Thursday, October 29, 2015

You asked why we have a school committee

The final question we received at last week's CPPAC Worcester School Committee candidates' forum was what the purpose of public education is and why we have a school committee.
We received a resounding answer to the latter last night.
The final Worcester City Council At-Large forum was last night, and, while I didn't attend, both Tom Quinn of Worcester Magazine and Nicole Apostola liveblogged it. The topic was public safety, which, bearing out my truism that everyone wants to be on School Committee in an election year, kept swinging around to schools.
And, boy, were there some terrible answers.
Let's be clear about police in schools:
Like many social programs that are motivated by a sense of urgency to do something about a perceived crisis situation, this program has grown dramatically without the benefit of scientific evaluation. No rigorous study to date has demonstrated that placing police in schools promotes school safety. Our study finds no evidence that increased use of SROs decreases school crime. 
(emphasis mine throughout this post)
That's the conclusion of "Police Officers in Schools: Effects on School Crime and the Processing of Offending Behaviors," which uses the National Center for Educational Statistics annual report to evaluate programs. 
And if you're looking for solid, peer-reviewed research about what effect police in schools in fact have, that's about all you're going to find, as has been pointed out, more than once.
But perception! we're told. Okay:
However, little is known about the long-term or concurrent effects that the presence of uniformed officers might have on students' feelings of safety. For example, although the presence of an officer may provide peace of mind for administrators and parents, we cannot presume that students view officers as their allies or defenders. The presence of uniformed officers can, in fact, breed a sense of mistrust among students and hence adversely affect school climate. Indeed, some preliminary evidence suggests that physical surveillance methods (metal detectors, searches, and security guards) can predict increased disorder.
Likewise, the American Bar Association's reflects:
 Although police officers and metal detectors may create the appearance of safety for some, research studies and experiences have shown that these policing tactics, instead, have a serious detrimental impact on school communities. The American Psychological Association and others have found that these practices do not improve student behavior and that they drag down academic achievement, breed distrust in the school community, and result in the criminalization of youth—particularly youth of color—for minor misbehavior, like “disrespect.”  Am. Psychol. Ass’n Zero Tolerance Task Force, “Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations,” 63 Am. Psychologist 852 (Dec. 2008).
What does happen when you have police officers in schools? More arrests for offenses that don't lead to charges, and more disorderly conduct charges:
  Controlling for socioeconomic status, the researcher found that there wasn't much difference in serious crime between the schools that had SROs and the schools that didn't. Students at policed schools were much more likely to get arrested than students at unpoliced schools, but they weren't any more likely to actually be charged in court for weapons, drugs, alcohol, or assault. (In other words, students at policed schools were much more likely to get arrested in cases where there wasn't enough evidence to actually charge them with a crime.)
And, yes, that absolutely happens out of proportion with the racial makeup of the public school system, as reported by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights:
While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51% of enrollment, 41% of students referred to law enforcement, and 39% of those arrested.
 As for those who would cite the spending of the Springfield public schools:
While all three districts appear to overuse “public order” offenses as a justification for arrests, Springfield had significantly more such arrests than Boston or Worcester, as well as a much higher overall arrest rate than either of the other two districts...
While there are undoubtedly many reasons why there are more public order arrests in Springfield than in Boston or Worcester, it appears that the manner in which Springfield deploys police officers in its public schools is a contributing factor. Springfield is the only district that has armed, uniformed police officers from the local police department stationed in selected schools for the entire duration of the school day. These officers report to the Chief of the Springfield Police Department, not the Springfield school district. 
The above is from "Arrested Futures," the spring 2014 report from the American Civil Liberties Union about criminalization of students in Boston, Springfield, and Worcester (prior, one should note, to Worcester having full time police stationed in our schools). That's absolutely necessary reading to anyone who opines on police in our school system.

And that's the point, really: if you're going to be making public policy on this--which the City Council does not--you need to do the homework. Too many candidates clearly have not. And last night? Twenty-four hours after Spring Valley? Several of them lost my vote. You don't get a pass on this.

I'm just relieved that they aren't setting public school policy.



For more on this, I'd highly recommend "Education Under Arrest" from the Justice Policy Institute.

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