- The drop out rate for urban high schools in the U.S. is 40%.
- 70% of prisoners in the U.S. are high school drop outs. (Coherent Education).
The connection between high school drop out rates and incarceration is known as the school to prison pipeline. Some people believe it begins with a disproportionate number of students of color who are punished, suspended, or expelled from school. “Black students are suspended or expelled three times more frequently than white students. And while black children made up 16 percent of all enrolled children in 2011-12, according to federal data, they accounted for 31 percent of all in-school arrests”(justicepolicy.org).
This is the result of a zero tolerance policy. Students affected by the zero tolerance policy begin to fall behind academically, suffer emotionally, and often give up and drop out of school. These students are given their first exposure to the criminal justice system and so begins the cycle. Other believe the cycle starts when under-performing students are pushed out of high schools because their standardized test scores would not help the school increase their overall performance. Regardless of the reason, the problem exists.
This is the cost to the dropouts. What is the cost to taxpayers?
- High school dropouts cost taxpayers $300,000 over the course of their lifetime.
- The average cost to incarcerate one prisoner per year in a federal prison in 2015 was on average $32,000.
- If all of the high school dropouts from the class of 2011 earned diplomas, the nation would benefit from an estimated $154 billion in income over their working lifetime (thinkprogress.org).
As if the importance of universal preschool has not been stated enough, one way to break the school to prison pipeline is to support preschool for all children, and educate teachers on how to use positive reinforcement with all students. Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation found that many of the problems children have in school might begin in preschool, and have a lot to do with how white teachers view behaviors of white children differently than black children. What might be acceptable for white children, such as pushing another child down in frustration- the same action from a black student might be seen as the beginning of aggressive behavior and dealt with more harshly (thinkprogress.org). Potter found one resolution to this is to help teachers understand what motivates children to react as they do, and address this before it becomes a problem. How important is this? Wilson (2017) found that, “preschool improves poverty level kid’s achievement and high school completion” (Coherent Education).
- The average per pupil spending amount in the U.S. is $11,000, but can go as high as $20,000 (New York) or as low as $7000 (Utah) (census.gov).
What strikes me about the studies and data is the disparity of dropout rates and incarceration with students of color when compared to white students. If you carefully consider the amount of money spent to educate a student compared to how much it costs to incarcerate a prisoner, why aren’t we spending more time and energy ensuring all students have a quality education in this country – an education that begins with preschool?
My dad used to say figures don’t lie, liars figure. Rather than supporting the idea of strengthening our public schools to reverse these trends, the plan is to take this per pupil spending amount, funnel it towards charters and vouchers and see if that fixes the problem. The reformers figure they have the solution but the problem goes deeper than per pupil spending and charters. The problem seems to be rooted in racism and discrimination. Maybe we start there.
These are my reflections for today.
*follow me on facebook Reflections in Education