The school-to-prison pipeline is a national trend in which students are pushed out of school and into the juvenile justice system. Research indicates that the pipeline is an unintended consequence of increasingly harsh school discipline policies such as “zero tolerance.” Additionally, schools increasingly rely on law enforcement to handle minor disciplinary issues previously administered internally. This creates the initial link between the classroom and the criminal justice system. Harsh discipline policies often disproportionally affect minority students and students with disabilities. According to the Department of Education, African-American students are three and a half times more likely to face suspension or expulsion than their White peers. Additionally, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as students without disabilities.
In December, Assistant Secretary for Education Deb Delisle wrote on the U.S. Department of Education’s blog about steps the Department is taking to break the connection between the classroom and the criminal justice system. Her comments focused on ways to train teachers to use alternative discipline tactics, rather than simply suspension or expulsion. Assistant Secretary Delisle also noted that the Department is in the process of reviewing alternative practices, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to determine if they can improve outcomes over current “zero tolerance policies.”
Previous research has suggested utilizing systems, such as PBIS, that emphasize creating a positive and nurturing learning environment and while minimizing harsh responses to behavioral problems. These systems further benefit from the addition of professional learning communities that encourage engagement among different members of the school as well as with external stakeholders.
*The American Institutes for Research is a social and behavioral science research not-for-profit that operates several U.S. Department of Education contracts, including the National High School Center.
Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.