Don’t Kick Him Out of School
December 11, 2014
Every year, thousands of children are expelled from preschool. Yes, three- and four-year olds are forcefully removed from the classroom at this early age. From this, it is considerably difficult to ignore what our school discipline laws and regulations tell us about the alarming state of education and where it is headed. Unfortunately, too many of those expelled children – in fact, most of them – are boys of color.
By Jesus Perez C’16
The sad truth is that exclusionary policies all over the United States are disproportionately affecting boys and young men of color, which results in a school-to-prison pipeline. Overshadowed by plane crashes, immigration and a number of other important political conflicts, the educational outcomes of America’s children are not exactly at the top of the list for policymakers. While most of the laws governing education are made at the state, local, and school-district level, it is our responsibility to shine the spotlight on a population that has long been underserved – for America’s future and our global competitiveness depend on it.
Let’s talk about facts. Our young men of color – commonly designated as YMOC – are an at-risk population that includes Hispanic, African American, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaskan Native males. This group of individuals is among the fastest-growing segments of our population, representing nearly half of all males under age 18 throughout the country. Young boys on average are one to one and a half years behind girls in reading and writing abilities, and most boys in grades four through eight are twice as likely to be held back a grade and up to ten times more likely to be diagnosed with serious emotional and behavioral disorders. The gender gap is even more prevalent in disciplinary interventions: data shows boys are continuously suspended or expelled at higher rates than girls (see figure). When these young boys are removed from school, it adds to the many adverse conditions they already experience. They are already more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods and a large portion of them live with only one parent.  Due to the circumstances in which they live, they also tend to attend the lowest performing schools and don’t have the opportunity to have mentors in their lives. President Barack Obama may be the first person of color to become president in our nation’s history – but the disparities facing these young men remain alive and well.
Inevitably, our country’s future is inextricably linked to the success of these young men, especially with recent population changes. For example, demographic projections indicate that Latino males aged 10-24 will grow by 3.7 million between 2013 and 2040 while the white male population in that age category will actually decline by 2.6 million. Recognizing America’s changing landscape has never been more necessary. Policies that cater to the communities of these young men are critical to ensuring that we keep them in school rather than charting a path to the juvenile justice system by suspending them or expelling them for minor offenses such as talking back to a teacher – as is the case in many school districts with zero-tolerance policies. An educated workforce is crucial to America’s global competitiveness, and we cannot stand idle as we push our own children out of school and other countries out-educate us. Perhaps surprisingly, exclusionary discipline policies affecting these young males can actually prove to be financially detrimental to school districts. Look no further than big states like California, where the Fresno Unified School District saw 32,180 school days missed due to suspensions, resulting in more than a million dollars lost in state revenue based on students’ average daily attendance. Just like in these districts, there are millions of dollars being lost due to student suspensions all across the nation.
To fix this, we need a coalition.
That’s where we come in. This summer, I have been working as a policy intern at the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. The Initiative works with stakeholders in the private and public sector to advance a strategic policy and outreach agenda to tackle critical education challenges facing the Hispanic community, including the inadequate discipline policies that disproportionately impact young men of color like Hispanics. Because no federal dollars can be allocated to any single ethnic group, administration officials have put on their thinking caps to improve the educational outcomes of young men of color, and what they have come up with is nothing short of inspirational.
In February, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative aimed at addressing opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensuring that all young people can reach their full potential. Through this project, the President has leveraged the private and philanthropic sectors to invest in the best practices as well as encouraging states to reduce counterproductive policies like school suspensions and expulsions. Just last month, the President announced a partnership with sixty of the nation’s largest urban school districts through the Council of the Great City Schools that will create an eleven-point plan that stretches from early childhood to graduation, including the programs to reduce suspensions and expulsions. In the same vein, the private sector has announced multi-million dollar investments to create mentoring programs for boys and additional programs to address disparities in school climate. 
With that same spirit, all of us must invest in America’s education because future generations are counting on it – how can I invest, you ask? Not with your money, but rather with your time and energy by becoming a mentor in your community. You can join the President’s call for mentors here. In the words of my school’s founder Benjamin Franklin, keep in mind that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Student Blog Disclaimer
The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.