Follow us:

Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

November 19, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Guest: Baltimore provides model for school-discipline reform

Andaiye Qaasim

Andaiye Qaasim

Students can’t learn if they aren’t in school. Yet, in Seattle, one in four black middle-school students is suspended each year. In March, racial disparities in student suspension and expulsion rates prompted the U.S. Department of Education to launch a civil rights investigation into Seattle Public Schools.

The League of Education Voters recently traveled with community and education leaders to Baltimore to learn about best practices in discipline. Since 2008, Baltimore City Public Schools decreased suspensions from one in five students per year to one in eight; a similar drop occurred in expulsions.

Baltimore school administrators and education advocates were clear: the decrease was due to the importance of culture and policy; relationships and practice.

As Baltimore’s interim superintendent Tisha Edwards explained, “Without a cultural shift, policy can only result in compliance.” For Edwards, policies do not change hearts and minds.

While skeptics may place “culture” in the category of warm-fuzzies, the Baltimore district leadership made it clear that a cultural shift involves rigor, intention and strong accountability.

Karen N’Dour Webber, the district’s executive director of student support and safety, took us through an extensive, data-driven framework to demonstrate how Baltimore monitors and evaluates school climate. The implementation of this framework initiated a paradigm shift within school culture, while at the same time highlighting areas for improvement.

At the Success Academy, an alternative school where the district educates its most “violent” students following extreme disciplinary incidents, a typical day involves personalized academic work, counseling, and partnerships with community-based organizations. Once students finish their suspension, they return to a traditional school environment.

As we learned in Baltimore, policies are an important first step, but suspensions do not decrease because we assign cut-and-dried consequences to standardized definitions of disciplinary infractions. Suspensions decrease when there are strong relationships in place between adults and students.

What might a cultural shift related to school discipline look like in Washington state? For more than two years, the League of Education Voters has worked with community partners to develop an answer to this question.

Our efforts culminated earlier this year with the passage of a new state discipline law. It requires an end to indefinite expulsions, discipline data to be broken down by demographics and publicly available, and that districts work with families to create a re-engagement plan.

The new law is a first step, but more work needs to be done if we are to move forward with transforming school discipline, eliminating racial disparity and disproportionality in school discipline, and keeping kids in school.

Andaiye Qaasim is a community organizer with the League of Education Voters.

Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: discipline, guest opinion, League of Education Voters

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►