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excerpted from: Ellen Marrus, Education in Black America: Is it the New Jim Crow?, 68 Arkansas Law Review 27 (2015) (127 Footnotes)(Full Document).


EllenMarrusOur children are our future.” How many times have you heard that saying? We often say it to encourage young people to think about their future responsibilities. Adults think about it as we remember how important children are to the well-being of our nation. This phrase has even been used in song: “[T]he children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Every generation depends on its youth to build the future, to make sure society takes care of the elderly, and to provide a better overall environment and civilization for current and future generations. It is imperative that we endow all young people with the essential tools to accomplish these goals. A quality educational system that meets the needs of all children will provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful. However, we have long debated government's role in education and the appropriate way to educate children. As of late, there has been much discussion about the education system's inability to provide children with the means to succeed in our modern, global society. Furthermore, many express concerns about the way we evaluate teachers and schools, and how we measure what students are learning. To date, much of this discussion has focused on children who live at home with their parents and attend schools in their community. The discourse often overlooks the children who face disciplinary action and removal from their “home” school. These students might receive instruction at home or move to an alternative school. Others might become involved in the juvenile justice system through delinquency or dependency proceedings, often removing them from their homes.

Children placed in foster care or group homes might frequently move from placement to placement, causing their school to also change. The youth involved in the delinquency system might also receive their education in a juvenile detention center or, even worse, in an adult prison. The number of children who face these types of educational situations increases constantly, but society often ignores their needs. Children of color, particularly African American children, are disproportionately represented in all of these arrangements. Once removed from his or her home school and caught in the net of alternative education or the justice system, a child's chances for a quality education decrease dramatically. Thus, for many children, the opportunities to receive the skills needed to become productive citizens are destroyed at an early age.

Part II of this essay first discusses the disproportionate number of African American children involved in child welfare programs, school disciplinary proceedings, and the juvenile justice system. The connection between African American youth and the legal system contributes to the criminalization of black children. Furthermore, various educational interruptions in each system increase the likelihood of black children finding themselves in the adult criminal justice system. African American children are more likely to be placed in foster care, are more likely to face disciplinary action in public schools, and are more likely to be confined in either juvenile or adult detention facilities than their white peers. This creates major obstacles for children of color to become productive citizens in our society and limits the chance this generation of African American youth can reach their full potential.

Part III of this essay describes how each of these systems interrupts the education of black youth in our public school system. Part III also analyzes the long-term effects of educational interruption on African American children. These problems include an inability of children to re-enroll in their home school, a lack of coordination and collaboration between agencies, a shortage of coordinated efforts to address the needs of youth, a scarcity of appropriate school services, a high level of mobility among youth in the system, an absence of advocates for appropriate education for children, and a lack of access to educational records. Furthermore, a host of other problems related to post-placement transition arise for incarcerated youth, including a failure to earn high school credits, a lack of skills training, an inability to enroll in college programs, a difficulty with obtaining financial aid, and more.

Part IV of this essay concentrates on developing solutions to the problems faced by minority youth in the foster care, school discipline, and delinquency systems. Educational reformers have implemented successful programs that both provide a quality education and help youth remain in school, regardless of grade level. Programs also exist to help students obtain a post-secondary degree and to stay out of the criminal justice system. Lastly, Part IV discusses the reform needed to provide all youth with a quality education and equal educational opportunities.