Arne Charter Schools Discipline and Suspensions Duncan NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Race to the Top Standardized Testing

My Thanks to Raj for His Comments on the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”

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In response to the post about the “school-to-prison-pipeline, a frequent commenter who signs as Raj, submitted the following comment. It begins like this, you can read the full comment after the original post:

Raj wrote:

This is what ACLU says:

“WHAT IS THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE?

The “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education. For a growing number of students, the path to incarceration includes the “stops” below.

Failing Public Schools

For most students, the pipeline begins with inadequate resources in public schools. Overcrowded classrooms, a lack of quali­fied teachers, and insufficient funding for “extras” such as counselors, special edu­cation services, and even textbooks, lock students into second-rate educational envi­ronments. This failure to meet educational needs increases disengagement and dropouts, increasing the risk of later court­involvement. (1) Even worse, schools may actually encourage dropouts in response to pressures from test-based accountability regimes such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which create incentives to push out low-performing students to boost overall test scores. (2)

Zero-Tolerance and Other School Discipline

Lacking resources, facing incentives to push out low-performing students, and responding to a handful of highly-publicized school shootings, schools have embraced zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances. Under these policies, students have beenexpelled for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school. Rates of suspensionhave increased dramatically in recent years—from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000 (3) — and have been most dramatic for children of color.

Overly harsh disciplinary policies push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system. Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and drop-outs. All of these factors increase the likelihood of court involvement. (4)

As harsh penalties for minor misbehavior become more pervasive, schools increasingly ignore or bypass due process protections for suspensions and expulsions. The lack of due process is particularly acute for students with special needs, who are disproportionately represented in the pipeline despite the heightened protections afforded to them under law.

Raj,

This is an excellent contribution to understanding the “school-to-prison-pipeline.” Thank you.

For most students, the pipeline begins with inadequate resources in public schools.

Overcrowded classrooms. Bill Gates and Arne Duncan have both said that class size doesn’t matter, and that great teachers can teach larger classes than they have now. Mayor Bloomberg even suggested that a “great” teacher could teach double the number currently assigned, which would mean a class size of 50-70 students. Surveys repeatedly show that both parents and teachers want small classes, and research shows that the greatest benefit of small classes goes to the neediest students, who need extra attention with the teacher.

A lack of qualified teachers. State after state has been staffing the neediest schools with inexperienced, unqualified teachers from Teach for America. There would be more qualified teachers if state legislatures raised teacher pay, stopped cutting pay raises for experience and additional relevant degrees, and stopped fighting due process for teachers. Such actions literally drive teachers out of their chosen profession.

Insufficient funding for “extras” such as counselors, special edu­cation services, and even textbooks, lock students into second-rate educational envi­ronments: The ACLU hits the nail on the head. So much money is diverted to testing and test prep and consultants, and not enough is appropriated for the services and personnel that meet the real needs of students. You understand that underfunded schools do not choose to be underfunded. Decisions about funding are made by the Congress, the state legislatures and governors, and district leadership. The blame for the shortage of these resources in the schools that enroll the most vulnerable students must be placed squarely on federal, state, and local leadership.

Even worse, schools may actually encourage dropouts in response to pressures from test-based accountability regimes such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which create incentives to push out low-performing students to boost overall test scores. Test-based accountability, including NCLB and the Race to the Top, increase the numbers of students who fall into the STPP. The emphasis on testing and the consequences for failing to teach a bar set too high discourage the students in the bottom half of the bell curve (all standardized tests are normed on a bell curve). The Common Core tests have shifted the norm so that 65-70% of students “fail.” If students fail and fail and fail, they give up. What shall we do for them?

The next section of the ACLU statement aptly describes “no-excuses” charter schools:

Zero-Tolerance and Other School Discipline

Lacking resources, facing incentives to push out low-performing students, and responding to a handful of highly-publicized school shootings, schools have embraced zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances.

Charter schools, especially of the no-excuses variety, have higher suspension rates than public schools. They engage in harsh disciplinary policies that are not allowed in public schools. They can push out students for minor offenses.

Raj, thank you for this useful description of the “school-to-prison pipeline” by the ACLU.

We should all take heed.

Arne Duncan, who is talking about the STPP today at 4 pm EST on Sirius “Urban View” could reduce the pipeline by abandoning high-stakes testing and cutting off federal funding for “no-excuses” charter schools.

Each and every child should be able to enroll in a school with a humane and caring environment.

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