This process began with a “deep dive” into schools’ office discipline referral (ODR) data to define the problem of disproportionality more precisely, examining where African American students have been referred, what behaviors they’ve been referred for, and/or what staff have issued the referral. (Interestingly, both schools have chosen to focus on defiant or disruptive behavior in the classroom.) We’ve then led school teams to brainstorm the various causes and reasons that may contribute to this disproportionality—ranging from systemic reasons (such as implicit bias or cultural differences between staff and students) to teacher/student-level reasons (such as teachers’ varying capacity to manage challenging classroom behaviors). After deciding which of these reasons to prioritize, school teams have developed action plans targeting these priority areas—including such steps as developing schoolwide professional developments on disproportionality and implicit bias; conducting a “strengths analysis” to better understand how teachers have successfully produced more equitable discipline referrals; introducing a “cultural lens” around privilege and equity as a meeting norm at all standing school meetings; and running a staff book club on culturally relevant pedagogy.
One lesson we have learned this year is that this work is complex and gradual. Although there are some technical solutions to addressing these issues, it also involves a schoolwide shift in culture and mindset regarding discipline and equity. While we are eager to see if we have impacted the goals identified in these separate workgroups, we also understand that this year is the beginning of a conversation and a body of work that we hope will endure in years to come.
Sean Murphy, Assistant Director of Program Assessment and Evaluation