School-to-Prison Pipeline

schooltoprisonpipeline-800x765Road of Discipline

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.
Perception and Communication

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.”

Back Door Approach

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.”

America’s Goal

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, 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?

Let’s End This Thing

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 and Student trainings are needed! 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.”

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 it as I end this, “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!'”

Related Links:

Also read about “school suspensions and hearing” in article, School-to-Prison Pipeline here.

Russlynn Ali Steps Down

About Bren Martin

Brenda is an education advocate and has been an active leader in the schools, church and community. She is a National PTA Social Media Ambassador and was a Panelist on NBC's Education Nation in New York City, "Stepping Up: The Power of a Parent Advocate," for Parenting Magazine. Brenda was honored by the U. S. Department of Education and the White House as a “Champion of Change” for educational advocacy. She is Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress-Kentucky delegate and a recipient of Knowledge Universe-KinderCare’s Education Achievement Award! (See Parenting Magazine’s, “The Power and Potential of Parent Advocates,“ and one of Brenda’s articles, “Changing Us, Changes Them.“) Some of her services include: District PTA President and State PTA Board; Education Commissioner's Steering Committee for Teacher Effectiveness. She is a former regional President, Gifted Education; Summer Camp Creator/Director; Church Youth Director; Vacation Bible School Director; Prichard Committee’s Commonwealth of Institute for Parent Leadership (CIPL) Fellow; School Based Decision Making; Employability Skills Consultant to prison & colleges; Television Special host and more. Also, Follow Brenda on Twitter @bdrumartin. Disclaimer: Use sites, blogs, information or links at your own risk.
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7 Responses to School-to-Prison Pipeline

  1. Since this was initially published, the national average graduation rate has risen to 80%. However, we still have too many schools well below that national average especially for some minorities with some rates at 50% and worse.


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    • Bren Martin says:

      Thanks Sandra for sharing this link! Really good information. I especially like these PROPOSED CHANGES: “Here are some of the requirements outlined by federal officials in the draft agreement to the Palm Beach County School District:

      — Keeping a list of personnel in the district and at various school sites that can serve as interpreters or translators.
      — Working with the federal government to develop guidelines for schools that have dress code or tardy policies.
      — Allocating a budget for translation and interpretation to help students and parents understand when a child has been punished, or is having behavior issues.
      — Doing a yearly school discipline survey with a representative group of families to ensure discipline policies are being applied appropriately.
      — Selecting a group of elementary schools to pilot a new way of tracking student discipline issues more frequently.
      — Using data from previous years to analyze the use of offenses labeled as “inappropriate activity,” “disobedience/insubordination” and “repetitive disobedience/open defiance/insubordination.”
      — Having school police officers undergo training on “culturally and linguistically responsive policing”.”

      Some of this gels with my testimony submitted to legislators on needing training on “cultural responsiveness” and how teachers/administrators label and identify disobedience/insubordination or their “perception” of the “appearance” of disrespect. This is a major step in the right direction. We should make sure some of these steps are taken in our districts where similar problems are occurring! We can share this kind of information with our principals, superintendents, local and state board of education, and legislators!


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