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October 28, 2015

Now More Than Ever: Why We Need to Address Inequity and Justice in Schools

Diverse-students-holding-sign-lets-talk-equityWe live in an increasingly pluralistic, multicultural and connected world. In order to prepare students to live, learn and eventually work successfully in society, we need to prepare them.  Diversity in the United States is rapidly increasing, especially among young people entering our school system. 2014 was the first school year when more children of color were enrolled in U.S. public schools than white children. However, the diversity of our teaching force is stubbornly stagnant at 80% white and, further, between 2002 and 2012 there was a decline in the number of African American teachers in nine major cities, including the three largest school districts. Of all the teachers in the U.S., only 2% are black and male.

Over the past year, public consciousness around institutional and implicit forms of bias has been elevated and there is a lot of conversation about the ways our society needs to progress further towards a “more perfect union.” The public awareness about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system including the recent deaths of men of color at the hands of the police, have provided convincing evidence that injustice persists. For all of the great gains we have made legislatively over the past sixty years, including this past year, there is still much work to be done: the gender wage gap, transphobia, voting suppression and restrictions  that target people of color, students and the elderly, anti-Semitism around the world. incessant anti-immigrant hateful rhetoric coming from regular citizens and lawmakers and depending on what state you live in, hate crimes laws that are either incomplete or non-existent.

The structural inequities in society also exist in our educational system. School re-segregation has resurfaced in a major way. In 1972, after years of federal enforcement following Brown v. Board of Education, 25% of black students in the South attended highly segregated schools; between 1990 and 2011, 53% of black students across the country now attend such schools. In addition, the persistent racial and socioeconomic achievement and opportunity gaps and the racial disproportionality in school discipline practices (e.g. Black students are suspended three times the rate of white children) that leads to the “School to Prison Pipeline” threatens the ability of all students to get a fair and just education.

When diversity is not understood, valued or respected, this can lead to intergroup tension both in schools and society—manifesting as identity-based bullying and bias, scapegoating, stereotyping, discrimination, microaggressions, implicit bias, the school to prison pipeline and expressions of hate that can lead to violence and death.

Young people understand what is happening and want to be part of the public conversation we are having about justice, equity and racism in society. And several national organizations agree. Since June 2015, four of the most prominent educational institutions–the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT) , American Educational Research Association (AERA) and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)–have all made statements and resolutions or issued reports that affirm the need for addressing equity in schools and society, specifically recommending that we highlight the “systemic patterns of inequity—racism and educational injustice—that impacts our students and taking action to enhance access and opportunity for our students.” and “provide professional development and cultural competency training that helps teachers and other school staff understand their own personal biases.”

The goal of anti-bias education is to do just. By focusing on the development of an inclusive culture and respectful school climate, addressing issues of bias and bullying in schools and classrooms, initiating these relevant and timely conversations with young people about the inequities in society and developing a more culturally responsive curriculum, we teach young people that they can make a difference in their schools, society and world.

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October 3, 2014

California Takes Lead In Ending School-To-Prison Pipeline

California has once again shown itself to be a leader in promoting civil rights and equality for all by banning school suspensions for K-3rd grade students and expulsions for all students under the subjective and often-abused “willful defiance” standard in the Education Code.  As part of our mission to fight bigotry of all kinds, ADL has had a long history of supporting equal access to quality education for all students—the goal promised in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954.  This momentous change in California law, which ADL proudly supported, will bring us a significant step closer to that ideal.school-to-prison-pipeline

The new law specifies that a public school student in grades 6-12 may be suspended for willful defiance—which can be as minor as a dress code violation or failure to hand in homework—only after the third offense in a school year, and provided that other means of resolving the behavioral problems were first attempted.  The law also prohibits a school from recommending that student for expulsion solely for willful defiance.  The law now encourages schools to invest in children rather than resorting to harsh out-of-school discipline for relatively minor offenses.  Its passage will ensure that students remain where they need to be—in class—and not on the streets or in the criminal justice system.

Although there are many fac­tors that con­tribute to a student’s inability to thrive in school, the cycle of sus­pen­sions and expul­sions is among the best indi­ca­tors of which stu­dents will drop out.  Stu­dents who drop out of school have more dif­fi­culty find­ing gain­ful employ­ment, have much lower earn­ing power when they are employed, and ulti­mately are more likely to wind up in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.  This troubling phenomenon—which dis­pro­por­tion­ately impacts stu­dents of color, stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, and stu­dents who iden­tify as les­bian, gay, bisex­ual or trans­gen­der—has become known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  Working to dismantle the pipeline has become a key focus of ADL’s civil rights and education agendas.

Both the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Francisco Unified School District have already completely banned suspensions and expulsions for willful defiance, taking a significant step towards dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.  California’s new statewide law will sunset in three and a half years.  During this time, ADL will be working with coalition partners on new bills and initiatives to strengthen protections for students and develop additional alternative methods for changing negative student behaviors with positive interventions.

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May 14, 2014

From The Archives: ADL’s Involvement In Brown v. Board

Saturday, May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled racially segregated public schools “inherently unequal” and ordered the desegregation of America’s public schools. ADL-brown-amicus-brief

Acting on its mandate “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination,” in October 1952 ADL’s National Commission resolved to encourage federal and state legislators “to support legislation to insure the greatest possible protection of civil rights and equality of opportunity for all in the fundamental fields of employment, education and housing.”

The next month, ADL filed an amicus brief in Brown, arguing that because African American children were “disadvantaged by the segregated public school system of Topeka” the Court should “disavow the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine as it has been applied to public educational institutions.”

ADL’s brief noted a lower court’s finding that segregation “irreparably damages the child,” and argued that “that which is unequal in fact cannot be equal in law.” The brief’s final argument read:

Legally imposed segregation in our country, in any shape, manner or form, weakens our program to build and strengthen world democracy and combat totalitarianism. In education, at the lower levels, it indelibly fixes anti-social attitudes and behavior patterns by building inter-group antagonisms. It forces a sense of limitation upon the child and destroys incentive. It produces feelings of inferiority and discourages racial self-appreciation.

Today, ADL continues to combat discrimination in schools and advocate for education equity. On its 60th anniversary, we recognize the Brown decision as a monumental leap forward in the ongoing fight for equal education.

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