Deconstructing the Marginalization of 'Underclass' Students: Disciplinary Alternative Education

39 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2011 Last revised: 28 Aug 2014

See all articles by I. India Thusi

I. India Thusi

California Western School of Law

Date Written: November 11, 2011


Analyzing the structural causes for the marginalization of the poor and minorities reveals that complex systems may create scenarios where actors have “rational” incentives to act in manners that are counterproductive, and at times disastrous, from a systemic perspective. This Article focuses on the marginalization of disciplinary alternative education students, students who have been transferred out of mainstream education into external educational programs due to alleged educational failure or behavioral problems in the classroom.

Marginalization operates at the inter-institutional, intra-institutional, and interpersonal levels to perpetuate disparities in access to opportunity for poor minority communities. For example, marginalizing alternative education students may appear rational because it: (1) immediately relieves school administrator fatigue with “problem” students; (2) extends the zero tolerance and punitive approach that has plagued the criminal justice system and allows administrators and politicians to appear “tough”; (3) reduces students’ competition for resources; (4) rids school officials of the task of educating these students; and (5) artificially boosts accountability testing scores. However, marginalizing alternative education students ultimately is irrational from a systemic perspective, given the societal costs that it creates through increased incarceration and other collateral consequences that result from a less educated populace.

Various institutions — including those that encourage residential segregation, punitive policies that encourage social control over marginalized populations, and school systems that perpetuate unequal access to resources — interact with each other across spatial and temporal domains to encourage the isolation of alternative education students. Policies that purposefully disincentivize marginalization must be adopted if all students are to have a real chance at a decent education.

Keywords: school-to-prison pipeline, education, criminalization, No Child Left Behind, alternative schools

Suggested Citation

Thusi, I. India, Deconstructing the Marginalization of 'Underclass' Students: Disciplinary Alternative Education (November 11, 2011). University of Toledo Law Review, Vol. 42, p. 429, 2011. Available at SSRN:

I. India Thusi (Contact Author)

California Western School of Law ( email )

225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
United States

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