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Ending the School-To-Prison Pipeline

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December 11, 2012 07:39 pm


On Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 2:00 p.m., the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a hearing on “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” a critical issue that the nation must address if it is to end the cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement that the education system itself is intended to disrupt.

The hearing, which will feature testimony from educators as well as representatives from the criminal justice system, is an opportunity to learn more about the negative policies and practices that continue to disproportionately impact students of color and ways to most effectively respond.

As students of color and diverse ethnicities rapidly become the leading populations of public school systems in numerous states, increasing high school graduation rates, closing educational achievement gaps, and providing a quality education that ensures that all students are prepared for college and a career, are not only moral imperatives, they are economic imperatives as well.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by the year 2050, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population will be made up of people of color. Given this steep demographic shift, the academic performance of students of color and Native students and the characteristics of the schools they attend are important factors that must concern all Americans. In 2008, only 57 percent of all black students graduated from high school on time with a regular diploma, compared to 78 percent of white students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Data Collection, African American students are more than three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than are their white peers. Out of forty-six states, Illinois, where the suspension rate for African American students was five times greater than that for white students, has the widest gap. In New York City, there are more than 5,100 police personnel in public schools, compared to approximately 1,500 social workers and 3,000 guidance counselors. Furthermore, in high schools where at least 75 percent of the students are low-income, there are three times as many uncertified or out-of-field teachers teaching both English and science than those teaching in schools with wealthier populations.

The consequences of these conditions on individual students and society as a whole are devastating:

• In 2010, dropouts earned, on average, about $9 per hour, compared to high school graduates and those with a bachelor’s degree, who earned $13 and $25 per hour, respectively.
• In 2010, high school dropouts posted an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent, which was 5 percentage points higher than that of high school graduates and almost 10 points higher than those with a bachelor’s degree.
• In 2011, the national four-year graduation rate for African Americans was 38 percent; for white students, it was almost 60 percent.
• Nearly half of the nation’s African American students attend high schools in which graduation is not the norm, compared to 11 percent of white students.
• On average, African American and Hispanic twelfth-grade students read at approximately the same level as white eighth graders.
• More than 60 percent of black students attend schools where more than 50 percent of the school population is identified as living in poverty, compared to 18 percent of white students.
• If just half the nation’s dropouts had graduated in 2012, the nation would likely see as much as $18 billion more in home sales and 36,000 new jobs by the midpoint of these new graduates’ careers; annual gains of $659 million more in auto sales; $7 billion in increased earnings; $659 more in state and local tax revenues; and savings of as much as $5.6 billion in college remediation costs and lost earnings.

Hopefully this hearing will mark the beginning of a concerted effort to pass legislative reforms targeting these conditions and that continue to invest in the nation’s youth and their potential.

These students are not at risk of dropping out as a result of their racial, ethnic, English proficiency, disability, or housing or economic status. However, these characteristics drive the moral imperative to ensure that they each receive a high-quality education. The absence of a college- and career-ready education for all students is a civil rights and social justice issue that the federal government cannot ignore.

Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.