Saturday April 21st (Seattle) – 8:00AM – 2:00PM – The Youth & Law Forum – MLK FAME Community Center – A Free Community Event!

Saturday April 21st (Seattle) – 8:00AM – 2:00PM – The Youth & Law Forum – MLK FAME Community Center – A Free Event!

Ernest Saadiq Morris of Urban Youth Justice will address the school-to-prison pipeline issues in both parent and youth empowerment sessions. Join us at this free community event!

FLYER – Seattle 2012 Youth and Law Conference_front

REGISTRATION FORM – 2012 Youth and Law Conference


UYJ HANDOUT – 3/10/12 Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative Community Meeting at New Holly Center

Here is the text from a handout resource that Urban Youth Justice provided to interested community members at the Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative Community Meeting on  Race and Education at the New Holly Center on March 12, 2012.

RACE AND EDUCATION IN SEATTLE (RSJI Community Meeting 3/10/12)

The Seattle Public School District has a majority of non-white students of color. (Seattle Public Schools Data Profile: District Summary REA/SISO – 2011)

Most Black/African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American and Pacific Islander Seattle Public School students are eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch. (Seattle Public Schools Data Profile: District Summary REA/SISO – 2011)

Native American (25.6%), Black (18.2%) and Latino (19.3%) students are overrepresented in K-12 special education. (Seattle Public Schools Data Profile: District Summary REA/SISO – 2011)

In the Seattle Public School District, Black students overall barely outperform Special Education students overall in Reading/Math test scores. (SPS District Scorecard 2010-2011)

The Seattle Schools Neighborhood Schools Model reinforces and institutionalizes privilege in public education.

The Seattle Public School District is FAILING its Students of Color.

RSJI EQUITY STRATEGY 1: Applying racial equity tools to our programs and projects. Through the Youth and Families Initiative (YFI), the City has realigned spending to meet families’ priorities, and has designed the new Families and Education Levy around YFI’s recommendations. The new Levy, which Seattle voters passed in November of 2011, targets schools with the greatest needs, often meaning significant populations of students of color, for programs aimed at closing the achievement gap.

Urban Youth Justice supports the stated equity goals of the 2011 Families and Education Levy. However, the stated goal of simply “closing the achievement gap” elevates the District’s misguided education reform by “value-added” data driven by test scores that is objectively proven an inadequate measure of learning. The goal of closing the educational opportunity gap is a more comprehensive and effective education goal to increase learning opportunities of students of color and, ultimately, their performance by closing actual learning gaps, not test scores.

Research shows that the educational opportunity gap starts with inequitable pre-K/early learning opportunities for youth of color and other disadvantaged youth. Although the Families and Education Levy plan does provide more funding to pre-K/early learning opportunities, the Levy still fails to sufficiently prioritize pre-K/early learning inequity to a level commensurate with its importance to the overall stated equity goals of the Levy.

We believe that this is due to the incorrect emphasis upon “closing the achievement gap” that shifts the focus solely to raising test scores as the ultimate goal, rather than closing the educational opportunity gap.

Early intervention strategies for students of color must primarily assist students in achieving early learning success, rather than District goals of early identification of special needs that pushes mores students of color out of general education classrooms.

Test score-based education analysis is an inadequate tool to measure and define racial justice in education because it does not identify institutional racial inequality and/or bias that permeates school district curriculum choices, student discipline policies, classroom management practices, and distribution of educational resources that are at the real root of unequal educational opportunity. Also, multiple national scandals have shown that overemphasis of measuring success by test score performance data as can motivate school officials to cheat and fix results due to the high-stakes pressure of test performance tied to funding, school closure, and job security.

Finally, the language of the Levy implementation plan suggests that educational equity for students of color is merely a “soft goal” not one that is strictly required or enforced, either in spending or oversight. The definition of a school’s need for Levy funding is too subjective. There is a danger that these funds will be rerouted based on race and income neutral factors (such as “enrollment pressures”) to benefit historically academically privileged groups. Continued oversight and accountability enforcement are not sufficiently guaranteed and must be monitored by community stakeholders truly committed to educational equality for students of color. Urban Youth Justice has every intention of monitoring the Levy funding for accountability to the stated equity goals.

RSJI EQUITY STRATEGY 2: Building racial equity into citywide policies and initiatives. School discipline policies such as out-of-school suspensions result in students’ missing classroom experiences for extended periods of time. This directly impacts their ability to progress and graduate on time. The Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable has named education as its lead issue and is working with the Seattle School District to revise its policies on school discipline rates.

Urban Youth Justice main priority is ending the racial disproportionality in school discipline that feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. However, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is rooted in more than just school discipline.

The increased disproportionate placement of students of color in special education instead of general education is an already existing problem. There is a real danger of increased special education placement of youth of color with special needs/disabilities outside of general education curriculum and classrooms as long as “value-added” data analysis based on test performance is not identified as a negative factor in the Seattle Schools’ failure to provide equal educational opportunity.

Furthermore, there is a lack of attention to the fact that students of color with special needs or labeled as special education students are also at increased risk of disproportionate suspensions and expulsions from school discipline. Increased scrutiny of student discipline when both race and disability intersect is crucial to decreasing racial disparities in school discipline. Urban Youth Justice is uniquely focused on this area of advocacy.

RSJI EQUITY STRATEGY 3: Partnering with community. The Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable is partnering with Washington Community Action Network and other Roundtable members to promote a statewide legislative agenda on racial equity in education, and to develop strategies to eliminate disproportionality in school discipline rates.

Urban Youth Justice supports promotion of positive statewide legislative policy. In its 2011-12 session, the Washington State Legislature has introduced a legislative agenda that is openly hostile to youth of color and other disadvantaged youth. The corporate supported education reformers have influenced budgetary cuts, charter bills, test-based teacher evaluation models and juvenile justice cuts that are openly hostile to most vulnerable students of color. Data driven measurements that overemphasize measuring teacher performance based on high stakes testing promotes the school pushout of students of color, especially those struggling academically or having difficulty due to special needs or disability. Urban Youth Justice also supports holding the Seattle School Board and City Council accountable for racial disparities in Seattle public education beyond their participation in the RSJI Roundtable.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights and liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. He has been defeating the school-to-prison pipeline since 2004, including coordinating the largest successful mass student defense to-date (Round Rock, Texas 2006-2007).

The Zero Tolerance Targeting of Philadelphia’s Black & Latino Youth Exposed

The Zero Tolerance Targeting of Philadelphia’s Black & Latino Youth Exposed

By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice Initiative

The Advancement Project partnered with Youth United for Change and the Education Law Center to release a (January 2011) joint report, Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison. The report explains how the Philadelphia Schools’ systematic Pushout of Black and Latino students has reached genuine crisis levels by widespread, discriminatory use of zero tolerance discipline. In September 2010, a Philadelphia Schools task force found that low graduation rates of Black(45%) and Latino boys(43%) were tied to their personal feelings of being pushed out and disrespected by zero tolerance policies and class methods. The Advancement Project report further details how harsh zero tolerance discipline relying primarily on school removal (i.e., suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary transfers to alternative schools) is applied to Black and Latino youth at a rate far higher than their white peers for the same behavior, contributing to their academic achievement gap and low graduation rates. The report also connects the dots between the targeting of Philadelphia’s Black and Latino youth with harsh zero tolerance discipline and resulting disproportionate school-based arrests and referrals to law enforcement of these youth of color. First, the report indicates the armed camp approach taken by Philadelphia Schools:

To put Philadelphia’s school security force in perspective, the number of school police, resource, and security officers per student is over ten times higher in the District than it is in the rest of the state.

It is the reliance of zero tolerance discipline upon the heavy hand of law enforcement and, ultimately, the court system that results in a school environment that resembles a police state. As the report explains further:

[S]chools have increasingly delegated school disciplinary responsibilities to law enforcement personnel.[] Thus, school-based officers are frequently made aware of student behaviors that they likely would not have known about if they were not present in the school. Because criminal laws are so vague (for example, offenses like “disorderly conduct” encompass a huge range of conduct, and “assaults” can include even the most trivial skirmishes between elementary school students), students are routinely arrested for the same behavior that was treated much more leniently and effectively prior to the rise in law enforcement presence within schools.[]

This resulting increase in school-based contacts between youth and police disproportionately impacts Black and Latino youth, thus leading to their disproportionate contacts with the juvenile/criminal justice system and disproportionate incarceration rate. Just as Michelle Alexander cautioned in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, that:

The impact of the new caste system is most tragically felt among the young. In Chicago (as in other cities across the United States), young black men are more likely to go to prison than to college.[] … The young men who go to prison rather than college face a lifetime of closed doors, discrimination, and ostracism. …. Sadly, like the racial caste systems that preceded it, the system of mass incarceration now seems normal and natural to most, a regrettable necessity.

This report demonstrates how Philadelphia Schools, like so many urban school districts, are a willing partner in the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth and should be held accountable by all community stakeholders.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice; a youth rights advocate/ youth empowerment speaker; and civil rights & liberties lawyer. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.

The False Promise of Color-Blind & Disability-Free Education Reform

Published on Dignity In Schools (

The False Promise of Color-Blind & Disability-Free Education Reform
By Ernest Saadiq Morris, Urban Youth Justice Initiative

The public debate over education reform reached a crescendo in 2010. This debate was dominated by a media-celebrated corporate education-reformer class consisting predominately of white male alumni of privileged secondary schools and universities. Their brand of education reform is focused on high stakes, standardized tests and the promotion of private charter schools. After all, their background of cultural and educational experiences is most favored by the standardized tests upon which these same privileged academic institutions placed a high premium. It is what they know, but it is the wrong prescription for those urban youth of color most at risk of harm from failed public education experiments.

It is well-documented that there is an academic achievement gap for Black males (and other youth of color) as evidenced by lower standardized test scores and graduation rates. Factors such as the proliferation of zero tolerance discipline policies, high stakes standardized testing, disproportionate special education placement, and unequal school funding have discriminatory impacts upon urban youth of color and youth with disabilities and perpetuate educational inequities.

Furthermore, in our nation’s largest urban school districts poverty tracks race. Yet in How to Fix our Schools: A Manifesto, the celebrities of urban corporate education reform, including Michelle Rhee(D.C.), Joel Klein(New York City) and Paul Vallas(New Orleans), loftily declared:

the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Then they set forth how standardized testing and the proliferation of charters are the magic cure-all to improve student and teacher performance, as well as the education system overall.

The fact that sixteen urban school district chiefs refused to address poverty, race, or disability inequities as integral to their education reform manifesto is a heinous omission.

As a result of this blind-eye approach, many youth of color won’t have access to a reform agenda concentrated in charter schools. Worse, the proliferation of charters undermines their right to equal educational opportunity by taking from limited public funds while serving a smaller, less diverse student population than truly public schools. This issue arose recently when the Los Angeles Unified School District was literally forced to give local charter schools a larger cut of its special education budget because they would lose even more funds if charter schools carried out their threat to contract out special education services for which they currently pay the District. As a result of this compromise deal, the District’s traditional public schools will receive less money while continuing to serve more special education students. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times noted that the Unified District’s numbers show about 12% of students district-wide are classified as special needs, yet charter schools only offer special education services to about 6% of their students.

The chronic underserving, or outright exclusion, of special needs youth by charters claiming they are not equipped to handle their needs is a persistent national problem. In October 2010, the special education inequities were so dire in New Orleans that the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit contending that due to widespread discrimination students with special needs were denied an appropriate education by the majority-charter school New Orleans Recovery School District either denying their enrollment due to their disability or forcing them to attend schools ill-equipped to accommodate their disabilities.

In an ongoing Philadelphia area lawsuit, Blunt et al v. Lower Merion School District, parents of African-American students say they were systematically denied an education equal of their Caucasian classmates due to disproportionate special education placement and lower level curriculum tracking of Black students.

Likewise, high stakes standardized testing has a disproportionately negative effect on Black and Latino students, as well as special needs youth. In 2010, the Advancement Project’s report Test, Punish, and Push Out: How Zero Tolerance and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth into the School to Prison Pipeline examined how high stakes standardized testing works with zero tolerance discipline policies to pushout youth of color, especially those from a low income background:

[T]oo many children continue to be labeled academic failures even though they are making progress. These students are shamed by their peers, their teachers, and their communities because of the impact, their test results can have on school assessment.

Additionally, the results from standardized tests are often used to retain students in grade. Yet grade retention has been shown to be the single largest predictor of student dropout. Unless accompanied by targeted and intensive supports and interventions, student retention fails to produce academic gains for the retained students and makes it more likely that the students will experience future behavioral problems.

High stakes testing does not address or alleviate academic achievement disparity rather it stigmatizes it and eventually leads to high pushout/dropout rates. Thereby high stakes testing perpetuates the achievement gap stigma of youth of color and exacerbates their educational disenfranchisement, instead of alleviating it through academic interventions and supports. Once driven to dropout these youth of color and youth with disabilities officially became part of a growing invisible class.

Color-blind and disability-free public education reform is a dangerously exclusionary vision of public education in the image of the elitist academic and cultural backgrounds of the corporate education-reformer class. Equal educational opportunity is a fundamental right of all youth, and its systematic denial is no less than a crime–especially given the historical educational inequities of youth of color and youth with disabilities. Attrition by pushout or dropout of our most at risk youth is merely continuation of the unacceptable status quo that can not justify the redirecting of limited public funds to private hands nor the undermining of every student’s sacred right to equal educational opportunity. It is an illusion of progress and false promise of real reform. Good intentions are not an excuse.

Putting the Sacrifice of Black Youth for the “Greater Good” on Trial

This week in the Philadelphia area it was reported that a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District on behalf of African-American students and their parents would go to trial in November 2011. The case seeks to put an end to disproportionate special education placement and inferior education tracking of Black youth by the Lower Merion District.

As the article states, the case was originally filed as a class action on behalf of

“”all present and future African American students” in the district who, “because of defendants’ acts and omissions . . . are denied access to the general education curriculum; are placed in below-grade-level classes; receive a modified curriculum; and/or are sent to separate, segregated schools which provides them with an education inferior to that provided their Caucasian peers.”

The No Child Left Behind Act placed such emphasis on standardized test scores as a measure of school performance that it can affect federal funding and oversight. As a result, the disproportionate special education placement or inferior education tracking of Black Youth became a larger problem.

Special education warehousing acts to insulate school achievement indicators such as school test scores and graduation rates from “problem students” that may simply be behind due to a previous lack of educational opportunity or intervention. It is these students whose educational rights are sacrificed for a greater good of chasing overall school performance measurables.

Although the judge has decided the case won’t go to trial as a class action because of the uniqueness of the individual claims, it is still encouraging that this far too common education practice may finally be put on trial.

School districts should be put on notice that the sacrifice of Black youth for the greater good can no longer be accepted as business as usual. ~Ernest Saadiq Morris

Featured Links (1/2/11 – 1/8/11)

(Philadelphia metro area) Trial set for lawsuit against School District’s disproportionate Special Ed placement/inferior education tracking of Black students.

American Schools as ‘Punishment Laboratories’

North Carolina A&T State University – Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies: Report: The Black-White Achievement Gap

Our Youth Don’t Need Bootstraps, They Need Us

by Ernest Saadiq Morris

Upon reading Yvette Carnell’s recent column, “Low Black Male Graduation Rates Indicate a Failure in Faith, Not Circumstances,” I found it hard to believe the author was suggesting that young Black Males, a term she inexplicably says is devoid of love, merely need an attitude adjustment and self-love to achieve in the classroom and meet their full potential in life. This ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ admonition rings hollow.

Certainly true self-esteem and confidence are positive attributes, but Black youth face a particularly grim daily reality that threatens their healthy development from their first step inside the public school system. The Black male achievement deficit is only a symptom of interrelated factors conspiring against them, including but not limited to, widespread disenfranchisement of the right to equal educational opportunity, limited job opportunity and disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system.

A recent Schott Foundation report, 50 State Report on Black Males and Education, showed the Black male graduation rate is woeful nationwide, less than fifty percent. The latest U.S. Labor Department figures show Black teens have the highest unemployment rate of any group, 40.6 percent. Meanwhile, young Black males have disproportionate contact with the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems at a higher rate than all other groups.

Nationwide, K-12 public schools have become dramatically institutionalized with students treated as commodities and their value increasingly measured only by statistics, i.e., test scores. The aim and purpose of school policies overwhelmingly is discipline and conformity, not growth and social development. Youth who do not produce under this oppressive, industrial education approach are eliminated, i.e., either marginalized and removed from general education track to isolated and ineffective special education programs or they are literally removed from school by suspension and expulsion under severe discipline policies. Often special education is just a weigh station before ultimate removal by zero tolerance school discipline policies. Black youth face dual disproportionate rates of special education assignments and school discipline removals, including referrals to the court system. They are literally banished from ‘good society’ and deemed worthless at a young age. Is it any wonder that their educational experience is widely described as a school-to-prison pipeline?

The promoters of these oppressive methods employ numerous myths to disguise and justify their systematic disenfranchisement of Black youth. The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ was one such myth promoted by former President Bush in justifying the No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced high stakes testing and ‘teaching to the test’ as the new millennium definition of learning and curriculum. But we cannot afford to buy into these myths or give any credence whatsoever to the idea that our youth deserve the inhumane treatment they receive from the increasingly tandem education and criminal justice systems. As adults, we should do better than blaming our youth, even those labeled troubled or wayward, and we should save the ‘No excuses’ mantra for those seeking to destroy our younger generations. And their pending destruction should be cause for community-wide intervention because it threatens to destroy the fabric of our communities.

Certainly, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency are important character traits to be learned and can breed success but no child should be expected to have the savvy to self-negotiate the deliberate landmines set throughout our public educational system. To point the finger at our youth in the face of these facts is an abandonment of our responsibilities as community members. There isn’t a bootstrap long enough for an entire generation of Black youth to save themselves from this systematic oppression; they need a lifeline with multiple hands of concerned elders pulling them to safety.

Now, what are we going to do about it?

As a community, accept that special education is not a diagnosis and it shouldn’t be a curse. Demand that school districts test youth to specifically identify the special need, instead of general catch-alls, such as learning or emotionally disabled. Then demand the school district provide services to meet the special needs for all children, not just children of higher income families.

Instead of only focusing on the achievement gap, demand accountability from school boards for any racial disparity in special education assignments and disciplinary removals by demanding school district statistics, then filing complaints with state and federal education agencies to document the disparity. It is illegal to use segregated special education programs to warehouse ‘troubled’ youth away from the general education curriculum, as is any unjustified over-representation of minority youth.

Demand the use of culturally relevant practices in the assessment of students for special needs, as well as discipline. We are all equal stakeholders in public education, so there should not be any cultural bias in educational decision-making.

An oppressive reality is what Black youth face everyday, but admonishing our young Black males to have faith and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is overly simplistic, and actually absolves and promotes the further disenfranchisement of their right to equal educational opportunity. Before our communities suffer the dire consequences of a lost generation, I think it is time we work to protect our Black youth, and all youth, from a broken educational system, instead of blaming them for it.

Ernest Saadiq Morris is a youth rights advocate, civil rights & liberties lawyer, and founding director of the public education and advocacy initiative, Urban Youth Justice. You can follow Urban Youth Justice daily on Facebook and Twitter.