Paul Butler and the Cops

August 13, 2007

My friend Paul Butler, esteemed law professor at George Washington University, and Black man, is always running into the police. As he puts it, “in terms of the race/gender permutations of 21st century urban police forces, I’ve had statistically significant interactions with cops who are white men and women, African-American men and women, and Hispanic men.” His latest account is worth a read.

Whether you think about accountability from a schools perspective or a criminal justice angle, this is laughable:

Thanks PREA Prez

While education researches sometimes seem consumed with tearing each other apart over what works, certain interventions have been proven time and time again to make a difference. Here is the latest study from Arthur Reynolds and co. documenting the lasting benefits of high-quality early childhood programs. Ed Week’s summary is here.

My editorial accompanying the study is here (Why Prison Not Pre-School). My bottom line:

The Chicago Longitudinal Study examined a cohort of low-income students who attended preschool beginning at ages 3 and 4 years at Child-Parent Centers in Chicago. Many of the children and families received additional remedial services during the early elementary school grades. Reynolds et al tracked the students, now 24 years old, to measure the impact of the intervention on educational attainment, crime, economic status, and physical and mental health status.

The results are striking: students who received the services were more likely than a comparison group to graduate high school and attend 4-year college, more likely to be employed full-time, less likely to be involved with serious criminal behavior or to be incarcerated, and less likely to suffer depression. These results matter, they are consistent with other research on the long-term impact of quality early-childhood education, and they deserve wide attention.

World Incarceration Rates

August 2, 2007

The subject the US keeps ignoring. Once on the link, click “highest to lowest” and then “go” to see the depressing results.

Wrongful Convictions

July 23, 2007

NY Times reports on Brandon Garrett’s study of wrongful convictions. Bottom line: people may disagree about the precise number, but the flaws in the criminal justice system exposed by the DNA exonerations make clear that there are still plenty of innocent people behind bars. The biggest culprit, according to the study, is erroneous eyewitness testimony. And appeals don’t help in general, finds Garrett. Appellate courts upheld the convictions in almost all of the cases of people who were later proved to be innocent.

When Barack Obama decided to run for President, I had hoped that he would make an issue out of criminal justice. Specifically, I had hoped that he would talk about the fact that this nation incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any country in the world. If that itself is not bad enough, the incarceration rates in Black America are even higher, and remain high despite 10 years of declining crime rates. Sadly, neither Obama nor the other candidates have touched the issue much, probably for the same reason Bill Clinton didn’t–fear of being branded soft on crime.

Well anyway, finally, tentatively, the Libby commutation seems to be giving Obama a chance to begin the conversation. Just an opening, but maybe there will be more. Ck out this brief clip from New Hampshire:

Thanks: Andrew Sullivan

Recognizing Bad Policing

July 10, 2007

The NY Times’ Bob Herbert is publicizing incidents of bad police practice in schools. In his latest, he describes:

a cop who grotesquely abused his power by invading a high school classroom in the Bronx because a girl had uttered a curse word in a hallway. Not only did the cop handcuff and arrest the girl in a room filled with stunned students and a helpless teacher, but he arrested the school’s principal, who had attempted to reason with the officer.

As a recent ACLU report makes clear, this is not an isolated incident.

That police practice in high-poverty schools often leaves much to be desired should not come as a surprise to education reformers. After all, the education reform community is appropriately quick to criticize bad teaching practice in high poverty schools. Yet few edu-bloggers have focused much on the issue, and some of those who have argued that Herbert has it wrong.

My friend Whitney Tilson argues,

“I’m not buying for an instant Herbert’s assertion that police officers in NYC’s public schools,” and “I suspect that incidents in which police officers are out of line are extremely rare — it’s just that in a system with 1,400+ schools and over 1 million students, even if there’s a 1/100th of 1% ‘error rate,’ that will yield dozens of juicy stories for reports (like the ACLU’s) and reporters (like Herbert) to go nuts over.”

This reaction has long surprised me–so many smart people have really high standards for teachers and really low ones for police officers. But both of these groups have a tremendous influence on poor communities, and we should have high standards for both.

Edu-types should get this, because many of the same things that lead to poor teaching lead to poor policing, and many of the same structural issues that protect bad teachers also protect bad officers. These include: low pay, low barriers to entry into the profession, poor training (if you think education schools are bad, talk to smart officers about the police academies in some cities), strong job protections, administrators who don’t document poor performance, and a culture of low-expectations. Indeed, the same low expectations that allow terrible teaching practice to continue also let terrible policing practices to go on. Too many people think poor kids don’t deserve better.

Teachers and educators and education reformers should all care about this issue, a lot. The bottom line is that our work in schools is trying to change students perceptions of who they are and who they can be. When they are treated like criminals instead of scholars by police officers, either in schools or in their neighborhoods, that has an impact.

Update: I e-mailed a version of this post to Whitney, whose response is here. I take Whitney’s point about the bias in the ACLU report, but I would still recommend people check out the reference to Julia Richman, on page 24. Regardless of how big a problem bad policing in schools is, I think it is pretty clear that the Julia Richman approach to school safety is the way to go.