Federal Policy, ESEA Reauthorization, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
In the nine years since Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), startling growth has occurred in what is often described as the “school-to-prison pipeline”—the use of educational policies and practices that have the effect of pushing students, especially students of color and students with disabilities, out of schools and toward the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This phenomenon has proved incredibly damaging to students, families, and communities. It has also proved tremendously costly, not only in terms of lost human potential but also in dollars, as states struggle with the soaring costs of police, courts, and incarceration amidst continuing economic difficulties. Yet far too little emphasis is being placed upon the pipeline crisis, its causes, and its consequences within most of the discussion around federal education policy and the reauthorization of the ESEA.
The pending reauthorization of the ESEA presents an opportunity to broaden and strengthen the law's accountability structure—not in ways that punish students and schools, but in ways that safeguard all students' opportunities to learn by more accurately assessing schools' strengths and weaknesses and better targeting funding for school improvement. Moreover, a revised ESEA could, through affirmative measures, bolster graduation rates and academic achievement by addressing the policies and practices that have resulted in the overuse of punitive discipline, school exclusion, and justice-system intervention.
Our organizations have decades of experience working to improve school performance and increase educational opportunities while reducing the flow of children and youth from schools to the juvenile and criminal justice systems. We have come together to urge greater attention to the pipeline crisis and to suggest how it should be addressed within federal policy.