Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Romero & Biddle: We need to address the school-to-prison pipeline

Romero & Biddle: We need to address the school-to-prison pipeline
Orange County Register: 12.15.2014 by Gloria Romero & Rishawn Biddle

The deaths at the hands of police of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the decisions not to prosecute officers in either case, should jolt reformers into demanding transformation of both our failing public education and criminal justice systems – whose dysfunctions disproportionately affect poor, minority communities.

If we do not educate, we will incarcerate. Some school reformers have embraced the moment; too many have not. For example, a respected American Enterprise Institute reform leader, Rick Hess, tweeted that Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Mo., was “not his beat.”

Likewise, criminal justice reform advocates have talked plenty about ending police brutality but have failed to emphatically tackle the school-to-prison pipeline. This prompted Steve Perry, founder of Capital Prep Magnet School, to plead, “What do I need to do to get y’all to picket a school where no kids can read on grade level, and few could read the picket signs?” He followed that with “It’s so easy to parade, I mean march, in a circle outside of Yale, in a city w[ith] some of the worst schools in the state, but then what?”

Perry is right: What happens in our schools ends up in our streets, and vice versa. The U.S. spends $228 billion badly on criminal justice because we spend $595 billion abysmally on our schools. In California, 70 percent of prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.

Schools funnel too many children into our criminal justice system, accounting for three of 10 cases referred to juvenile courts in 2011 – the second-largest source of referrals, after law enforcement. Yet, juvenile court judges are ill-equipped to deal with matters that should be handled by schools.

Traditional school discipline policies exacerbate this. Poor, black and Latino children are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than their white and middle-class peers, allowing districts to obscure an underlying reason for misbehavior: students’ struggles with literacy. A 2006 Stanford study found that a third-grader who is functionally illiterate is more likely to engage in behaviors leading to suspension and expulsion.

A 2004 Princeton study found that black male high school dropouts faced 2-1 odds of landing in prison by age 34. The average U.S. prison inmate had literacy scores 18-22 points lower than the average nonincarcerated adult, according to a national assessment of adult literacy.  READ MORE !

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