AASA Resources on Discipline Reform
BY BRYAN JOFFE/School Administrator, September 2018
Every day in high school classes nationwide, a student who is struggling academically decides, in a moment of immaturity and frustration, to act out and disrupt the entire classroom. A teacher, upset by the misbehavior and challenged by the intense pressure to move the more than 25 students toward state-tested proficiency, sends the student to the assistant principal’s office.
We know what happens next often has severe consequences for this student’s future academic success and, potentially, for the student’s life outcomes. We also know that what happens next is too often colored by the student’s race, gender and nationality.
The devastating impact on student performance is cataloged in the groundbreaking report “Breaking Schools’ Rules” published by the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center. In that 2011 study, researchers show mounting evidence that disciplinary decisions that involve exclusionary measures lead to increases in grade repetition, dropout rates and interaction with law enforcement and juvenile justice.
Furthermore, the negative outcomes caused by harsh and exclusionary school discipline are not evenly distributed but concentrated among children of color, poor children, special education students and the intersections of these marginalized populations.
In light of studies revealing current school discipline practices are ineffective and biased, AASA published a series of informational tools and resources on school discipline reform and racial disproportionality beginning with the analysis of our 2014 survey of 500 superintendents.
The survey examined how and why districts use out-of-school suspension, the parameters of districts’ discipline policies, practices that create positive school climates and reduce discipline disparities, and the availability of outside partners for improving school discipline.
Developed in partnership with the Children’s Defense Fund, the informational resources for school leaders now include suggestions for revising the district code of conduct, communicating changes in discipline policy and practice and explaining positive behavioral intervention and supports, restorative justice and best practices for in-school suspension.
These tools help leaders to answer the question: What happens next?
School and district leaders have told us, when confronting these situations, they must balance the needs of the student with those of the teacher and the needs of other students in the classroom.
The student who disrupts the class needs academic tutoring and support to learn social and emotional learning skills. The teacher needs tools and supports to reach each student, including those who have fallen behind. The other students in the class deserve a safe and incident-free classroom in which to learn and thrive.
Leaders must ask themselves: Does removing a student from academic activities improve the chances of the student’s academic success and matriculation? How does an out-of-school suspension for a disruptive student address the root causes of the misbehavior? Does locally collected school- and district-level data on discipline point to racial disparities? And, in the wake of recent school shootings and the ensuing debates about school security practices, how can school leaders build systems that are safe and orderly while accounting for the social and emotional needs of children who are still maturing?
Superintendents and student support staff looking for insights from practitioners will find helpful reflections in three district profiles: Wisconsin’s Madison Metropolitan School District, the Broward County Public Schools in Florida and Oklahoma City Public Schools.
These profiles were developed from in-depth interviews by AASA and CDF staff during the past year. All resources are available at www.aasa.org/schooldiscipline.aspx.
BRYAN JOFFE is project director for children’s programs at AASA. Twitter: @AASATotalChild