Blog: The Educated Reporter

EWA National Seminar: Stopping the School-to-Prison Pipeline

This week we’re catching up on sessions from EWA’s 66th National Seminar, held at Stanford University.We asked journalists who attended to contribute posts, and today’s guest blogger is Scott Travis of South Florida’s Sun SentinelStream any session from National Seminar in your browser, or subscribe via RSS or iTunes

Racist people are no longer a problem in the American education system, but racism still is, according to an Education Writers Association seminar panelist.

It’s racism that’s implicit, not explicit, that plays a big factor in so many black children being sent from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse, Philip Goff, an assistant professor of social psychology at UCLA, told attendees.

“No longer is it the case where a large segment of the population will tell you, ‘I don’t like this group of people,’ and it’s not that people are learning to hide their feelings,” said Goff, who was speaking from his office via Skype. “Prejudice is going away. Unfortunately, inequality is not.”

He said people have learned stereotypes over the years about different groups of people. For example, he said people associate Hispanics with undocumented immigrants, gay men with predators and black men with crime. He said the media should play a role in helping to humanize groups that have been marginalized.

Another panelist, Susan Ferriss, a journalist with the Center for American Integrity, documented cases of bias against young black men in her series “Punishing Numbers,” which won first prize for investigative reporting in EWA’s annual contest.

Ferriss discovered law enforcement in Los Angeles conducted sweeps in minority neighborhoods to catch students who were not only truant, but tardy. About 10,000 students a year, disproportionately black males, were receiving criminal citations for a variety of seemingly minor offenses, including possessing cigarettes or disturbing the peace, according to data she collected. Students were being handcuffed and fingerprinted to help law enforcement establish a database of potential gang members, Ferriss said.

“It really seemed to people this is a system that had spiraled out of control without much look at the consequences,” Ferriss said. “It turned out juvenile court judges were getting very concerned because so many kids were ending up in court.”

There is work being done to address the school to jail pipeline, and a program called Elev8 Oakland was cited as a success story.

The program, part of the non-profit Oakland group Safe Passages, works closely with city and county policymakers, educators, families and community partners to help improve the academic and family lives of low-income, low performing students.

“Educators are not traditionally trained to deal with socioeconomic factors or challenges of our communities, so it’s not just an education solution, it’s a multidisciplinary approach,” said Josefina Alvarado-Mena, CEO of Safe Passages.

Social workers see if families need food, healthcare, counseling or legal help. The Oakland program has been able to build food pantries and persuade the school district to build five school-based health centers, she said.

“The model has been very successful at reengaging students who have been disconnected,” Avarado-Mena said.


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