Labyrinth of Classroom to Prison Pipeline Leading to Social Injustice

By: Felicia Mayfield, Ed.D.; Department Chairman and Associate Professor, Clark Atlanta University School of Education

                                             Disproportionality in classroom suspensions for students of color ↙

                                 High dropout rate for students for color↙

         Disproportionate rates of incarceration↙

Disproportionate number of felons dismissed from voter rolls

Social injustice is a complex problem. But, we have taken it on. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a diagram can explain the more complicated components of social injustice. There is research to connect each of the constructs at the nexus to the next (Novak, 2019). The diagram depicts the layers of the interconnected systemic path and social processes to disenfranchise males of color. This painful labyrinth has its genesis in the P-12 classroom with disproportionality. That is, the disproportionate referrals of discipline involving males of color. If this is the basis or trigger for the path to social injustice, then let’s examine what is happening at the beginning

What can be done to disrupt the classroom-to-prison pipeline? Enters stage left…The Males of Color in the Teacher Pipeline Initiatives is a means of mitigating these social structures of inertia with males literally and figuratively falling. 

So, if one thing could be done–though we can’t do just one thing… But, if one thing had to be done to interrupt the pattern presented in the Labyrinth of Classroom to Prison Pipeline Leading to Social Injustice, it would be to increase the number of male teachers of color since discipline referrals decrease as much at 50% with a male teacher of color (Wright, 2015)!

Enter stage right–research on the motivating factors to encourage the preparation of male teachers of color. At Clark Atlanta University, we identified four elements that make a difference in teacher preparation of males of color: communication, exposure, resources (especially with testing), and support with student teaching. Clark Atlanta University is an HBCU with a history of preparing educators of color since the 1940s. So, the depth and breadth were present for this study to be meaningful since the percentage of males of color in the pipeline in the School of Education at about 20% were juxtaposed with the national average in this category at less than 2%. The higher percentage for the School of Education makes CAU a statistical outlier—we know that outliers make for an exciting investigation. The Center of Educational Opportunity at Albany State University agreed and funded the implementation of a grant to be intentional in immersing the future male teachers in the four mitigating strategies.

Under a fresh IRB, the CAU Males of Color Initiative offered rich experiences in the four categories. The perceptions of the males of color were measured, revealing promising information worthy of generalization. This research is significant in that it supports the fulcrum to leverage change. Therefore, we conclude with a solution in a picture worth more than a thousand lives:


AACTE (2019) February 2019, AACTE released its report on how to increase and support the number of Black and Hispanic/Latino male candidates in teacher preparation programs.

Department of Education. (2016). The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce.

Linsey and Hart, 2017 Males of color as teachers  saw a 12% decrease with students of color 

Lindsay, C., & Hart, C. (2017). Exposure to Same-Race Teachers and Student Disciplinary Outcomes for Black Students in North Carolina. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39(3), 485-510. Retrieved June 19, 2021, from

Johns Hopkins University. (2017, April 5). With just one Black teacher, Black students more likely to graduate [Press Release].

 National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). National Teacher and Principal Survey, Public School Teacher and Private School Teacher Data Files, 2017-18.  U. S. Department of Education.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). Race and Ethnicity of Public School Teachers and Their Students NCES 2020-103). US Department of Education.

“youth who are suspended by age 12 are more likely to report justice system involvement at age 18 (Novak, 2019)” Article Information SAGE Journal

 Novak, Abigail. Article first published online: May 14, 2019; Issue published: August 1, 2019

University of Florida Abigail Novak, Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law, 

Volume: 46 issue: 8, page(s): 1165-1180

Wright (2015). Males of Color as teachers decrease discipline referral that lead to suspension and expulsion states that classroom discipline is cut in half with male teachers