School to Prison Pipeline by Raymond J. Ankrum, Sr.

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There’s s ton of literature on this subject. My goal is to cover it in a researched based quick write. A form of writing that’s research based, but written in a manner that you don’t have to be an “academic” to understand.


It starts with young, African-American and Latino males being identified as Special Education students. Many of these students were possibly undiagnosed ADHD, but 25 years ago (mid to late 90’s), people weren’t willing to go the extra mile to determine why students were being referred for special education services. It was easier to classify students as having an inability to be engaged in learning, than to do the legwork to determine why students lacked engagement. The learners in these Special Education classes were disproportionately students of color, 100% free and reduced lunch students, and the special education classes were isolated from the general population of student learners.  

Evidence is strong that students with special education disabilities are similarly targeted for school discipline problems and that racial disparity exists across special education student populations as well (Rivkin, 2010). Students of color have been found disproportionately in the diagnosis of certain special education categories, such as mental retardation and severe emotional disturbances (Harry & Klinger, 2006), thus causing some to conclude that referral bias from school personnel is a causal factor (Adams & Meiners, 2014).

Fast forward 25 years, and these same practices are occurring in schools today. Not just schools in Louisiana, but schools in your home states as well. Minority students are the students that are most affected by “Zero Tolerance” school disciplinary policies. The U.S. Department of Education identified in 2012 that in school districts with more than 50,000 students, African-American students represented 24%of enrollment but 35%of on-campus arrests, with lower, but still disparate rates for Hispanic students (McCurdy, 2014).


• New Orleans, LA, the Orleans Parish School Board’s expulsions under zero tolerance policies were 100% Black, with 67% of their school-related arrests being Black students. The RSD-Algiers Charter School Association had 75% of their expelled students without educational services black. Furthermore, 100% of their expulsions under zero tolerance policies and 100% of their school-related arrests were all Black students.

• In St. Louis, MO schools, the Normandy School District’s 98% Black student population drew in the following: 100% of all students who received more than one out-of-school suspension, 100% of those who were expelled without educational services and 100% of those who were referred to law enforcement. In Missouri’s Ritenour School District, 67% of Black students vs. 33% white students were referred to law enforcement.

Above are expanded statistics pulled from the Civil Rights Data Collection, with latest results from 2009.

Train Your Staff:

Effective professional development for teachers and administrators on improving classroom management and school climate has improved staff retention, student instructional time, and student engagement in learning (Browers & Tornic, 2000). Unfortunately, when school personnel lack training and resources, student academic achievement is lowered, inappropriate special education referrals are increased, and referrals for student disciplinary sanctions become significantly greater (Donavan & Cross, 2002).

Over the last few years studies have used improved research designs and found continued positive outcomes for restorative justice programming, although a majority of these reviews are still only descriptive, making this a promising and not evidence based course of practice (Minkos, Latham & Sugai, 2014). For example, over two academic school years, four high schools in the Chicago Public School system that had implemented varying degrees of restorative programming including mediation, peer juries, conferences, and peace circles found up to 80% reductions in student misconduct and arrests and improvements in attendance (Hereth, Kaba, Meiniers, & Wallace, 2012). 

Shout out to Ascend Charter School for being one of the first Charter Schools CMO’s in NY to be vocal in regards to addressing the concerns addressed regarding zero tolerance discipline in schools. Their blog addressing the issue:

For you Visual Learners:

Some people are visual learners, see video link:

Key Questions to ask folks that advocate for zero-tolerance school policies are as follows:

1. What exactly are these folks to do without an education?  

2. What are their options?

Works Cited:

Adams, D., & Meiners, E. (2014). Who wants to be special? Pathologization and the preparation of bodies for prison. In A. J. NocellaII, P. Parmar, & D. Stovall (Eds.), From education to incarceration: Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline (pp. 145–164). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Browers, A., & Tornic, C. (2000). A longitudinal study of teacher burn-out and perceived self-efficacy in classroom management. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(2), 239–253.

Donavan, M. S., & Cross, C. T. (2002). Minority students in special and gifted education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Harry, B., & Klinger, J. (2006). Why are so many minority students in special education: Understanding race and disability in schools. NewYork, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hereth, J., Kaba, M., Meiniers, E. R., & Wallace, L. (2012). Restorative justice is not enough. In S. Bahena, N. Cooc, R. Currie-Rubin, P. Kuttner, & M. Ng (Eds.), Disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline (pp. 240–264). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review.

McCurdy, J. (2014). Targets for arrest. In A. J. Nocella II, P. Parmar, &D. Stovall (Eds.), From education to incarceration: Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline (pp. 86–101). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Minkos, M., Latham, S., & Sugai, G. (2014, October). Systematic Descriptive literature review of restorative justice practices. Poster session at the PBIS: Building Capacity and Partnerships to Enhance Educational Reform Leadership Forum, Rosemont, IL.

Rivkin, D. H. (2010). Decriminalizing students with disabilities. NewYork Law School Law Review, 54, 909–942.







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