The School to Prison Pipeline

This article is by the National Education Association (NEA), it discusses an important topic which is student discipline. It primarily focuses on the K-12 system, but certainly it has implications for years to come. Suspending students has typically been the way for schools to handle students who are being disruptive or misbehaving. However, according to this article when schools decide to suspend students they are taking them out of school which means they are not learning. Furthermore, this article argues that by suspending students, schools are pushing these students out of school and towards a juvenile and criminal justice system also know as “the school to prison pipeline”. The article not only talks about suspensions and how those suspension can alter a students life; it specifically talks about racism which plays a huge role on the types of students who actually get suspended. The article point out that, ” Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, while Black and Latino students account for 70 percent of police referrals. Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers, and LGBT students are 1.4 times more likely to face suspension than their straight peers”. It is unclear whether these are national statistics or specific to a certain region, either way these numbers are alarming. Kirwan Institute who has conducted research on implicit bias blames “cultural deficit thinking which leads educators to harbor negative assumptions about the ability, aspirations, and work ethic of these students—especially poor students of color—based on the assumption that they and their families do not value education. These racist perceptions create a stereotype that students of color are disrespectful and disruptive, which zero tolerance policies exploit”. Sadly this is not surprising, some educators are truly blinded by their negative assumptions. It is imperative for educators to be culturally aware of the differences that exist, amongst teachers and the student body.
NEA leaders and members have come together and have committed themselves in helping raise awareness on the issue, shape district and state policies, and provide resources on restorative practices. For instance in Colorado and Maryland, a law has been passed that restricts the use of suspensions and expulsions. Furthermore, in Virginia teachers are being trained on cultural awareness and diversity. These actions need to be implemented all across the country in order to truly address this issue. This preventative discipline approach is certainly not a quick or easy solution, this approach entails teachers as well as students to face the issue at hand and find solutions to the problem instead of ignoring it.
As I was reading the article I couldn’t help to think about the educational theorist Desiderious Erasmus who believed that children should be treated with honesty and respect and that it is better to encourage than to punish them. This ‘new’ idea of positive behavior intervention and support is clearly nothing new. If a student gets suspended then that students stops learning, and as Erasmus believed if students are encouraged to reflect on their actions, and get help with the issue that they may be facing, instead of being punished, then it is a more effective way of learning.


4 responses to “The School to Prison Pipeline

  1. I loved Obama’s speech to students during his first term. Obama promoted a triangle of accountability. Which is why the comment at the end of the article is particularly impactful. Students have an expectation of schools and if their expectation is discipline they may be missing the value of motivation to learn. I your choice of ethical issue especially for the fine line between teaching, cultural understanding, and discipline. I have worked with many middle class white women teachers who struggle with understanding students from different backgrounds. The program “Study Circles” is also out of Montgomery County Maryland. There is not a course or training that will alleviate the misunderstanding but engaging in the dialogue is usually very helpful. As a student who has felt the wrath of a system that seems to be against me it is nice to see organizations working to change policy in favor of powerless children.


  2. I have so many thoughts on the topic of discipline methods that K-12 administrators use. I don’t think I necessarily agree with the idea that not being in school is more likely to cause youth to enter the juvenile criminal system as I believe the factor in that is the home environment or should say the lack of a home environment. The one thing that I did like that some schools did was in house suspensions, which suspended the youth, but had them still come to school. It is interesting that their is an inequality of discipline based on ethnicity, but am I surprised by that finding no and I think that is attributed to the lacking of training for some teachers, who may not understand their students. The solution is for teachers to go through training to understand their students better by understanding, where they are coming from and dealing with the problems in the classroom head on. The other solution is it is not all the teachers job to deal with these tasks, but have administrators be more understanding not only of the students needs, but their teachers needs. It comes down to all parties involved to be accountable and finding an appropriate solution.


  3. I just feel like a person that is naive would be shocked by these facts and statistics, I read this and I think about those times as a kid when I use to get suspended and always sent to on campus suspension. I always felt like there was a target on my back and in reality it was and its was based on the perception these educators had in mind about me. I want to see big change, but where do you begin?


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