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

There are No Silver Bullets - Only Science to Preparation to Implementation to Evaluation to Celebration

Dear Colleagues,

This third installment in our series investigating disproportionality in our schools reports on a national survey conducted by the School Superintendents Association (the fourth new national study on disproportionality in the past six weeks).  The survey investigated the impact of the 2014 “Dear Colleague” Letter—where the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education informed districts that they would actively investigate reports of racial discrimination due to disproportionate student discipline responses.

In this Blog Series, Part III, the results of the survey and critical elements of the “Dear Colleague” letter are discussed and then integrated into the three other national studies discussed in Parts I and II of the series.

Part III concludes that, over the past ten years, we have tried to decrease disproportionality by tinkering around the policy and administrative decision-making edges.

The four studies reviewed demonstrate that this has failed.

What schools and districts have largely not done is to comprehensively and objectively identify the root causes of why disproportionality is occurring—from a systems, administrator, teacher and support staff, and student perspective—linking these root causes to strategically-applied multi-tiered science-to-practice strategies and interventions.

For example, at the systems level, the scientific components that result in effective school discipline, classroom management, and student social, emotional, and behavioral self-management are missing—along with the field-tested strategies proven to operationalize them.

At the administrator level, many principals still are not discriminating between students’ discipline problems, and the social, emotional, and behavioral problems that will not be changed through disciplinary actions.

At the grade or instructional level, training has not occurred to close the classroom management and behavioral intervention gaps of teachers and others, and we still have not confronted and corrected the disproportionality occurring due to prejudice, unconscious bias, and cultural unawareness and incompetence.

Finally, at a student level, we are not teaching students from minority backgrounds and SWDs (as well as all students), to learn, master, and apply social, emotional, and behavioral self-management skills so that they are not exhibiting the behavioral offenses that trigger the entire disproportionality “chain of events."

For students demonstrating more significant or persistent social, emotional, or behavioral challenges, the multi-tiered services process needs to be implemented to determine the root causes of the challenges and what strategic or intensive services, supports, or interventions are needed to address these causes.

Given the context above, most of this Blog focuses on the science-to-practice components, strategies, and solutions that eliminate disproportionality with African-American, male, and disabled students.

First, the systemic characteristics of an effective school discipline system are described from an Appendix that accompanied the Departments of Justice and Education 2014 “Dear Colleague” Letter.

Then, based on our 35 years of successful, evidence-based work across the country, the scientific components are detailed, and two practices in particular are emphasized:  the development of the Behavioral Matrix—a grade-level behavioral accountability and motivation tool (fully described in Part II of this series), and the characteristics of an effective social skills program as represented by “The Stop & Think Social Skills” approach.


While disproportionality is often seen as a complex issue, it is less complex when the preventative goals (i.e., self-management) are clear, when sound research-to-practice components (i.e., the five interdependent components described above) guide the multi-tiered process, when training and resources are effectively applied to the components, and when functional assessments linked to strategic or intensive interventions are used when students are not responding to a multi-layered progressive discipline blueprint (i.e., the Behavioral Matrix).

If we have learned one thing over the past ten or more years, it is that policy changes alone will not decrease the disproportionate discipline referrals of African-American, male, and disabled students.

At the same time, there are successful evidence-based approaches.  It’s just that they take training, resources, commitment, consistency, and time to work.

Not that schools and districts have been avoiding these approaches. . .  but where would our schools be today if they began implementing the components and strategies discussed in these three Blogs (there are others) ten years ago?

Would this have taken a “leap of faith?”  Of course. . . . everything does.  But the schools that have worked with us—and sustained their practices—are better off because of it.

Indeed. . . when you have the outcome data from schools across the country that successfully “took the leap” . . . the next leap is smaller, and the potential rewards are self-evident.

Please read the entire Blog.  What do you think?



[CLICK HERE for the Full Version of this Blog]

Original Blogs:


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