Education Reform: Are Our Priorities Straight?

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The current state of the educational system in the United States is far from perfect. This idea should come as no surprise to policymakers and citizens alike, as improving the quality of education in the U.S. has been on our agenda for quite some time now. Alarming statistics such as high dropout rates and low test scores undoubtedly indicate a need for reform. However, the severity of these issues pale in comparison to a topic that has recently brought to light a more troubling side of the U.S. educational system.

Last Wednesday, Federal civil rights lawyers from the department of Justice sued Meridian, Mississippi for operating a school-to-prison pipeline. Defined by the American Civil Liberties Union, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems” [1].

The lawsuit filed against Meridian details how students were arrested for trivial infractions such as talking back to their teachers or violating the dress code [2]. Once arrested, police officers deprived children of their rights by acting blatantly unconstitutional during proceedings and essentially serving as a “taxi service” from district schools to a nearby juvenile detention facility [3]. Some of the actions taken by police officers include arresting students without probable cause that they committed a crime, forcing them to be detained and to wait over 48 hours for a hearing, not advising them of their Miranda rights, and depriving them from representation by an attorney [2].

Every single child arrested in Meridian was a minority and many were children that lived in poverty or had disabilities [2] [3]. These are common characteristics of children who fall victim to this trend, as are children who have been abused or neglected. Instead of being provided with appropriate counseling services, these children are at the mercy of zero tolerance policies that take them out of school and into the juvenile detention system [1].

The legislative basis for this legal action is a 1994 federal statute “that bans a pattern or practice that deprives people of their rights,” and the department of Justice reported that this is the first time that this law is being applied to a case involving juveniles [3]. The existence of one instance of this school-to-prison pipeline in a school district is shocking enough, and what is even more alarming is that this is a reoccurring pattern that has not been challenged legally in the past.

This circumstance needs to be taken as a cry for help from an educational system that is much more broken than it outwardly appears. Besides the obvious issue that these corrupt systems exploit the most vulnerable individuals in the entire population by depriving them of their basic rights, there are many other things wrong with this picture.

First, why as a country are we focusing on improving standardized test scores when there are children who are being arrested at school for speaking out of turn?  There is no denying that educational underperformance is an issue that needs to be addressed, but it seems futile to attempt to improve a system that has such fatal cracks in its foundation. Not only is education not up to par performance wise, but also it is not even capable of performing its most basic function. Every time a child misbehaves in these school-to-prison pipelines, they are turned over to the criminal justice system without confronting the real problem behind the behavior. Educators must provide the proper resources for their students, not subject them to civil rights violations that the children are most likely not informed about.

Before addressing performance issues, Americans are obligated to help create equal access to education so that that some children are not disproportionately threatened by a system that is supposed to protect them and nurture their intellectual growth. These violations are distributed unequally among students based on their race, socioeconomic status, or whether or not they have emotional issues or learning disabilities. By distributing these violations unequally among students, educators and law enforcement officials are undermining the basic tenets of the educational and criminal justice systems, and as a nation we cannot allow this to continue.

 

 

Sources Used:

[1] http://www.aclu.org/racial-justice/school-prison-pipeline

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/24/justice/mississippi-civil-rights-lawsuit/index.html?hpt=ju_c1

[3]http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-24/news/sns-rt-us-usa-mississippi-lawsuitbre89n1i4-20121024_1_mississippi-state-suit-justice-department

Image Credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-BGuZ8fUmay4/UIQ7ALORtbI/AAAAAAAACcA/_S0MYUAuKF4/s1600/school+not+jails.jpg

About author

Kristin Vargas

Kristin is a junior from Illinois double majoring in Political Science and Public Policy, with a concentration in Health Policy. At Vanderbilt, she is also a member of Momentum Dance Company, for which she dances, choreographs and handles public relations. She has interned for Illinois Congressman Robert Dold in both his district office and on his reelection campaign this past summer. With her major concentration in Heath Policy and all the excitement surrounding health care in the current political environment, her most passionate political interest is health care policy. She also is very interested in anything involving the Supreme Court, its history, and its impact on politics.

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