Education Week - May 16, 2018 - 16
Phila. Discipline Overhaul Is Work in Progress
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
them is part of the district's focus on
continuous improvement of districtwide initiatives, an approach gaining
currency in some schools.
"It's encouraging that Philadelphia
is trying to think about these implementation issues in a systematic
way," said Anthony Bryk, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching, which
has been a proponent of continuousimprovement strategies in education.
More typically, "somebody creates
something, you roll it out wide, and
you don't necessarily have evidence
that it has worked for anybody in the
district. ... People are dealing with the
problems as they emerge and then
just turning to the next big idea."
Middle school students whose math teachers had participated in a training program to improve
their empathy in student-discipline cases were suspended at lower rates than their peers, California
researchers found. Philadelphia educators drew on those results to develop their own interventions.
Percent suspended over the school year
ABOUT THIS SERIES:
How can districts move from
the constant churn of new
school reform initiatives to
sustained growth for students
in very different contexts?
In this periodic series,
Education Week looks at the
pros, cons, and evolution of
"continuous improvement" in
By prior suspension
For guidance, the district drew on research from experiments at Stanford
University and the University of California, Berkeley. Psychologist Jason
Okonofua found that a brief, online
program to build empathy between
teachers and students made both sides
feel more respected and halved the
suspension rate over a year. Benefits
were strongest for students who had
previously been suspended.
Schools in the City of Brotherly
Love are under pressure to overhaul
a discipline system criticized for disproportionately removing students of
color from classes, causing them to
miss instruction and fall behind in
class. In 2012, the district changed
its disciplinary code, barring schools
from using out-of-school suspensions
for more minor "conduct violations"
such as the use of profanity, and limiting it to a last resort for misbehaviors
such as playing on a phone in class-
with a goal of reserving suspensions
for more serious offenses. At the same
time, the school system began to roll
out a system of positive behavioral interventions and supports, or PBIS, in
which teachers analyze student data
and work together to respond to misbehavior and help students devise and
meet behavior goals.
The district did initially reduce both
overall out-of-school suspensions and
racial gaps but still had a long way
to go, according to federal civil rights
data. From 2013-14 to 2015-16, the
annual number of out-of-school suspensions fell from nearly 17,500 to
about 15,000. Black students, who
made up 81.5 percent of out-of-school
suspensions and 53 percent of enrollment in 2013-14, accounted for 51
percent of total enrollment and 71
percent of students suspended out of
school a year later, in 2015-16.
By contrast, white students made
up about 15 percent of students in
2013-14 and 8.5 percent of out-ofschool suspensions that year; in
2015-16, white students made up 14
percent of all students, but their outof-school suspension rate was less
than half that.
Progress has been very uneven. Researchers from the Penn consortium
and Mathematica Policy Research
found that by 2017, five years after
the policy change, only 18 percent of
schools had eliminated out-of-school
suspensions for conduct violations,
17 percent hadn't changed their discipline at all, and the rest had only
partially changed their discipline
practices. As a result, the Fordham
Institute, which published the study,
concluded that "trying to fix [discipline
disparities] with top-down decrees is
impractical and potentially harmful."
To diagnose problem spots in struggling schools, the Penn consortium, in
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
HOW SCHOOLS FALL ON THE IMPLEMENTATION SPECTRUM
When Philadelphia called on its schools to limit the use of out-of-school suspensions, the district found some were
significantly more effective than others at overhauling their discipline practices.
In partnership with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, the district surveyed
teachers and other school staff members on their thoughts about exclusionary discipline practices like suspensions. They
also were asked about the level of support they felt they got from principals and their training and opportunities to use other
discipline practices, such as positive behavior interventions and supports, or PBIS. The resulting analysis found that the
city's K-5 and K-8 schools generally fell into one of three groups when it came to putting the initiative into practice:
Collaborative schools had
high teacher morale, and staff
members reported feeling supported
by the district to use collaborative
discipline approaches, such as
comparing a student's behavior
in different classrooms. Staff did
not see out-of-school suspensions
as effective in changing student
behavior, and they were most likely to
use nonpunitive discipline.
partnership with the district, surveyed
teachers and administrators about
their ability to understand students'
behavior, their ability to respond in
different ways to students' misbehavior, and more generally on whether
they felt respected by students and
supported by their leaders. Then the
researchers compared those survey results to other measures of the schools:
teacher job satisfaction and student
rates of attendance, suspensions, and
disciplinary referrals in general. "I am
really helping [teachers and leaders]
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 16, 2018 | www.edweek.org
Reactive schools had teachers
who felt they were "on their own"
in disciplining students. Even if
educators had had training in PBIS,
staff members reported viewing
suspensions and other exclusionary
student discipline practices as
essential to "keeping control" in
Noncohesive schools had low
teacher morale, high staff turnover, and
limited resources. Teachers reported
few opportunities to collaborate around
student discipline and instead felt
blamed by administrators if their
students misbehaved. These schools
had highly inconsistent practices,
using both exclusionary and
to think about analyzing gaps. Where
are places where programs are working and just need more momentum
... and where do we need a different
approach," the consortium's Gray said.
The quick pilots help school leaders understand their programs more
deeply, said Tonya Wolford, the chief
of evaluation, research, and accountability for the Philadelphia district.
"We really step way back to get the
programs to say what [administrators] said they needed to be effective,
and what they really did," she said.
SARAH D. SPARKS
For example, she added, " 'You said for
a program to be effective, you needed
90 percent of teachers to participate
in this training; we only have that 50
percent of teachers participated.' It
helps us start those conversations."
The district will test its first such pilots next year.
To help teachers and administrators
in schools where out-of-school suspensions remain the norm, the district
this fall will test an intervention designed to build empathy between
teachers and students.
Gray worked with Okonofua to
adapt the intervention for Philadelphia. This fall, 20 schools will randomly assign some teachers and
students to participate in two online
training sessions, explaining the
concepts of implicit bias and growth
mindset, as well as strategies to empathize with others. The sessions will
walk students and teachers through
scenarios in which both adults and
students respond to and reflect on
common classroom situations with
an eye toward building long-term, respectful relationships.
"Empathic discipline is a good example; it's been rigorously studied but
in contexts that aren't as urban," Gray
said. "This is about trying to find ways
to both choose the right interventions
but also figure out a way to implement
them in context."
The district doesn't expect it will
match the 50 percent reduction in
out-of-school suspensions that Okonofua found, but the intervention
costs little in staff time or money.
"We don't see this as the big sweeping answer to these problems, but
we see it as a way to gain traction"
for changing the discipline culture of
schools, Gray said. "We know things
that 'work' but need to know how we
get them from that point-of having
evidence-to the point of being flexibly and well implemented."
Separately, the research partnership
is looking at interventions to improve
the way educators deal with students
who act out because they have been
through trauma and discipline training specifically targeting school-based
"It's hard to shift your focus to
more of the process of implementation rather than the idea of, 'Oh, we're
doing a program that will help with
[a given problem],' " Wolford said. "If
we ask questions-is this from an
evidence base, is it implemented with
fidelity-it's going to be a systematic
way to move things forward for kids."
Coverage of continuous-improvement
strategies in education is supported in
part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation. Education Week
retains sole editorial control over the
content of this coverage.