top of page

Does the School-to-Prison Pipeline Even Exist?

Updated: Oct 23, 2018

What Critics Are Saying:

The National Review posted an article about how the school-to-prison pipeline is a myth. Ian Tuttle, author of the article, feels that the idea of the school-to-prison pipeline is an attack on the United States' school system as a whole.

For instance, in terms of funding:

The Obama administration was in support of giving schools money to retrain teachers on disciplinary practices. However, some people may argue that zero-tolerance policies are the reason that students feel unwelcome into schools in the first place.

My analysis: I think the Obama administration trying to fund the training of teachers in terms of discipline is not a bad idea. The article said that zero-tolerance policies harm education, which I agree with, so the type of training (not specified) in the article could benefit schools if schools were re-visioning their disciplinary programs based on more effective research-based practices. If zero-tolerance policies tend to cause students to get more suspensions, then more inclusive character education in schools could help with their disciplinary processes.

Here are some examples for research on alternatives:


Second point-- "equity" correlation is not causation:

This article additionally claims that there is equity within the suspension of white and black students. In the article, it uses this to explain how white and black students misbehave the same amount. However, the article later states, "The across-schools racial discrepancy is explained by the fact that white students generally attend more lenient schools, while blacks attend stricter ones." This quotation claims that it is specific schools that cause more minority students to be punished rather than white students, Even though some studies may show that black students are suspended more often than white students. Yet, the article continues to claim that suspensions of black students does not have to do with the school-to-prison pipeline, rather the school's specific disciplinary policy. To conclude, the article feels that increased suspensions with minority students is not a cause of the school-to-prison pipeline but rather a correlation.

My analysis: I think you cannot belittle the fact that more minorities are suspended than white students. It is a color-blind societal answer to blame the suspensions on the idea that some schools are "harsher" than others. I think systematically, it makes more sense that suspensions do help foster the school-to-prison pipeline because schools were not designed to educate minority students. Originally, schools were made for white students only and black students were not a part of those schools. Districts continue to use school zones and enforce unequal education with funding as a power dynamic within the United States. Additionally, code switching is often not addressed in schools, leading further to the fact that not every student is given an equitable education.


The main argument of the National Review article is that there is little evidence of the school-to-prison pipeline: "If the president really wants to ‘get at those root causes’ of the challenges minorities face, as he declared on Monday, he should stop perpetuating the bogeyman of racists administering every schoolhouse and jailhouse."

The article argues that it’s the disciplinary processes that are wrong in certain schools and some policies too harsh, rather than the school systems or administrations.

Flaws in the argument:

This article made me upset as an educator because the argument that schools’ disciplinary structures are the sole reason that minority students are more "correlated" with going to jail is simply incorrect. It is much more than school disciplinary problems that cause the school-to-prison pipeline, and over suspension and expulsion is a cause of the school-to-prison pipeline because it leads to higher drop-out rates. The school-to-prison pipeline does exist because it is a nationwide problem that minorities are more likely to be suspended and incarcerated when compared to whites. The key component that is left out of all the imposing argument and ideas listed in this post is IMPLICIT BIAS!

Even though schools may not seem outwardly racist, they can be biased despite what the article says about the myth of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Here are some reasons about how schools can have implicit bias and enforce the school-to-prison pipeline especially for minorities with behavior infractions. The lack of diversity in these powerful positions within schools is alarming:

1) Who makes the majority of education legislation?

White people

2) Why do schools globally not have the school-to-prison pipeline? It must be a myth then, right?

Finland is known to have a great and equal education system. Why? The population is homogeneous, one language is spoken, the overall country population is small, and the country agrees on the purpose of education. Click here to read more. The Finland education system could not work in the United States, because the United States has a rich and diverse culture with multiple languages. However, the people in charge of education have bias and do not necessarily think about all these cultural assets the citizens have. Rather, they teach and make legislation for the people like them who are easier to have empathy towards and do not allow for everyone to have the same opportunities.

3) Who creates most school disciplinary programs?

Mostly white people

4 Who is in charge of most schools (principals) and school districts (superintendents)?

White men

5) What is the race of most school teachers?


See a trend?

How as a nation can we just blame stricter schools? It is the mindset and character education that is lacking from schools that could help change the behaviors within our school systems. School systems were designed to benefit white students; however, implicit bias can change and be acknowledged. Once this happens, there is a chance that schools can include and foster an environment that supports the learning of ALL students, therefore, preventing them from dropping out and ending up in the school-to-prison pipeline.


More sources that question the idea of the school-to-prison pipeline: (many tweets to go through)

This video argues that education starts at home. It says that the reason black students don't succeed in school is because they may not have the resources at home to learn basic material and behave before even entering school (which I believe is a large generalization). It states that schools push kids through and does not support their learning since most white students usually have more reading experience before they even enter school when compared to minority families.

My analysis: I agree education starts at home. However, teachers need to make schools an equal learning environment for all students. Yet, I do not think you can solely blame home life for the reason students go to jail. I think schools do have some blame if they enforce stereotypes and educate all students the same. It is a teacher’s job to face inequities and give students resources to learn at home as well. The video claims that parents are fully responsible for character development of students. However, parents are not trained and prepared as educators. It claims that poverty is not a problem, because even parents with jobs should take their children to libraries and help educate them. I disagree with this because many parents are not life-long learners themselves with a fixed mindset, they struggle with reading, may or may not have higher education, and some may not know English (the language homework is presented in). I think that video fails to also mention implicit bias and how the school system is structured.

What are your thoughts after reading and thinking about what critics are saying about the school-to-prison pipeline? What evidence does each side have to offer? If you do not think there is a school-to-prison pipeline then what do you think the main cause of juvenile incarceration rates in America come from today? Please feel free to comment your thoughts below!

17 views0 comments
bottom of page