PROVIDENCE – Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) was recently awarded a one-year, $250,000 field leadership grant from the Schott Foundation for Public Education to extend an existing initiative in the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) designed to end discipline disparities and eliminate punitive and exclusionary policies and practices that contribute to persistent achievement gaps throughout the district, announced Michael Grady, AISR interim executive director.
The grant extends an AISR initiative entitled PASSAGE (Positive and Safe Schools Advancing Greater Equity), a district-community collaboration begun in 2014 with funding from The Atlantic Philanthropies. Phase II begins immediately.
“We are very grateful to the Schott Foundation for its support of this very promising effort to employ cross-sector collaboration and collective problem solving to identify interventions that eliminate school discipline disparities and support a positive and inclusive school climate and culture,” said Grady. “This funding sustains an initiative already contributing to a safer and more supportive environment for all MNPS students, while providing the opportunity to develop an evidence-basedmodel for possible replication in other urban school districts and communities.”
The new grant will support:
- ongoing coalition building among a wide range of stakeholders, including principals, parents, teachers, counselors, law enforcement officers, clergy, juvenile court judges, community leaders, researchers and local government officials; and
- training for these groups to critically examine the structures, policies and practices that perpetuate discipline disparities and contribute to negative school climate and culture.
A steering committee and five working groups comprised of these stakeholders have met for two years.
The Oasis Center, a Nashville nonprofit that helps vulnerable youth overcome barriers through wraparound services, will continue to serve as PASSAGE’s core community partner and co-convener with the district.
Funds will also support practices that build teacher capacity and collaboration in order to examine persistent discipline disparities at the school level, implement interventions that create supportive classrooms and school climate, and develop procedures for collecting and tracking relevant data to measure progress over time.
“We are thrilled to support the PASSAGE initiative in Nashville,” said Edgar Villanueva, the Schott Foundation’s vice president of Programs and Advocacy. “Schools are increasingly moving away from harmful zero-tolerance discipline policies and toward proven restorative approaches to address conflict in schools. Everyone thrives when schools are healthy living and learning communities for all students.”
Phase I outcomes include a district and community-led process that resulted in major revisions of the MNPS Student/Parent Handbook aligning with a more progressive discipline approach, as well as complementary efforts to support the district’s shift toward restorative practices and social/emotional learning that improve student results and school climate.
Phase I of PASSAGE also included three urban districts in addition to Nashville: Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. According to Alethea Frazier Raynor, co-director of AISR’s District & Systems Transformation practice, Nashville was selected for Phase II primarily because “their district-community collaboration shows promise as a diverse, cross-sector alliance among stakeholders, which will be crucial for tackling issues within and across systems. In addition, the district’s commitment to data transparency has provided the PASSAGE Steering Committee with essential information to examine and understand the scope of Nashville’s discipline issues and disparities so that all children will have more supportive environments to learn.”
Overall, district data indicate that suspensions are down in MNPS since policy and practice changes in the revised Student/Parent Handbook have been implemented, but discipline disparities remain static. Strategically addressing the reduction of suspensions and expulsions for students of color will be an important goal for MNPS this school year, adds Frazier Raynor.
School discipline disparities, or the “discipline gap,” refer to a pattern of higher rates of suspension and expulsion among students of color – primarily Black males. For example, in 2013, district data indicates that seven out of 10 MNPS students who were issued out-of-school suspensions were Black, despite the fact that African Americans represent less than half of the district’s enrollment. Black students accounted for over 75 percent of all expulsions, an increase over the previous year.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released data from the 2013-2014 school year showing that too many students are losing learning time due to out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. Nationwide, 2.8 million K–12 students received one or more out-of-school suspensions, with the majority of those being students of color. Black students across all grades are 3.8 times as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as white students.
In a Tennessean article following the PASSAGE launch in 2014, Allison Brown, a former civil rights attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and current executive director at the Communities for Just Schools Fund, disputed the idea that problematic behavior is more prevalent among Black students; she characterizes the discipline disparities as systemic and points out that the most dramatic disparities are frequently in subjective disciplinary categories such as insubordination and disrespect.
“So often, the disparities that we see are based not on a discrepancy in actual behavior but on a discrepancy in the way that children and their families are perceived,” said Brown in a recent issue of Voices in Urban Education (2015, No. 42). “That broken racial narrative originates from a false racial hierarchy... where Black boys – even the littlest ones – are to be feared, and Black girls are to be despised or ignored.”
About the Schott Foundation
The Schott Foundation for Public Education aims to develop and strengthen a broad-based and representative movement to achieve fully resourced, quality PreK–12 public education. Schott’s core belief is that a first-rate public education is a mainstay of our democracy, providing a route out of poverty and transforming young lives.
This conviction drives Schott’s grant-making strategy and its commitment to helping establish well-resourced and supported grassroots campaigns that lead to systemic change in the disparities poor children and children of color face in our nation’s schools, creating healthy living and learning communities that ensure fairness, opportunity and access to a high-quality public education for all children.
For more information and for a complete list of Schott’s grantees, please visit www.schottfoundation.org.
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