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Title: “Operating in a Minefield” The Role of Street-Level Bureaucrats in New York City School Discipline
Authors: Zou, Jessica
Advisors: Nolan, Kathleen
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2016
Abstract: In 2003, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new school safety plan that would completely transform the landscape of school discipline in the city. Today, with uniformed School Safety Agents (SSAs) walking the hallways, metal detectors at the entrances, and zero tolerance policies implemented in every room, New York City public schools look more like prisons than centers of education and learning—a physical manifestation of the school-to-prison pipeline. The experiences of young people in this pipeline are well documented: poor, young people of color are pushed out of their underfunded, understaffed schools by overworked school staff in a disciplinary structure that does not tolerate any deviance from the norm. Low achievers, troublemakers, and special needs students alike find themselves pushed out into a criminal justice system that is no kinder to poor, young people of color than their schools were. What the literature lacks, however, is an understanding of the role that policy actors in schools and the criminal justice system play in shaping the experience of these students. Using Michael Lipsky’s idea of the “street-level bureaucrat” as a framework, this thesis forms a descriptive analysis of policy actors in the urban school-to-prison pipeline. First, data from various research organizations, existing scholarship, and materials from New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) were used to develop a descriptive analysis of the disciplinary process. Second, semi-structured interviews with twelve New York City policy actors were used to form an understanding of what DOE policy looked like on the ground. These interviews revealed three general trends: (1) policy actors frequently perceived dysfunction within stakeholder institutions and between them; (2) policy actors suggested that the harms of punitive school discipline were compounded in students who were caught in a web of social forces like poverty, trauma, and mental health; and, (3) policy actors believed that, under the current school discipline model, students are criminalized by a racialized system of social control. These findings suggest that zero tolerance school discipline not only weakens the educational aims of the school but also limits the efficacy of criminal justice professionals. Moreover, the restrictions of a criminal justice model used within schools suggests that significant reform of school discipline in New York City would require a complete rejection of the zero tolerance framework.
Extent: 116 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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