College for ‘justice-involved’ (criminal) students

Don’t ask college applicants if they have a criminal record, advises the U.S. Department of Education in Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals.

“We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a speech at UCLA, which doesn’t screen applicants for a criminal record. “The college admissions process . . . should serve as a gateway to unlocking untapped potential of students,” he said. That includes “those involved with the criminal justice system.”

Applicants for federal jobs aren’t asked about a criminal record in the initial screening and the Obama administration is pressuring employers to “ban the box.”


“There are better ways to ensure campus safety than stigmatizing those who are trying to better their lives through higher education,” University of California President Janet Napolitano said.

“Campus safety is absolutely paramount in this process,” declares a Department of Education press release. Campuses that screen for criminal justice history don’t seem to be any safer than those that don’t, according to the DoE, but there’s little research on the issue.

When college applicants have to admit and explain their criminal record, many just give up, according to Beyond the Box.  A study found 62.5 percent of State University of New York applicants who checked the box for a prior felony conviction never completed their applications, compared with 21 percent of applicants with no criminal history.

The report recommends “delaying the request for – or consideration of – criminal justice involvement until after an admission decision has been made to avoid a chilling effect on potential applicants whose backgrounds may ultimately be deemed irrelevant.”

In addition, the report calls for offering counseling, peer mentors, college coaches, jobs and support groups for “justice-involved students.”

Last July, the Education Department announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program to test new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue a postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around. In November, the Department also announced up to $8 million in Adult Reentry Education Grants to support educational attainment and reentry success for individuals who have been incarcerated.

The Common App, used by more than 600 colleges, asks about misdemeanor or felony convictions, but no longer will ask about other crimes.

“Ban the box” campaigners cite racial disparities in arrest rates and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” writes Juleyka Lantigua-Williams in The Atlantic.

“Students of color are the most likely to be harmed by putting these questions on the application,” said Natalie Sokoloff, professor emerita of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Most students with criminal records go to community colleges and other open-admissions public schools, she found.

I doubt that would change significantly if applications to selective universities were more welcoming. Most “justice-involved youth” are not on the honor roll. Adults coming out of prison, who may pose a danger to classmates, aren’t likely to be qualified for selective universities.

For the kid with a BB gun, expulsion or mercy?

When a student brought a BB gun to school in a tough Chicago neighborhood, his principal expelled him. A few years later, Nancy Hanks encountered him in an elevator, she recalled in a speech last month in Washington at the 25th anniversary summit for Teach for America.

She was afraid: Had she put him in the school-to-prison pipeline?

That meeting changed Hanks’ approach to discipline, reports Emma Brown in the Washington Post.

Nancy Hanks

Nancy Hanks

Now an administrator in Madison, Wisconsin, she’s “played a key role in revamping district-wide discipline policies, replacing the old zero-tolerance approach with an approach built on the conviction that suspension and expulsion don’t solve problems at the root of student misbehavior.”

“You and I, intelligent, well-intentioned warriors of equity — we contribute to the pipeline,” Hanks said in her speech.

She didn’t expel the boy with the BB gun because she thought he’d use it, she said.

BB guns don't look like toys.

BB guns look like guns.

“I was angry because I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school.”

As it turned out, her former student said he was earning good grades at Phoenix Military Academy, a public high school, and seeking help to prepare for the ACT.

“I was selfishly relieved that despite my lack of compassion and understanding, or patience or mercy, that he seemed to be thriving — and that, by the grace of God, he hadn’t wound up in the juvenile justice system,” Hanks said. “I prayed for forgiveness for that time and any other time I betrayed the privilege given to me to be a steward and protector over the children I serve.”

If you check out the comments, most people think being a steward and protector includes looking out for the kids who want to attend a safe, BB gun-free school.

Voucher may be ‘stay out of jail’ card

670px-Play-Monopoly-With-Electronic-Banking-Step-9School vouchers may serve as a “stay out of jail card”, concludes a working paper by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick J. Wolf.

Crime rates are lower for young adults who experienced Milwaukee’s citywide voucher program as high school students, they found. Students who stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade — especially males — were significantly less likely to arrested than those who attended public high schools.

Duncan proposes prison-to-school pipeline

Freeing half of non-violent prison inmates would save $15 billion to fund 56 percent pay hikes for teachers at high-poverty schools, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a National Press Club speech yesterday. Duncan envisions a “prison-to-school pipeline,” as Ed Week puts it.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch  lists to Alphonso Coates, a jail inmate in an education program.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch listen to Alphonso Coates, a jail inmate in an education program. Photo: Washington Post

“We cannot lay our incarceration crisis at the door of our schools,” Duncan said. “But we have to do our part to end the school to prison pipeline.”

Duncan also proposed $25,000 pay hikes for mentor teachers at high-poverty schools.

More than two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts, according to the DOE.

If their teachers had earned more, would they have done better? Or were they trapped in the bad parenting-to-prison pipeline?

However, the Education and Justice departments have released guidelines urging schools to reduce expulsions and suspensions, notes the Washington Post.

Tying racial patterns in school discipline to academic achievement gaps and to the national debate about racial discrimination by police, Duncan urged educators to examine their biases, their “own attitudes and decisions, and the ways they are tied to race and class.”

If Duncan wants more high-quality teachers in high-poverty schools, accusing educators of being racially biased probably isn’t a good move.

Locking up fewer non-violent offenders may be good policy. But it’s not cost free. The “savings” would have to go to supervise thieves, train the unskilled, rehab addicts and alcoholics, care for the mentally ill, house the homeless — and police neighborhoods. Don’t expect states or cities to hand over the money to the schools.

Too strict?

A student at Lyons Community School in New York does an exercise before a student "circle."

A student at Lyons Community School in New York prepares for a student “circle.”

Is this working? asks a story on school discipline policies for NPR’s This American Life.

Reporter Chana Jaffe-Walt contrasts a “no excuses” charter school in Brooklyn, Achievement First Bushwick, with a nearby middle/high school, Lyons Community, which stresses “restorative justice.”

AFB students who misbehave gets demerits. Lyons students discuss their decision-making in student circles and and may go before a student justice court.

On Match Education’s blog, guest Ross T. critiques NPR’s story.

Educated in a “no excuses” school in Boston, Rousseau Mieze now teaches middle school at AFB. He’s ambivalent about his old high school’s strict discipline, she writes. She finds it “super confusing” when he gives a a demerit to a student for talking during a silent transition.

Mieze is motivated by fear, she concludes.

Fear for the well-being of their students, fear that they “won’t graduate, won’t get to college, will get suspended or arrested for horsing around or being rowdy in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I can relate. I felt that fear, for my own part. What follows next, though, I disagree with.

Jaffe-Walt then says that while Mieze is trying to relinquish some control over his students, “his fear gets in the way.”  The implication is that he knows that the discipline he enacts is wrongheaded, but a sort of hysteria of good intentions blinds his better judgment.

The vignette is framed by a discussion of the “Schools to Prison Pipeline,” a theory that strict discipline leads students — disproportionately minority — to see themselves as “bad kids,”  writes Ross T. “The idea is that minority kids will get suspended (often unfairly), miss school, become frustrated and garner more suspensions by misbehaving out of frustration.” And then on to prison.

By contrast, the report on Lyons is glowing.

Jaffe-Walt is impressed with the commitment to dialogue, and introduces us to multiple students who have been “Lyonized,” or transformed into more reflective, socially adept community members.

She doesn’t discuss the schools’ academic results, notes Ross T. The Achievement First middle school earned straight As — based in part on students’ academic gains — on its 2012-13 DOE progress report, while Lyons’ middle school earned Ds and Cs. The Lyons high school had lower graduation rates than peer schools in its district.

In a few years, we’ll be able to see whether the “no excuses” model increases the number of low-income, minority students who become prison inmates — or college graduates.

Achievement First Bushwick students practice the violin.

As a teacher at a low-performing Memphis high school, Jessica Polner “saw dozens of suspensions and expulsions” for subjectively enforced and overly harsh rules. Carefully and consistently implemented restorative justice programs can be effective, she writes.

Pushed out

Let’s return to common-sense discipline and stop suspending, expelling and arresting students for minor offenses, argues Advancement Project. Overusing suspensions and replacing counselors with metal detectors and police creates a school-to-prison pipeline, the civil rights group believes.

Federal discipline rules could hurt blacks

Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on the “school to prison pipeline” may lead to federal mandates to curtail the use of out-of-school suspensions,  make suspension policies uniform across schools, or both, writes Andrew Coulson of Cato @ Liberty, who testified against zero-tolerance policies at the hearing.

Black students are more likely to be suspended than whites. However, requiring lenient discipline policies would hurt black students the most, Coulson writes.

In Understanding the Black-White School Discipline Gap, Rochester University Professor Joshua Kinsler concludes that black and white students are suspended at the same rates for the same offenses at the same schools, Coulson writes.

However principals at predominantly black schools issue more and longer suspensions to all students — black and white — while discipline policies are more lenient for all students at predominantly white schools.

In a subsequent empirical study, Kinsler investigated what would happen if all schools were compelled to observe a more lenient suspension policy, to close the black/white discipline gap. He found that this would disproportionately hurt the achievement of African American students, widening the black/white achievement gap.  The reason for this, according to Kinsler’s findings, is that serious suspensions do in fact discourage misbehavior, and that removing disruptive students from the class does improve the achievement of the other students.

In his written testimony, Coulson proposed alternatives to out-of-school suspensions that motivate students to behave while protecting their classmates from disruption.

Act up in class, end up in court

Campus police officers — not principals — are enforcing discipline these days, reports the Washington Post.

Texas police issue thousands of misdemeanor tickets for offensive language, class disruption, schoolyard fights and misbehavior on the school bus. A parent must appear with the child in court. Students may be ordered to perform community service or take a behavior-management class. Fines can total $500.

Six in 10 Texas students were suspended or expelled at least once from seventh grade on, according to a new study. Federal officials say suspensions, expulsions and arrests create a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“That is something that clearly has to stop,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

It’s not just Texas. In many states, principals are turning to the police to enforce order.

Connecticut is rethinking discipline after students faced court charges for drinking soda, running in the hall and dressing improperly.

A Colorado task force is analyzing school ticketing and law enforcement referrals.

Texas schools adopted ticketing in the 1990’s, the Post reports. As more police officers have been assigned to schools, the number of tickets has soared.

In one highly publicized case a middle school student in Austin was ticketed for class disruption after she sprayed herself with perfume when classmates said she smelled.

In Houston one recent day, a 17-year-old was in court after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other. “She was mad at me because I broke up with her,” he said.

Ticketing rates vary from 1 percent of students in Pasadena to 11 percent in Galveston, concluded a report by Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center. Children as young as five have been ticketed.

Not surprisingly, students who’ve been suspended, expelled or ticketed are more likely to drop out of high school and get into trouble as adults. But that raises a chicken-and-egg question: Was it the punishment or the crime?