Creating a Positive School Climate: Implementing Equitable and Effective School Discipline Practices
The Alliance for Excellent Education Presents a Webinar on
Creating a Positive School Climate: Implementing Equitable and Effective School Discipline Practices
Deb Delisle, Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education
Dan Losen, Director, Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA
Martens Roc, Policy and Advocacy Associate, Alliance for Excellent Education
Karen Webber-Ndour, Executive Director, Student Support and Safety, Baltimore City Schools
Darryl Briggs, BSW Candidate, Lehman College
Please join the Alliance for a webinar on the work being done to ensure that all students are learning in an environment that does not criminalize them but rather keeps them safe, instills social and emotional learning, and includes a strong academic program.
Closing achievement and graduation rate gaps requires comprehensive school reform that includes a focus on a positive school climate that meets and develops the academic, social, and emotional needs of every student. Doing this means addressing the multiple factors that can negatively affect school climate. For example, student discipline policies often keep too many students out of school and away from the classroom, causing them to lose critical learning time.
Research repeatedly shows that harsh disciplinary policies disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities. Not only are these discipline practices disproportionately applied, and for less serious behavior, they are also an ineffective response to the behavior. There are other practices and policies that have proven to be effective in creating a safe and positive school climate for all students and staff.
This webinar will provide data on these disparities and the equitable and effective alternatives of punitive school discipline. Specifically, panelists will discuss ways in which their work is supporting and advancing these alternatives. Panelists will also address questions submitted by viewers from across the country.
Register and submit questions for the webinar using the form below.
Support for this webinar is provided in part by The Atlantic Philanthropies and The Schott Foundation for Public Education.
If you are unable to view the webinar live, an archived version will be available at http://www.all4ed.org/webinars within one to two business days after the event airs.
>>> Hello, today I’ll be your moderator for a very informative conversation of promising approaches to school discipline that create a positive school climate. I’m joined by a panel of experts who will be weighing in with their thoughts. We will meet them in a moment.
First, you know that we have released a series of papers on school climate describing how school discipline, curriculum and teaching are interconnected and any effort to address one issue will be limited unless the other two are addressed as well. When addressed effectively as a whole, the issues make up a more positive school climate. Positive school climate is an environment committed to meeting academic, social and emotional needs of every student. A positive school climate positively correlates with student engagement and success. While our work oh encompasses curriculum and educators, today we focus on school discipline.
With me are panelists who will help us learn more about what is going on in schools and how we can create a learning environment that is safe and keeps students in the classroom. First, we have Darryl Briggs. Darryl is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work at Lehman college. He previously served as youth program coordinator at better Bronx, a nonprofit organization focused on combatting environmental disparities in the south Bronx. He is an alumnus of the children’s defense fund youth advocate training. Next, Darryl Delisle of the department of education. In this position, she plays an important role in policy and management issues affecting elementary and secondary education. She helps ensure equal access to services leading for improvement for all children, particularly children from low-income families. We also have Karen webber-ndour with Baltimore city schools. Karen utilizes her prior work experiences as a lawyer and advocate and to a role in which she oversees suspension services, student placement, Baltimore school police, student health and other departments which directly affect students, family and students in our school support and safety issues for the entire district. Last but not least, Dan Losen from the civil rights project in UCLA. His work at the civil rights project kernels the impact of federal, state and local education law and policies on students of color. His most recent efforts have focused on addressing the school at the prison pipeline and implementation concerns about the no child left behind act. Thank you all for joining us.
>> thank you. >> we look forward to your oh participation during this web cast, where you can cast questions. We will go to those questions from time to time to answer what’s on your mind and we’ll try to answer as many questions as possible throughout the webinar. Also, please join the conversation on twitter, using the #hsclimate. Again, that is #hsclimate.
As many of you know, the alliance for excellent education mission is for success in life. Achieving that mission requires engaging students, but that requires students being safe and in school. Policymakers and educators across the country are seeking effective approaches on how to best address the academics of students being expelled. I want to ask a couple questions of my own.
First, Dan, the office for civil rights data collection provides valuable information regarding school climate. Based on that data and your work, what can you tell us about the disparities in terms of suspensions.
>> well, as you can see, there’s a slide that shows the then and now. And the racial disparities have been problematic for as long as we have been collecting the data. So the first set of numbers on the left shows data from the ’70s, rates of secondary school suspension. This is based on a student being suspended at least one time. So we’re counting students, not the number of suspensions. As a percentage of their enrollment. And at the secondary level, we see in the early ’70s that almost 12% of black students in the secondary level were being suspended, and about, you know, 5, 6% of the other students, about 2% of asian-american students, little over. But with this sort of tsunami of zero tolerance, get tough on kids approach, and this willingness to kick out the bad kids so the good kids can learn, that sort of mentality, we have seen a dramatic increase, an increase for just about all these different groups. But the most dramatic increase has been for black students.
And you see that now, as of ’09-’10, almost one in every four black secondary students were suspended from school at least once. And so with this increase, even though all the other groups also increase, it increased more for black students. So the disparities have just exploded.
Now, the next slide shows just comparing elementary schools to secondary schools. And here you can see that the elementary level, most schools, most districts, are not suspending high numbers of kids. This is where some of the other patterns emerge where we see English learners and Latinos who were not being suspended in really high rates in elementary school being suspended at much, much higher rates. It increases for all students between four and ten times their elementary school rate. The next slight, though, also tells part of the story, and that’s the high rates of suspension are not happening uniformly. There are districts that are high-spending, districts that are low-suspending. And within large districts, many schools are high suspending. There are also many we’re finding that are low-suspending. And we are looking at just black students in this slide. Where on the far side it shows there are 761 districts at the secondary level, 25% or more of the black students were suspended out of school. But we’re finding there are many districts, over 1,000 districts, where the rate was between — it was less than 10%.
So this tells us that there’s a tremendous variety. And this sort of dovetails with research that shows that it’s school policies and practices that are driving whether schools are suspending high numbers or low numbers.
The next slide sort of drills down to look confluence of race and disability and gender. And this goes back to a national picture. And what we see here, this is at the secondary level. And what we see when we look at race and gender, for example, most shocking is in the second column, black students with disabilities, over 1 out of every 3 suspended out of school at least once. Compare that on the low end, white females, about 6% of white female students with disabilities being suspended. But for all groups, if you have a disability, you’re probably two or more times more likely to be suspended out of school if you don’t have a disability. That suggests there is something broken with our whole approach to school discipline. Now, there’s a lot more information.
The next slide gives you some of the places where folks can find more information. The u.s. department of Ed has a link here, the OCR data site. And the data that I just showed you is all derived. That’s some analysis based on what was available on that website. If you go to our website, which is www.schooldisciplinedata.org, you’ll find this analysis that I just showed you for every district that was in the OCR sample. So well over half of all the districts in the united states are represented. And we presented those similar kinds of graphs. You can compare districts, as well. And there will be new information as the next ddrc is expected out between January and march, we’ll be able to break those data down and also show some trend. So that’s sort of a data picture.
>> great. Thank you. And Dan, the disparities are most often a result of ineffective school discipline policies. And I guess I’m wondering, is there research coming to bear that shows what works instead.
>> right. So the — we are a part of a research collaborative, and we have worked with mission new research. We found research in sort of two realms. One, helping educators see the connectedness between high rates of suspension and other educational outcomes. So, for example, statewide study in Florida by Robert baufin showed a relationship, a correlation, between kids who are suspended even just one time in ninth grade and a doubling of their risk for dropping out from 16% to 32%. And so there’s a great deal of new research showing that, as well as the economic costs. A lot of people don’t realize there are tremendous economic costs, because of suspensions increase your dropout risk or risk for grade retention. Well, the extra year of schooling or the huge economic losses when kids drop out, you know, that — you know, high suspensions are contributing to those costs. So more and more we’re seeing those. But on the answers what to do, we’re seeing some really positive findings out of, for example, Denver, Colorado, where they did a longitudinal study, ben cans and Gonzalez, tracking students over six years, where they have implemented restorative practices, finding that achievement went up, suspensions came down, and the racial disparities shrunk dramatically. So there is a lot that can be done, and that’s a whole school system. There is research on teacher training program, sustained, rigorous training program, that focused on improving student teacher engagement that again showed not only that there were great academic gains, but the racial disparities were eliminated, as suspension rates came down. There are things like tiered intervention programs. A lot of people are — have heard about positive behavioral interventions and supports. And there is federal funding for some of these programs. Where the whole concept is really to support the needs of kids who may be acting out, help teachers with training and how to address those needs. But doing it in a positive way. And what we’re finding, though, is to address racial disparities, probably more has to be done. So you can’t have a really harsh discipline code and then say you’re doing pbis or, you know, rti in a positive way. There has to be alignment. There has to be more community involvement, multicultural sensitivity for those programs really to have the greatest impact. And then things like social and emotional learning where this is — there is a study done by David osher in a.i.r., Cleveland, Ohio. Their response to school shooting was more cops and metal detectors. Didn’t make people feel safer. Instead when they train teachers in social/emotional learning and kids learning how to cope with their feelings of anger and how to deescalate situations, these things really helped not only bring down the conflicts and reduce suspensions, but people felt safer and achievement improved. So there is quite a bit that can be done and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
>> that’s very helpful. And I want to sort of pivot and give more of a youth perspective on this. Darryl, in what ways do discriminatory discipline practices perpetuate school to prison pipeline issues, and what are the consequences for today’s youth?
>> okay. So essentially, just by pushing our students out of the schools, we’re pushing them straight to prison, because unfortunately, they have to end up somewhere.
So I want to give you guys a story and just imagine how this — how this story, you know, carries it out. So it only takes one simple mistake for a — for a youth to become involved with the justice system as a whole. Now, let’s imagine that the student is suspended from school for arguing with a teacher. So the student then is arguing with the teacher, gets suspended. And from that suspension, they are sent home. So when they are sent home, there are truancy laws, truant police officers. If you are stopped by a truant officer, what happens? You’re essentially brought back into the system. But it’s not school this time. In some way, shape or fashion, you can end up in the justice system, due to the fact that if — if I’m stopped often, and if I have a record of truancy, then they can then — well, I’m from new York state. So ACS, which is the administration for children services, they dispatch an ACS officer, if your child is missing school. And if your child is missing school, that can lead to a family court case, which can then lead to being remanded by a judge, if you haven’t — if you haven’t attended school, due to their — due to family court scrutinization. And ultimately serve an 18-month sentence because you were suspended, probably committed some small crime like graffiti, and that escalated to the fact you weren’t in school.
So if we avoided using suspension like the bottom line, the student has done this, we are going to suspend them and that is going to be the ramification for whatever they have done. If we were to institute different practices, such as — such as relaxation circles or — there are different activities we can implement outside of suspension that would — that would prove better. And just to speak on the consequences beyond the youth, it affects us as a society, as a whole. Because the youth of today are also the youth — are also going to be the adults of the future. So we are locking our children away. Then they cannot become productive members of society because they then have a prison charge, and the weight of carrying prison, voters rights are affected. Your possibility of receiving public benefits are affected. Your possibility of receiving financial aid is affected. So if you cannot attain the necessary educational — if you cannot obtain the necessary educational — your education, excuse me — if you can’t obtain that, how can you be considered a productive member of society?
>> thank you. And, you know, speaking to education and justice, in 2011, the u.s. department — the departments of education and justice launched a supportive school discipline initiative to reduce exclusionary discipline policies, practices and their impact on youth of color and youth with disabilities. Since the launch, what steps have the federal agencies taken to address these issues?
>> yeah, this has been a lot of activity, and it’s been really promising. Since Sec. Duncan and attorney general holder actually launched this initiative two years ago, I would say probably one of the greatest impacts of that has been the coordination and collaboration, not only just across federal agencies, but across local agencies, as well. So we have brought together through the national leadership council actually 46 state teams. And what’s amazing about this is the fact that usually, these individuals or their organizations exist in silos. Now they have come together so you have had school representatives, law enforcement, mental health officials coming together, to really talk about this issue from a systemic point of view. And even more importantly, not to view it as this is the police department and the community has to resolve it or the school district has to resolve it. But come together to look at how can we resolve this issue together and serve as a really great advocate for all of our kids in our community. In addition to that, we have had 20 states who have joined what we call a community of practice around the whole notion of supportive school — supportive schools. And looking at what does that mean? What are the attributes of that and what resources do you need to ensure that the kids who go into all of our schools feel supported. That they believe they have adult advocates in that building, and most importantly, that they feel that when they leave that school building, they’re also advocates within the community. So people are doing great net working across that.
We also are working with a representative group from the council of state government. And they have come together to develop consensus recommendations for really dismantling what has been dubbed at school to prison pipeline that was really discussed just previously. And those recommendations are going to be coming out in early 2014, and what will be important is that it doesn’t just become a document, but actually lives on within communities.
We also have been looking at ways in the federal agency to think about this whole initiative in terms of our grant program. So we have a lot of competitive grants. And most recently particularly in race to the top, we have actually put in there a requirement for school districts to actually do a root cause analysis on student attendance, for example. To determine what is it that’s causing kids to be out of school. Because we know that it’s important for them to be in school. Because if they’re not in school, they’re not learning, as you addressed earlier. We need to get our kids in school in that space in order to learn.
And also last, just after the Newtown incident last year, the president called for a large proposal, which eventually became known as now is the time. And what’s really critical about that proposal is, we are looking at the department of Ed, working with the department of health and human services and department of justice, again, great cross-agency collaboration to figure out how school districts and local communities can use dollars in different ways to support students. So, for example, instead of just utilizing money to arm police officers in schools, we also are allowing individual school communities to make decisions about putting more mental health for students, to provide advocacy in the support system and not just move kids out of school or automatically engage them in the judicial system that we know can happen too often. So a lot of activity. Really promising.
>> great. Definitely sounds like it. And you know, I know as we discussed earlier, the relationship between school climate and school discipline are very much connected. Why don’t you at the us more about the department efforts to support different initiatives that are going on to improve school climate as a whole.
>> yeah, this has been — we have an office oh of healthy students. And this has been a really, really important piece for us. So it’s not like we have one program that focuses on it. In the office of elementary and secondary education, one of the things we’re doing is looking across almost 100 programs to see how can school climate play itself out. And what’s really vital for me, I’ve been in the field for 39 years and I find you can write a really robust curriculum. But unless you are engaging kids in a school setting in which they feel they’re supported and most importantly they’re respected, the rest doesn’t really matter. It’s that school climate and culture that’s so important. So we have, for example, and I mentioned the race to the top competition. But we also have school improvement grants that go out to our most challenged schools. So in that, there has to be a focus on school culture. It’s just a requirement of the program.
And what’s really vital about that is for people to take a step back and to assess, what is it we say to our kids. I happen to be a believer that everything we offer to our students — I was going to say our children, but everything we say to our students tells them what it is we value. So when you walk into a school, any one of us, we know within five minutes whether or not we want our kids to be — our own kids to be in that school. So the guiding question I have, is this school okay for my kid. Because if it’s not okay for mine, it shouldn’t be okay for anybody else’s. And there’s a pervasive sense of it, right? You feel it, how people are talking about students. The kinds of signage they have up. The support structures they have. And also, the support programs they have for teachers and principles to understand what are the skills or talents or tools can they use. What resources do they have available to really infiltrate that culture and make it a culture, a school where people want to return the next day. So I can underscore the importance of school culture.
>> fantastic. The work you’re doing is very important and vital. And we really appreciate hearing more about what the department is doing. And just to bring it to a more district level, Karen, the Baltimore city public school system has taken a number of steps to improve school climate, as well. Can you please describe the changes in policy and practice that have been done to improve school climate?
KAREN>> sure. I would like to take credit for everything, but I really can’t. When dr. Alonzo came, he came to a staggering number of suspensions in Baltimore city schools. We were up at about 26,000 suspensions per annum. And we are talking about 79,000 students at the time. And this was something that he said had to stop. One of the things that was undertaken immediately is a change to policy. Which is the best way to go about it quickly. So the policies changed. And some of the zero tolerance policies were removed. It was extensive training done. And until the suspensions declined appreciably. What we noticed in the last couple years, the suspensions began to creep back up. And that happens when the messaging stops. It also happens when new principals come to the direct with their old practices.
So what we embarked upon about 18 months ago is a very systemic targeted climate training exercise. And so it wasn’t just looking at what is your vision and mission say. What’s actually going on in your school. One of the things we developed was something called the climate walk tool. And the climate walk tool, as opposed to a climate survey that says how do you feel about your school, do you feel safe. Those are very nice, but very subjective. And it’s not that the climate walk tool can be quantified, but you have objective observers walking through a school and looking at certain areas of the school. And determining what’s actually happening in that school. Do you see children still in the hallways after classes have passed. Are teachers speaking nicely to each other, to other students. Is this a place that feels good. So there are some subjective questions.
But you’re also actually looking at what is literally happening. Is the bathroom dirty and disgusting. Kids don’t want to be in a school where people are not taking care of their bathrooms and things that are — that affect their daily living in a school climate. So this climate walk tool was introduced, and people walked around and trotted it out. And we saw interesting things.
One of the things I can tell you is that — one of the pushback measures that I get is that when we say that we want to reduce suspensions, people automatically think you’re going to make the school less safe. What we found done to the last school is that the schools that had the highest levels of suspension also had the climate walks that didn’t come out very nice. So they were using — they were overutilizing suspensions. And it’s not to say that suspensions should go away completely. But we say that we’re using it as a measure of last resort. We wanted to make that actually the case. So one thing — one other thing is in the climate training, we handed schools their individual data, one of the things that dr. Alonzo also did was built a data system that could track suspensions, not just to the type, but the location. So when schools were given a graphic showing them where suspensions were happening in their school and what time of day, they could literally make a plan as to how they were going to alleviate chaos. Because you’re not always aware of everything that’s happening in your school.
So we made it very practical, very actionable. And what we saw is that it went — as I said, from a high of 26,000. We moved down to 11,000, and we were starting to move back up toward 12,000 suspensions per annum. Last year, after pushing out this climate training, feeling the climate walks and having the climate discussions, are suspensions went down to the lowest point, to date. And they’re down under 9,000 now. And we intend to push them down further. And not to hurt the climate, but quite the opposite.
Because the other thing that’s being stressed in the training is that if you’re not speaking to children, you’re actually not holding them accountable. The way the code of conduct was written before, you could sort of look at a grid and say, okay, you did this so you get this many days. That’s not the way the code of conduct should be used. It should be a document that allows for principal discretion. A document that allows principals to do a case by case analysis. So one of the things we introduced this school year was a document that was much more flexible.
We have removed most of the zero tolerance policies, except those required by law. We have also removed suspensions as an option for principals to utilize when they don’t feel like dealing with a kid that is very mouthy. Go talk to that kid, learn the de-escalation that’s required. At the same time, pushing out alternatives to suspensions that schools can utilize. And we have gone the gamut. It’s from restorative practices, tbis. But also holistic life teaching mindfulness. We’re pushing hard on this and not just to reduce suspensions, but to improve the climate. Because in a district like Baltimore city, we’re 84 to 85% of our students are free and reduced meals recipients. Sometimes the school is the only place that they’re going to have a good day. And a nice day. So it’s incumbent upon us to do everything we can to make the schools a place where everybody wants to be.
>> sounds great. And I’m wondering if there are any other outcomes that you have noticed as you have made those changes to policy and practice.
Well, one of the things — obviously, the suspension reduction is here huge. And the fact that we did the reduction without compromising the climates, and, in fact, improving many of the school climates, because relationships are developing, which is a key component to establishing a school climate, a positive school climate. But I think the fact that people have begun to message and discuss the topic of school climate. Before there was a separation or I experienced it as a separation between that which was academic and that which was behavioral. And in the 21st century, especially in urban settings, we have to come to grips with the fact that without the behavioral modifications and actually teaching and training students how to behave appropriately, we’re not going to get the student achievement that we’re looking for. They go hand in glove. And I think that with the district beginning to put those two together was a move to a different level.
>> great. It sounds very promising and exciting to see that, you know, Baltimore city public schools are, you know, making those reductions but also keeping school climate very well, and important, sort of situations for students to learn and to be comfortable in school. Dan, I’m wondering if you can tell us the sort of policy changes and practice changes going on, on a estate level and local level.
>> so on the state level, we’re seeing states like Maryland school boards on their own initiative looking at their research and saying, yes, we have to push back on districts and really — and also provide the supports and training and find ways to help districts get back to using suspension as a measure of last result. In Connecticut, they passed the state legislature passed a law that really pushes back and says basically you should only be using in-school suspensions, except for some unusual exceptions. And that’s having some positive impact. Although implementation is an issue. In California, several measures were passed. Some made students come to the governor’s desk. Los Angeles, for example, there’s a bill in California that would reduce the suspensions for willful defiance and disruption. Which has already been adopted by los Angeles. And the school board there, working with community advocates and teachers together are saying we can do things differently. And so — but statewide there’s a movement to get red of some of these minor offense reasons for suspending students out of school. So there’s work going around. In Virginia, there’s been the adoption of something called the threat assessment guidelines or threat assessment protocol. And it’s focused more on kids who do exhibit threatening behavior. But most of these kids don’t need to be suspended or expelled for that behavior. So it provides educators with a tiered way to assess whether this is a realistic threat. And then addressing the needs of the student and teacher. Their school climate issues. Ways to really take alternatives. And so that’s a statewide measure. There are many districts. I mentioned Denver adopting restorative practices. They didn’t do this just as a response to an incident where you have a restorative circle. But they have really taken on the whole philosophy of restorative practices, which means that community is at the focus. And using punishment as a measure of last resort of the so when things go wrong or starting to wrong in the classroom, the teachers can intervene in very positive and reinforcing ways with the students. But the things that are working, whether they be states or districts, are — all have something in common, which is about student teacher and teacher/parent relationships. And that I think is critically important. And where these successful things are going on, people can really speak to them in a very powerful way. Because they experience them. The teachers love these changes. The superintendents, the administrators. Because they really do work. These alternatives — these are not just academic ideas. Where they’re in practice, they really work and they’re very powerful.
>> great. And spring boarding off of the youth piece there, Darryl, young people are extremely capable of being their own advocates. How do we get youth more involved in undoing some of these ineffective discipline policies?
>> well, it comes with awareness. First, as Dan has just mentioned, they have to be some sort of continuum between students, parents, community members and administration within the schools. Because once we — if we all are receiving and know the same information, we can then move accordingly. But there are students and parents that feel they aren’t a valid part of equation. They feel as if the power are in the hands of those in charge. So we have to, one, raise awareness and allow those voices to shine. And let them know, like, you do have the potential to affect this. You do have the potential to affect change. You are involved in this policy in some way, shape or fashion. Also, I think Dan mentioned earlier as well — Dan and deb, cultural sensitivity. I think all of you guys mentioned cultural sensitivity. Cultural sensitivity and competence plays a big part because a lot of schools are — I can only speak for urban schools, the schools I’m accustomed to. A lot of the teachers and administration do not necessarily live in that urban center. So you have administrators that are just blindly coming in and just coming in with a one-track mind. Okay, these are those students. These are those kinds of students. We have to break that barrier of cultural incompetence, I would like to say. If we were to involve — like, community walks, just for instance. Teachers and administrators. Instead of a field trip of going to an ice skating rink, let’s just take a walk around the block and learn the cultural cues within our community. It’s — as far as break — stigma. That’s my big — we need to just break this stigma that exists — that exists here. Because we’re all in this together. Nonetheless. And an idea that came to me was, like, we all have school boards. There are school boards that exist. Yet there is barely any youth representation. So — an idea would be creating a student council that would serve with the school board. The student council would be responsible for replying to their peers, gathering the ideas of their peers, reporting to the council. And then that is direct — that has been — that would have a direct effect on change, because the students are then enthralled. It would be representative of all the schools within that district. But if those are how the youth — the youth — if I’m — if I’m your friend and you’re on the counsel sill and I know I can express myself to you and you’re going to express it to those in charge of the administrators and then my message is blown up, I will feel, hey, you know, I did something. I really feel that this law, this policy or we’re no longer being suspended. So we’re no longer being suspended, outrageously, because I spoke up and said something. So we — it goes — I don’t know. That was an idea of mine. Creating the student council to serve with the school board that would then benefit that continuum between parents, administrators and students.
>> and also talking about, you know, the parent piece. And also, you know, educators — meeting all adults working in a school building, Karen and maybe deb, I’m wondering if you can tell how to get more buy-in from parents and educators on more effective school discipline and better school climate.
>> one of the things that is imperative is for us to understand and realize we’re not in the 1950s. And all parents are not going to be available at 5:00 p.m. to come to a parent meeting. I think more schools are having an open-door policy. So parents that work at night can come in during the day. Get a pass, sign in, visit classes. It can be more informal and still be very engaging. But going back to — the tag line is very corny. But if you make the school a place where everyone wants to be, parents want to be there too. One of the things we look at is how are people greeted when they come into the school. Are they greeted? When they go into the main office, does anyone ever speak to you? These things are critical, and people in business know that this is a critical resource. We have to start learning those things too. And so that’s part of the messaging that we’re doing.
>> yeah, I’d like to add to that, too. Just I think you heard Karen describe what was going on in Baltimore, and realistically, none of that can really occur unless you have a really visionary focused leadership in place. They set the tone. Leadership matters, and it matters a whole lot. So how kids are treated in school, you know, are they included with their voice through — on a school board or any place else really is set from up above. So you have to have leaders, a cadre of leaders, who believe in kids. Who really open up their doors and engage with families. I went into a school last year, and they told me at this high school they were working — getting families into the school. And you talk about signage and greetings. I walked into the school and the very first sign I saw was parent hours, 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. and I was like, whoa, what were they before? Nothing? These people have spent $1 million to create this center for parents, but they could come from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. parents are sometimes working two jobs, multiple children, sporting events. Everything is causing stress. So we’ve got to open them up. But it takes a lead who are says this is what matters, and it matters on my watch. So I always say to leaders in schools, if your team can’t say what are your nonnegotiatables, you’re not leading strong enough. I think you heard from everyone on this panel answers don’t lie within the schools. So a school is not always going to have the mental health supports for kids or the social services to be sure that kids’ bellies are filled and they want to be in school and can be ready to study. So you have to develop partnerships across the community to harness that. And once you do that, it says that this learning just doesn’t occur within the building. And I also think that these leaders in schools — Baltimore really has done, to take a very hard look at the data. As was mentioned earlier, the lady has been there all along, right? Why has it taken us so long to look at it and say it’s really, really important that we understand the data and we understand what’s going to drive changes within our schools. And honestly, being open to student voice. I mentioned that. Would wouldn’t want Darryl — well, maybe some folks, depending on your candor. Seriously. But sometimes we get so afraid of students’ voices because they may actually tell us what we think, but we don’t want to hear it, because then we have to act upon it. And I think too often as adults we assume we know what’s good for parents and families in our community, and we assume we know what’s good for kids in our community. When we don’t. We make policies that probably families look at us like what? Like the 3:00 to 4:00 hour to come in the building or student voices, trying to get kids back in the school. Why don’t we ask kids themselves, what will keep you in school. What will get you back to school. What support structures do you need. And that takes great leadership. Takes courage and tenacity, as well.
>> definitely. Just to ask a question from our viewers. Mario from California wants to know, what alternatives to out of school suspensions and what are some reasons schools aren’t using those alternatives. Dan, do you want to take that one?
>> sure. I think one of the reasons is that many cases, this mantra we’ve got to kick out the bad kids so good kids can learn. That’s sort of created a mind-set where there is a little bit of resistance to alternatives. But I think we have research showing there really are alternatives that are effective that it’s not about creating chaos or just dumping disruptive kids back in the classroom. There are skills that teachers can learn. One of the surveys of teachers shows that one of the things they want to learn more about is classroom management. They want professional development in that area. I know as a teacher myself, I taught for ten years, I was one of the teachers who were sending kids to the principal’s office right and left. But I got effective training. Some of the things that I learned were effective immediately. How to sort of escalating situations or focusing on what kids were doing wrong, catching kids doing right, and developing relationships with the kids and their parents through, you know, calling parents about something positive rather than that call always being about something negative. So there’s — I think the other thing is that there is not enough support in terms of resources. So there are choices that school districts make. And more and more, as folks see the connection between high rates of suspension and low achievement and lower graduation rates, I think there will be — we’re seeing some turnaround as people really realize that you have to keep more kids in school. You have to find alternatives. That is driving, you know — pushing back on that kind of resistance and getting us back to the common sense, let’s use suspension as a measure of last resort. >> can I add one thing to that?
>> I really want to emphasize this issue of training. You know, in all my years of my career, I’m hoping you agree, Karen. I don’t see teachers who walk into schools who want to mess up kids’ lives. A lot of times their bag of tricks that I call them is empty. Or they haven’t been given that, right? So when it kids scary if you say we’re going to remove zero tolerance policy. Because my fear is like what do I do next? Or I don’t know how to deescalate. So if you have a particularly challenging student who has had a multiple years of that, that kid comes with a reputation. The only thing you can think of is if I can get that kid removed, I can get on to the other students. So we can’t forget the training. I just can’t emphasize that enough. And too often in budget reductions, professional development goes by the wayside. And so we just expect teachers to be all things to all kids. And they want to do the right thing. But when that bag of tricks is empty, they just need a replacement for it. And so it sounds like you’re doing — like to train people in the climate to understand what pbis is. What is it. What’s restorative justice. What does that mean? Because they can see that if you’re removing this from me, what are the three tools that I have now, that I can be better in reaction with my students. You know, kids thrive on relationships, we get that. And when those relationships become strained, I mean, we just need help where teachers and principals, every day. And even how to interact with families when perhaps the four things they used to do aren’t working anymore.
>> and I think that some of our teacher training programs that have teachers in urban centers who may be very, very young are beginning to understand that more training on classroom management, cultural competency, is absolutely required. Because otherwise the teachers won’t succeed. And they’ll undergo the most amazing kinds of stressors. Because they’re just not prepared to go where they are. I mean, I can’t imagine going on a trip to another country and not having any prep whatsoever. I couldn’t — you couldn’t drop me in I’d hoe and expect me to know exactly what to do and how to speak and what’s funny. So I don’t think we should expect that of our teachers who are 21 years old. Sometimes there’s not a lot of difference in age between them and the students before them. We’ve got to do a better job. And I think one of the things that we’re afraid of is stereotyping. You know, we’re afraid of using certain words, like african-american. You know — we’re afraid of putting it out on the table. Because it may be seen as something controversial. But until we’re able to have those tough conversations, we’re going to have people who are falling out of teaching on a regular basis. And it won’t be because they can’t handle the subject there. They have already proven that in college and graduate school. But it will be because they’re disconnected from what’s happening in the classroom.
>> and just another sort of — to dove tail on that. There are — our studies of large school districts shows there are lots of secondary schools that aren’t suspending high numbers of kids. What are the alternatives, in many cases districts have alternatives already in place. Los Angeles, for example, has the highest number of high-suspending secondary schools where 25% or more are being suspended. But they also have the highest number of low suspending where fewer are being suspended. Oftentimes the answers are there. This brings up another issue which relates to data. We heard Karen say she used data very effectively within the district. And you talked about the need to look at data. If we use data, we can find out what is working within these districts. So one of the things I’m hoping will happen at the federal level is that we need an annual requirement that all public schools and districts report this data to the public. This aggregated discipline data. We count what we care about. We count test scores, graduation rates, all this other information comes every year. But currently only for kids with disabilities is there an annual requirement that states report this data. And only 16 states are actually complying with that statutory requirement. So we need to really put that priority in terms of, you know, fulfilling those obligations to meet the data reporting. And then add to that, we should be reporting on kids in general as well as in special ed every year. >> I’m also wondering, Dan, what your thoughts are on adopting new policies or what’s federal or state or local barriers should be removed in effort to improve school climate, to help with school discipline issue.
>> right. So what my number one barrier, we don’t have enough information on a regular basis. So the public has a right to know this. What we’re finding out is that policymakers too often have been in the dark in terms of not realizing just how high these suspension rates and how pervasive this problem is, and also not knowing there are solutions right there in the same direct. Where it’s not a problem. But beyond the data issue, I think there’s a whole income economic piece so folks who don’t care about, you know, disparities and suspensions and maybe they don’t respond, you know, in a warm way to talk about school climate, the economic reality is that it’s incredible expensive to the taxpayer. It’s incredibly inefficient to push out high volumes of kids for minor offenses, because they are winding up in our juvenile justice system. In states like new York, it costs $100,000 per year per bed in the juvenile justice system. So those investments we know from economists, investing in early childhood is really important. Helps keep kids in school. But also investing in alternative approaches to discipline that don’t really on pushing kids out of school are very cost effective, when we really make the true costs of out of school suspensions visible. So that’s — and the third one is just getting the research into the hands of the policy makers, because I believe that teachers and educators, when they see these connections that it’s true that you can keep kids in school, pursue an alternative method of discipline and improve test scores, improve climate, improve graduation rates. When people really understand that, that really moves the ball. But there is that knowledge gap, research to practice gap that we really have to address.
>> I just wanted to say too, one of the things that we did in the last couple years is we looked at the students who had been suspended, and then we matched their test scores against other students who had not been suspended. And they — the students who were not suspended way outperformed the students who had been suspended even one time. And once they were suspended two or more times, their scores went down the drain. They performed even more poorly than students who were chronically absent. So the evidence is there. The other thing I wanted to say about alternatives to suspension, though, what really has to change is the mindset. We have to move from being punitive to being restorative. No matter what practice we’re using, we have to think in terms of making the child whole and having that child make the community whole. How did you harm the community? How did you harm this particular student? What are you going to do to fix this? And if we don’t do that, we’re not really holding students accountable. We’re just meting out punishments.
>> Darryl, from a student perspective, what do you think can be done to strengthen a relationship between educators and students?
>> I think — as I mentioned earlier, just as simple as, you know, being involved in the community. Like walking around the community. I think if we allowed spaces where it allows for more free interaction between the educator and student so it’s not all curriculum, all the time. If we allow, you know, maybe home room was really home room where we all sat — I remember at one point in my life, we sat and we actually spoke about life. And now home room has become a class. So where did that transition begin? If we were to reinstill that social connection between the educator and student, I think that, you know, it would increase the value of the school climate.
>> leadership being important. It’s not only the district leadership, but principal leadership. So whatever principals make the priority is what the school makes a priority. So if the principal determines that climate is the number-one priority in this school, by golly, that climate will change almost overnight. So teachers and all of the adults in the building have to not only be given permission to form relationships, and not only be given space and time. But that has to be the stated and messaged priority. And then things change almost overnight.
>> we learn a lot to our school improvement grants, based on that. Those schools that have been rapidly improving through our school improvement grant program are those that have really focused on building relationships first. And, you know, I think if we were to go around the table or you just go out and ask kids or even adults, I have an adult child, what do you remember about certain teachers, I have never — and I probably have interviewed thousands of kids. I have never, ever had one child or adult kid say to me, oh, I love this teacher, because I got to memorize the states and the capitals. You know? What they talk about are relationships, right? They talk about the school nurse who came to their first varsity soccer game. They talk about the teacher who gave the extra night of homework. They talk about their teacher in kindergarten who came to see them when they were in high school. It’s also about relationships. And, you know, I feel like I’m on this big charge about this. I feel if we change our language around achievement gaps, which to me focuses more on it’s the kids’ problem. I taught it, and they just didn’t learn it. But expectations and opportunity gaps are huge. And so the relationships always changed. The opportunity and expectation gaps. Now when we have a culture of belief in kids and we’re here to support them, it’s sort of that mantra of it takes a village. We know that that changes. Kids get it. Go to a middle school and ask if you’re respected or which adults want to be there. They get it. So we know what to do. We have just got to make it a priority of the principal and the school leadership and teachers. Every adult in that school has to care for those kids. Every one. You know, what’s concerning to me, you talk about policies and even laws. I know the American school council association recommends an average of 250 students to every school counselor. The national average right now is 450 students to every counselor. I think there are five or six states under 300. Can you imagine having a case load of 450 kids to know each of them well enough to say, Darryl, what’s up with you? You know? You’ve got to have those conversations. But we create these enormous case loads for people. And then we expect they’re going to do monumental work in the lives of our students. It’s unfathomable. >> and so there’s also a resource issue. So I was glad when the administration — when they said you could spend money on police. You could also instead choose to spend the money on school counselors. But I think that in response to things like school shootings, there is this overreaction. You need metal detectors, hardware, more police in schools. When, in fact, those kinds of interventions have shown to be counterproductive. And people don’t feel safe. I’m not saying eliminate all, you know, police presence. But our investments of scarce resources, how can we justify spending money and it’s very expensive to have a police officer in your school when you don’t have adequate special education supports. When you don’t have adequate counselors. When we’re sort of failing to meet these basic needs of the students in so many ways. So I think we have to reprioritize the resources and really think, especially around things like cops and metal detectors, and how better to spend the money.
>> can I say something about school police? And I’m not disagreeing. But what I do think is that for those districts that do have school police, which we do. We have a school police force. They’re in about half our schools at this point. What we have done is repurpose what their mission is. Their mission is not to arrest children.
>> their mission is to be embedded in the school climate. So they have become folks who counsel, who coach, who teach, who walk around, who make friends, who know the parents, even when the administrator doesn’t sometimes. They know the community. We have repurposed what their role is. And so there’s a gamut now. It’s not you come in when it’s a law enforcement issue. You come in from beginning to end. You’re part of this community and it’s made a tremendous difference. Last year when we had a recognition ceremony, we asked the officers to stand up who were coaches at their school. 55 officers stood up. That’s almost half of the police force. Stood up, because they’re all coaching at the school they are police officers in. That’s the repurposing that has to happen.
>> that’s how relationships get formed.
>> so it doesn’t create kids going into this justice system, as you mentioned. I have seen that so often. I love for that to serve as a model across the country, as I’m sure you would. Because otherwise I’ve seen too many schools where the police officer is merely there if there is a verbal altercation with the teacher, they immediately get a ticket and that sends them right into a system. And what it doesn’t do is divert behavior. It actually teaches a student different kinds or alternative ways. Whereas that trained police officer that you’ve repurposed can say, what about if you handled it this way. What about if you even counted to five. Sometimes our kids don’t know that. Like what are alternative methods of responding to a situation in which they feel a tremendous amount of stress. So if we could get more people to focus in on what’s the purpose of those individuals, and repurpose a lot of adults in a school.
>> that’s right.
>> as to what your mission is, and to be there for kids, that is absolutely vital.
>> there have been districts like in Oakland and clayton county, Georgia, who followed judge teske or judge huff and having written protocols that really say just that. That the police officers are there to have relationships with the kids and to ward off the really serious, dangerous kinds of activities. But otherwise, they don’t arrest kids. They’re not — they’re not kids being charged for misdemeanors or public fray or disrupting classroom. We’re seeing just the opposite, unfortunately, in many other districts, where the police are not trained, and they come in with a beat mentality, and evaluated on how many kids — their arrests. And they don’t have that relationship. We have even heard of situations where a school decides not to suspend a kid but the officer still charged the student and the student has to still go to court for some sort of assault that the school decided wasn’t an actionable offense. So there is a big disconnect. I agree with you. There is a right way to do this. And we really have to use those resources wisely to ensure that it’s done.
>> I was — I’m one of the alumnus of the children’s defense fund. And also a member of the children’s defense fund of new York. So one initiative we institute have instituted, because new York has a large school safety force, so school safety is our police force within our schools. And one thing we have done as an initiative, we have embarked on school safety sensitivity trainings. So we are — we are presenting to — we are presenting to school safety officers how to better deal with your students. Because as you have all mentioned, coming in with a beat mentality when you’re dealing with adolescents, there is definitely something wrong there. Because I remember with my encounters with the police, at 15, you aren’t thinking, oh, man, well tomorrow I’m going to regret this decision I’m going to make receipt right now. So it’s just — grasp — even grass roots. Even if it’s not on an a federal, state, local or district level, even grass roots initiatives can push forth the sensitivity training, both with our — both with our school safety officers or police officers within our schools. And also with our administration and everyone all around the board.
>> well, we’re running out of time. But I want to go around and just get one brief final word from everyone. Maybe a piece of advice you would like to tell our viewers. Dan, we’ll start with you.
>> well, I think that there are a great deal of realistic alternatives that really work. But we do have to make this a federal initiative. We have to start with requiring the data to be reported to the public. The public has a right to know. And then we have to get the research into the hands of the policymakers. I do see a lot of positive change, and I just would like to continue that momentum. So I’m really glad to be part of this now. Thank you.
>> yeah, I think that in addition to the policy changes and the practical changes that we need to do, the messaging has to be consistent. And it has to be from the federal, state and local level. Because there are still too many people that think the way out of this morass will educate this away. If we have great teachers, there won’t be any behavioral problems. And that’s just not true. Until we have the realistic conversations about the cultural disconnects and the issues dealing with climate and behavior, and the associations between poverty and stress. Until we start having those conversations, we’re not going to get out of the morass that we’re in. >> yeah. Thanks. And I too am glad this is a conversation, particularly in having Darryl’s voice here. I would reiterate what I said before, which is what we offer to our children. Our students, tell them what it is we value. And I just think every single day we have to realize that every decision we make impacts kids, impacts their ability to come to school feeling comforted, relaxed, supported. Challenged, even. But in a positive way. Because that culture and that school climate is just absolutely vital. So I want us to be really conscientious that every policy has to be viewed through the eyes of a 15-year-old, 18-year-old, 5-year-old. And to recognize that people are in different developmental stages. And that culture matters. That the climate matters. The context matters. And we — as Karen mentioned, have to have those critical conversations. And we have to be able to look deep inside ourselves and reflect on what do we really hope to get for all of our students at the end of the day.
>> I would like to say that we begin to focus more and create emphasis on the importance of relationships within our schools. And the importance of relationships across the board. Because as humans, we’re social creatures. And we benefit from relationships. And I think that if we create an environment where we can foster good relationships — I’ve said it three times — but if we create an environment where that can grow, then, you know, goodness will grow out of it.
>> thank you all. I appreciate it.
>> thank you so much.
>> I want to thank Darryl, deb, Karen and Dan for joining us today. I also want to thank you, our webinar viewers, for joining us, as well. Please keep an eye out for future publications and webinar school climate in upcoming months. If you’ve missed any of today’s webinar, you can watch an archive ed video at allfored.org/webinar. And to keep up to date with our latest happens and federal education policy, follow the lines on twitter at twitter.com/all4ed and on Facebook. Have a good afternoon and thanks for joining us.
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