The ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

27 Nov

Moi wrote about the “school-to-prison pipeline” in Inappropriate discipline: The first step on the road to education failure:

Joan Gausted of the University of Oregon has an excellent article in Eric Digest 78, School Discipline

School discipline has two main goals: (1) ensure the safety of staff and students, and (2) create an environment conducive to learning. Serious student misconduct involving violent or criminal behavior defeats these goals and often makes headlines in the process. However, the commonest discipline problems involve noncriminal student behavior (Moles 1989).

The issue for schools is how to maintain order, yet deal with noncriminal student behavior and keep children in school.

Alan Schwartz has a provocative article in the New York Times about a longitudinal study of discipline conducted in Texas. In School Discipline Study Raises Fresh Questions  Schwartz reports:

Raising new questions about the effectiveness of school discipline, a report scheduled for release on Tuesday found that 31 percent of Texas students were suspended off campus or expelled at least once during their years in middle and high school — at an average of almost four times apiece.

Donna St. George has written a Washington Post article which elaborates on the Texas study.

In the article, Study shows wide varieties in discipline methods among very similar schools, St. George reports:

The report, released Tuesday, challenges a common misperception that the only way schools can manage behavior is through suspension, said Michael D. Thompson, a co-author of the report, done by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Texas A&M University’s Public Policy Research Institute. “The bottom line is that schools can get different outcomes with very similar student bodies,” he said. “School administrators and school superintendents and teachers can have a dramatic impact….”

The results showed that suspension or expulsion greatly increased a student’s risk of being held back a grade, dropping out or landing in the juvenile justice system. Such ideas have been probed in other research, but not with such a large population and across a lengthy period, experts said.

Family First Aid has a good discussion about the types of behavior problems that result in suspension or expulsion.  Dore Francis has a guide, which lists what parents should do if their child is suspended. The guide gives detailed instructions to these steps and other steps. Francis also lists what questions to ask after meeting with school officials.

Sarah D. Sparks reports in the Education Week article, Study: Student Arrest Leads to Push Out, Low College Attendance:

A minor student’s arrest record may be wiped clean at 18, but it may already have permanently blemished her chances of graduating high school and going on to college and funneled her into the school-to-prison pipeline, according to a new study at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Students may drop out of school or opt not to enter college following arrest because they assess, perhaps correctly, that the touted benefits of education are not likely to materialize given the stigma of a criminal record,” said David S. Kirk, an associate sociology professor and co-author of the study, in a statement. “Though they might not even be conscious of it, teachers and advisers tend to think of arrested teens as ‘problem students,’ and focus more of their time on the students with promising futures while alienating problem students.”

Kirk and co-author Robert J. Sampson, a social sciences professor at Harvard university in Cambridge, Mass., disentangled students’ arrest history from the load of other dropout risk factors—poverty, a minority background, school disengagement, and so on. Using individual student longitudinal data from local and national education and criminal databases in Chicago, the researchers tracked cohorts of 12-year-olds and 15-year-olds from 1990 to 2005, cross-referencing enrollment and dropout data with student arrests between 1995 and 2001. (About 12 percent of students studied were arrested at least once.)

The study, to be published in the January 2013 issue of Sociology of Education, finds that school discipline policies that heavily favor out-of-school suspensions and expulsions disproportionately “push out” students after an arrest. Although in Chicago as in the rest of the country, a teenager’s arrest is supposed to be under seal, school staff and administrators often find out about them—first and foremost because a quarter of the arrests of students in Chicago happened on campus. District rules also allow a student to be expelled from school for serious behavior problems off-campus, including arrests.

While 64 percent of Chicago students who were never arrested eventually earned a high school diploma, the graduation rate for students who had been arrested was only 26 percent. Similarly, only 16 percent of students with an arrest record eventually enrolled in a four-year colleges, compared with 35 percent of students with a diploma or GED who avoided the legal system. Arrested students were also more likely to have missed school, failed a grade, or been identified for special education, even though the researchers found little difference in the IQ of students arrested and not. In subsequent analyses, the researchers found that after arrest, students come back to campus with significantly worse support from friends, though they still felt attached to school.

Other characteristics being equal, a student who had been arrested was 22 percent more likely to drop out of school than his peers. For a frustrating look at how quickly things can spiral downhill, check out the American Civil Liberty Union’s school-to-prison game.

These results add fuel to a growing push-back against exclusionary discipline in schools. Civil rights advocates charge that “zero tolerance” discipline policies more frequently lead to police involvement, particularly for students of color. For more on how schools are finding alternatives to these practices, check out my colleague Nirvi Shah’s series Rethinking Discipline.


Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Educational Damage in the Transition to Adulthood

  1. David S. Kirk
  2. Robert J. Sampson


Official sanctioning of students by the criminal justice system is a long−hypothesized source of educational disadvantage, but its explanatory status remains unresolved. Few studies of the educational consequences of a criminal record account for alternative explanations such as low self−control, lack of parental supervision, deviant peers, and neighborhood disadvantage. Moreover, virtually no research on the effect of a criminal record has examined the “black box” of mediating mechanisms or the consequence of arrest for postsecondary educational attainment. Analyzing longitudinal data with multiple and independent assessments of theoretically relevant domains, the authors estimate the direct effect of arrest on later high school dropout and college enrollment for adolescents with otherwise equivalent neighborhood, school, family, peer, and individual characteristics as well as similar frequency of criminal offending. The authors present evidence that arrest has a substantively large and robust impact on dropping out of high school among Chicago public school students. They also find a significant gap in four-year college enrollment between arrested and otherwise similar youth without a criminal record. The authors also assess intervening mechanisms hypothesized to explain the process by which arrest disrupts the schooling process and, in turn, produces collateral educational damage. The results imply that institutional responses and disruptions in students’ educational trajectories, rather than social− psychological factors, are responsible for the arrest–education link.

This Article

  1. Published online before print May 22, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0038040712448862 Sociology of Education May 22, 2012 0038040712448862
  1. » AbstractFree
  2. Full Text (PDF)                                                                                            

In Who says Black children can’t learn? Some schools get it, moi said:

People want an education for a variety of reasons. Some have a love of learning. Others want to attend a good college or vocational school. Still others, see an education as a ticket to a good job. Increasingly for schools, the goal is to prepare kids with the skills to attend and succeed at college. In order to give children the skills to succeed, schools need teachers who are effective at educating their population of kids. There are many themes in the attempt to answer the question, what will prepare kids for what comes after high school. What will prepare kids for what comes after high school is a good basic education. The schools that provide a good basic education are relentless about the basics.


Education Law Center

Discipline In Schools: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Justice for Children and Youth has a pamphlet                                        I’m being expelled from school – what are my rights?


A strategy to reduce school suspensions: ‘School Wide Positive Behavior Support’                                                       

Single-sex classrooms should be allowed in public schools

Boys of color: Resources from the Boys Initiative

U.S. Education Dept. Civil Rights Office releases report on racial disparity in school retention                                      

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