A new website has been launched with the goal of encouraging school administrators to radically adjust their approach to school discipline, and then give them the resources needed to do that.
The National Clearinghouse on Supportive School Discipline (NCSSD) says that it aspires to to correct what it says are major biases in the current administration of school discipline for “racial and ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth; and/or students with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive disabilities.”
To back up its point regarding bias, the site features a “Disicipline Disparities” page in which it uses Department of Education data to make the case that black, Hispanic, and Native American students are significantly more likely to receive every manner of school discipline, with results broken down to the state level.
An introductory essay by David Osher, the site’s Principal Investigator, also says that disciplinary standards focused on suspensions, expulsions, and other harsh corrective measures contribute to school shootings and others radical incidents of school violence.
“[This] website [is intended] to support educational practitioners in their efforts to transform the conditions contributing to tragic school shootings as well as harsh, exclusionary and disproportionate disciplinary practices” Osher wrote.
What change do Osher and the NCSSD propose? Not only should punishments be more equally distributed, they say, but they should be different in kind, with a greater focus on what is dubbed “supportive school discipline,” which is said to focus less on heavy-handed punishments and more on promoting self-discipline and keeping students engaged with the school community rather than separating them via out-of-school suspensions.
To promote the adoption of this alternative approach, the website features a lengthy “tip sheet” of resources from a variety of state and national efforts to alter school discipline. The goal is that school administrators around the country will be able to use the website as a research for reforming discipline while feeling less bound to the current method of doing things.
The website was crafted by the American Institutes for Research, a major nonpartisan social science research firm. It was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies, the private foundation of businessman Charles Feeney.
School discipline reform has been emerging as a significant issue in recent years, as activists seek to break apart the s0-called “school to prison pipeline” that is said to result in so many students, in particular minority males, never receiving high school diplomas and instead falling into a life of crime.
In the 1990s, when crime around the U.S. reached a high-water mark and school violence such as the Columbine shooting shocked the country, many schools enacted tough new disciplinary measures to cope, often dubbed “zero-tolerance” because they mandates suspensions or expulsions for certain actions such as bringing a weapon to school.
While violent crime rates in schools have dropped in recent years, many think that zero tolerance has resulted in too much collateral damage and is contributing to the so-called “school to prison pipeline” in which many students, particularly minority males, are pushed to drop out of school and ultimately become embroiled in a life of crime. Opponents of zero-tolerance also say that strict school disciplinary standards tend to be racially biased, with black students more likely to face strict punishments for certain offenses.
Over the summer, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it was revising its policies in an effort to cut down on the number of students who are arrested. In New York, Mayor Bill De Blasio is planning to reform that city’s disciplinary processes as well.
The federal government has become involved with this shift in attitudes as well. Last Janury, the Departments of Education and Justice collaborated to release a Dear Colleague letter urging schools to cut down on the number of expulsions issued, especially for black students.
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