Discipline Disparities Are Focus of White House Summit

Ed Week

School discipline issues are on display in a big way Wednesday at the White House, which is hosting a summit on the issue featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, other top department officials, plus leaders from school districts that have made headway in tackling school climate issues.

The department's civil rights data collection showed that more than 3 million students are suspended or expelled each year (including 4-year-olds). The administration called that number "staggering." And data shows that subgroup students are particularly hard hit. 

Duncan kicked off the summit by sharing a story of his time at the helm of the Chicago public schools district. He recalled speaking to the city's police chief to find out why so many students were being arrested. And it turned out the peak time was 8 am to 4 pm, when students were in school.

"It was our schools that were calling the police to have our kids arrested and I had no idea," Duncan said. "That gave me huge pause. ... We found about 7 percent of our schools were producing about 50 percent of the arrests ... The school to prison pipeline is real." He also singled out one school that brought in social workers rather than school resource officers and saw a great improvement in school climate and student learning.

Duncan said he's a big believer in transparency. He noted that one in eight students in South Carolina are suspended or expelled, while in North Dakota, it's one in 50. He encouraged school districts to publicly and annually report data on school climate and safety as well as discipline. 

At the event, department officials planned to release new maps showing the percentage of students who have received out-of-school suspensions, both for general education and special education kids. The key takeaway? Suspensions are concentrated in the Southeast. Take a look:

Here's a map highlighting discipline actions for students in special education:

The administration also planned to highlight tools and resources to help school districts combat discipline disparities and address school climate issues, including:

  • Addressing the Root Cause of School Discipline Disparities- A guide that helps educators figure out where their issues stem from by looking at school-level discipline data.
  • Rethink Discipline: Resource Guide for Superintendent Action - A guide that outlines seven things school leaders can do to improve discipline issues, and provides links to federal guidance and other resources. It also includes a "postcard template" that districts can use to help with family engagement.
  • National Resources Center for School Justice Partnerships: A new initiative coming July 27 from the Department of Justice that will provide technical assistance to juvenile courts, schools, law enforcement agencies, and others to support school discipline efforts.

School districts featured at the event that have made headway on discipline issues include: Baltimore City schools, which revamped its student behavior system to be more rehabilitative, rather than punitive, and LA Unified, which was the first district to ban suspensions for willful defiance. 

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