ThirdWay Solutions is part of a movement to ensure every organization in the public, private, nonprofit, policy and advocacy sectors reflects the gifts and voices inherent in America’s racial, gender and other diversity — especially in leadership and positions of power.
ThirdWay Solutions is part of a movement to ensure every organization in the public, private, nonprofit, policy and advocacy sectors reflects the gifts and voices inherent in America’s racial, gender and other diversity — especially in leadership and positions of power.
ThirdWay Solutions works with leaders across all sectors to overcome their organizations’ most intractable internal and external challenges in service of racial justice and social equity by providing customized strategy, coaching, and implementation support — and by envisioning focused initiatives to push change.
We believe in being B.O.L.L.D. in supporting our clients and partners.
- Be the change: We believe change starts from within. Leaders should be willing to question everything, including their own biases, tendencies and past decisions.
- Operate with integrity: We believe leaders should align values with actions, even when it is uncomfortable. Achieving equity means confronting uncomfortable truths about racism, sexism, and other -isms.
- Listen and learn: We believe people and organizations only grow if they listen to feedback and embrace change.
- Laugh and connect: We think work should be fun and joyful. We build relationships based on trust, authenticity, and personal connection across differences.
- Do: We get things done and help teams move past admiring problems to solving them. We help organizations set bold goals, create roadmaps and remove barriers.
Across diverse sectors, we support leaders focused on one and/or more of the following:
- The 20% Project: Putting the 20% of students, families, employees and/or communities who have been the most marginalized at the core of innovative, cross-functional solutions.
- ABAR Organizations: Envisioning and defining, in concrete and actionable ways, what it means to be an anti-biased, anti-racist (ABAR) organization, and enacting the hard changes, from people to policies and strategy, to make concrete progress.
- The Discipline Revolution Project: Radically rethinking how to build psychologically, emotionally, and physically safe cultures and decriminalizing how we handle incidents, conflict, and struggle in schools.
- Collective Action: Bringing together local leaders — across “types” of schools, departments, and organizations of all kinds — to define and solve issues related to equity and marginalized young people.
Our team puts the 20% of students and communities society has failed the most at the center of design and transformation efforts. In both nonprofit and for-profit companies, we help organizations define their ABAR vision and operating principles — and pull them through all the core elements of their work. We create virtual and in-person collaboratives focused on decriminalizing the way we think about young people.
Since launching, we have worked in 25 districts and 6 states, impacting approximately 2,000 schools and over 3 million students. We have provided services to dozens of non-school clients from nonprofits to philanthropies, advocacy organizations and corporations across the country. Our team’s expertise in leading and coaching leaders to realize transformational change makes us unique. We are not traditional consultants. We are catalysts, elbow partners, capacity-builders, and — ultimately — focused on making a tangible impact on every organization we support.
What a challenging school opening season this is. We are sending you strength and well wishes as you navigate impossible decisions and try to build a new plane mid-flight. We’ve been busy, like many of you, and wanted to catch you up.
- What “Defund Police” Means for Us: Calls to defund police and to examine racist and biased policies are becoming even more urgent in the education sector. Cami appeared on Bloomberg News with a panel of experts to talk about what the defund police movement should mean for schools — emphasizing the work is about much more than kicking police officers out of buildings.
- A Blueprint to Remove Police from Schools: In this piece, ‘Police-Free Schools’ Vs. ‘Chaos’ Is a False Choice. Here’s What Districts Must Do to Implement Real Discipline Reform — our team lays out a specific plan of action that goes beyond slogans. We feel the urgency to help systems tear down discipline systems that over-police Black, Latinx, and LGBTQQ students and students with disabilities. And, we know we have to replace it with something better while keeping kids physically and emotionally safe.
- Discipline and Inclusion During COVID: In the age of COVID, we are seeing systems that have not critically examined the dire consequences of exclusionary and biased discipline systems doubling down and making terrible choices even in virtual and hybrid environments. Cami talked to the Huffington Post about the fact that we are likely to see more, not less, struggles and incidents right now and that we need to be more prepared than ever to respond in ways that keep kids learning.
- The Long Tail of Change: DRP is lucky to work with Tangipahoa School District in Louisiana for several years — both on creating more anti-biased, anti-racist cultures in all schools and reexamining policies and practices with an equity lens, but also in radically rethinking their approach to “alternative schools.” Shout out to recent press about the continued progress there, even in the face of enormous challenges.
- The Intersection of Instruction, SEL, and ABAR work: Instruction Partners — a partner organization with whom we collaborate — is doing exceptional work helping districts, states, and CMOs transition to high-quality hybrid and on-line instruction. Cami recently talked to their CEO, Emily Freitag, about the need to think about that work alongside supporting students’ social and emotional well-being and building anti-racist and anti-biased cultures.
We hope you and your team make time to ask yourselves some critical questions:
- Are you rethinking what “discipline” policies should look like in a virtual, hybrid, or in-person environment? Is your team prepared to be even more skillful in handling the increasing amount of conflict we are likely to see in face of collective trauma?
- Have you taken time to work with administrators, central teams, and teachers to process and embrace how their jobs have changed — beyond issuing new roles and responsibilities documents? Are they invested in solving problems in a bottoms-up way?
- Everyone is in a learning space — and we can do so much more virtual learning for adults right now. Are we using this time to help adults get better at (a) building purposeful, trusting relationships with students, (b) responding skillfully to difference, struggle, and conflict, and (c) partnering with families in much deeper ways?
- Do you have MOUs governing how you work with police? Child welfare agencies? Are you eliminating or reinventing the role of school resource officers? How are you going about that process and what needs to be true for that to mean more psychological and physical safety for students? How is your security staff trained?
- Are you an actively ABAR (Anti-biased and Anti-racist) organization? What does that mean? Look like, sound like, feel like? Is your core team engaged in personal reflection about the extent to which they are critically conscious leaders? Have you reviewed all of your people, practices, policies, and partnerships with an ABAR lens?
If you read the list of questions and thought — wow, these topics are not getting enough attention right now, we can help. We fully appreciate why so many have prioritized instructional models and health protocols — but we deeply believe that you have to think about those things alongside culture and climate and equity.
Thank you for the work you do; we honestly cannot think of a more important time to be an educator than now,
Cami and the DRP Team
As our country and communities begin to pivot from the initial phase of fighting the horrifying impact of COVID-19 toward the future, we hope education and other leaders will remain focused on realities brought into stark relief over the past six weeks. COVID-19 has forcefully called our attention to glaring inequities in many areas of life, including education. We have two choices. We can ignore the obstacles that have only gotten more perilous for poor, black and brown students. Or, we can own up to inequities and forge new pathways rooted in racial justice and a genuine commitment to the well-being of all children.
Reforming the systems, practices and policies that were failing our children before COVID-19 should be at the core — not the periphery — of recovery and reentry planning. We hope states like Louisiana will continue their fierce commitment to the academic needs and growth of all children and make even deeper investments in their emotional and mental health as well, choosing leaders who will make that a key priority. We also hope that commitment to bold progress is sustained, and even accelerated, in the face of leadership changes.
In Louisiana, 71 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged and 41 percent are black. Before COVID-19, 22 percent of black students were mastering grade-level materials, compared with nearly half of their white peers. Black students were suspended at nearly double the rate of white students. Children with disabilities had a 22 percent gap in their graduation rates, English learners a 45 percent gap. Louisiana was making steady progress in closing opportunity gaps as compared with other states, but state and local leaders need to double down on strategies that were working pre-COVID and invest in innovative strategies to help the most struggling learners.
These painful statistics should motivate a new normal. As federal stimulus money begins to flow, resources are being dedicated to new devices and better instruction using technology. Policymakers are discussing adding time to make up for learning loss. Educators are focused on making sure they know where students are academically when they return. All these things are critically important.
But in order for all children to thrive, we must also and pursue bold new ideas. This is not a moment to rearrange the furniture and apply a coat of paint to the Titanic.
We must focus on the social, emotional and mental health needs of students and families — and to do so with care not to go back to old ways. We need to increase the skill of educators in building deep and trusting relationships with students. We need to ensure that our teaching force of mostly white educators working with mostly black and brown students are aware of potential biases and have the tools to truly see and hear students. School systems need resources to help students and families access high-quality, culturally competent, school-based and community-based mental health and social services. Schools will need to dedicate time to nurturing the social and emotional health of students, and board members, state leaders and superintendents must value and prioritize this work. School cultures need to have high expectations for students, and lots of supports to catch them if they struggle, academically or otherwise. The partnership between schools and families must be nurtured.
We also hope the state and districts will take this time to continue rethinking discipline and expand new approaches already underway. If we want to stem the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately impacts black and brown students, now is the time to take a different approach. The data is clear: We cannot suspend and expel our way to a successful system. More is required. Boys and young men of color must be seen as assets and not liabilities. Students should get a fresh start, and we should aspire to support each and every one of them to succeed.
Attending to the well-being of all children cannot be left to the school system alone. Community and faith-based organizations, and neighbors can, and must, help schools. These are our schools, and our community’s children. We no longer have the luxury of blaming others or simply shuffling leaders. This moment presents the opportunity to recognize that some of the resources our children require are not found on school campuses. Access to health care, behavioral health services, support for families and caring adults must be derived from our larger community.
We should not go back to old ways of doing things that failed too many. Louisiana can continue to lead the way in putting the needs of our most marginalized students at the forefront as we rebuild.
Cami Anderson is the CEO of The Discipline Revolution Project, an organization working to realize equity across the country, including in Louisiana. She’s the former superintendent of alternative high schools in New York and Newark.
Raymond A. Jetson is chief executive catalyst at MetroMorphosis, an organization focused on transforming inner-city neighborhoods from within. He’s an Encore Public Voices and Forward Promise fellow.
TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL AND HEADLINES
- If you haven’t come across it, Wide Open School is a truly comprehensive culling of high-quality, safe, and approved on-line resources for educators and families fueled by Common Sense with 25 of the biggest content providers in the education space.
- An all-star panel of national, state, local, and school leaders (and lots of friends) wrote an incredibly thorough and detailed back to school opening plan for systems leaders; this is a must read for school and systems leaders
- An excellent article in US News and World Reports summarizing the big changes schools are likely to have to enact based on the new CDC guidelines
- An important article about the misuses of assessing and talking about childhood trauma; with “trauma-informed” education rightfully taking front-stage as we address student needs, it is critically important we don’t pathologize and label children, families, and communities
- Doug Lemov, Teach Like a Champion author and teaching guru (and friend), recorded a free webinar on what he is learning about effective on-line teaching; it’s a must watch. And while you are on his site, you will find on-line modules about good teaching overall.
PLANNING FOR RE-OPENING
- A set of equity questions for systems leaders to consider by the NYC Leadership Academy
- An excellent article about what we can learn from systems who successfully and quickly transitioned to distance learning
- A detailed reopening roadmap from a set of operations, public health, and education experts working together
- Catalyst Education released a comprehensive planning tool for systems. Including one focused on the social and emotional well being for students and families; note, we do not necessarily recommend all of the resources they link to, but the tool itself breaks down essential element that need to be considered alongside instruction, talent, and operations
- A excellent piece by Transcend Education about the three jobs systems leaders have right now: responding, recovering, and reinventing. Makes a strong case for not returning to the status quo
- A great article about assessing student learning right now
- School closures — a collaborative of over 20 organizations — is a one-stop website with a treasure trove of resources for SEL and instruction
- A Harvard Business Review article about the importance of balancing “task orientated” leadership with “people oriented” leadership; important reminder right now
- A Harvard Business Review article about the psychology of leading in a crisis; this one focused on how leaders create the right “holding environment” for people to be productive in times of uncertainty
- An excellent article about how Jacinda Ardern has been such an effective leader by exhibiting what leadership guru Ron Heifitz calls technical and adaptive leadership
- Clearinghouse of instructional resources by Instruction Partners
- 32 resources for preschoolers by Fordham
- YouTube resources for middle and high schoolers by Fordham
- Clearinghouse by Education Reimagined of academic resources
- Khan Academy made a sample home teaching schedule with links to lessons for all grades for a whole day over multiple weeks. The schedule is a great sample, and the Khan content is great for math and solid for other subjects. Self-directed and free.
- A high-quality teacher-made an incredible schedule complete with guiding questions and on-line resources
- Scholastic offers a full suite of all subject by grade level
- BrainPop offers all subjects but also has PE, Art, African AmericanHistory, and other topics all by grade level
- Zearn: This highly regarded math site builds off of the Common Core-aligned Eureka Math program to make online math lessons compelling and effective.
- GreatMinds: The publisher of Eureka Math, Wit and Wisdom, and PhD Science, will soon roll out free instructional materials, including videos of teacher-led lessons, for students nationwide
- The most comprehensive list of online education resources that are offering free services for families and/or schools right now. This is an online spreadsheet with hundreds of resources. If you are looking for something specific, you will find it here.
- Educators can also visit the Success Academy Ed Institute, for free access to the building blocks of Success K-8 curriculum, along with virtual professional development resources for teachers and school leaders.
- Penguin books has free on-line books, author talks, and other goodies for kids
- A comprehensive set of on-line resources for NYC teachers
- Audiobooks for kids are free on Audible
- On-line leveled books at Raz Kids
- This is a free K-5 on-line science courses— highly interactive and fun.
- Mark Rober, former NASA engineer: With over 10 million subscribers, Rober comes up with super fun and engaging ways to explore science concepts and engineering challenges. A good place to start is his “learn some science” playlist, currently at 26 videos, 10 to 15 minutes each
- Bill Nye the Science Guy: An oldie but a goodie—Nye’s channel offers 48 full-length, 23-minute videos, covering virtually every major topic in the science curriculum
- MIT is now delivering a weekly set of activities, video, etc. for K12 kids
- Embry-Riddie school of Aeronautics will start offering free online courses
- A readable, vivid article about how special education is playing out in Providence. Contains some good ideas and hard realities
- A National Geographic article about how to support Autistic children at home — helpful for teachers too
- An article by NSVF describing three technology-based tools for supporting student mindfulness and reflection
- Icivics offers games and lessons on civics
- For teachers, Morningside Centers has tips and lessons for adults to engage kids in SEL content and ReThink Ed has some good tips and lessons for adults to engage students; there is some content for kids directly (particularly teens)
- Also, Headspace, is now offering free services for K12 — this in everything from guided meditations, morning rituals, on-line counseling, and other mental health supports.
- A Trauma-Informed Approach to working with students right now from Teaching Tolerance
- The most popular class in Yale’s history on The Science of Happiness and Well-Being is now free
- A checklist on how to keep kids social and emotional needs front and center by the surge institute
- 10 ideas for keeping kids engaged who have diverse learning needs by The Ability Challenge
- Two places to find virtual tours of the world’s greatest museums, here and here. This one is called the ultimate guide to virtual museums.
- Kid-friendly news articles can be found about on just about every topic
- Liberty’s Kids: A fun-filled and age-appropriate cartoon that first aired on PBS decades ago. This is a fantastic narrative account of the American Revolution, spread over 40 episodes, 23 minutes each.
- Extra Credits Extra History: Boasting over 200 videos, this channel offers history lessons complete with compelling narration and cute animations. Each episode is around 10 to 15 minutes.
- Crash Course: This channel offers a huge library of videos across most major disciplines, including playlists of 48 videos on U.S. history, 72 on world history, and 50 on U.S. government and politics. Each episode is generally 10 to 15 minutes long and features John Green talking about the subject, mixed in with some humor and animations
- Coding content for kids
- Digital literacy for kids — and resources for parents to keep kids safe by Common Sense Media
- Fun activities at home by Fordham
- A comprehensive tool-kit for parents in setting up school by greatschools.org
- The Library of Congress is hosting an on-line series with author and youth writing ambassador Jason Reynolds aimed at engaging young people in creative writing and storytelling ideas on Tuesdays and Thursdays
- Making the most of this time by the 74
- Staying resilient right now by Harvard Business Review
- Summit Public Schools parent video link (in multiple languages) so students and families could get set up for in-home, on-line learning
- This article for families includes practical tips and a list of top and user-friendly on-line tools
- How bad times bring out the best in people by the Harvard Business Review
- A data visualization from The Washington Post is good for explaining why social distancing is so important
- A Trauma-Informed Approach to working with students right now from Teaching Tolerance — a MUST read
- Be A Learning Hero has a roadmap to help parents keep their children on track while school is closed
- Dreambox Learning is giving parents a 90-day free trial of Dreambox so children can learn at home. Sign up by April 30th.
- The Kennedy Center is offering art lessons called “Lunch Doodles” everyday at 1:00pm ET
- Reading Rockets has free resources for young children to read, write, and explore while they’re at home.
- ReadWriteThink has activities and projects, tips and how-to’s, printouts, and more to focus on reading and writing for K-12 students
DISTRICTS AND CHARTER MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS
Districts and Charter Management Organizations are putting their plans online; following are links to various plans:
- KIPP DropBox contains everything from instructional recommendations to operations templates and family communication
- Summit Public Schools Virtual School Handbook for Teachers
- Summit Public Schools Virtual School Handbook for School Leaders
- Esperanza CMO — High Quality and useful “lessons learned” piece from one charter management organization’s work to go virtual
- Chiefs for Change is summarizing the approach of all of their members’ districts and states on their website. Select exemplars include:
HOW TO BE AN EFFECTIVE ONLINE TEACHER
- The Chronicle of Higher Education compiled strategies about how to be a better teacher on-line
- Resources and tips for teaching remotely by MIT
- Short and sweet article with clear and useful tips about teaching on-line
- A comprehensive article about planing for and executing distance learning by ISTE
- Zoom 101 for teachers by We Are Teachers
- A thoughtful and practical resource with tips about how to balance synchronous and asynchronous learning in Education Week.
- Own The Room is hosting free zoom classes on how to use the platform to be an effective, engaging teacher — I recently took one of their master classes and it was awesome
- Mastering remote teaching and more by Doug Lemov
- Feedback and accountability on-line by Doug Lemov
- Taking a student-centered approach by Facing History and Ourselves
- PBS resources walking you through the brass tacks of virtual learning
- How to be effective on-line by the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Going on-line in a hurry by the Chronicle of Higher Education
- Advice for first-time remote teachers by Ed Surge
- Tips for online learning by ASCD
- Teach for All’s top 12 tips for online learning
BUILDING ONLINE CONTENT
DAILY OR WEEKLY CONTENT
- The Robertson Center will be sending out daily emails to interested educators and parents with a “Thinking Job of the Day” for students who are learning remotely. This will include a math activity that students can work on at home. Link to sign up to receive these resources here.
- The New York Times is publishing a daily set of learning activities for students and updates for adults — they have also taken down the paid firewall. It has writing prompts and kid-friendly articles.
- Jarrett J. Krosoczka, whose book Hey Kiddowas a National Book Award finalist, is going to have live, daily drawing lessons on Youtube starting March 16th.
- Ed Navigator is sensing a really helpful daily parent email
- Harper Collins: HarperKids is having storytime at noon ET on Facebook
- Weekly activities for little kids by Tinkergarten
- Weekly math activities by Stanford-based You Cubed
I bring John, David, Ana and Sally into every training, strategy session and decision-making room I occupy. Well, actually I bring their stories, to remind myself and others of the students we are still failing and the significant work we still need to do to ensure excellence for all students.
John’s family immigrated from the Dominican Republic and he was assigned to a bilingual class where his teacher spoke only English. He’s Black, so in his mostly Latino school, adults often singled him out for being disruptive even when he acted similarly to his peers. Daily, he dealt with awkward and misguided questions about his identity: Are you Black or Latino? Despite the language barriers between John and his teacher and classmates, it was clear he was functioning several grade levels above his peers in pretty much every subject. His family lived in abject poverty, using a camping stove to cook dinner and rationing money for gas and electricity.
Mark appeared to be Brown and, because he was adopted and spent time in group homes, no one seemed to know his race or ethnicity. He’d been in multiple homes by the time he was 8, experiencing immeasurable trauma. He suffered from a degenerative hip disease—and had experienced significant physical abuse—that resulted in over a dozen surgeries and made it hard for him to walk. His school had meticulously spelled out all of his defects and problems and special education needs, in what educators call an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). But nothing in that document got at the root causes or pointed out his innumerable strengths, including his deep conviction about right and wrong, and his seemingly endless kindness and positive attitude.
Ana was raped when she was 14 by a family member whose father spent the better part of his childhood incarcerated. When her demons caught up to her, she tried to tell her story only to be put out by her entire family and their extended friends. With nowhere to turn, she ended up on the streets, living in a friend’s car and dropping out. Ana found her way to an alternative school for over-aged and under-credited youth where she also came out as a lesbian questioning her gender identity. No one at either of her schools knew her secrets: that she was the victim of a terrible act of sexual violence, or that she didn’t have a home. She was a good student, after all—compliant and quiet.
Sally’s family isn’t wealthy, but they don’t struggle economically. It became clear early in her life that she wasn’t growing, physically or emotionally, at quite the rate of her peers and she suffered from bouts of extreme exhaustion and frustration. Eventually, she was diagnosed with diabetes and also dyslexia. The process to obtain the medical services necessary to manage her diabetes was, simply put, a nightmare. Her parents were sent in circles and Sally spent as much time out of class checking her monitors and navigating bureaucracy as she did learning strategies to manage her emotions and learning how to read. And, when she was in class, Sally became increasingly frustrated as she fell further behind. Few at school seemed to connect the dots between her physical challenges, her learning struggles and her outbursts.
THE PROBLEM WITH LABELS
We have names for students like John, Mark, Ana and Sally. We identify them as belonging to a “specialized population.” By this, we might mean English-learning, special education, LGBTQQ, court-involved, homeless, over-aged, under-credited, medically fragile or Title I. God forbid you belong to any of these groups and are also Black or living well below the poverty level, which makes your chances of excelling in school almost non-existent. In that case, we label you “at-risk”—for struggling in school, dropping out or worse. We count the number of “adverse childhood effects” (ACEs) you have and record them in databases.
In other words, we spend lots of time describing the defects of students and very little time diagnosing the systemic issues that make their odds of success even longer.
Many traditional schools struggle to support students with these labels. Even our best and highest-performing schools, including those in the charter sector, are struggling with these very same students. When we disaggregate data, we see tremendous gaps in academic achievement between students with disabilities and their general education peers. We see huge gaps in achievement between Black students and their White peers. We see that students who are homeless, in foster care or involved in the court system master grade-level material at much lower rates than their peers.
For years, education advocates called these “achievement gaps.” Recognizing this term could imply that students are the problem, many have recently embraced the phrase “opportunity gaps.” Proponents in favor of this framing point out that students with particular risk factors have fewer opportunities than their more advantaged peers and this makes it harder for them to master academic content.
Most school systems not only fail to provide students in need of it with extra support, but actually implement policies and practices that make their chance of success even slimmer. Worse, some implicitly or explicitly suggest “we need to sacrifice the 20% to ensure the success of the 80%.” (I’ve heard this, multiple times.)
We need to stop finding labels for the students and start identifying the systems that make it damn near impossible for them to achieve. By using words that better reflect what the real problem is, we will start to shift our attention to the source of the fire instead of complaining constantly about the smoke.
STUDENTS WHO SYSTEMS FAILED THE MOST
I think we need a new way of talking about students who face barriers erected by adults and sustained by broken systems. So, I have taken to describing students like John, David, Ana and Sally as SSFMs—Students who Systems Failed the Most.
John’s family moved because of lack of economic opportunity and they were left even poorer by a broken and biased American immigration system. He faced racism, lack of support for learning English, and low expectations in a school and system that added roadblocks to his success. David was trapped in the child welfare system that created trauma and was transitioned into a special education system that piled on by further pathologizing him. Ana’s struggles were a result of someone else’s action and she was ignored by schools because she was compliant. Sally started failing in school because of the poor systems to support students with specialized medical and learning needs.
But John, David, Ana and Sally are not outliers or students we should consider around the edges of education policy and practice. They are our students, our friends, our family. John is my former student, who eventually did succeed despite our school and the broader system. David is my own brother, who survived school and is now an amazing dad and change agent in his community. Ana is a student I met as superintendent of alternative high schools in New York City—she excelled in her transfer school and went on to thrive in a prestigious university. Sally is like the children of so many of my friends who, despite the advantages of racial or economic privilege, struggle every day to advocate for their child’s basic learning needs.
It’s time we embrace a new mindset about these students. By calling them SSFMs, we are forced to grapple with how we must change our approach in pursuit of excellence for all students. It’s time to stop admiring that we have a problem and start addressing it.
By Layla Avila, Evan Stone and Cami Anderson
As education leaders, we take our commitment to students and families very seriously, not only to provide them with an excellent education that affords them access to the fullest range of life’s opportunities but also to ensure they are emotionally and physically safe and supported.
That’s why we are dismayed at the Trump administration’s decision to dismantle protections for our most vulnerable students by repealing much-needed federal guidance guarding students from discriminatory discipline practices. This damaging move was announced just before Christmas, even though thousands of teachers and more than 100 educators, advocates, district and state leaders, charter school operators, unions, and other education leaders called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Justice Department to maintain the guidance protecting all students — particularly students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning. Educators are not alone in our concern: DeVos also received letters from a wide swath of groups on this issue, such as state attorneys generaland the civil rights community.
Over the past year, DeVos met with teachers from across the country and promised to listen. But the concerns of families and educators clearly fell on deaf ears. Rescinding the guidance without putting forward a concrete plan for schools to end unjust discipline practices is another baffling example of how the Trump administration is abandoning students and families.
The problem: Too many of these practices are the exception, not the rule.
While there has been progress, a steady drumbeat of data reveals we have miles to go. A study by the bipartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office last year found persistent racial disparities in student discipline. And the 2015-2016 federal Civil Rights Data Collection showed the same trend. Black students are three and a half times as likely to be suspended from school than their white peers — often for the same behavior as their classmates. Latino students also saw troubling disparities compared with white students. Students with disabilities, who make up about 12 percent of public school students, account for nearly a quarter of students referred to law enforcement, arrested for a school-related incident or suspended.
The consequences of inaction are dire. Students who’ve been suspended just once are three times as likely to be incarcerated later on. Continuing to use biased and harsh discipline with students from historically underserved communities — students who probably already have a mountain to climb to succeed in school and beyond — limits their trajectories in life.
The good news is that some schools are pioneering innovative practices — rooted in research — that point the way forward on school discipline:
- Training can help educators build empathy when it comes to student discipline and form productive partnerships with families before incidents occur.
- Schools can build positive cultures that include rigorous academic work in which students hold one another accountable.
- School staff can help students learn social and emotional skills, such as self-management and conflict de-escalation.
- Administrators can focus on hiring and retaining staff members who build strong, inclusive classroom cultures and who reflect the diversity of students.
- States and systems can provide mental-health professionals, counseling staff and other support systems.
- Schools can introduce alternatives to suspensions — such as restorative circles and in-classroom interventions — that address student behavior and help them learn to make better decisions without excluding them from school.
We believe the federal government has an important role to play in safeguarding students’ civil rights, which can be accomplished without stifling state and local decision-making or teachers’ autonomy in their classroom. Without federal action, it can be easy for systems to lose sight of these disparities and their long-term effects. Or schools and systems may choose what’s politically easy and expedient over what’s best for students. Despite this setback, our coalition will continue working in cities and states across the country to effect change — and the federal government must continue to enforce laws that ensure all students have the opportunity to thrive.
We can and must do better. Our students’ futures hang in the balance.
Cami Anderson is the founder of the Discipline Revolution Project.
Layla Avila is CEO and executive director of Education Leaders of Color.
Evan Stone is co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence.