By Peggy Nicholson
For many of the students heading back to school this week, a new school year is an exciting time, filled with new outfits, new teachers, and new schedules. Unfortunately, for many students of color, a new school year can also be fraught with worry, as they enter an environment where they are more likely than their white peers to struggle academically, experience exclusionary school discipline, and be sent to court for minor misbehavior.
The racial disproportionalities and disparities that exist within our state’s public education and juvenile justice systems are stark and troubling. They persist even as overall graduation rates go up and suspension rates go down. Yet, they all too often go unexamined and unaddressed. That is why, this week, the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition of Social Justice has released Racial Equity Report Cards intended to help communities better understand the racial inequity that pervades their youth-serving institutions.
What are the Racial Equity Report Cards?
The Racial Equity Report Cards provide a snapshot of the racial disproportionalities that exist in a community’s public education and juvenile justice systems. Using publically available data, the Youth Justice Project has produced a Report Card for each of the state’s 115 school districts, as well as the state as a whole. Find the Report Cards here.
The Report Cards concentrate on three different areas: 1) academic achievement; 2) school discipline; and 3) court involvement. These three areas were selected because of the important role they play in determining how successful a child will be. For example, students who are behind or failing academically are more likely to be truant, act out, and ultimately drop out of school. Similarly, students who are pushed out of school through suspension or referrals to court miss critical learning time and are less likely to earn their diploma. Instead, they are more likely to experience long-term negative outcomes such as chronic unemployment and incarceration in the adult criminal system. Further, research shows that exclusionary school discipline practices can not only cause life-long harm to students, they have no measurable positive impact on overall school safety.
Beyond information on a district’s overall academic achievement, school discipline and court involvement, the Report Cards also break this information down by race. In fact, this is the main goal of the Report Cards – to make information on racial disproportionalities and disparities more accessible to parents, educators, policymakers, advocates, and other community stakeholders. The Report Cards, which will be updated annually, will also be helpful in analyzing trends over time and comparing districts across the state.
It is not enough for districts to improve graduation rates or impose fewer suspensions if the benefit of such progress is not shared by all students equally. In order for our public schools and juvenile justice systems to be safe, fair and equitable, it is critical that we identify and address the racial disproportionalities and disparities that persist within them.
How can you use the Racial Equity Report Cards?
The Racial Equity Report Cards are intended to be a starting point for community education and discussion. The Report Cards do not speculate on causes or demand particular reforms for racial disproportionalities within a community because each community is unique. Therefore, each community is uniquely positioned to lead the way in coming up with their own solutions.
Here are some ways that you can use the Racial Equity Report Cards:
Share! Share your community’s Report Card by posting it on social media, sending it to other interested community members or groups, and alerting local media. Send a copy to your local decision-makers such as the Superintendent and Board of Education members.
Investigate Further! Collect school-level information on disproportionalities and disparities in academic achievement, discipline and court referrals. The Report Cards offer a district-level snapshot, but this may differ depending on the individual school. Identifying schools with the worst disproportionalities can help in deciding where to target reform efforts. Studying schools with fewer disproportionalities could help in developing solutions.
Organize! Organize a public forum to discuss racial inequity in your community’s public education and juvenile justice systems. At the forum, you can screen YJP’s short documentary on North Carolina’s School-to-Prison Pipeline and invite the Youth Justice Project to help present information. You can also use our documentary toolkit.
Reform! Convene a Racial Equity Stakeholder Group that includes a diversity of perspectives (students, parents, educators, court officials, police, child welfare, community activists, etc.) to discuss your community’s racial inequity and develop a plan for addressing them.
Engage with Us! Stay updated by following the Youth Justice Project on Facebook and Twitter. Let us know what’s going on in your community and how we can support on-the-ground efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline and racial inequity in your district.
For additional support and resources, visit our Racial Equity Report Card page. Resources will be added throughout the year. Additionally, you can contact the Youth Justice Project directly with any questions about the Report Cards, to request a community presentation, or to brainstorm other ways to use the Report Cards effectively in your community.
Peggy Nicholson is Co-Director of the Youth Justice Project of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.