Schools are a microcosm of our society, acting as an extension of the same racist, classist and patriarchal structures that are systematically imposed upon Black and Latinx communities. Across the country, school systems remain underfunded, underresourced, inundated with policing and surveillance resulting in violence and a school-to-prison pipeline, and are subject to closure or corporate privatization.
Public schools are a public good and should be fully resourced to prioritize education and holistic support that lift students up and follows their lead. A comprehensive, youth-led effort is necessary to build power for students of color and dismantle decades-old practices that wear away at their dignity and well-being.
Advancement Project’s program, Opportunity to Learn, envisions a future in which students of color have the self-determination to achieve the liberatory school of their dreams. We work at both the national level and on the ground with our multi-generational and/or youth-led community partners to examine, expose and reform practices that lead to the criminalization of students and challenge the privatization of public education. We are continuing to work to end the school-to-prison pipeline including by supporting youth organizing campaigns aimed at dismantling the school policing infrastructure. Our groundbreaking work in this area has led to significant change and supported the leadership development of young people including the launch of the National Police Free Schools campaign, co-anchored by the Alliance for Educational Justice. Through our Right to Education work, we support organizing campaigns to end the dismantling, defunding, and privatization of K-12 public schools, and to move us into abundance, where students’ mental and physical needs are not only met, but they also experience power, dignity, freedom, creativity, experimentation, wholeness, wellness, nurture and care.
History of Opportunity to Learn
Our education work started as soon as Advancement Project opened its doors in 1999, working with some of our first partners, Southern Echo, in the Mississippi Delta. Shortly after in June 2000, we published our first study on the School-to-Prison pipeline, “Opportunities Suspended: The Devasting Consequence of Zero Tolerance, pioneering challenging discipline systems that target youth of color. In the years following, collaborating with local grassroots organizations, we published several more groundbreaking reports that detailed the trend of zero tolerance policies and how they target and push students of color from school into the criminal legal system. In 2008, we supported local partner, Moviemento Poder (formerly named Padres y Jovenes Unidos), to win a new discipline code focusing on non-punitive discipline and reducing racial disparities for Denver Public Schools after five years of advocacy. Continuing on our school-to-prison pipeline efforts, we would go on to deeply collaborate with local groups in Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina and many others.
Starting in 2010, Advancement Project has hosted its premiere program, ActionCamp on the school-to-prison pipeline, where we have trained over 1,000 youth and parents from across the country on how to dismantle the pipeline. ActionCamp has included sessions on understanding data and policies; communications; organizing and popular education; direct action and legal strategies. ActionCamps have played a significant role in building the national movement and helping build the capacity of local organizations. In 2017, co-anchored by Alliance for Education Justice, we launched the national Police Free School campaign, supporting local youth-led campaigns to end policing in their schools and calling for national demands for change for safety in public schools.