Education advocates and representatives from the Justice and Education departments met Wednesday to discuss how to end the trend that pushes children and young adults out of the school system and into the prison system,which is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.
The pipeline situation grabbed national attention when a study released in July showed that 60 percent of Texas secondary students were suspended or expelled over six years and one in seven were placed in the juvenile justice system.
Matthew Cregor,assistant counsel on education for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.,said the numbers in the Texas study aren’t unique to the state and the problem is nationwide.
“We see these dreadfully high discipline rates all over the country,” he said.
A separate study by the Advancement Project called “Test,Punish,and Push Out,” found that almost 250,000 more students were suspended from school from 2006-2007 than four years earlier,when No Child Left Behind was signed into law.
“We’ve lost some of the common sense we held when it came to nurturing our youth and creating an environment where we’re growing not just academically,” Cregor said.
Cregor said NCLB has caused unintended consequences by raising stakes and pressure on schools without necessarily providing enough resources.
“When schools are struggling to meet their progress under NCLB,it creates the perverse incentive to push out those that this law was originally enacted to protect,” he said.
He echoed Education Secretary Arne Duncan who has said that the one-size-fits-all approach of the program isn’t working,but Cregor said the answer is not walking away from federal regulation.
“We still need to do federal work setting forth best practices,” Kristen Harper,adviser with the Department of Education: Safe and Drug Free Schools,said. “Where do they start? Where do they start to identify weaknesses in their disciplinary code?”
She said the answer won’t likely be found in the new NCLB flexibility.
The Justice and Education departments are working on better oversight and support for school districts to take firm steps away from what they say has become a system too reliant on suspension and expulsion.
The collaboration is focused on data and research to determine the best reform mechanisms from character building programs to case studies of districts that have lowered suspension rates.
“If we tell you not to suspend,if we tell you not to expel,how do we help you do what’s right?” Harper said.
The effort will require ongoing communication with advocacy organizations and school groups,she said,but one of the changes in information gathering will be the amount of information collected for the Civil Rights Data Collection.
The Department of Education collects information from 7,000 school districts. For the 2011-2012 school year,that number will jump to include all 15,000 school districts in the country.
The collection includes indicators such as enrollment,access to educational programs and services and academic proficiency results,broken down by race,ethnicity,sex and disability.
As Justice and Education teams work with other agencies and organizations,Robin Delany-Shabazz,director of the Concentration of Federal Efforts Program at the Justice Department,said the department can help local school districts take advantage of technical support if they want help convening with local justice agencies.
“Any organization can apply for technical assistance that’s doing work related to delinquency prevention,” Shabazz said.
The departments will also hold a summit in March to bring state education and justice officials together with local school districts to coordinate efforts.
Reach reporter Hope Rurik at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.