Elementary and Secondary Education

Elementary & Secondary Education Project: Claiming the Promise of Brown Consistent with its mission, the Center is working to identify and study any continuing policy or practice in our nation's schools that foster discrimination on the basis of race, color or ethnicity or perpetuates segregated conditions in education. The Center made the determination to focus on barriers in schools that keep minority students in elementary and secondary schools
from being placed on a college-bound track. Specifically, this focus includes (1) the ability grouping and tracking of students and, (2) discipline policies and practices, particularly the
"school-to-prison pipeline".

In increasingly disproportionate numbers, African American, Latino and other minority children in our elementary and secondary schools are denied the opportunity to be placed on a college-bound track based on assessments that are made of their perceived ability as early as kindergarten or first grade; assessments are also made, at an early age, based on perceived behavior. The practice of ability grouping or tracking of students is an especially egregious practice that permeates the vast majority of school districts across the country, perpetuates segregation within schools, fosters discrimination and results in significant limitations on the opportunity for minority children to progress academically or prepare for higher education. Normally, it is the practice of separating students based on perceived abilities that are determined at a very early age by standardized testing and less formal teacher assessments. Once a child is placed in a high, average or low-achieving group, the child will generally follow a corresponding curriculum track through elementary and secondary school, with little or no chance of breaking out of one group and being placed in another. Characteristics of ability grouping or tracking normally include (1) placing students at the same "ability level" for classes in a variety of subject areas (reading, math, science, social studies) and to locking students into the same or lower ability level placement from year to year, (2) white students consistently overrepresented, and African American, Latino and other minority students consistently underrepresented in high ability classes in all subjects and, in contrast, African American, Latino and other minority students consistently overrepresented while White students consistently underrepresented in low ability tracks in all subjects, (3) little justification for tracking practices on educational grounds and, when in place, the practices are often not representative of what tracking advocates claim as a trustworthy enactment of a theory of tracking and ability grouping, (4) as a group, African American, Latino and other minority children score lower than White children on achievement tests, yet African American, Latino and other minority children are much less likely than White children with the same test scores to be placed in college preparatory and advanced courses, and (5) lower track classes provide African American, Latino and other minority children with lower expectations from teachers, less access to the whole range of resources and opportunities or to curriculum, instructional approaches and classroom environments conducive to learning and to courses that would qualify them for college.

Discipline and the "School-to-Prison Pipeline"

The lower track children - disproportionately African American, Latino and other minorities - are the most likely to be placed in special education courses, subjected to school discipline, relegated to school detention, suspended and expelled. These children kids are most often found on the School-to-Prison Pipeline, a result of the national trend of criminalizing rather than educating our children. It embraces the use of zero tolerance discipline, school-based
arrests, disciplinary alternative schools, and secured detention to marginalize our most at-risk children, denying them access to a meaningful, quality education, and setting them firmly within the grasp of the criminal justice system. Zero tolerance disciplinary policies (a term taken from the "war on drugs" and imposed in our schools as a result of the extreme but rare "Columbine" type violence that has occurred in our schools) impose severe discipline on students without regard to individual circumstances. Zero tolerance operates much like mandatory sentencing laws, but in our schools, even for the most minor misbehavior or offenses