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School Zero Tolerance Kills Dreams, Hurts the Economy

Kathy Mulady
New America Media / News Analysis
Published: Saturday 3 December 2011
“Once assumed to be dropouts, many who leave are, in reality, pushed out.”
Article image

At a time when competition for jobs is fierce and even entry-level positions require a high school or college degree, anyone without a high school diploma need not apply. Yet, each year, more than a million students in the United States leave high school without graduating.

Once assumed to be dropouts, many who leave are, in reality, pushed out.'

They are casualties of punitive suspension and expulsion policies that rob students of their education for infractions as minor as being tardy, talking too loud, wearing flip flop sandals, or bringing a bottle of Advil to school.

The price of push out for students is high: it crushes their earning potential, destroys their dreams, and limits their ability to contribute economically to their communities. Many will be forced into the ranks of the unemployed, become trapped in poverty, or tangled in the justice system.

“These are our children, they deserve to go to school,” said Camille Odeh, executive director of the Southwest Youth Collaborative in Chicago. “This is a basic human rights issue.”

“Kids don’t want to be pushed out of school,” she said. “If they are doing something wrong, we have to look at the context. Maybe they don’t have the support system they need.”

The median income of a high school graduate is around $42,000, compared to about $23,000 for those who don’t graduate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Over the course of a lifetime, that equals more than $630,000 in lost income for those without a diploma.

That’s if they can find a job at all.

In January, the Alliance for Excellent Education reported that the unemployment rate of people without a high school diploma was more than three times the rate of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The cost to the economy is billions in lost earnings and taxes that could go toward Medicare and Social Security. According to the Center for American Progress, if even half of those students graduated, it would boost the nation with $7.6 billion in increased earnings, add $9.6 billion in economic growth and $713 million more in tax revenue – all in an average year.

Zero tolerance policies were created to keep guns and drugs out of schools, but are now used to keep control of students in overcrowded schools, to the point that the schools feel like prisons, and the students, like criminals.

“There is no denying that students do need discipline,” said Joao Da Silva, a spokesman for the national Dignity in Schools Campaign, based in New York, which advocates alternatives to zero tolerance policies and organizes against school pushout.

“What we see is that schools don’t make students feel welcome, are not inclusive and don’t make them feel like they have a future. Young people are treated in school like they are prisoners,” said Da Silva.

In Chicago, 11th grader Quabeeny Daniels was on the path to pushout.

When school officials found Daniels in the hallway during class time, they checked his attendance records and discovered he was often late getting to school. He was expelled.

Daniels said he walks 20 blocks to high school in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood. If he oversleeps, he is late to his 7:30 a.m. class and not allowed in the door. Unable to attend class, he falls behind in his studies.

Generation Y, a youth action organization associated with the Southwest Youth Collaborative, worked with Daniels after his expulsion.

“He is very determined; we know that this is something he is concerned about,” said Cindy Ibarra of Generation Y.

Now back in school, Daniels is focused on being on time and raising his grades.

Ibarra said when students are simply suspended rather than given help in solving their problems, the conflicts remain when they return to school. Counseling, peer juries and peer circles that delve into their issues can help students find solutions. Other advocates say mediation, mental health services, and rewards for positive behavior also help students stay in school.

Pressure on public schools to excel in standardized testing is also a primary part of the pushout problem. Underachieving students are routinely suspended from school right before the tests.

“We will see schools suspend hundreds of students the weeks before standardized testing starts so they don’t take down the scores for the whole school,” said Ibarra.

“One of our young people, her grades weren’t all that good. A week before the test, they gave her an attendance record showing she had been tardy and told her not to come to school for finals,” said Ibarra.

Pushout is a crisis that can start in kindergarten and lead to prison. Many call it the school to prison pipeline.

In Texas, where the Dallas Independent School District spends $21 million a year for its own police force, officers give tickets to school children as young as six years old for being tardy or having a tantrum. Parents must pay the fines, or risk going to jail.

Rather than changing behavior, punitive school discipline criminalizes students with expulsions and referrals to alternative schools, pushing students out of school and often to the street economy of selling drugs or prostitution to survive.

“You can see very concretely the criminalization of our children,” said Allison Brim, with the Texas Organizing Project, which is working to change aggressive discipline policies.

Pushout also worries Lakashia Wallace. Her son, Joseph Wallace, a special education student in Dallas, was expelled from school five times in sixth grade.

“He has been sent home for some really frivolous stuff,” said his mother.

Now in 8th grade and at a smaller school, Joseph is thriving with a teacher who has taken an interest in him. But his mother is concerned about what will happen when he goes to high school next year. The school his older brother and sister attended has 4,700 students, and she is worried he will be pushed out.

However, some school districts are starting to recognize pushout as a problem.

The Los Angeles school district, which also has its own police force, recently changed its practice of handing out $240 truancy tickets – mostly to African-American and Latino students – after recognizing the connection with pushout.

Instead of turning tardiness into a criminal matter, officers now work with students to help them get to school on time.

“We all want to have safe schools,” said Anne Foster, executive director at Parents for Public Schools, based in Jackson, Miss. “But beyond that, if there is any policy that is not child-centered, not focused on educating students, then we are not doing what we need to be doing in public schools.”

Joyce Parker, executive director of Citizens for a Better Greenville is working with parents in her Mississippi community to raise awareness of pushout, educate school board members and support the election of leaders willing to change policies.

“When we raise these issues, we find that there are more people who feel like us, but might not be able to speak out,” said Parker.

Parker says too many schools are forgetting their most basic mandate: that all children have the right – not just the opportunity – to a quality education, and a right to be taught.

When Robert Holloway started high school in Greenville, he had two dreams: to play football and to graduate.

“I made it all the way to the 11th grade,” said Holloway, now 21 and built like a quarterback, with a head of long braids that brush his shoulders as he walks.

The path to pushout for Robert started in the fourth grade, when his teacher angrily paddled his palms with two rulers taped together until they went numb, his punishment for laughing in class.

“It shut him down. He was just sad all the time,” said his mother, Earlene Holloway.

Robert struggled with his studies, but he isn’t a slow learner. “When I had good teachers, I did well,” he said.

But, the stress he faced at school left Robert doubled over with stomach cramps in the morning when it was time to leave the house.

If he was a few seconds late for class, teachers would close the door in his face. He was constantly sent to the office for minor infractions. He was written up because his shirttail was hanging out, and another time because he was explaining to a classmate how to use the Internet.

“I knew that nine times out of 10, I was going to end up in trouble. I got tired of being in trouble for nothing I did,” he said.

Robert wasn’t the only student being pushed out. Earlene Holloway began advocating for her son and for scores of other students being written up or suspended for trivial matters.

“So many children in that school look like they have been broken up into pieces. It’s not like a school, it is like a correctional facility,” she said.

Sports kept Robert Holloway in school. He played on the varsity football team in 9th and 10th grade. Some thought he had professional potential.

“I loved being out on the field,” he said. “I know I could have made professional; I had scouts coming to look at me.”

But school became intolerable. Stressed to the breaking point, Robert left in the 11th grade school, his dreams derailed.

Robert said the support and encouragement of his family keep him going. He feels fortunate to work as a meter reader for the electric company, turning most of his paycheck over to his mother to help pay the bills.

For now, he sleeps on the couch in the living room of the small two-room apartment he shares with his parents and sister, studies to take the GED and holds on to his next dream: Robert Holloway plans to go to college.



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Cheers pal. I do appreciate

Cheers pal. I do appreciate the wrtinig.

My daughter got expelled from

My daughter got expelled from the Folsom/Cordova school district for taking melatonin to school. At first I was told she was being suspended for 3 days, but then the school police officer gave her a ride home and realized we lived in Section 8 apartments. So the vice principal called and said they changed it to an expulsion. I tried to fight it, but could not afford to hire an attorney. She was only in 8th grade when she was expelled, but they never allowed her to return to school.

Public school doesn't exist

Public school doesn't exist to breed creativity, originality or independence. It is strictly a training ground for middle-class, white-collar cubicle jobs. Schools have zero-tolerance dress policies, absenteeism policies, behavioral restrictions, etc. - can anyone tell me what 'real' job rewards its employees for being late, insubordinate, slovenly or a poor performer?

Push Out is a reality. Thank

Push Out is a reality. Thank you for this insightful article.

Insightful article. Thank you

Insightful article. Thank you so much! Push Out is a reality.

What? Suggest that the

What? Suggest that the schools are failing their agenda? Oh contrair! The schools are doing an excellent job of creating valuable participants in America's for profit corporate prison system. The more students "educated" to fill the cells, the more money for wall street. Why teach a kid what he or she needs to know to get by in this for a couple of thousand bucks a year a when you can give wall street a few hundred thousand dollars a year to contain them in a warehouse. After all, we live in a wall street first society. The kids are just widgets for retailing. The police, the government, the prisons, the judcial system AND the schools, wall street owns them all.

Absolutely. Keep them dumb

Absolutely. Keep them dumb and on the new "slave plantation." Many of the schools here in California resemble prisons, by no accident, I am certain!
Bravo Sir!
Best,
Thought Criminal Nat

Just because people who

Just because people who finish high school earn more than those who don't doesn't mean a high school diploma leads to higher income. Those who finish high school might have been at an advantage long before graduating. School today is little more than day incarceration or day care. Teachers are not needed for their knowledge, only their discipline. Anyone with access to a library or the internet can learn anything they like. I've never had an employer check my high school diploma. For many, school, especially high school, is an impediment to education. To become a lawyer, for example, all one need do is pass the bar exam. No schooling necessary.

This is the cost olf "

This is the cost olf " diversity" - we are trying to mesh cultures of different evolutionary advancement and it is creating chaos as any thinking person could have predicted

You sir, sound like a

You sir, sound like a eugenicist in Nazi Germany!

Mr. Avard, I think you missed

Mr. Avard, I think you missed the time & place that matched your philosophy - - Nazi Germany.

Amen! And thank you Susan

Amen! And thank you Susan Fisher!

As a Conservative Realist, I

As a Conservative Realist, I agree with what most of Mr. Reich writes regarding the US situation today Where Progressives go wrong is not seeming to understand human nature. People will take the easy way almost every time. What ever Society rewards, we get more of. Welfare begets more folds on welfare, paid abortion begets more abortion. It really has to do with character. If we all had the character that I surmise Mr. Reich has, I would bet that the system would not be abused But obviouly we all do not have such character Even in the tiny country of Sweden which is the Welfare Queen of Europe, and is a very closed soeiety and close knit, they have a significant percentage of people who take advantage of the system which adds greatly to the welfare burden But we are facing a different situation today. America has been swindled by the Elite. We woke up too late. As Reich says, we need to get money into the hands of consumers fast or this entire economy is going down, There is not one Republican who has a plausible plan to restart the enconomy, not even ron paul who believes in the magic hand of Free Enterprise to save us The problem is that we now have plummeting General Demand in this country and it will continue until total collapse occurs unless there is massive Federal intervention

As a Conservative Realist, I

As a Conservative Realist, I agree with what most of Mr. Reich writes regarding the US situation today Where Progressives go wrong is not seeming to understand human nature. People will take the easy way almost every time. What ever Society rewards, we get more of. Welfare begets more folds on welfare, paid abortion begets more abortion. It really has to do with character. If we all had the character that I surmise Mr. Reich has, I would bet that the system would not be abused But obviouly we all do not have such character Even in the tiny country of Sweden which is the Welfare Queen of Europe, and is a very closed soeiety and close knit, they have a significant percentage of people who take advantage of the system which adds greatly to the welfare burden But we are facing a different situation today. America has been swindled by the Elite. We woke up too late. As Reich says, we need to get money into the hands of consumers fast or this entire economy is going down, There is not one Republican who has a plausible plan to restart the enconomy, not even ron paul who believes in the magic hand of Free Enterprise to save us The problem is that we now have plummeting General Demand in this country and it will continue until total collapse occurs unless there is massive Federal intervention

I am an 83 year old man who

I am an 83 year old man who had problems in schools because I could think outside the box called school. I was paddled in 2nd grade on suspicion of eating candy while the teacher was out of the room. We lived in the low-rent area of the district in Topeka. I was threatened when I played with the two black (I am white) kids who were assigned to that school by mistake because they lived a few blocks from the school. Black kids had to be bused to a black school. When I returned next year, I went into another section of the 2nd grade with a different teacher. When I refused to go into the classroom of the teacher who failed me, I was allowed to stay. It took from 2nd grade to fifth grade for me to regain my enthusiasm for school, when my teacher, a man, noticed that I preferred to read in the Book of Knowledge set during recesses, rather than going out to play with the rest. He turned me around. I eventually gained a master's degree and served as an Army officer and worked over 40 years in clinical laboratories.

I have long known the problems with schools and became actively involved with my children's schools and rescued them from various forms of discretionary disciplinary actions. Once, when a teacher in a public school required her class to take part in her Christian fundamentalist prayers, I threatened the principal to go to the media if he did not intercede. He did, and the teacher left the school. Another time I told a principal who asked permission to paddle my child for calling a teacher an epithet to her face, that perhaps he should have kept his epithets private and among his peers. I refused permission for the school to paddle my child. I disciplined my child myself without harm to his education. I found more personal freedom in the ranks of the US Army for 20 years of service than I found in my schools, up to and including college, first as an enlisted man and then after qualifying for a commission as an officer, sixteen more years as an officer.

The grading system of schools I have attended and which my children attended, I found, placed too much emphasis on right answers according to the teacher than in the quality of the effort that went into studying. In a clinical laboratory it is not the test result that counts, but the quality control of the tests that produced the results, the personnel who ran the tests, and the instrumentation that recorded it. That is the problem of public and private schools, quality control. They have no quality to control. It begins with the teacher training and the instruments and methods used to teach students. It ends with the administrative attitude of a school system rather than a prison.

The teacher who is wise leads the student to the threshold of his own knowledge. Teachers cannot give their knowledge or their wisdom to students. When the tunnel to the mind is blocked by artificial barriers, no learning takes place or avoidance strategies are formed.

terrible expecting students

terrible expecting students to show up and not disrupt class that is a terrible idea

KirstenL's picture

Because, of course, there

Because, of course, there couldn't possibly ever be a reason for tardiness. I grant you that there are some bad apples who disrespect everyone and everything (though I hazard to mention that even they probably also have issues that are causing the behavior to begin with). I get so tired of people looking at the world as black and white - "oh, you're late all the time? Well, lets expel you so you have absolutely no chance of changing your circumstances!"

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