We knew that putting Betsy DeVos in charge of the Department of Education was a disaster waiting to happen and it was only a matter of time before things went from bad to worse. Last week, DeVos announced Candice Jackson as her pick to head up the Office of Civil Rights—a position for which Jackson has absolutely no experience or qualifications whatsoever; leaving us almost certain that this move is actually intended to gut rather than protect the civil rights of the nation’s students. And today’s news is even less encouraging. Given DeVos’s stance on character development in schools and preference for charter and private schools, experts say we have great cause to worry about the future of the school-to-prison pipeline under DeVos’s leadership.
During an interview with Townhall columnist Cal Thomas in February, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that character development and values are lacking in schools, which contributes to poor achievement. But education advocates and legal experts say poor achievement stems from racist and punitive policies disguised as character development, and worry about the future of the school-to-prison pipeline under DeVos’ leadership.
The school-to-prison pipeline is a huge problem funneling so-called “problem children” out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system—disproportionately impacting kids of color, poor kids, kids with special needs and kids from single parent homes. When kids are forced out of the classroom and treated like criminals, often for minor infractions such as wearing the wrong uniform, truancy and schoolyard fights, this can set them down a dangerous path that studies show makes them more likely to fall behind in their classwork, drop out of school and end up in the criminal justice system. It also has a financial cost, as it costs way more to incarcerate kids than it does to keep them in the classroom and educate them.
Based on national data, researchers have been able to create a general profile of the students most impacted by the pipeline. Black kids are most likely to be disciplined because of zero-tolerance policies — a trend that begins in preschool. Students who have disabilities are suspended two times more than students who do not, and account for one-fourth of students “arrested and referred to law enforcement,” per data from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
LGBTQ youth are disproportionately sanctioned as well. Many are penalized because of harassment or assault by their peers, or punished for their sexual orientation and gender expression. According to GLSEN, 15.1 percent of the LGBTQ students it surveyed had been suspended. Forty percent experienced some form of discipline, including suspension, detention, or expulsion.
The Obama administration began slowly trying to encourage educators to rethink discipline and create a more supportive school climate that aimed to decrease suspensions and expulsions but all of this is likely to increase, rather than decrease, under DeVos’s watch. While we haven’t explicitly heard dear old Betsy say anything about it (how many times must we say that she is not at all qualified to have anything to do with educating young people?), that in itself isn’t particularly encouraging.
As Secretary of Education, DeVos has been quiet about the school-to-prison pipeline. But her comments about character development and her general desire to privatize public schools are setting off alarm bells. Advocates fear that biased discipline will become even more harsh in schools and further jeopardize marginalized students. [...]
DeVos’s push to enroll more students in public and private charter schools— which have freer rein to discipline students and less oversight than public institutions— is especially disconcerting to education policy experts. Those are the very types of schools that purport to be arbiters of character and values, [Karen Dolan, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies said].
“Many Christian schools, private [schools], and charter schools bill themselves as a place for wayward teens,” she said. Such schools employ a “regimented, militarized” style of discipline and “take the same approach that many conservatives take with regard to poverty or any type of stereotyping of historically marginalized communities, where they say it’s a failing of character.”
This is really frightening. If the above data shows that black kids and LGBTQ are the most disproportionately disciplined in schools, we can only imagine what will happen to them if they are forced into private, Christian and charter schools per DeVos’s push under the guise of educational choice. It already appears that DeVos has no intent to improve public education and what will happen to the most marginalized of students now? Just exactly what kind of “character development” will they be forced to undergo? Will Mike Pence be in charge of the curriculum? Will this include conversion therapy? This is not to be trusted. Make no mistake, this is a disaster waiting to happen.