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Policy Analysis and Development: How Education Inequality Leads to Incarceration

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Problem Overview

The history of education inequality is dated back to before the Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka ruling. Prior to Brown vs Board of Ed, African Americans were not allowed to receive an education. When slavery was legal, education was seen as a opportunity for slaves to be set free. Many states such as Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia had Anti-Literacy Statutes. Fearing that Black literacy would be a threat to the slave system, whites forbade slaves to read or write. Some states only allowed slaves to able to learn arithmetic in order to help their masters with trading and other business transactions. There was a constant fight for African Americans to have access to education.

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Fortunately, missionaries began to teach blacks as much as they could. They were not that successful, however the Emancipation Proclamation 1863 allowed slaves to be free. This pushed African Americans to further their education in the army. Unfortunately as they began to progress, institutional racism began to arise. They provided separate schools for black and white students, teachers were paid differently, and political tension began. This only hurt blacks in the long run because they no longer had properly trained teachers or people in political office. The infamous case of Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896 allowed “separate but equal” institutions to be legal as long as both races had them.

In 1901, W.E.B DuBois saw that schools participated in keeping Jim Crow Laws. Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. These laws were barring African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as whites. Dubois then found other problems that were affecting African Americans in the education system. There were many factors that proved why black children did not attend school such as lack of facilities, poverty, undertrained teachers and short school terms. Resources were slim to none, equipment were inadequate and schools were not funded fairly. It wasn’t a surprise that African American schools received less attention because research shows that blacks were being taxed for the improvement of white schools. Educational success was ideally only limited to white students.

It was not until the Brown vs Board of Education, U.S Supreme Court case that made a shift in the education system. This case allowed people to really see the major differences in the quality of education that whites and blacks received. According to an article published by History, the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The U.S. District Court in Kansas agreed that public school segregation had a “detrimental effect upon the colored children”. However, after the ruling, an uproar began. White people began to move away from areas that blacks were going to school. This sudden migration became known as “White Flight”. Violence began in hopes that it would intimidate African Americans to flee. Tactics such as gerrymandering, were used to keep minorities out of predominantly white schools.

In present day, perspectives has rarely changed. African American communities are still being deprived of quality education. There has been many research articles that suggest that even years after the famous Brown ruling, the educational system is still unjust. NBC News has an article that explains how Black and Latino students are the ones suffering the most from education inequality. It is no surprise to educators, being that it was confirmed in the Public Education Funding Equity. Catherine Lhamon, the Chair of the U.S Commission of Civil Rights said, “low-income students and students of color are often relegated to low-quality school facilities that lack equitable access to teachers, instructional materials, technology and technology support.” This is no different from back in 1901, which was over a century ago. Aside from that, studies show that there is a lack of AP and STEM courses. According to the NBC news article, only 33% of high schools with black and latino students offer calculus compared to 56% of schools with less black and brown students (Jao, 2018). These statistics prove why there are less black and hispanics being represented in the STEM field.

According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, education inequality violates our basic human right to quality education. It states in Article 26 that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages..” It also goes on to say that higher education should be equally accessible, however it is not mandatory. Also, education shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. These human right promises are being compromised when black and white institutions are not given the same treatment.

Values and Interests

Education inequality shapes our economic, political and justice system. For starters, the lack of educational resources reflects on a child’s socioeconomic status. Depending on where a child’s live impacts their academic success. If a child is raised in a low-economic neighborhood they will face more disparity. Research shows that children who start behind, stay behind. CNN article states that white school districts gets $23 billion a year more than districts that educate non-white students. EdBuild, which promotes equity in public schools reported that the average white school got over $13,000 for every student compared to the $11,000 in districts that serve people of color. In addition, low-funded schools tend to have underpaid teachers. So not only do they have a lack of resources, but they have teachers that are not qualified and do not provide students with the tools that they need. Ideally, this puts black and brown students at an early disadvantage.

Inequality in the educational system also shows that disciplinary actions in white school districts and black school districts are completely different. The School-to-Prison Pipeline is the idea that there is a link between education and criminalization. However, we do not see this correlation in white school districts. “Many under-resourced schools place increased reliance on police rather than teachers and administrators to maintain discipline. Growing numbers of districts employ school resource officers to patrol school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth” (American Civil Liberties Union, 201_). This creates a culture of incarceration. As a result, children are far more likely to be subject to school-based arrests—the majority of which are for non-violent offenses. Schools have also added the “zero tolerance” policy which have the same principles as the court system.  This policy intends to use extreme measures to discipline students that “get in the way of learning”. This can include mandatory reporting, arresting, expulsion, and even referrals to police and juvenile courts. Using these measures practically fails students, and feeds them to the prison gates. The use of corporal punishment just makes the relationships between people of color and law enforcement even worse. The Advancement Project suggests that “many places in which police are overused or misused, young people begin to resent and distrust them. It is commonplace for young people to lose faith in the goodwill of police when they believe they are being treated unfairly in their schools. And, unfortunately, these feelings continue beyond the schoolhouse doors.” Groups that have been influential in the response to the problem are juvenile justice reform leaders, educators, and organizations that advocate for the youth.

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Scope of the problem: How has social work responded to the problem?

Education inequality and inequity has deeply impacted black and latino groups. In addition to poor, working class, and middle individuals. It is hard to say how many people are affected by education inequality as a whole, however there is a lot of research that can show the effects of it. One of the biggest effects is the high school dropout rate. According to the U.S Department of Education in 2013, almost 87% of white students graduate compared to the 71% of black students. Another effect of education inequality is the rise of mass incarceration. The U.S Department of Justice conducted a report in 2003 and proved that of all incarcerated citizens in the U.S, about 65% did not receive a highschool diploma. Again, schools are driving people of color out and funneling them into jails. When students drop out of school, they struggle to find a job and may turn to criminal activity to make ends meet. The NAACP reported that blacks make up the majority of population in prison, being that African-Americans are locked up six times more than whites are. Social work has responded to education inequality by providing low-income neighborhoods with programs that will help students succeed. After school programs, recreational programs and job programs help promotes academic success. Social workers have been providing youth with alternative rehabilitation programs so that they do not become repeat offenders. On a macro level, social workers can advocate for more affordable housing, so low-income families can have access to better school districts (Vaghul, 2015).

Policy Development

The goals of current policies are making sure that economic, racial and social barriers are eliminated, everyone has the same start, and that teachers are getting fair wages. Some specific changes I suggest are changing the curriculum in order to engage the students. Some courses are redundant and uninteresting. If we provide students with opportunities pertaining to their goals and interests. It is also important to provide modern day technology in classrooms, such as ipads, smart boards or new textbooks and reading materials. Lastly, I believe that in order to see a major change, we must eliminate the stigma that low-income schools are dangerous and get rid of metal detectors, corporal punishment and police officers inside school. It sends the wrong message to students.

Policy Alternative

Hypothetically speaking, if this proposal was accepted the outcomes will be attendance rate increase, academic grades will increase and overall self-esteem and social skills will improve. Ideally, school is the place where students spend most of their time. If policy-makers make these changes students will be able to learn different trades, interpersonal skills and life skills. Unintended consequences might be defacing new materials, misuse of technology or property being stolen. The values are definitely compatible with the National Association of Social Workers. Two significant pillars are service and social justice, both in which education inequality correlates with. “Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people (NASW, 1996). This includes but is not limited to poverty, unemployment, discrimination or other forms of social injustice.

Additional funds are definitely need in order for this proposal to work. Funding can come from the federal government, Department of Education, Administration for Children’s Services, City University of New York, New York Police Department, Department of Corrections, or any other state or local agencies that are interested in bridging the gap between education inequality and criminalization. Not only can these groups help fund, but they can also engage in advocating to get this policy accepted. My only opposition will be those that are racist.

Policy and Human Rights

As stated before, the human rights that are reflected in my policy are the rights to education, being born free, no discrimination and right to social security. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1 states that it is our natural born right to be born free and equal. Article 2 states that despite our differences, including religion, sex, race and gender we should be treated equally. Article 22 says that we have a right to affordable housing, childcare and education. Article 22 goes on to say that education is a right. My changes supports human rights because black and white students will be given a fair treatment despite their socio-economic status, race, or any other classification. Everyone will be granted a quality education.



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