Most people have a vague idea of what "school-to-prison pipeline" means: that certain schools in certain neighborhoods provide a steady stream of young men and women to state penitentiaries. But in Dallas, Texas, Stand for Children dug deeper and investigated what that school-to-prison pipeline actually means for students and their communities. What we found was astonishing. Ten ZIP codes contributed 3,100 inmates to the state prisons, while high schools in those same ZIP codes produced only 26 students in a year (or, 1 percent of kids who started 9th grade) ready for college.
Imagine a crowd of 1,000 14-year-olds. Now pick 10 of them. That's how many will get a decent education and a shot at a brighter future.
This problem is not unique to Dallas or even to Texas. Across the United States we are watching an alarming trend: Jobs that require higher education and specialized knowledge are sitting open, while more and more children are dropping out of high school or not finishing any higher education.
There's a lot that needs to change to improve those unacceptable outcomes. But the first thing? Expectations.
My mother's paternal grandmother was a slave and my father's paternal grandparents were penniless Jewish immigrants. But the two families had more in common than you might think: they both had an unwavering belief that education was the ticket to a better tomorrow. For me, the sky-high expectations from my parents and teachers were so omnipresent I never even considered the possibility of not going to college.
But for most children of color, it's the exact opposite.
Miranda Belcher has a middle-school son at a feeder school to South Oak Cliffs High School, one of the 10 high schools in Stand's Dallas school-to-prison study. In the 2010-2011 school year, South Oak Cliffs only had two students graduate college ready. "Most teachers will give a child an assignment but won't push them," Belcher says of her son's middle school. "Then, when they fall short, they offer other alternatives." Belcher's niece transferred from a neighboring school district into Spruce, another high school in the study, and Belcher says the differences in the districts are obvious. "In [the other district] everything she did was challenging for her," Belcher says. "But now, she is bored. It's clear the expectations are not as high: she's already covered the material."
And low expectations and a lack of academic rigor aren't just a problem in Dallas. Just ask Khadijah Thompson, who is an organizer with Stand for Children in Baton Rouge.
Thompson was one of nine siblings growing up and had her first child when she was 14. "When I was growing up," Thompson recalls, "my mom was not actively involved in my education. She was always proud of me, but she never pushed me to do well in school or go to college." And Thompson wasn't getting much information at her high school either. She describes her neighborhood high school in Baton Rouge as having a "laid-back education approach." "I don't remember the college guidance folks giving me any information about college choices, minimum requirements, or scholarships."
Nationwide, one in three students who make it to college in the U.S. have to take remedial courses when they get there. Only 35 percent of these students end up getting a bachelor's degree in six years.
In a country where so many laid down their lives for the right to a quality education, how can we have schools where the only college guidance is a packet on how to register for the ACT? How can we allow parents to be so disconnected from schools that they don't have any expectations for how their children are being educated and don't know how their children are doing in school unless they're acting out?
And, in Dallas, how can there be neighborhoods full of bright children who finish high school with a 99 percent chance of being unprepared for college?
These troubling statistics are why we must stand together for quality preschool and effective elementary school reading instruction for all children. We must stand together to ensure every school has a strong principal and teachers who are supported to help their students learn. We must stand together for family engagement strategies that involve families in student learning, for interventions that help students who are struggling, for top notch college guidance.
Sixty-five years ago my mother grew up in a segregated town in South Carolina where she couldn't go to the public library. Now there is a brand new public library named after her whose inscription reads: "All are welcome."
That didn't just happen. A lot of people, including my mother, risked their lives and livelihoods to make that happen.
We need that same urgency today. Join us to build a movement for Miranda's family, for Khadijah's family, and for the millions of students and families in public schools today.