anthony asadullah samad (2014)

Anthony Asadullah Samad

*Last week, a new report offered a renewed look at a persistent problem in how public education is failing our children.

Disproportionately excluding black children from the classroom, through suspensions, expulsions and non-learning “holding rooms,” are a glaring problem in U.S. public schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released new data that suggests that suspension/expulsion problem, which we all knew existed in LAUSD, was deeper than we ever suspected.

While previous data focused on the race gaps and exclusion disparities of middle and high school systems, this latest study found that out of class exclusions are continuing to be a K through 12 problem—regardless of grade level, across public school systems, nationwide.

Okay…so what else is new? Well, here’s what’s new and it’s shocker…

The new study reports that classroom exclusion starts as early as preschool.

That’s right… preschool.

If you’re not shocked, you should be.

Even the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is. The study shows that black children in preschool enrollment—and only 60% of the nation’s school districts even have pre-schools—represent 42% of students suspended, even though they represent only 18% of the preschool population. Nobody saw this coming. What’s wrong with this picture, everybody?

Well, what is wrong is that, according to the study, students that are suspended once—are more likely to be suspended again, and thus—are less likely to graduate. Students least likely to graduate, are most likely to dropout. Dropouts are most likely to become involved in criminal behavior, and are the leading targets for perpetual imprisonment.

The latest “buzz word” in education is the term, “school to prison” pipeline.

It is a phenomenon that is real, and is institutionalized between two long standing institutions, public schools and the nation’s incarceration (prison) systems—many of which are now privatized and need to be “fed” to make a profit. It is our children that’s being fed to them.

Public education has become the leading feeder to this formalized prison industrial complex. When the Attorney General of the United States, stands with the U.S. Secretary of Education and states this is a problem—it’s more than a problem. It’s an epidemic. Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that the pipeline is real and that every data point represented a life impacted and a future “potentially diverted and derailed.” By the way, right behind black children are Latino children, with the emphasis put on black and Latino males.

In 2008, a Schott Foundation study, which was a 50 state study, documented that black males were three times likely to be suspended or expelled than their white male counterparts, and that black and Latinos males represented 80% of the students segregated out of the classroom into punitive “special education” programs. “Special education” is code for tracking or detention programs were little or no learning takes place. These exclusions are also most likely to take place in “high minority enrollment schools” (another new “buzz word” which is a synonym for “poor schools”), where 28% of the core subject teachers lack the appropriate certification for the subject they teach. Teachers who can’t teach are less tolerant of classroom disruption. Real talk.

Exclusion, as a form of discipline, is highly subjective and is reflective of teachers’ biases. Something as simple as talking back to the teacher—merits “a talking to” for white students but merits classroom exclusion for students of color, particularly black males.

The term, “willful defiance,” is most associated with students who engaged in classroom disruption. The definition of disruption is a sliding scale that’s selectively applied. Where one student is deemed obnoxious, another student is deemed inquisitive. Where one student is deemed active, another is deemed disruptive. Where one student is deemed assertive, another is deemed defiant. Where is the line between active and disruptive, or assertive and defiant?

Yet nobody seems to know where the line is drawn, nor why the differences exist, but clearly teachers draw this imaginary line in the sand when it comes to black children. Where teachers are supposed to be patient, they are clearly intolerant when it comes to certain students.

However, we do now know what this unclarity in treatment produces.

It produces a gross societal disparity that undermines life chances and future opportunities. As of six years ago, only 4.6 black males were enrolled in college—only half of which graduated. Only 11% of black males complete a bachelor’s degree nationally. Life is about options and opportunities. It appears that public schools and prisons are colluding around limiting life options for black males. This is no longer just “correlating data.”

Coincidence?

I don’t think so. The trajectory of educational opportunities are declining and the trajectory of the prison option is on the rise, and the nation is standing back and watching this happen.

The only thing more troubling about this latest trend is that excluding black children at earlier ages is that the current trends are sure to produce greater pipeline populations.

Black communities are sure to be in trouble if the trends aren’t reversed. Education was once the “way out” of poverty. Now it is the way in…into prison. Public education, in its failure to address classroom exclusions, has now become an accomplice in our children’s compromise.

Along with our silence and inaction.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.