Approaches to Eliminate Disproportionality: New Study Reinforces State-wide Student Discipline Inequities

Just Released U.S. Department of Education Study:

Minority and Special Education Students are Disproportionately Suspended and Expelled across ALL Maryland Counties from 2009-2012 …

There ARE Solutions !!!

Dear Colleague,

I hope you have been well and productive during the past two weeks. As for me, I've spent most of my time in the field-- helping students, staff, and schools to work smarter and more successfully.

And throughout my travels, I am constant struck by the reality that schools and districts typically do not go out of their way to be ineffective. . .

. . .they simply do what they know, and

don't know what they don't know.

Indeed, schools are often prone to "jump on the bandwagon" of the "next new educational program, innovation, or miracle solution." But these approaches typically have not been validated across multiple settings, situations, circumstances, and communities.

As this plays out, schools often end up implementing things in good faith, without recognizing that they involve bad practice.

And then, they start all over again with the "next innovation". . .often wasting time, money, and effort-- and increasing staff and student frustration and resistance.

Today's Focus-- Yet Another State on our Nation's "Disproportionality List"

This week, a major study was released by the Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic analyzing Maryland Department of Education student discipline data for 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12.

The study looked at K-12 data from every school district in the state, and investigated the presence of disproportionate referral rates for racial/ethnic minority and special education students.

This report adds yet another state to a cross-country list where we can only conclude that the disproportionate number of minority and special education students being suspended and expelled from school is a national crisis.

Indeed, the Maryland study found that during the three school years studied:

  • Students receiving out-of-school suspensions or expulsions dropped from 5.6% in 2009-10 to 5.0% in 2011-12.
  • Because suspensions and expulsions decreased more rapidly for White than Black students, disproportionality increased in 2011-12, the most recent year examined.
  • For the same type of infraction, Black students had higher rates of out-of-school suspension or expulsion than did Hispanic and White students.
  • In all 24 Maryland school systems, Black students received out-of-school suspension or expulsion at more than twice the rate of White students.
  • Statewide, students in special education were removed from school at more than twice the rate of other students.

And so, once again, there is clear documentation across our country that:

  • Reactive, punishment-oriented, and zero tolerance programs do not work,
  • What schools are doing in the areas of school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management also is not working, and
  • We need to rethink our approach to "school discipline" using more proactive, field-tested, and outcome-based approaches.

Parenthetically, all of this also suggests that the $100+ million invested by the U.S. Department of Education in its Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and multi-tiered (RtI) frameworks-- since 1997-- similarly have not worked.

There ARE Well-Documented Solutions

Disproportionality-- as well as school safety, teasing and bullying, student engagement, school truancy, student drop-out, and related social, emotional, and behavioral issues-- will only be addressed through prevention and intervention-- as opposed to a primary focus on eliminating (or punishing) "the problem."

Indeed, we often ask administrators, "Will the office referral, suspension or expulsion, or placement into an alternative program change the student's behavior?" Typically, the answer is, "No." And so, it must be recognized that the student suspension or expulsion, for example, really is an administrative response and not a strategic intervention.

In order to shift toward prevention and intervention, districts and schools need to:

  • Focus on teaching and reinforcing students' interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills from preschool through high school.
  • Do this by implementing a systematic "Health, Mental Health, and Wellness" curriculum (to complement your literacy, math, science, and other curricula).
  • "Job embed" the skills above into the classroom and academic program-- teaching and reinforcing students for interacting successfully (a) on an individual level, (b) in cooperative and other instructional groups and lab experiences, and (c) within their classrooms, at their grade levels, and across the school.
  • Integrate prosocial strategies and approaches into teachers' classroom management systems, and evaluate them (through the district's teacher evaluation system) for consistently using them.
  • Create a continuum of services, supports, strategies, and/or programs for students (with disabilities, mental health issues, or who are just emotionally or behaviorally struggling) that are implemented through an effective Student Assistance Team process.
  • Plan, implement, and evaluate these approaches every year as part of the school and district's strategic planning and School Improvement Plan processes.

NEW Planning and Implementation Guidebook

For almost 30 years and across the country, we have been helping schools and districts with approaches that-- when implemented correctly and in a sustained way-- have successfully improved school climate and safety, classroom management and engagement, and students' prosocial and academic outcomes.

These approaches are embedded in the school improvement, PBIS, and multi-tiered process that we have used-- over the past decade-- with the Arkansas Department of Education through its State Improvement/Personnel Development Grant (SIG/SPDG).

Critically, however, our approaches significantly differ from those advocated by the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Special Education Programs.

We are often told, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But critically, we also are counseled, "If you keep on doing the same things, don't expect different results."

Our approaches to disproportionality are not working. And so, we need to think about how to do things differently.

I hope that this new report about Maryland will motivate you to look at your own state, district, or school to identify what is working, and what is not working. I also hope you will look the resource above (and elsewhere in this e-mail) to see if they might help guide you to re-think what is not working-- on behalf of all students, but especially those minority and special education students who need different approaches in order to be successful.

Have a GREAT week !!!