DRP Team

Discipline Revolution Project – Member Update, January 2021

Discipline Revolution Project Members:

Happy new year. 

We wrote this organizational update before the horrifying violence in the capital last week. As you know, everyday, we partner with schools, systems, organizations, and leaders to develop anti-biased, anti-racist cultures and to advance racial justice in communities across the country. The events of this past week — fueled by the cancer of white privilege and supremacy — have given us even greater urgency.  In that spirit, we share this summary of our work in 2020 and invite you to continue on this journey with us in 2021.

Our 2020 can be described in 4-3-2-1…

We partnered deeply with four public school districts — two traditional and two charter. We supported their work to create anti-biased, anti-racist school cultures. We helped them intensify their focus on student well-being, supports to prevent incidents from occurring, rooting out biases in their organization and schools, and radically rethinking how to respond to conflict.

We planned, facilitated, and hosted three virtual “communities of practice.” Leaders from the greater Houston Area, The Broad Center alumni network, and New Leaders gathered to discuss research and promising practices about de-criminalizing and de-policing how we handle school discipline. Participants shared what’s worked and surfaced common struggles.

We consulted with two states about their approach to putting discipline reform at the core of their agenda, even as they responded to COVID. We became an approved provider by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSO) to support states in implementing their child and family well-being guidance.

In every engagement, we had one singular focus: to spur deep, lasting, and real change by acting as truly trusted partners to our clients. We’ve woken up every day and thought about how to help leaders resist the urge to settle into old ways of being — and to use this moment of inflection to tackle past patterns that cement inequities. We’ve coached, laughed, pushed, planned, and helped execute big things.

Our CEO, Cami, wrote several pieces to help move the national conversation including ‘Police-Free Schools’ Vs. ‘Chaos’ Is a False Choice. Here’s What Districts Must Do to Implement Real Discipline Reform,  COVID-19 Presents a Chance for Bold Reform of Schools That Have Long Failed High-Needs Students. Louisiana Can Lead the Way, and We Need a New Way of Talking About Students Who Face Barriers Erected by Adults and Sustained by Broken Systems. She was also interviewed by Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, and Instruction Partners about how to think about discipline reform and police-free schools. She joined DRP coach April Dinwoodie for a conversation about the role family diversity plays in the work and The Line for a conversation about the critical need for social-emotional supports for adults and kids right now (see Episode 5: The Path Back to School).

With all of the individual and collective trauma we’ve experienced, our work at DRP is critical. We will either have the courage to transform classroom and school environments, including de-criminalizing our approach to student behavior, or we run the risk of further disenfranchising students and communities we were already failing.

Here’s to effecting deep change in 2021,

Cami and The DRP Team

P.S. ThirdWay Solutions (DRPs umbrella organization) is hosting a webinar on How to Raise Anti-Biased, Anti-Racist Kids on January 19th. You can register by clicking here.

P.P.S. Cami writes a blog for Forbes about trailblazing women across sectors. Last month’s edition focused on three female Superintendents. We though you might enjoy reading it.

Hyperlinks may be broken in forwarding this update – please use this address to access the document with the links included: 

DRP Update: Three Quick Things and Opportunites (October 2020)

DRP Members:

We hope you are staying as safe and productive as possible as the reach of the pandemic continues to grow. We are grateful for educators like you, who are out there making it happen for kids and families in the face of so much adversity.

We are writing to share three quick updates:

  • This Thursday, our CEO, Cami Anderson will be participating in an important discussion about attending to students’ social and emotional well-being right now. Connectivity and on-line learning have taken front stage for much of 2020 and that is, to some extent, necessary. At DRP, we believe that schools should be thinking just as deeply about how to support students’ social and emotional needs. The Path Back to School – Episode 5: Social Emotional Learning will be on Oct 21, 2020 01:00 PM Eastern Time. You can register here.
  • An important article by Erica Green, Mark Walker, and Eliza Shapiro ran in the New York Times about the microaggressions and outright racism experienced by Black girls in school. An equally critical study by Dan Losen and his colleagues came out this month showing that in 28 districts, middle and high school students lose more than a year of instruction due to suspensions. Both are a must read.
  • This Thursday, DRP Contributor, April Dinwoodie ,will be hosting a panel about multi-racial and multicultural families and our CEO, Cami, will be on the panel. Race & Culture in Adoption and Foster Care – Virtual Series, sponsored by the Center for Advanced Practices at Adoption RI and NAACP. To register, click here.

We have three new offerings we want you to be aware of:

  • DRP is launching Communities of Practices in cities and states across the country.  Groups of district and charter systems come together and participate in a 5 to 10-part virtual series.  The learning series helps system leaders (with teams of 4 – 6 people) explore what needs to be true to shift away from harsh, biased, punitive discipline practices. We explore research and promising practices that help create conditions that prevent students from using negative behavior to communicate and build systems that help schools respond to struggle, incidents, and difference skillfully.
  • Furthering our core mission, DRP is taking the lead in rethinking, reimagining and eliminating the need for school resource officers and/or school police.  Our team partners with systems for 12 -18 months, helping build systems tailored to the needs of each unique community where all students feel psychologically, physically and emotionally safe.
  • Our core model of helping systems conduct EQUITY audits using our framework that has proven successful across the country can now be done virtually. Our team has updated our tools and products to ensure clients can access the learning even while travel is limited.

Happy Fall,

Cami and the DRP Team

Sparking a School Discipline Revolution

Interview with Amanda Kocon, Chief Strategy Officer, The New Teacher Project

After her long tenure as a teacher, social entrepreneur and district superintendent, Cami is now undertaking a very different kind of challenge: She’s launching the Discipline Revolution Project, a coalition of education reformers, from district and charter schools, who want to come together to consider how to change our approach to school discipline and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

What brought you to this issue? Why do we need a “revolution” when it comes to school discipline?

First, just look at the data. Fifty percent of school-based arrests are of African-American kids, but African Americans make up 15 percent of all students. Students with disabilities are between three and four times more likely to be suspended for the same offenses as their peers. LGBTQ students are disproportionally punished. In addition to being grossly unfair, this also has long-term consequences for kids and for schools: Students who are suspended are three times more likely than their peers to drop out of school, and three times as likely to be incarcerated. And that’s just the beginning of a life with limited options—in some cases spurred by well-meaning but completely misguided and inequitable school discipline policies and practices.

Despite these hard facts, changing school discipline hasn’t really been on the radar of education reformers. Collectively, we haven’t seen it as a priority or acknowledged our urgent responsibility to stop committing civil rights offenses, like those we lament in biased and life-ending juvenile and criminal justice systems. We’ve failed to see the connection between effective school discipline practices, improved and culturally competent school cultures, and—combined with rigorous content and great talent practices—radically improved student outcomes. We haven’t confronted the terrible consequences of punitive discipline, as well as the potential upside of doing things differently. We haven’t seen the shift away from antiquated discipline practices as mission-critical to our broader mandate to ensure excellence and equity for all kids.

​This is also very personal for me. I was the superintendent of alternative high schools in New York City for five years. Among many things, my portfolio included schools for kids who were incarcerated, as well as the one-year suspension centers. It was pretty hard to ignore the stark fact that we were serving almost exclusively African-American and Latinx boys, as well as a few African-American and Latinx girls—even though that does not represent the demographics of the city.

​I would look at the kids’ files to see why they were there, and would see things like a three-month suspension for “using a rubber band as a weapon.” I also saw that these young people don’t tend to graduate. The idea is that they’re supposed to go to the suspension centers to get all these services and then come back to school. But they don’t get the services and the stigma is impossible to overcome, so they come back behind. I saw the same kids on Rikers Island that I saw in the suspension centers, all the time.

What’s the plan for the Discipline Revolution Project? How are you trying to help?

​I think there’s growing recognition in the education community, both from charter and district leaders, that we’ve helped create the school-to-prison pipeline and it is up to us to dismantle it. But we can’t just be against biased, punitive discipline without articulating what we are moving toward. We’re in a moment when many leaders are eager to tackle this issue, but they don’t have easy access to resources or practical ideas to figure out where to start. So I think there’s a real opportunity to push the conversation forward and do so in a way that helps people embrace practical, albeit difficult, new approaches.

We’ve created what we call a “discipline equity framework,” which summarizes the best of what we know in anti-bias, culturally responsive work, trauma-informed work, and social-emotional learning and supports. The Discipline Revolution Project is about much more than changing discipline policies—it is about empowering and inspiring young people to develop healthy habits and be their best selves by ensuring they connect with empathetic, skilled adults who personalize their approach to student support and learning. It’s also about helping adults respond to incidents in ways that help young people learn from their mistakes and build strong peer cultures of accountability with love.

​We’ve summarized complex research and promising practices we’ve seen in action so principals, district leaders, CMO leaders, funders, advocates, and other school-based partners can download all of it in one place. We’re learning that there’s a lot of need for ongoing support and technical assistance. We’re in the process of building more infrastructure so we can do more research and provide deeper training and technical assistance at the local level. I really think education reform leaders are eager to get out of the finger-wagging space to work across traditional lines that divide us—particularly charter versus district—to solve problems around equity that plague us all.

Do charter schools have a particular role to play in this revolution?

​100 percent, no question. Charters and charter networks are critical to this dialogue because they have more flexibility regarding staffing, money, and ability to move quickly. For example, there are at least three networks I can think of that are completely re-thinking their approach to school culture. They’re thinking deeply about all the things they have done around schoolwide rituals and rules, and how they might be missing the mark. They’re working to encourage students to take ownership over their actions, and are asking students about whether they feel loved and understood by their teachers.

Now, we should be clear that traditional district schools need to grapple with this problem every bit as much as charter schools do. And just like in almost every other aspect of running a school, some charters do a better job than others, just like some districts do a better job than others. So it’s not an issue of culpability. But I do think the charter sector is uniquely suited to try new, innovative approaches to discipline and student supports that we need, and that’s why I think it’s so important they’re at the table and leading.

Based on all the research and promising practices you’ve seen, what’s the basic shift you think schools need to make on discipline?

​With discipline, our instinct is to admonish or punish a kid if they’re not compliant. Punishments can be big things like suspending a kid for a week, or small things like checkmarks and verbal reprimands every time a student steps out to the right or the left.

We want to move toward thinking of discipline as a way of practicing something until you master it—more like a disciplined athlete or artist. In that context, “disciplined” means someone who tries and works hard in a structured, focused way that shows perseverance and commitment.

We want adults to teach kids purposeful habits, as opposed to teaching compliance. At a macro level, that’s going to push us to do all sorts of things differently—not just discipline. It’s going to force us to think about how we support adults in schools to build deep, trusting, and empathetic relationships with kids. Empathetic relationships between adults and students have been proven to be one of the best indicators of success for children. This requires adults to deeply understand what makes each kid tick, what triggers them, and what motivates them to change and grow.

Frankly, shifting away from punitive discipline will force us to get better at encouraging kids to build the skills they need to succeed in the long term. We have to acknowledge that kids are going to challenge authority; that’s sort of their job. We have to respond with developmentally appropriate, purposeful actions—so the kid is held accountable in a way that helps them learn and grow, as opposed to just learning that they should continually buck authority, or that compliance is the only way to be in good graces with adults.

So this is as much a shift in philosophy as a change to any particular practices.

​Right, that’s where the “revolution” idea comes from. We need to change the way we’re thinking about discipline 180 degrees, not 10 or 20 degrees.

Can you talk more about what restorative practices are, and how they fit into this?

​Originally, restorative practices were rituals that brought together the person who perpetrated a crime with the victims of that crime. Restorative practices were leading to pretty amazing results in terms of recidivism rates, but also in terms of the well-being of both the victims and perpetrators of crimes. Some police departments started experimenting with these practices, and eventually some schools.

There are schools in Newark that use restorative practices, not just with young people, and not just in classrooms, but also at community forums. In our high schools, we brought in proctors, school safety agents, student leaders, teachers, administrators and others together to be trained on restorative circles and restorative practices, so that everybody was singing from the same songbook in terms of how they were approaching the work. It had a tremendous impact on more than the obvious things like violent incidents and reduced suspensions, but also on some of the intangibles, like how people treat each other.

​Having said all that, it’s only one part of what needs to happen for us to move away from punitive discipline. There’s a whole host of other things, like how teachers build relationships with students. And of course, the best way to prevent misbehavior in the first place is high-quality, relevant, and engaging lessons.

Can you give some examples of positive changes you’ve seen?

​I’ve seen several schools, charter and district, form student support teams with adults with different skill sets, like social workers, teachers, administrators, and peer coordinators. These teams create a safe place for kids to talk before they reach the point of crisis.

​There’s also an increasing number of schools doing culture and climate audits, asking students about their experiences and using that data to make changes. Districts are also rethinking the language they use to recruit teachers, to ensure that they’re sending the message that teaching is about building deep and trusting relationships and coaching kids on their non-academic skills as much as their academics.

I’ve also seen some great therapeutic learning centers, which are safe spaces where kids can go and participate in affinity groups, counseling, and student-led discussions. I’m optimistic about what we can achieve in this area because I’ve seen the needle move already.

But again, this is much bigger than implementing any specific practice. When you take a hard look at the data on school discipline, you see that it’s an overlooked symptom of a familiar problem: There’s a whole group of kids that, despite our best efforts, we are not serving well at scale. They tend to have one, if not all, of the following characteristics: They’re students with disabilities, students who are homeless, students living in extreme poverty, students who are growing up in foster care, students who have a parent who is incarcerated, or they’re connected to the child welfare system in some way. We like to say we’re working for “all kids,” but we don’t always act in ways that are inclusive of our student populations or that help all students excel.

​Even the best among us—the best superintendents, the best charter operators—if you just look at the data, that’s the reality. I believe that while we’re calling this the Discipline Revolution Project, it’s really about School Reform 2.0. I think it’s going to show results with a group of kids that we continue to fail.