Our Point of View

THE PROBLEM: Pushout

In South LA and similar communities, economic, social, and political forces are creating a system of pushout rather than equal opportunity and access in our public schools. Ineffective educational policies and practices have intensified our social inequities. South LA children are more than likely going to schools that do not have the basics of a quality education in place. Oftentimes, school does not lead to college but low-wage employment, poverty, prison, or the military as the only real options.

How does this “school-to-prison train” start? It starts when schools begin to label and isolate children and youth who fall behind in learning and/or who exhibit behaviors that are difficult to accommodate. It starts when school staff do not pay attention to early warning signs of learning and behavioral issues, and do not call parents or talk to the child to get at the root of a problem before they become serious barriers. It starts when adults view students as “problems” and standardized test scores rather than “contributors” and growing human beings.

Why does it start? It starts when school conditions are not high quality and do not reflect care and high expectations for students. Whether they are due to lack of funding, political will, leadership, or good management, inadequate school conditions often lead to practices and habits that expect little of both school personnel and students.

For example, when the majority of schools in a community have:

  • insufficient school conditions, such as intense overcrowding;
  • unqualified teachers and high teacher turnover each year;
  • long-term substitutes and teacher shortages;
  • humiliating and alienating punishments for behavior, such as first-resort suspensions; and
  • chaotic, reactive school environments between adults and students:

parents and students often report:

  • children academically failing year after year without intervention;
  • unresponsiveness to and labeling of parents who ask questions and demand improvements;
  • students who are behind being counseled to leave school early and finish at a G.E.D. or other alternative program; and
  • more than two-thirds of 9th graders not making it to 12th grade and graduation.

Pushout is a combination of these conditions and practices that are both hidden and open, and the negative effects of which build up over time. Any one of these conditions and practices can discourage and deter children from staying in school and learning, especially on top of the pressures caused by poverty and racism. A “drop out” is often a student who was gradually pushed out years earlier.