamon took in her civil rights investigations and those advocated by the incoming staff, describing how one particular case in a public school district required the district to dig into it’s disciplinary records for past years, an exercise that resulted in the district gaining a better understanding of its practices that resulted in a disproportionate number of harsh actions taken against minority students. This kind of in depth analysis requires staff time at the USDOE level as well, and as cases like these accumulated the backlog accumulated as well. In the name of efficiency, though, these kinds of thorough investigations will be a thing of the past.

In the concluding paragraph of the article, Ms. Green describes the budgetary gambit Betsy DeVos is using to facilitate the “judicious approach” the department will implement.

In the administration’s budget request for the fiscal year that begins in October, the Education Department has proposed cutting more than 40 staff positions from the office for civil rights, which would require the office to “make difficult choices, including cutting back on initiating proactive investigations,” the department wrote.

In effect, Ms. DeVos is submitting a budget that will ensure the necessity for limiting the thorough investigations… a budget that will require “assembly-line justice”. For a department that is enamored of algorithmic on-line learning it seems fitting that they would adopt algorithmic justice. Students, after all, are widgets that require periodic quality control via standardized tests and periodic attention from teachers who make sure the robots are providing sufficient knowledge. Who needs a thorough education when an efficient one is sufficient?

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