NAACP Legal Defense Fund Encourages Strong Federal Legislative Effort To Address School Discipline Policies

(Washington, DC) – The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) welcomes a Senate hearing today on “Ending the School to Prison Pipeline.” The hearing, before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, is the first Congressional hearing to examine school discipline.   LDF will submit written testimony on this historic occasion.      

The “School-to-Prison Pipeline” describes a national trend in which far too many schools reflexively resort to harsh exclusionary discipline such as suspension, expulsion, and even arrest to address school disciplinary incidents. Research demonstrates that such practices are counterproductive and predict grade retention, school dropout, and involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice system.  Data show that African-American students are disproportionately impacted by these approaches, thereby fueling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

“African-American students are now suspended or expelled at three-and-a-half times the rate of their white peers, and are disciplined more harshly than white students even when engaging in the same conduct.  The discipline policies that lead to these results are undermining our national effort to address inequities in educational opportunity.  At this rate, even if schools improve, too many African-American students will not be there to take advantage of them” said Damon Hewitt, Director of LDF’s Education Practice Group.

“School discipline simply did not look like this a generation ago,” said Eric Gonzalez, LDF’s Education Policy Advocate.  “Instead of calling home to parents, too often schools are removing children from the classroom or even calling police officers to handle normal adolescent behavior.  What some once called a drop-out problem is now clearly a ‘push-out’ problem.  Both the research and common sense tell us how dangerous this approach to discipline is to our students, schools and communities.”

To address the School-to-Prison Pipeline, LDF recommends that Congress take the following steps, which are outlined in pending legislation:

  1. Require annual reporting of school discipline indicators. The data collected by Senator Tom Harkin’s Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Act (S. 919), if collected from all schools, would provide parents, students, and educators with a clear sense of their schools’ disciplinary issues.
  2. Require that unusually high and/or racially disparate rates of exclusionary discipline trigger technical assistance and support  for schools.  Representative George Miller’s Amendment to the Student Success Act (H.R.  3989) would track school discipline rates as an indicator of school needs and improvement in persistently low-achieving schools.
  3. Provide additional federal funds to develop and implement inclusive approaches to school discipline.  Representative Danny Davis’ Positive Behavior for Safe and Effective Schools Act (H.R. 3165) and Representative Steve Cohen’s Restorative Justice in Schools Act (H.R. 415) would open federal funding streams for best practices in school discipline.  The Successful, Safe, and Healthy Schools Act, described above, would use data on a school’s learning environment to target the supports, including disciplinary supports, a school needs.  Finally, Representative Bobby Scott’s Youth PROMISE Act (H.R. 2721) can fund multi-stakeholder approaches to limiting students’ exposure to the juvenile justice system.

“There is much discussion these days about the ‘achievement gap’. But there is also a ‘discipline gap’ that fuels the problem.  Research is making clear that excessive and discriminatory discipline undermines academic achievement.  Too many children, especially African-American children, are being pushed out of schools instead of being provided the quality education they deserve.  Congress can help to address this problem.  Monday’s hearing is one important step in the right direction. We commend Senator Dick Durbin, Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee, for his leadership on this issue” said Damon Hewitt.

Read LDF  testimony in the  hearing on “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline”.