New Federal Government Report Finds that Disproportionate School Discipline Actions Persist with Black, Male, and Special Education Students (Part I)

April 16, 2018      


New Federal Government Report Finds that Disproportionate School Discipline Actions Persist with Black, Male, and Special Education Students (Part I)


Manipulating Policy, Buying Programs, and Following Federally-Funded Technical Assistance Centers Do Not Work:  Why be Surprised. . . about Why We Aren’t Succeeding?


[CLICK HERE for the Full Version of this Blog]



   On April 4th, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published, K-12 Education: Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities. 


   The Executive Study summarized the results as follows:


Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) in K-12 public schools, according to GAO’s analysis of Department of Education national civil rights data for school year 2013-14, the most recent available. These disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended. For example, Black students accounted for 15.5% of all public school students but represented about 39% of students suspended from school—an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points (see Figures below).


Officials GAO interviewed in all five school districts in the five states GAO visited reported various challenges with addressing student behavior, and said they were considering new approaches to school discipline. They described a range of issues, some complex—such as the effects of poverty and mental health issues. For example, officials in four school districts described a growing trend of behavioral challenges related to mental health and trauma. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the issues that influence student behavior, officials from all five school districts GAO visited were implementing alternatives to disciplinary actions that remove children from the classroom, such as initiatives that promote positive behavioral expectations for students. 


   While this Report provides considerable data, it does not analyze the effectiveness of what the federal government has been doing through its national Technical Assistance Centers (TACs), over the past five-plus years, to change this state of affairs. 


   In fact, despite the fact that many of the TAC frameworks and program recommendations are flawed, the Report actually cites them as available resources for states, districts, and schools.

_ _ _ _ _


   We have been unsuccessful in addressing the issue of disproportionality in our schools because most previous and current efforts have avoided analyzing the underlying student- and staff-focused reasons for this problem.


   In fact, during the past ten-plus years of trying to systemically decrease disproportionality in schools, we have not comprehensively and objectively identified the root causes of the students’ challenging behaviors, and we have not linked these root causes to strategically-applied multi-tiered science-to-practice strategies and interventions that are effectively and equitably used by teachers and administrators. 


   Moreover, we have not comprehensively and objectively identified and addressed the root causes of staff members’ interactions and reactions with African-American students, boys, and students with disabilities. . . reactions that, at times, are the reasons for some disproportionate Office Discipline Referrals (when compared with the other groups in the Figures above).


   And, we have not comprehensively and objectively identified and addressed the root causes of administrators’ disproportionate decisions with these students as they relate to suspensions, expulsions, law enforcement involvement, and referrals to alternative school programs.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


Why the Disproportionality Outcomes Haven’t Changed


   This multi-Blog series addresses disproportionality within the prevention, strategic intervention, and intensive need/crisis management perspective of school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management. 


   This first Blog in this series addresses why current disproportionality efforts have not worked and why specific approaches have not worked.  The next Blog will address the psychoeducational science underlying effective practice and how to implement that practice.


   Discussed in the full Blog post are the following reasons why most of the disproportionality “efforts” to date have not worked by exploring six primary flaws:


   Flaw #1.  Legislatures (and other “leaders”) are trying to change practices through policies—for example by no longer allowing specific groups of students to be suspended for any misbehavior.

_ _ _ _ _


   Flaw #2.  State Departments of Education (and other “leaders”) are promoting one-size-fits-all programs that are methodologically flawed or have not been validated through objective, scientific research.

_ _ _ _ _


   Flaw #3.  Districts and schools are implementing disproportionality “solutions” (Frameworks) that target conceptual constructs rather than teaching social, emotional, and behavioral skills. 

_ _ _ _ _


   Flaw #4.  Districts and Schools are not recognizing that Classroom Management and Teacher Training, Supervision, and Evaluation are Keys to Decreasing Disproportionality.

_ _ _ _ _


   Flaw #5.  Schools and Staff are trying to motivate students to change their behavior when they have not learned, mastered, or cannot apply the social, emotional, and behavioral skills needed to succeed.

_ _ _ _ _


   Flaw #6.  Districts, Schools, and Staff do not have the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to implement the multi-tiered (prevention, strategic intervention, intensive need/crisis management) social, emotional, and/or behavioral services, supports, and interventions needed by students. 

_ _ _ _ _


   In order to discriminate the wheat from the chaff, the Blog discusses the differences between four sets of research-to-practice constructs that must be understood in order to accurately evaluate the different approaches that have been advocated for decreasing disproportionality.


   * Frameworks versus Evidence-based Blueprints

   * Correlational Programs versus Causal Practices

   * Conscientious versus Convenience Research

   * Meta-Analytic versus Method-Based Results


   In addition, the Blog critiques (a) the PBIS and SEL frameworks; (b) Character Education; (c) John Hattie’s meta-analytic research and results; and (d) how to know when a student’s behavioral problems are disciplinary in nature, or due to an underlying psychoeducational issue.

_ _ _ _ _




   If we are going to successfully address the issue of Disproportionality in our schools, it will be through the strength of our comprehensive, multi-tiered systems of services, supports, strategies, and interventions. 


   Clearly, policy-level changes and mandates have not solved this problem.  It is now time to apply evidence-based practices that will not only solve the problem, but make students, staff, and schools more productive, safe, and successful.

Solving the Disproportionate School Discipline Referral Dilemma: When will Districts and Schools Commit to the Long-term Solutions? (Part III)

School Climate, Student Voice, On-Campus Shootings, and now Corporal Punishment??? (Part III)