Children need to know they are valued. They need to feel important and to have activities that make them feel challenged and excited about learning. They need to have the opportunity to work with adults who care about them. Finally they need to feel they are connected in a real way to a bright future.
The reasons children and adolescents fall behind in school are many. First there are outside-the-school issues—poverty; lack of access to health and mental health care; lack of access to enriched early education; a culture that glorifies materialism; racial and economic disparities in the systems that serve youths; family mobility; lack of transportation to enriching activities. The list goes on and on. Then there are issues like uneven school funding that reflect society's failure to invest publicly in our nation's poorest children, and a federal education law that punishes rather than builds capacity in the schools that serve America's poorest children. Finally there are the lessons children learn at school that are never spoken—the hidden curriculum that reflects attitudes about authority, attitudes about ways of learning and knowing, and attitudes that identify some students or cultures as more or less desirable. Children internalize the messages their schools convey. Achievement gaps and dropout rates across America—at the most basic level—reflect whose children America is most willing to throw away, for public schools are primary civic institutions that are likely to embody the same biases as the culture of which they are a part.
Even though achievement gaps and graduation gaps are complex and multivariable and must therefore be addressed from many angles, in the church we can educate ourselves about their many causes and we can take steps to support equitable and ample public investment and to reduce bias and racism. As people of faith we can find ways to demonstrate that we care collectively for our children, through all kinds of partnering and mentoring and through being advocates for legislation that supports public schools and helps create a nurturing developmental environment as well as excellence in the curriculum.
Police (School Resource Officers) Are Not the Answer
- April 23, 2013: Jeff Bryant at the Education Opportunity Network: Wrong Lessons from Sandy Hook Shootings
- April 12, NY Times: With Police in Schools, More Children in Court
- April 4, 2013: Witness for Justice column, Safe Schools.
- April 3, 2013: Schools in Oakland, California support students with restorative justice program and eliminate zero tolerance.
- March 12, 2013: Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director/Council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, writes to oppose increasing the number of School Resource Officers, another name for armed police, in public schools because the presence of police increasingly criminalizes students.
- January 2013: In the context of the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the UCC Justice & Witness Ministries has signed on with many of our partners to this excellent statement: Police in Schools Are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting. The statement urges school districts to improve support for students with more counselors, social workers, and psychologists. The statement objects to increasing police presence in school and objects to a locked-down climate that makes children feel less safe.
- January 2013: Here is a short, pithy policy brief from the National Education Policy Center that summarizes what should be done for Dropout Prevention.
- December 2012: The Opportunity to Learn Campaign has just published Stopping Out-of-School Suspensions: A Guide for State Policy, to help advocates press for state legislative policy to stop out-of-school suspensions and press for school discipline policies that keep kids in school. The toolkit includes questions to guide state policy makers find what they need to know and describes model laws passed by states to stop suspensions and promote alternatives.
Punitive Discipline Washes Students into School-Prison Pipeline
June 3, 2013: New York School-Justice Task Force releases Keeping Kids In School and Out of Court.
April 8, 2013: Here is the newest report from the Civil Rights Project: Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools.
December 2012: From the Opportunity to Learn Campaign: Stopping Out-of-School Suspensions: a Guide for state Policy.
July 2011: Grandbreaking report from Texas shows students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to drop out: Breaking Schools' Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement.
Both articles in the 2009 Message on Public Education explore causes of dropping out of school.