Solving the School to Prison Pipeline Puzzle

A guest post from the Seattle City Attorney's E-newslettter by Darby DuComb.  Darcy is Deputy City Attorney for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and former Board Member of Page Ahead -, a children’s literacy organization in Washington State.

June 2016
What works for kids: Solving the School to Prison Pipeline Puzzle

The “School-to-Prison Pipeline” pushes kids out of school and into the criminal justice system, into our controversial youth jails. It results from our collective failure to grow kids that can pass third grade reading achievement tests and an ineffective punitive discipline system. Without a common understanding of the racialized problem and community-wide agreement on corrective strategies, our efforts will fall short. We need a shared community-wide and universal goal to serve the social, emotional, and academic whole child with an emphasis on increased literacy and reformed school discipline practices.

1. Vaccinate against illiteracy.

Those who love reading understand the importance of books for kids. The University of Nevada and the University of Tennessee recently published studies showing that kids who have books at home – particularly books they chose – do better in school and stay in school longer. In King County, Washington, at-risk schools that sent kids home with 12 books for the summer all made 5-10% gains in meeting state reading standards compared with the average loss of one point for all Seattle Public Schools children, and two points for low income children in Seattle. Like small pox and polio, there is a vaccine for illiteracy: 12 books a summer.

2. Implement Community-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support

In Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, and across the nation, a better behavior management system called “Positive Behavior Intervention and Support” is taking root. It sets positive expectations and behaviors, and it creates positive relationships between adults and students, instead of a punitive system of rules and punishments. Its shared expectations provide consistent teaching and recognition of positive behaviors and uses common procedures to prevent problem behavior. In Oakland and Tacoma, teacher job satisfaction is up and school discipline issues are down, and the whole community embraces the new model in partnership to be kind, be safe, and be responsible.

3. Implement Restorative Justice Practices Community-Wide.

“Restorative Justice” practices focus on the needs of people, victims, offenders and community – with welcome circles, peace circles, conflict resolution circles and support circles. Restorative Justice supports relationships, the response to harm, and individual support. There is one-at-a-time talking that emphasizes patience and listening to each person, and there is conventional back-and-forth conversation. Relational responses to negative behavior in our racialized schools, justice system, and communities reduce negative behavior, and they foster an environment conducive to learning in school. It builds relationships and community. It is, in short, a way of living to be mirrored in the classroom, the board room, the home, and other community forums.

4. Always Use Trauma-Informed Practices.

Childhood trauma is a life-threatening experience. It can be the death of a friend or family member, homelessness, or other significant tragedy that threatens a young person’s survival. “Adverse Childhood Experiences” is another measure for children dealing with violence, poverty, drug addiction, neglect, malnutrition or racial oppression. These children need trauma-informed care, including an understanding of the dynamics of our racialized culture, both historically over generations and as manifested in institutional racialization today. In some schools, over half the kids are dealing with multiple traumas and/or Adverse Childhood Experiences. They need help to be safe and heal. Whether the child is ours, in our kid’s class or in the school across town, we all benefit when children experiencing trauma and “Adverse Childhood Experiences” are cared for appropriately, stay engaged in school, and avoid the criminal justice system.

5. Always Use Culturally Responsive Services

All service providers must embody culturally responsive and culturally proficient practices. In Seattle, juvenile domestic violence (often familial violence as opposed to intimate partner violence) is on the rise. Yet we have very few services for children and families struggling with domestic violence. One King County program, Step-Up, is available after a juvenile is arrested or convicted. But we need to serve these families earlier and more frequently - before children enter the criminal justice system - in our communities, schools, and places of worship. When we address domestic violence in our youth in a culturally responsive manner by diverting youth and families into services designed by them for them we prevent future violence and crime of all types.

In Oakland, it took community leaders a year to develop common goals. In Tacoma, they are committed to a 10-year implementation plan to complete their reforms. Let’s not waste another day. Our cities’ police chiefs, mayors, school officials, and communities need to get on the same community-centered page today.


Anonymous said…
Thanks to the Garfield staff for doing their part in addressing the School to Prison Pipeline.

They saw a second tier of students like those profiled in this article who were subjected to year after year of being labeled "Non-Honors" in a highly segregated school.

Since they were on the receiving end of years of neglect of these students, the staff chose to take the courageous step in doing something about it. Sometimes naming the problem is the first step.

The rest of us need to advocate for the elimination of highly impacted FRL schools, promotion of school/community services partnerships, and elimination of policies and procedures that are biased toward those who have a voice and power (in addition to the specific school changes outlined in this article) that would help give these children a chance.

FWIW, oh come on. There was no "non-honors" and yes, any student could access honors. At least tell the whole truth.

"Since they were on the receiving end of years of neglect of these students, the staff chose to take the courageous step in doing something about it."

What does that mean? "On the receiving end"?

I absolutely agree that highly impacted FRL schools should be avoided (sometimes hard with housing patterns but Cedar Park does NOT have to be one of them.)
Lynn said…
Washington Middle School will be a highly impacted FRL school too in two years when Meany reopens.
Anonymous said…
The way Title I funding works means that schools with higher overall percentages of FRL students receive more money and services than those with lower percentages. While this seems to make sense, it also fosters a system of segregation of schools with either very high or very low FRL rates. The schools with high rates financially depend on proving they maintain a high percentage while those schools with very low rates have the benefit of wealthier parents and active PTAs to support their schools. The schools in the middle with significant numbers of both FRL and non-FRL students together are rare in Seattle. If we want to eliminate highly impacted FRL schools we also have to address an underlying funding model that effectively promotes them.

Anonymous said…
And that is actually the real problem, ptsa selectivity funding wealthy schools. Ptsa funding doesn't somehow make up for the discrepancy caused by Title 1. Title 1 is *supposed* to provide extra money to poor students - not be an alternative to ptsa largesse. The underlying funding model that should be corrected is the unequal funding for extra benefits created by ptsa and other donors. Equalizing those funds, possibly through redistribution, should be a goal.

Another Perspective
Anonymous said…
IMHO, I think we can/should do better than sending 12 books home over the summer to vaccinate against illiteracy.

What if SPS implemented an early assessment and identification of children (in all schools) who are showing red flags for dyslexia? What if SPS started an effective, evidence based remediation in 1st grade rather than waiting for students to fall 2 years behind grade level? Some school districts in Ohio have implemented this type of pilot program with success.

If 1 out of 5 SPS students have some form of dyslexia, what a difference early identification and remediation could make...

Yet another perspective
Ms206 said…
Yet another perspective,
The early assessment and identification of students who show "red flags" is called RTI (Response to Intervention), which is a part of the most recent special education law, IDEIA. The whole point of RTI is to provide this remediation instead of using a "wait to fail" approach. Whether or not RTI is actually implemented is another story.

It is also important to note that school districts have very little power to force parents to accept special education services. If a parent refuses to consent to an evaluation for special ed services, the district has the option of taking the parent to due process. If a parent refuses to consent to provision of special ed services, the district can't do much. The only recourse I can think of would be to contact child welfare services for "educational neglect," but who knows if child welfare services would actually become involved. If the child was medically fragile or had a severe disability, my opinion is that child welfare services would be more likely to become involved than if the child had just a Learning Disability in the case of parents refusing services.

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