It’s a disturbing trend when schools put students on the path to incarceration instead of college.
The practice has become so common that it has been coined the school-to-prison pipeline. It starts when students receive excessive punishment for minor infractions, doled out disproportionately to students of color. Students who have been suspended or arrested are more likely to drop out, and students who drop out are more likely to be arrested.
Broad Academy alumni are leading the way to stop the vicious cycle, reinforced by the Academy’s emphasis on equity, transformational leadership skills and K-12 improvement strategies. John Deasy, former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, who serves as The Broad Center’s superintendent-in-residence, led the nation’s second-largest district to ban suspensions for minor indiscretions, known as “willful defiance.” LAUSD’s suspension rate fell from 8.1 percent to about 1.5 percent under Deasy’s tenure, and districts around the country have followed suit.
One of Antwan Wilson’s first tasks as superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District in California was to institute restorative justice practices, giving students counseling and other support instead of punishment. Student achievement has already increased, and Wilson plans to expand the program to all 135 of Oakland’s schools by 2020.
Florida’s Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie has created a model restorative justice program that schools around the country are replicating. Thanks to the program, suspensions were down 25 percent from 2011-2012 to the 2013-2014 school year. More than 2,000 students have gone through the intervention program, and 90 percent did not commit a repeat offense. The Broward program was also a model for the White House’s efforts to encourage all districts to eliminate zero-tolerance discipline.
“When we focus on ways to keep students in school rather than push them out,” said Christina Heitz, director of The Broad Academy, “we set them on the path to learn, graduate and go on to lead successful lives.”
The Broad Center
Los Angeles Unified School District
“When I became superintendent, LAUSD had 50,000 suspensions. Ninety-seven percent were discretionary, and nine out of 10 were black boys. Virtually all were for ‘willful defiance’—things like not bringing a pen, not picking up trash, not doing homework. That’s juvenile behavior, not willful defiance…We had to change policies and contracts. We had to couple that with true restorative justice practices and build a student bill of rights. We trained 35,000 people. We put restorative justice coordinators in schools. Then we had to say no to willful defiance. We ended it. Suspensions dropped by more than 80 percent. And black and brown male achievement went up. It turns out, if you stay in school, you learn.”
Oakland Unified School District
“I felt like the system had been set up to push students out of school. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the things kids get in trouble for, they did. I felt that as a student. I watched it as a teacher. But for me, discipline is about teaching lessons. It’s about putting people in a position to recognize that doing things wrong gets you more time with adults, more attention, more work. Kids think doing something wrong can get them out of work. If we want to prepare all kids to be college, career and community ready, they have to be in school. We have to keep them in school. “I don’t believe discipline is about punishment. There are times a kid can’t be in school—when they pose a serious safety threat to others. Anything less than that, we should work to keep them in our school and our district. I used to tell my students that. You’re not going to fail, unless you’re not in school.”
Broward County Public Schools
“Over the last couple of decades, the country has moved to a zero-tolerance mindset. And that zero-tolerance mindset has resulted in 3 million students being suspended from school each year. That’s an average of one student per teacher per classroom in this country. That is an alarming statistic, and not something you can just live with. You have to recognize we’re not helping kids—we’re hurting kids. We are putting them on a path to failure and dysfunction. You can make your school much safer by actually having discipline policies and supports that focus on addressing the root causes associated with student behavior rather than having a zero-tolerance mindset. Expelling a student, suspending them, and having that student out on the street and not engaged in anything positive will ultimately adversely affect all children. It’s the morally right and ethically right thing to do—to make sure we do the very best we can to provide kids with the opportunity to be successful.”