Co-founder and CEO, Stand for Children
Most people have a vague idea of what “school-to-prison pipeline” means: that due to inadequate educational quality and disproportionately harsh discipline of students of color, certain schools in certain neighborhoods provide a steady stream of young men and women to state penitentiaries. A recent report from the Tulsa Area Community Intervention Center shows that in the Tulsa area children as young as nine-years-old are entering the juvenile justice system and that nearly half of the 9-17 year old juveniles in the justice system are African-American, a figure much higher than the African-American population..
Children are becoming labeled offenders living in multiple zip codes throughout the Tulsa-area, but the problem is worse among children in areas with concentrated poverty. These unfortunate children are far too likely to join Oklahoma’s growing prison population, which leads the country in female incarceration and is #3 in male incarceration.
What we are watching in Tulsa and across the country is an alarming trend: jobs that require higher education and specialized knowledge are sitting open, while more and more children are being caught up in the juvenile justice system, dropping out of high school or not finishing any higher education.
There’s a lot that needs to change to improve those unacceptable outcomes. But the first thing? Our collective attitude.
Improving education, expanding opportunity, and reducing Oklahoma’s wasteful spending on the criminal justice system starts with a shift in mindset – it’s not an option, it’s an obligation.
Due to a relentless recent flow of negative facts about schools – the teacher shortage crisis, the number of children not reading on grade level by third grade, the high percentage of high school graduates taking remedial classes in college – it’s easy to expect failure and detach from the sacredness and tremendous potential of every human being described in the data.
Instead of throwing up our hands, knowing that most kids in Tulsa show up to kindergarten behind, a majority have not closed that gap by 3rdgrade, and nearly 20,000 young people drop out over the course of a decade, let us draw a line in the sand and say: it’s time to take a stand for what is right.
It’s time to stand together for quality preschool, effective elementary school reading instruction for all children, and smart disciplinary practices that keep students in class and in school. It’s time to stand together to ensure every school has a strong principal and teachers who are supported to help their students learn. It’s time to stand together for family engagement strategies that involve families in student learning, for interventions that help students who are struggling, and for top-notch college guidance.
Given its tight connection to the economy, to the level of taxpayer spending on the criminal justice system, and to the quality of life in the Tulsa community, education isn’t the responsibility of just teachers and administrators – it’s everyone’s responsibility.