According to a new study from Associate Professor of Education and Public Policy Richard Welsh and recently published in Children and Youth Services Review, policy and program reforms intended to replace the practice have largely not benefited African American students, despite the fact that the use of exclusionary discipline in schools has decreased over the past decade.
Welsh synthesized a decade of empirical evidence on the effectiveness of school discipline policies across the United States, finding that racial disparities in office disciplinary referrals and suspensions persist. However, a handful of reforms have shown promising results at reducing racial disparities and inform Welsh’s recommendations for policymakers and education leaders:
- Reject racial-neutral changes to school punishment and replace them with measures that take into account cultural and ethnic diversity.
- Prohibit suspensions for attendance-related infractions.
- Invest in and faithfully implement school-based programs such as Restorative Justice (RJ) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and complement these programs with school-based mental health supports.
- Through one-on-one coaching and professional development, educators can build an empathic approach for managing the classroom and culturally appropriate techniques.
It’s important to note that no one policy or program can completely eradicate or diminish racial disparities in exclusionary discipline. Welsh contends that districts and schools must diligently implement and uphold a collection of reforms that are both student and educator centered, such as those on the previous list.
“There is a need for greater alignment of the contributors of racial inequality in exclusionary discipline and school discipline reforms. As such, taking stock of the impacts of policy and programmatic interventions in the rapidly growing literature provides actionable insights for district and school leaders grappling with disparities in students’ disciplinary outcomes,” Welsh said.
Welsh emphasizes the importance of studying disciplinary reforms within more suburban and rural contexts as most research has primarily focused on urban school districts. He calls for more research, better research methods, empirical evidence of how and if certain policies and programs are effective, as well as the need for more research on these topics.
Disaggregating data on disciplinary outcomes by race/ethnicity, include office disciplinary referrals and suspensions in analyses, and emphasizing intersectionality in school discipline are examples of improved research methodologies.