Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Obama administration tackling the school to prison pipeline

The problem was documented well by ABC News years ago:

Last summer, the Obama administration's Departments of Justice and Education came together to form the Supporting School Discipline Initiative.

A new undertaking from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education targets school discipline policies that end up pushing children into the juvenile-justice system for crimes and rule-breaking on campus—and keeping them from pursuing their education.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled the Supportive School Discipline Initiative at a meeting of a Justice Department committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

"When our young people start getting locked up early... they start to move out of schools, out of the pipeline to success," Mr. Duncan said. He recalled how when he led Chicago public schools, he found that 7 percent of schools were responsible for more than half of the arrests of young people in the city. A small group of principals were calling the police too often to deal with minor disciplinary issues, he said, while schools with similar demographics handled the same behavior problems in other ways.

"People wanted to do the right thing. They just didn't know better," he said. "So many of these children need assistance. What they don't need is to be pushed out the door."

And now we learn that the Department of Education, which began to collect information on civil rights and education back in 1968 but stopped during the Bush administration, has started collecting data once again, including for the first time information about school referrals to law enforcement. This week they are releasing that data...and results are alarming.

In a more focused analysis of school systems with more than 50,000 students enrolled, the data showed that African American students represented 24 percent of enrollment but 35 percent of arrests. White students accounted for 31 percent of enrollment and 21 percent of arrests...

Additional data is equally troubling.

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.

One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies...

While the disciplinary data was probably the most startling, the data showed a wide range of other racial and ethnic disparities. For while 55 percent of the high schools with low black and Hispanic enrollment offered calculus, only 29 percent of the high-minority high schools did so — and even in schools offering calculus, Hispanics made up 20 percent of the student body but only 10 percent of those enrolled in calculus.

And while black and Hispanic students made up 44 percent of the students in the survey, they were only 26 percent of the students in gifted and talented programs.

The data also showed that schools with a lot of black and Hispanic students were likely to have relatively inexperienced, and low-paid, teachers. On average, teachers in high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less per year than their colleagues elsewhere. In New York high schools, though, the discrepancy was more than $8,000, and in Philadelphia, more than $14,000.

Many of the nation’s largest districts had very different disciplinary rates for students of different races. In Los Angeles, for example, black students made up 9 percent of those enrolled, but 26 percent of those suspended; in Chicago, they made up 45 percent of the students, but 76 percent of the suspensions.

As the saying goes..."Houston, we have a problem." These statistics tell us why we are seeing other disparities - like the fact that over half of African American males don't graduate from high school on time and yet are significantly over-represented in our juvenile justice system.

In terms of responses, Thomas Sowell captures how too many in this country react. He thinks that paying attention to these statistics is "a hoax."

The latest example of this hoax is the joint crusade of the Department of Education and the Department of Justice against schools that discipline black males more often than other students. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, this disparity in punishment violates the "promise" of "equity."

Just who made this promise remains unclear, and why equity should mean equal outcomes despite differences in behavior is even more unclear. This crusade by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is only the latest in a long line of fraudulent arguments based on statistics.

If black males get punished more often than Asian American females, does that mean that it is somebody else's fault? That it is impossible that black males are behaving differently from Asian American females? Nobody in his right mind believes that. But that is the unspoken premise, without which the punishment statistics prove nothing about "equity."

As Sowell goes on to describe his take on things, he uses words like "disruptive hoodlums" and "thugs" to describe the students who are being disciplined. It becomes pretty clear that he has no problem with tossing increasing numbers of African American children aside and feeding them to the prison industrial complex.

Of course, these issues have much deeper and more complex roots than simply the idea of individuals not behaving appropriately in the classroom. I know this because the organization I run places staff in middle schools to deal directly with these kids. In other words...we not only hold them accountable, we listen to their stories.

If we really want to tackle these issues - we've got a lot of work ahead of us. Like dealing with the fact that:

* Most of these students live with poverty, violence and trauma as every day occurrences
* Most of their teachers are white suburban women who frankly, are more scared of them than compassionate and who, as this data shows, are inexperienced and underpaid
* As this country went from imprisoning 300,000 people in 1972 to 2.3 million (mostly as a result of our failed war on drugs), we sent their fathers, uncles, brothers to jail and taught them this was their fate in life

That list could go on with increasing details. But the reality is that we have a choice to make...do we continue to lay the blame for these failures on our children and simply throw them away when they fail? Or do we get busy and at least act like we care?

For me - this is the ultimate "long game" for the Obama administration. It's about throwing a lifeline out to the next generation.


  1. I just want to offer a big THANK YOU for even bringing up this crucial subject and problem.

    Not to sound radical BUT for a long time I have viewed these schools as minimum security prisons. When childen begin dropping out at age 9 there is a big problem. In too many school it is a soul killing experience.

    Incompetent teachers is a problem but so is the academic content, nothing that relates to life as they know it or will know it. Useless content which has no relevance to this new world they must live in.

    Books written by out-of-touch people (largely white), approved by school board by out-of-touch people (largely white or not empowered to protest AA/Asian/Hispanic).

    We should weep with the agony of what we are doing to our children. If this is our future, we will not survive as a nation.

  2. What the hell is wrong with Sowell? He's the same guy that said The Civil Rights Movement wasn't necessary. I know it's hard to believe that young black children are being discriminated against in our schools. I like what Jane Elliot said about the whole thing: "We don't have dropouts we have forceouts. We make things so uncomfortable that they quit. Then we say they don't want to be educated."

    Cornel West, Thomas Sowell, Arianna Huffington, and the rest of those dipshits can fuck themselves with a rusted screwdriver.


    P.S. Excuse my language. Having to tolerate these assholes upsets me.

  3. It's a good thing to tackle the "school to prison" pipeline, and getting rid of "zero tolerance" so that early offenders are given second and third chances is also a good thing.

    But you go overboard -- as Obama does in his speech -- in implying that all black male disproportionality is rooted in racism, and that it has no validity.

    You imply as he does that these cases are merely the basis of profiling and in fact fake -- that if only we gather the statistics, why, we'll blow this thing out of the water.

    But you haven't. If you can find unfair cases and even false and fabricated cases in Missouri, you can't find them everywhere.

    In New York City's schools, we know that in fact it's not the case that these are all fake and all the result of "racism". Why? Because we live it every day. The experiences of my kids in the tiny white minority in these schools, including assaults that caused me to have to safety-transfer my son, were very real and not fabricated. One case involved a triple felon who at the age of 19 was still repeatedly returned to the regular school class room where he unsurprisngly repeated his offenses.

    You can't say that in *New York City* that the problem is white teachers, as it is in some other state in suburbia. We have black principles, black assistant principles, and black teachers, as well as white and Hispanic. In situation after situation, you see the violent incidents mainly involve blacks attacking other blacks.

    You really need to look at the facts unflinchingly, and not be driven to politically-correct sweeping generalizations. If we find that in fact the statistics of the disproportionate number of black youths is true, then it doesn't follow that we have to feed the "prison industrial complex," a concept that is tendentious all its own, of course. (In many of these cases, as I have personally witnesses, every effort is made to put offenders into alternative sentencing programs and diversion programs.)

    I think there are reforms that have to be made -- an end to "stop and frisk"; a better bail system more accessible to the poor; more lawyers; better diversion programs that really help people.

    But first you have to admit the truth of the situation. It's not merely about profiling and racism, and when you see these crimes play out in a school with black leadership and nearly all-black population, perhaps you'll concede that. The country is diverse, and not every school fits a pattern.


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