The School to Prison Pipeline is about Discrimination.
On March 13th an article on Huffingtonpost.com titled “Yes, schools do discriminate against students of color”. This article suggests that this is NEW information, after Indiana University’s research project The Discipline Disparities to Practice Collaborative released a report on March 6th. Why are we so afraid to talk about racism and discrimination? Are we afraid of the problem or the solutions? Our school systems have discriminated against students since integration. Are schools systems unwilling to deal with problem? Have we yet to provide meaningful anti-racist and anti-discrimination training and interventions for pre-service and current teachers and administrators?
For decades, my research and others have provided evidence for discrimination in schools. In 1975 the Children’s Defense Fund released the first large-scale study to report on racial disparities in school discipline. Utilizing national survey data the findings from the study indicated that African American students were three times more likely to receive suspension in comparison to their European American peers. The research is consistent for K-12, as school racialize students the moment they walk through the door. A risk indicator in public schools is minority status, therefore students are considered “at risk” based on their race without considering any other factors such as socioeconomic or academic capacity. A surge of racial disparity research found that African Americans were referred more often than their peers to school authorities for disciplinary actions. Despite undisputed evidence dating back to 1975 that posits racial disproportionality in school discipline, African American students continue to endure harsher punishments. The current research includes Latino students but is no less disturbing. Latino students are disciplined at a rate less than their African American peers, but at statistically significantly higher rate than their European-American peers. According to the latest report, Latino students were 2.23 times more likely to receive school suspensions than their European American peers.
I grapple with why racial disparity perpetuates generation after generation. It is a complex problem that demands complex systematic solutions. Not just on a policy level, but on the ground. Often policies are ideal and represent the best of what America wants to be, but policy doesn’t help teachers manage their classrooms. Policies won’t help schools administrators change their climate and culture of school discipline. We must help school systems and justice systems change how they discipline children not just in policy but in practice.
Racial disparities are not the only disparities in school discipline. Students with disabilities and LBGT students are also impacted, but let’s save it for another conversation…each population deserves the dialogue.