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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The School to Prison Pipeline

From the Kennewick School District Citizens

by Bob Valiant

The state and the nation are pursuing policies that have not closed the achievement gap and have aggravated the situation for many students. “Indeed, No Child Left Behind’s ‘get-tough’ approach to accountability has led to more students being left even further behind, thus feeding the dropout crisis and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” according to this new report from a consortium of education organizations.

New Report Shows High-Stakes Testing and Zero-Tolerance Policies
Force Students Out of School and Into the Justice System

Washington, DC– A report released today details the sharp growth in
practices that push K-12 students out of schools and into the juvenile
and criminal justice systems, with especially alarming effects on
students of color and youth with disabilities. /Federal Policy, ESEA
Reauthorization, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,/ the result of a
year-long collaboration of research, education, civil rights, and
juvenile justice organizations, also offers policy solutions for ways
that federal law can reduce the pushout and over-criminalization of
students. Nearly 150 organizations have endorsed the paper.

“As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education
Act (ESEA), it is essential to examine how No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
has itself contributed to the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” states the
report. “Indeed, No Child Left Behind’s ‘get-tough’ approach to
accountability has led to more students being left even further behind,
thus feeding the dropout crisis and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.”
The report’s detailed analysis shows that NCLB worsened the learning
environment and made schools less effective. It led to decreased
graduation rates, slower rates of academic improvement and of closing
racial achievement gaps, as well as an increased burden on the justice
system and wasted tax dollars.

The paper calls for an improved federal role in education, in which the
public will be given a more accurate and meaningful assessment of
schools’ strengths and weaknesses, schools will provided more tools for
improving their performance, and students’ educational opportunities
will be better protected.

“By focusing accountability almost exclusively on test scores and
attaching high stakes to them, NCLB has given schools a perverse
incentive to allow or even encourage students to leave,” explained
George Wood, Executive Director of the Forum for Education and Democracy.

“NCLB has led to the dramatic narrowing and weakening of curriculum,”
added Monty Neill, Executive Director of FairTest. “Because so much of
the school day is focused on test preparation instead of well-rounded
instruction, more students become alienated, making the jobs of teachers
even harder.”

The report also points out that NCLB directly encourages the use of
zero-tolerance school discipline policies and the referral of students
to law enforcement for disciplinary infractions. The result has been the
over-criminalization of students across the country.

These policies have contributed to record-high suspension and expulsion
rates, sharp rises in the use of school-based arrests and referral of
students to law enforcement, and declining graduation rates. “The
effects have been particularly severe for students of color and students
with disabilities,” said Len Rieser, Executive Director of Education Law
Center — PA. “Racial disparities in school discipline have actually
gotten worse. Our education system is becoming less equitable than it
was only ten years ago.”

“Moreover, NCLB has not done nearly enough to allow young people who are
not in school to re-enter the education system. Many are left without a
place to turn as they attempt to realize their goals,” said Robert
Schwartz, Executive Director of Juvenile Law Center.

According to Jim Freeman, Director of the /Ending the Schoolhouse to
Jailhouse Track /Program//at Advancement Project, “The increased
reliance on these two ‘get-tough’ strategies — high-stakes testing and
zero tolerance — is alarming. There is clear evidence that they have
failed to achieve their intended results. Instead, they cause
significant harm, especially to students of color and low-income
communities. They combine to create unhealthy and unproductive school
environments that fuel the School-to-Prison Pipeline.”

Damon Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice at the NAACP Legal
Defense and Educational Fund pointed out the historical significance of
these developments. “The original Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965
was a civil rights statute at its core, intended to reduce inequitable
educational opportunities experienced by poor children and children of
color. The current version of that law — NCLB — actually contributes
to those inequities.But with common-sense amendments, a revised ESEA can
recapture its original purpose.”

The report describes reauthorization of the ESEA as an important
opportunity to begin dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and
makes a number of recommendations to Congress:
·- Create a stronger, more effective school and student assessment and
accountability system capable of recognizing multiple forms of success
and offering useful information for school improvement.
·- Provide funding and incentives aimed at improving school climate,
reducing the use of exclusionary discipline, and limiting the flow of
students from schools to the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
· – Facilitate the re-enrollment, re-entry, and proper education
of students returning to school from expulsion and juvenile justice
system placements.

The report is online at:

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