Assessing the School to Prison Pipeline

Emmanuela DeSanges-Sobia

Race, class and gender have been a straightforward factor in the policing of schools, and how it affects minority students. This essay will examine the structural framework of school discipline, and the support needed to address the social needs of minority students. Why does the education system in America need to reframe school discipline, and implement social changes that reflect students’ academic, behavioral and personal challenges, in order to optimize their quality of life? It is to prevent the growth of the school to prison pipeline.

Regardless of the neighborhood which they come from, students enjoy learning new things. Human beings have an innate will to learn and explore. Schools should always have teachers who are appropriately trained to meet the academic needs of students. A productive learning environment entails safe and clean building infrastructure where schools are held, an administration which understands the service needs and culture of the population they are planning for, and teachers who are as stated above equipped to harken unto the plights of their pupil. Educators or teachers should understand the cultural, economic disadvantages and social challenges their students face. 

“What is education? Education is the social institution through which a society provides its citizens with important knowledge, including basic facts, job skills training, cultural norms and values. President and educational ambassador John Dewey believed in progressive education. He believed that education should serve as practical learning for students, and that students should be taught relevant skills to enhance their lives”. (Sociology,John J. Macionis; pg.537)

“The United States of America was among the first established civilizations in the new world to acknowledge the importance of educational institutions. The United States educational system instituted compulsory mass education, which is shaped and reflected by its influence of a democratic society. President Thomas Jefferson thought that the new nation would thrive as democratic principles implied that people should learn to read and understand what is going on in the world. However, crucial it is to have all people learn to read; girls and minority students as a whole were excluded from many academic privileges. Race, gender and class continue to be significant factors of exclusion for minorities”. (Sociology, John J. Macionis; pg. 537)

 Here in America, students are given formal instruction under the direction of “specially trained teachers”. A quote is placed on the specially trained teachers because many teachers lack the social and cultural training they need to appropriately guide or instruct students in impoverished neighborhoods. The impact that poverty has on a student with an economically disadvantaged education can be reflected in their attendance, behavior and attitudes. For starters, how can an educator work with a student who has not had a decent meal, who especially between grades 3-12 have confidence concerns due to abandonment, domestic violence,  neglect, or emotional maltreatment? A student who has not rested, is a student who is ill prepared to learn. 

When the above concept is coupled with the psychology behind Erik Erikson’s stages of development, students are prone to be critical of themselves.Common sociologist studies teach that, Erikson’s theory argues that adolescents compare themselves with others, and that most see a half empty glass as they seek to establish their personal identity derived from their family and social class standing. Therefore, concerns of an adolescent must be taken seriously as these concerns and how they’re handled mold them into adulthood. 

A teacher who moves from the suburbs or even one who comes from the urban area may be blindsided by the magnitude of assistance one student needs just to attend school on a regular basis, let alone complete homework tasks or find time to study. Many of these students are parentified at home; may lack proper nutrition; clean clothes to wear let alone a clean and decent place to sleep. Some young men opt to risk their rights to  an education because to them surviving the streets is key to succeeding at least short term, till gang violence or drugs overcome them, they risk it all just to provide for themselves and their families. 

 In New York State, Institute for Children Poverty and Homeless notes on their website that as late as 2011-2012 school year that “71,271 students were homeless. That means 6.9% of all students were homeless which was three times the nation’s rate amongst all states, these students 7 out 10 times were residing in shelters which are located in densely populated area. Which means they are attending schools that has reached its capta in enrollment. Graduation and retention rates are barely the nation’s 64% average hence, the educators are overwhelmed”.(

It is almost easy to say these teachers working with such students need additional training to be able to make these lesson plans incorporate or empathize with students personal struggles. These students lack self-esteem, in a sense self-esteem which is the foundational value of who a person believes they are, acknowledging their worth and values first begins at home. Most of these students may not have the positive feedback an individual needs from their parents to thrive and to acknowledge the importance of obtaining their education as a source of upward mobility. Education can become a valued equalizer amongst class, gender and race. 

The structural functioning analysis presented by John J.Macionis in his text Sociology, (Chapter 20- Education, pgs 521-537) discusses structural-functional analysis of education in America. At an academic institution students are given formal education which is essential to their place in society. Let’s look at role school plays in culture. The role schooling plays as a place to learn social skills,  which may be challenging, enjoyable and rewarding. Then discipline in schools and social control and how this affects a student’s long term development. John J. Macionis critical evaluation, states that structural-functioning analysis stresses the ways in which formal education supports the operation of a modern society. 

The following reading is found in Macionis’ text Sociology/John J. Macionis.-10th ed.(pgs. 521-537) “Structural-functional analysis looks at how formal education contributes to the operation of society. As the following analysis suggests, schooling does this in many ways- listed are his key concepts:

  • “Socialization: Technologically simple societies transmit their ways of life informally from parents to children. As societies develop complex technology, though, they turn to trained teachers to convey the specialized knowledge that adults will need for jobs and maintaining a household.
  • Cultural innovation: schooling creates and conveys culture, especially collegiate institutional research which may lead to discoveries in science or medicine. Which in turns strengthens environment biochemistry and findings improve life expectancy. 
  • Social integration: schools mold a diverse population into unified society. This integrative function is noted as important because the United States is a melting pot. This is one reason states enacted mandatory laws centuries ago as immigration increased- so that people understood the importance of education. 
  • Social placement: Schools identify and develop talent in students. Developing merit based systems to reward ability and effort regardless of race, social class or gender.” (Macionis, pg. 521)
  • John J. Macionis continues on to analyze the problems inherent in our educational system which ignores how schooling helps reproduce the class structure in each generation. By looking at the Social-conflict analysis these concerns are brought to light. The Social- conflict analysis is in contrast to the idea that schools provide a formula for upward mobility. Here Macionis argues that schools cause and perpetuate social inequality in several ways.( Macionis, pg. 522-524)
  • Social Control: Social-conflict-analysis suggests that schooling acts as means of social control, reinforcing acceptance of the status quo. Conflict theorist call these traits hidden curriculum, subtle presentations of political or cultural ideas in the classroom.
  • Standardized testing: A test strategically used to measure the academic ability of students in the United States. There is bias in the standardized testing as many minority students are not taught or know this society’s dominant culture.
  • School Tracking: Tracking is used to assign students to different types of educational programs such as gifted programs, college prep classes, general education, and vocational or technical training. Tracking supposedly helps schools appropriate instruction for students with different interests and aptitudes. However, educational critic Jonathan Kozol (1992) considers tracking one of the “savage inequalities” in our school system. Most students from privileged families tend to do well on standardized tests and get assigned to higher tracks, they’ll receive scholarships and other students do not get this privilege because they are not given the education opportunity. 
  • Inequality among Public schools: Given the racial imbalance of most urban areas compared to suburban areas- Funding for affluent areas offer better education value, the best teachers and opportunities. “

Schooling is not just about money. Macionis shares a classic report by a research group headed by James Coleman (1966) which is still truthful today- confirmed that predominantly minority schools suffer more problems, ranging from larger class sizes to inefficient libraries and few science labs. However, the Coleman  report suggests that although money may be provided it all boils down to the teachers, parents, and individual students’ drive for success. Rigid uniformity- meaning bureaucratic schools run by state funding generally ignore the cultural characteristics of local communities and the personal needs of their children ( Macionis, pg. 527).

However, the stipulations which hang over the doors of minority school districts is where the disparity lies, of course the students come in with baggage from their homes which pours into the school and this is from both sides of the fence. Students in a privileged neighborhood commit the same offenses on school property or grounds as under-privileged students and the consequences are far greater for the latter. For example, New York University Law students founded a project where students advocated for minority students who are given severe administrative suspensions at an alarming rate when compared to others. “NYU Law students founded SRP in 2007 to take on the “school-to-prison pipeline”—disciplinary policies that they felt were increasingly pushing at-risk students out of school and into the criminal justice system. Entirely student-run and staffed, SRP represents, at no charge, public school students facing long-term exclusion. The NYU-Student Representation Project Case Study reads that a student from Queens, New York; Naijab was given an unwarranted excessive suspension for a month in April of 2015”. However, through the effort and representation of SRP the student was represented in court and thus the charges were dropped and he was able to return to school. His collegiate dreams were not lost. Whereas many other students within the same school districts and those like it have not had the luck of being represented in court hence, they are sent through the school to prison pipeline.(

There are several sources of ambiguity causing disdain in our country’s educational system for students. For instance, adolescent minority students, especially from improvised neighborhoods attend underfunded schools. There are ambiguous concerns such as public schools neglecting to have the resources needed to implement counseling services, or meaningful educational formulas to address students with special needs (behavior, education or personal). In contrast to their counterpart students whose conduct reflect the same special needs (behavior, education or personal) students who are of different race and social class are given verbal warnings or counseling. Whereas, minority students are arrested on school grounds.  The unanticipated consequences of purposive social action to implement police presence on school grounds resulted in a vast number of minority students ciphering through what is known as the school to prison pipeline. 

There are facts which establish official municipal policy, the experiences of adolescents are not isolated incidents instead they are a part of a larger pattern and practice that exist within the New York City Public School Disciplinary system. Adolescent students from middle school to high school who become unruly are mis-handled by NYPD School Safety Division. 

The following is an excerpt, from the New York City Civil Liberty Union Court Records-  “United States District Court Eastern District of New York– plaintiffs are minor students -versus- defendants, City of New York; former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his official capacity; former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in his official capacity; Assistant Chief James Secreto, in his official capacity; Sergeant Roslyn Downing-Lee, in her individual and official capacities; and School Safety Officers Kevin Mayes, and others whose names are withheld from the court documents hence, listed as Jane Doe, all in their individual and official capacities. Members of the NYPD School Safety Division engage in a pattern and practice of subjecting New York City public middle school and high school students to unlawful seizures and arrests by: (a) arresting students for minor violations of school rules that don’t constitute probable cause of criminal activity, and removing and holding those students off school grounds, often at police precincts; and (b) handcuffing students and detaining them in seclusion rooms in school buildings for minor violations of school rules that do not constitute probable cause of criminal activity. Students who are arrested are then removed from schools, typically in handcuffs, and held at police precincts, or transported to hospitals for emergency psychiatric evaluations in the absence of any legitimate cause for such evaluations. In addition, upon information and belief, a significant number of school children under the age of sixteen have been arrested at school for allegedly having committed non-criminal violations even though such arrests are prohibited by state law. During some of these removals officials use such excessive force injured students may require medical care or hospitalization.” 

Continued points discussed in court petition # 4-In recent years, New York City has drastically increased the deployment of law enforcement personnel to patrol its public school hallways. Since the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) transferring school safety responsibilities from the New York City Board of Education to the NYPD in 1998, the number of police personnel assigned to patrol New York City public schools has grown by 73 percent, even though school crime was declining prior to the 1998 transfer and student enrollment is at its lowest point since the past decade.

Point 5. The NYPD School Safety Division constitutes the 5 largest police force in the country, with more officers than the police departments in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Baltimore, Dallas, Phoenix, Boston, or Las Vegas. New york City deploys more School Safety Officers than guidance counselors: there are over 5,200 police personnel in public schools and there are only approximately 3,000 guidance counselors.  

Research demonstrates that law enforcement agencies frequently fail to account for the ways in which policing students in public schools differs from policing adults on street. A study commissioned by the U.S Department of Education found, “One of the most frequent and destructive mistakes many programs make is to fail to define [law enforcement’s] roles and responsibilities in detail before or even after- the officers take up their posts in schools. When programs fail to do this, problems often rampart in the beginning” (http://www.nyclu.org8/2016).   

In conclusion, whatever course of action taken by officials on school grounds to remove or handle unruly, frustrated students- the official should also think of the student need to be allotted their American Civil Liberty to an education. As Bolman and Deal discussed the two central issues concerning basic structural tensions, one being structural design: how to allocate work (differentiation) and how to coordinate diverse efforts after parceling out responsibilities ( integration). The division of labor-or- allocating task is the keystone of structure. (pg. 49) It is important for school officials to revise the concerns of the school to prison pipeline.

Every school should create a crisis team to address the needs of unruly students. Within the petition students’ grievances include plight for resolution. Request includes: a) Development of guidelines to ensure that school children are not unlawfully or inappropriately arrested; b) ensure that school administrators have an appropriate;role with respect to the maintenance of school safety, including by mandating compliance with state law requiring regular communication between building officials and police personnel; and c) implement improved training for members of the NYPD School safety Division with respect to the use of power to seize and arrest, and the use of force in the context of interactions with school children in New York City public middle schools and high schools.

The petition should also request specialized diversity training and behavior modification training for educators teaching at public schools. It is imperative that there are school social work behavior modification specialists available to assess and make appropriate diagnoses and or referrals. It is important that the New York City School system implement these specialized roles to get the important task of providing students from all social backgrounds race, gender, or class all respect due to obtaining a decent education. Why is it important to provide students across the board a wholesome educational experience? Because the students today are the administrators and educators of the generation to come. They are tomorrow’s America.


1-Macionis, John J. Sociology/John J. Macionis-10th ed. 

P. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-13-184918-2 (alk.paper)

  1. Sociology. I. Title

HM586. M33 2005

Chapter 20, pages. 521-537

2- B.H., on Behalf of her minor daughter D.B.; V., The City of New York; Mayor Michael R.Bloomberg, in his official capacity., Dated 11th day of June 2010.  Vol.Amended Complaint 10 CV 0210 (RRM) (ALC)., New York City Civil Liberties Union.

3- Bolman, Lee G. Reframing organizations :artistry, choice, and leadership/ Lee G. Bolman, Terrence E. Deal. Fifth edition. Pgs. 47-50 
5. (

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