I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Let's Get Serious About Smashing the "School to Prison Pipeline!"

Many bemoan what has been characterized as an ever-expanding “school to prison pipeline.”  As the theory goes, underprivileged minority students are disproportionately subjected to harsher, more punitive discipline than their non-minority peers.  This “pushing-out” of students is the initial driver of the pipeline, eventually landing these students in the criminal justice system.

Many scoff at this characterization, instead believing that discipline is administered in a largely even-handed manner nationwide.   Any acute over-representation of some minorities in expulsion statistics results simply from more serious infractions being committed by such students--is this rational, more logical assessment.  To believe otherwise would lend credence to the preposterous notion that minorities are being targeted institutionally, nationwide, for more draconian punishments based solely upon race. 

Believing professional educators, administrators, teachers, and deans nationwide would deliberately conspire to subject underprivileged minorities to tougher punishments than non-minority students for similar infractions is ludicrous in America circa 2015.    

Rather than institutions “targeting” students, many believe this troubling nationwide pattern of disproportionate minority removals from school is actually the by-product of dysfunctional, deficient home lives.

The breakdown of the family unit has hit epidemic proportions in America; too many children today have no fathers, no mothers, no discipline and limited social foundations as they reach school-age.

Poverty is bandied about as the cause of such problems; however this is a disingenuous cop-out; the 

vast majority of students –even those from extreme poverty- still manage to behave in school.

And maintaining school discipline is critical to the survival of the American public school system!

Our failure to regulate learning environments, appropriately and immediately curtailing abhorrent behavior,  drives public school enrollments down as families of means scramble to enroll their children in alternative settings for safety’s sake-decreasing school revenues simultaneously.

Positive behavior programs, civil citations, In Lieu of suspensions--these policies are good and necessary--thety help some students’ behavior—but a significant number of students don’t respond positively.  Politically correct (PC) efforts to keep chronically misbehaving students in school at all costs, even the most violent, disruptive and oftentimes dangerous students-contributes to stark  teacher shortages at many urban schools. 

What we tolerate as a public school system, we endorse.   

As these PC discipline schemes become more ubiquitous, foisted upon districts nationwide (oftentimes legislated or dictated via threatened litigation), increasingly serious transgressions are tolerated before students are removed.  Sadly, students flouting our rules become conditioned that misbehavior is actually “acceptable.”

Students in Escambia schools amass as many as 61 referrals for serious violations before expulsion-which is obscene and unconscionable.

Upon exiting the schools (often sans diploma) many former students whose behaviors were never seriously challenged in school end up in trouble with the law.  

Often these former students are caught doe-eyed before a judge-where leniency isn’t mandated. 
Transgressions these former students may have committed in school and essentially “got away with,” now become serious, life-changing offenses. 

Assault, battery, trafficking, kidnapping, larceny- the list goes on…

Worse, with a zero-defect public mentality—Circuit Judges attempting to show any measure of leniency are summarily denounced, lampooned, and/orattacked--even when merely attempting to help youthful offenders that showpotential for redemption. 

The criminal justice system is far less forgiving than are America’s schools.

So the sad fact is schools have, in many instances, provided the court system these “customers”-not by targeting minorities for disparate punishment as some naively espouse-but by failing to administer strict discipline districtwide.

Because of leniency, schools are, regrettably, culpable in the perpetuation of this “prison pipeline.”

So here’s a radical idea:  Let’s start enforcing strict, colorblind discipline in schools again, smashing this pipeline for everyone’s benefit!


Gulagathon said...

When I taught, I worked in an urban school, and it just so happens that most of the referrals that I wrote was for minority students. Not because of their color, it was because of their lack of social decency; most of the students there were minorities. A lot of the kids were quite ridiculous. A lot of them always had something to prove for all the wrong reasons. They came from broken homes and had lackluster upbringings which created kids with dreadful behaviors. I never targeted kids because they were minorities. I wrote them up because the content of their characters SUCKED. They were raised wrong.

Jeff Bergosh said...

I strongly believe that if we simply got back to basics on discipline and demanded good behavior from all students-our entire system would improve. Teacher morale, student achievement, community support and confidence in our schools--all of these would improve for the betterment of the entire system. One former teacher commented that she and her husband both felt like this piece was right on target and that the most serious discipline offenders know we will be "soft" on them. This opinion does not surprise me. And when they know we are soft on their misbehavior, we may as well give these students a license to disrupt and destroy the atmosphere, becacuse they have won...

Gulagathon said...

That's right! When a kid gets away with his bad behavior with not even a slap on the hand, it's a license to disrupt and destroy a classroom environment. And believe me, Ive seen kids do the most outlandish things because of the leniency. The administration really wouldn't care, at least that's what it seemed like to me. All they want to do is sacrifice the children's good education so that they could have less referrals. All for show. That's a shame.

I've seen a teacher carried out on a stretcher taken to an ambulance because of the stress! I've seen teachers quit in the middle of the day, I've seen teachers that really don't care anymore, and I've seen teachers in complete fantasy land while brown nosing the administration. Great post Jeff!

Anonymous said...

It was moving for me to read your viewpoint. I taught in the District for 15 years before resigning on the first day back this year when I overheard the new positive behavior model lecture from the hallway. I knew then things were only going to get worse and I literally ran out of the building, propelled by a sudden release of adrenaline. Over the years I have been attacked by students several times, but last school year was the worst. I was attacked at lunch as I was talking with a teacher by a student I didn't know, I was threatened repeatedly by students, I witnessed a student trying to sell drugs, I witnessed DOZENS of cases of students fondling each other, I was harassed by administration, my daughter, a honor roll and gifted designated student, was stabbed in the leg with a pencil, harassed by the Assistant Principal, and was miserable in many of her classes due to out of control students. Instead of taking action to correct discipline the Deans and administration would make me out to be the one at fault or the one who was responsible for students misbehaving or would simply claim they couldn't do anything because of "downtown". There is a deep, ingrained lack of honesty about what is going on and it is profoundly disturbing. I forgot to mention that my wife quit too. She suffered horribly the year before from harassment and threats while she was pregnant and she decided to resign too. We also pulled both of our children out of public school.

Thank you for having the courage to bring the truth out in the open.


Paul DeWise

Jeff Bergosh said...


Thank you for your years of service to the students in our schools. Your story, unfortunately, is not unique. We have one incident at one of my elementary schools where the same student has attacked the same staff member on multiple occasions--yet they continue to bring this student back. It is hard for me to attend these meetings and listen to the scripted nonsense that does not align with the reality of what I'm hearing from folks like you Paul. I'm not buying it, and I am going to work like a machine, harder than I have ever worked for anything in my life, to get our school environments back to where they should be. No teacher should have to face the behaviors you and others have personally described. The allowing of this is what is contributing to MASSIVE teacher churn in many schools, and it is also why our enrollments have stagnated while Santa Rosa County's school are growing exponentially. If we have the will to attack the dysfunction that bleeds over from some households and into our schools-if we have the will to say "we're not going to tolerate it here" then we have the resources and the capacity to deliver world-class education to students---but we have to make the school climate safe first, and everything else will springboard off of that. I know it. Thank you for reaching out, and I'm sorry your days with us ended as they did, and I wish you all the best going forward.

Gulagathon said...

I remember at a morning staff meeting before school started, most meetings were on a Wednesday morning. Anyway, the principal was talking about all this stuff about different teaching strategies that teachers should implement and how we should make learning fun. She emphasized with passion that we've got to make learning fun for the kids. I'm thinking while she's talking, "what about these kids horrible behavior", "the mayhem going on in this school should be the top priority". I'm thinking this because once the behavior is intact and in order, the kids are going to learn anyway because most teachers are descent teachers.

I was also thinking that the principal is acting absolutely oblivious to this dire problem. I'm also thinking what the heck are you talking about;this meeting is not making any sense to me. Towards the end of this meeting while the principal is talking, the dean and the PE coach get a call on their walkie talkies saying that their is a fight going on in the cafeteria, so they leave while she's still talking about making learning fun.

By the way, the meeting went too long, and most of teachers made it back to their classrooms late, and had to hurry to get things ready for homeroom and 1st period. To this day, i believe most of those faculty meetings went too long and were illogical. I HATED IT.

Anonymous said...

Jeff I am very impressed with the direction you are taking. You are very courageous to stand up to the status quo to try and make a difference when you have support on the line, funding on the line, and the costs associated with trying to do the right thing.

I want to submit this link to you so you do not feel like we are the only District in the country with this problem. This is a nationwide epidemic.


Paul DeWise