As a parent and a parent/community leader, I have a dire concern about the prevailing school-to-prison pipeline that has many pipes through which it works. “According to the U.S Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), over 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement are Hispanic or African-American. Even more disconcerting is the amount of disabled students that face these bias measures,” reports Politic365. In a conference call with Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary of OCR when this civil rights information was first released, I was encouraged that more research would be done to better track the offenses to do a comparative analysis of the suitability and equity of discipline choices. At some schools, the offenses include wardrobe colors, tardies, and “disrespect”. This is very alarming especially vis-a-vis some of the potential built-in bias that could lead to “intolerance“. I’m sure some violations are valid as with all races and students. Yes, our youth must learn to be respectful and prompt! But, we must also ensure an environment of “cultural responsiveness” is used by teachers and administrators which tailors teaching by using cultural knowledge and acknowledges how students’ experiences affect their attitudes and dispositions. Minorities shouldn’t be made to feel as though they are intruders into the education system through inequitable discipline practices as well as curriculum content, communication practices, lower expectations, etc.
Sometimes, communication differences- due to age, race, socioeconomic background, family culture, gender, etc – can be perceived as disrespect. I am a mother of three sons-two college graduates, one in high school- and a fifth grade daughter. There have been times when my husband has authorized our son to ask a teacher certain questions and I had to explain to them that while it’s alright to ask that question, depending upon the volume; wording; and timing, it could “appear” disrespectful. Some families aren’t always realizing this and children are not necessarily learning to “be” disrespectful, but are not necessarily learning ways not to “appear to be” disrespectful. This is only one small example of how small discussions or confrontations can end up escalating. A teacher might not realize that he/she just does not understand the student’s intentions and can lose patience, thus the teacher can simply “perceive” the student as disrespectful. Some students also grow up in “noisy” surroundings and learned to speak loudly at times, not as a form of disrespect but as a way of “being heard” and “confident expression”. Some minority males might see being stripped from that as “demasculinizing” them. Once students enter the judicial system, some fines and legal fees become too high for many low-income families and inadequate legal representation can become yet another challenge to defeating the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
This leads us to another route to the school-to-prison pipeline as described in this article. According to the Schott Report, there are schools experiencing drop out rates that are usually much higher for African Americans and Hispanics especially in large urban areas such as Chicago, my hometown, a national leader of segregated schools, or LA where African Americans are two to three times more likely to drop out. I attended the Grad Nation Summit hosted by America’s Promise Alliance in Washington, DC and it’s reported that every 26 seconds, a student is dropping out! If a child is not reading at grade level by the end of the third grade, the likelihood of dropping out increases. According to Education Week, a child not at level is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 and if the child is in poverty, is 13 times less likely! These students’ odds increase dramatically that they will likely drop out of high school, experience drugs, poverty, more health problems, single parenthood and the penal system! According to PRNewswire, males of any race are 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their college graduating counterparts of the same age range! According to the report, Consequences of Dropping Out of High School: Joblessness and Jailing for High School Dropouts and the High Cost for Taxpayers – “This pipeline to prison is disproportionately filled by young Black men ages 16 to 24. On any given day, nearly 23 percent of all young Black men who have dropped out of high school are in jail, prison, or a juvenile institute.”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supports our nation’s goal also outlined in the Civic Marshall Plan, that by 2020, our nation’s graduation rate will be 90% and complete at least one year of post-secondary education or training also. Currently, one-third of those going to college are having to take remedial courses! This could cause a student to run out of money or drop out prior to graduating. However, I believe the new common core standards will help change students college readiness. The United States also wants no school graduating less than 80%! Currently, 75% are graduating from high school while that number is less than 65% for African Americans and Hispanics. We have to be careful that we are not guilty of “pushing” the students out of school and into the prison pipeline. In fact, TheAtlantic.com challenged a myth that prison planners review elementary scores to determine the number of prisons it needs. While a survey showed that 25 states who responded said they did not, it was suggested that perhaps they should. These planners used formulas based on arrest and demographic data. So, indirectly, if minorities are getting suspended and arrested more often, then guess what?
In conclusion, I am grateful for so many of the great teachers, schools, families, and leaders! I humbly submit that the following is needed: 1. More teacher training on “cultural responsiveness” specifically; 2. More diversity in staffing and in curriculum; 3. More equity in school resource allocation so that a child’s zip code doesn’t leave them in not just “separate but equal” schools, but some “separate and UNequal” schools. 4.Unquestionably, we also need more Parent Engagement in general, Father Engagement specifically; 5. Parent Trainings! 6. Student training is needed also! Character building and character understanding are important! As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically – Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
Note: I sent a similar version of this as testimony to Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. I ended, “Thank you for your concern, your dedication to your task and your inclusion of my testimony to help our country to truly grow to a place where there are more high school and college graduations, less incarcerations and ‘no child left behind!’”
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