Schools aren’t just being used as pipelines to prison, they are prison. The slamming of a 16-year old high school girl by a police officer in South Carolina, called to the classroom because she used her cell phone, the arrest in handcuffs of a 14-year old who brought a homemade radio to school in Texas, and the description of kindergartners suspended if they don’t adhere to the discipline policy of sitting up straight, hands clasped, eyes on the teacher at charter-school entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy in New York City, all point to this.
“Right now the school-to-prison pipeline is one of the biggest issues facing our youth, especially Black, Latino, LGBT, and special needs students. Suspensions mean lost schooling for children and increased dropout rates, something that parents, researchers, and the Obama Administration have acknowledged directly fuel the school-to-prison pipeline,” writes Mike Lux of americanfamilyvoices.org.
And it is no coincidence that schools, like prisons, are being privatized in operation, though funded with public money.
The school-to-prison pipeline starts the disparate treatment of the youngest black students in school. Black children make up 18% of preschoolers, but 48% of pre-school suspensions. Overall black students are 4 times more likely than their white peers to be suspended. Latino, LGBT and special needs students are also more likely to be suspended. The data is clear: Suspensions lead to dropouts, which often lead to prison.
The systemic, institutionalized policy also insures a sizable population of docile workers powerless to command more than minimum wage.
Fatima Geidi started a petition “Tell the U.S. Department of Education to Stop Funding the Kindergarten to Prison Pipeline”. to bring necessary attention to the ‘zero tolerance’ disciplinary codes that many charter schools practice nationwide, and that her own child suffered the brunt of in New York City’s Success Academy Charter Network.
“My 10-year-old son Jamir has faced multiple school suspensions when he was a student at Success Academy charter schools in New York City. He was routinely asked to be picked up or was suspended for minor infractions, like being too emotional or not going up the school stairs in a timely manner. My son has special needs and he can act out when not provided the proper supports, but Success Academy did nothing to help him. I finally had to withdraw my son.”
Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools and one of the most visible proponents of for-profit charter schools nationally, has become the nation’s most outspoken champions of suspending students. Bragging on suspending 5-year-olds, and claiming that it is best to ‘start them young’. she was recently exposed for having a “Got to Go” list of students her schools deemed unfit, which they suspended until parents were forced to remove them. Last year alone, one of her schools issued 44 out-of-school suspensions to just 203 kindergarteners and first graders (this, as the New York Times reported NYC suspension rate dropped (New York City School Suspensions Fell 17% in 2014-15, Officials Say). The objective of removing “difficult” students, though, is to artificially inflate the test scores of the charter schools over public schools, which are required to educate all students, and to bring down the cost, inflating profit, by not having to spend the additional resources on special needs students.
“But because Moskowitz has the backing of hedge fund billionaires who use their political muscle to buy influence for her and other zero tolerance charter schools in Washington, D.C., nothing is being done about it,” writes Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York. “In fact Eva Moskowitz has used her political connections to rake in over $37 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education. She was just awarded $13.4 million of $335 million that the Department awarded to charter schools across the country. If the U.S. Department of Education is going continue to fund Eva Moskowitz’s zero tolerance charter schools in New York, then they will turn a blind eye to zero tolerance charter schools across the country. We cannot allow the U.S. government to fund a kindergarten to prison pipeline.”
Organizations including Alliance for Quality Education, the Urban Youth Collaborative, Color of Change and americanfamilyvoices.org are circulating the petition to tell the Education Department to stop funding the Kindergarten to Prison Pipeline.
“Moskowitz’ aggressive suspension policies are part of a national trend of criminalizing black and brown youth and run counter to a national movement that is fighting back in our schools, in our streets and with the police. While Eva Moskowitz touts the mantra of serving mostly Black and Latino students, the cost of education should not be punitive discipline that serves as a precursor to prison,” Lux writes.
After a New York Times exposed the “Got to Go” list, Moskowitz held a press conference in which she asserted that it was a mistake, and the list was ended just three days later. But that defies the facts presented in the article, At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’.
And it is telling that the principal, Candido Brown, said at that press conference, with tears streaming down his eyes, ” I was doing what I thought I needed to do to fix a school where I would not send my own child.”
But schools aren’t just funneling students into prison. They are increasingly operated like a prison, contradicting what should be the ultimate mission, of creating “lifelong learners” who have the skills to find answers to problems themselves and develop innovative solutions.
The obsession on high-stakes testing, which by their nature force conformity and a “right answer,” “in the box” culture is 180-degrees wrong from what “they” say is needed in the 21st Century global economy, and is why China, which outperforms the US on international tests, is shifting its curriculum to encourage innovation and creativity, rather than conformity. But in the US, the so-called “reformers” who regard students as “widgets” to be shaped and molded, are designed to create a workforce that will conform in the workplace and in the political space.
News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. Tweet @KarenBRubin, ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures