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: 

Time to Act: A Letter to Our Community

DRP Members and Partners:

Like many of you, our team experienced horror and sadness as videos and audio tapes revealed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd being murdered by police. Black Americans — sisters, fathers, friends, and partners — living their lives, sleeping in their homes, going for a jog, and running errands are no longer with us simply because of the color of their skin. These are not isolated incidents.

Black people were 24% of those killed by police last year despite being only 13% of the population. Indeed, we all breathe poisonous air polluted with anti-Blackness that manifests in so many ways, including in education. To our Black colleagues and friends, we are sending you extra love, knowing you have to show up for your students while taking care of your families and yourselves.

Our mission at The Discipline Revolution Project (soon-to-be-named The 20% Project) is to (1) support schools and systems leaders to build anti-racist/anti-biased, high expectation, high support cultures, (2) put in place robust family and student supports, and (3) actively tear down policies and practices that cement inequities. Our work has never been more urgent.

We are glad to see the outrage about racial disparities in policing and we know the same biases that exist in broader society play out and, in some cases are exacerbated, in classrooms and school buildings. This isn’t a time to point fingers, it is a time to act within our own sphere of influence. Many of you have reached out for ideas and resources and, in that spirit, our team is sharing what we call a “2x3x1.” In keeping with our EQUITY Framework and our organizational values, we are sharing two things we recommend you do now, three things you should think about over the summer, and one thing we hope you do personally to help realize racial justice.

Right Now:

  1. As educators, do not look away, don’t say nothing. All of your students are watching the news, scanning social media, and talking to their friends about the events that led up to this week and how things are unfolding. If you are still in school, create a safe container to talk about what is happening with your students — some good resources are from Teaching Tolerance and Morningside Center.  If you are already out for this term, use the time to prepare so you are ready when you do reconnect with students.
  2. Combat existing narratives that Black residents are somehow to be “blamed” for dying at the hands of police or expressing outrage. White, Black and brown young people might be hearing this from the media, friends and family. I’ve had piercing questions about this from all the young people in my life — my son, nieces, nephews, students, and mentees — across socio-economic and racial lines. The narrative is prevalent. Read this piece by Adam Sewer that talks about America’s racial contract. Or, consider this piece about the context behind the rebellion in Ferguson. Facing History and Ourselves compiled data on the history of policing to help put this moment in broader content.

This Summer:

  1. Look at your discipline data, practices, and policies as urgently as you call for police to change their ways — build the skill and will of educators to de-escalate conflict, build healthy relationships with an understanding of how power and race plays out, facilitate community, partner with families, and actively interrogate their own biases; consider:
  1. Rethink “escalation protocols” and when and how you involve law enforcement — negotiate memorandums of agreement, engage in joint training about relationship building, de-escalation, and anti-bias work, build shared values and language around how to engage young people; consider:
  • 50% of school-based arrests are of Black students even though they make up 16% of the student population
  • The connection between school discipline and problematic policing is tighter than we think. It’s time for educators to step up. It is our moral imperative.
  • School and systems leaders must be active in pushing law enforcement to take a proactive, developmentally appropriate and anti-racist approach to engaging young people, not simply call them when things get “out of control.”
  • Overall, we should severely limit the amount of police interaction that occurs in schools (only when absolutely necessary) – and we should be working proactively to build shared value for our children’s psychological and physical safety.
  1. Actively examine your instructional practices — the who, what and the how — pick content that is pro-Black/Latin-X/Indigenous, recruit and retain educators of color, give all kids access to rigorous and culturally competent instruction and assignments, and prioritize building school and classroom cultures; consider:
  • We see and hear Black (and brown) students less than their peers: in almost every school climate and culture study, Black students report they feel less safe, less connected to school, and less connected to a caring adult than their White peers. This can be soul-crushing for students and have profound effects on their school experience and their life prospects.
  • We expect less from Black students: Black students are exposed to content and assignments that are far below grade-level. Black students report that adults underestimate their intelligence and expect less of them.
  • Black students rarely “see” themselves accurately represented in history or in any materials. Little, if anything, is taught about great Black civilizations, leaders, and contributions. And, to the extent we teach about the founding of our country or the civil rights movement or slavery, our curricula too often leaves out the tough stuff about the role institutional racism has played throughout. Curricula, books, and supplemental materials present White people in a favorable light and Black people in an unfavorable light. We need to seek and create better and more pro-Black content.
  • Having even one Black educator can increase a Black student’s likelihood of graduating by 13%.


To our White colleagues and friends: Let’s not make Black people do all the work right now, or ever. Let’s take time to further educate ourselves and others, reflect and “be the change”.  I am happy to schedule a call if you want a thought partner, but here are some initial ideas. If you haven’t already (I know some of you have) let’s commit to:

  • Continually educating ourselves about how our country has promoted a White-normative culture that has perpetuated White supremacy — and how that influences all of us. Kendi put together an anti-racist reading list here. Consider what we gravitate towards as we consume narratives, content, and products. Our choices could be causing “confirmation bias” (e.g., if all you read or experience is from a White perspective, you are likely missing something).
  • If you are raising kids or play a primary person role to any kids, consistently practicing (you never “arrive” — I read and practice every single day) raising them to be race-conscious and anti-racist; some good and comprehensive resources (including readings, blogs, associations, children’s books, podcasts and more) are found here.
  • Getting in the arena — pushing ourselves not only to be an allies but rather co-conspirators — and knowing the difference. Not just talking, but acting — including and especially when it is uncomfortable.
  • Actively engaging other White friends, colleagues, and family in everything we are learning – and encouraging them to learn and discuss with their circle too. As educators, we cannot see this work as “nice to have” but as essential and urgent if we are going to do right by all of the students.

To all members of the DRP community: We believe biases exist in all of us and that we all have an obligation to understand how implicit biases are cemented — even in “good people.” Cumulative “micro aggressions” cause students to shut down, disconnect, or worse. Too often, Black students experience toxic or unsupportive school cultures and so do students who are LGBTQQ,  students who are growing up in non-traditional family structures, students with disabilities, and students whose families are immigrants.

We need to make this a moment of real change. We also can’t make this only about police reform — because we have so much to do in education too. And we have moral obligation not just to critique and observe problems, but to actively solve the ones within our control.

As always, we are here to support you and your team as you navigate these rough waters.

In partnership, Cami and the DRP team

Boldly Breaking Patterns

By Cami Anderson

“When a black or brown youngster is shot — apparently for no good reason — by a law enforcement officer, there is a public response to that violence. And that response is fierce. That response is strategic. And that response, on occasion, makes sure that justice ultimately be done.” — Dr. Clement Price, Rutgers University – Newark Distinguished Professor of History, WBGO News, August 13, 2014

Last month, Newark Public Schools (NPS) participated in a Rutgers-Newark-hosted summit sponsored by America’s Promise, a national non-profit organization that has helped put the goal of increasing graduation rates for all students at the forefront of public discourse. The conversation was rich, positive and solutions-oriented, but I could not shake my angst about what it all meant in the context of the grand juries’ failure to indict the officers responsible for the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. As impassioned organizers and mourning community members took to the streets in demonstrations against a range of injustices, the words of the late Dr. Clement Price, a beloved professor of history who recently and unexpectedly passed, rang in my ears.

What responsibility do educators and administrators like myself have to the African American and Latino students Dr. Price spoke about? How do we ensure that education systems equip all students with the skills to access their dreams and not replicate cycles of systemic oppression?

Among education professionals, the term “disconnected youth” refers to young people who are of school age but dropped out, are about to drop out, and/or are trying to return to school. Nationally and in Newark, this group is comprised disproportionally of boys of color, not unlike our juvenile and adult justice systems. Unless you believe that African American and Latino boys are just more naturally prone to struggle in school than their female or white peers — which I obviously do not — it is incumbent on school systems to take an honest look at these persistent inequities and aggressively work to change them.

Consider these alarming statistics. Nationally, about 10 percent of high school students were suspended in school year 2009-2010, but for African American and Latino boys that number is 1 out of 3. These figures mirror research that consistently demonstrates how African American and Latino boys are far more likely to be reprimanded for the same “misbehaviors” as their white peers. 30 percent of all students arrested in school were African American, but this group accounts for only 16 percent of enrollment. Of the high school students who disconnected from school in Newark during the 2012-13 school year, roughly 51 percent were African American and Latino boys even though they only make up 45 percent of the high school student body. Though imbalanced, Newark’s data isn’t as stark as the national average where African and Latino students are three times as likely to be disciplined as their white counterparts, often for the very same “offenses.” Schools and school systems should be places where playing fields are leveled. Education, as Horace Mann said, should be “the great equalizer” and instead, the school-to-prison pipeline that funnels a disproportionate number of African American and Latino students into the justice system is alive and well.

So, what have we done in Newark and where do we need to go from here? Our approach distills to four distinct strategies: (1) focus elementary and middle schools on strengths-based early warning systems, (2) rethink high schools to prevent students from disconnecting, (3) create better on-ramps for students to reconnect, and (4) radically change discipline policies.

Too often, elementary and middle school principals and teachers think of the “drop out problem” as a high school issue despite research indicating that a student’s academic performance in third grade is a strong predictor of his/her likelihood to stay in school. This is no longer true in Newark, where all schools, including elementary schools such as Quitman Street, are accountable for equity. Every Newark public school has chartered a Student Support Team comprised of teachers, administrators, guidance staff, and relevant service providers, trained in a “case management” system to identify and discuss students who begin to struggle academically, behaviorally, or both. This case management system trains educators to notice when students are performing at their best, and to replicate that success by developing an action plan with clear milestones that build on the student’s strengths, rather than overemphasize a student’s shortcomings. Our approach requires adults to challenge themselves continually to find new and improved ways to reach, not blame, students. This system only works if schools are staffed with faculty who regard students’ academic, social, and emotional well-being as their responsibility, and who look to improve their own practice as opposed to assuming an irreparable shortcoming in a struggling student. At NPS, this commitment is reflected in our nationally-recognized teacher contract, which places a high premium on recruiting, selecting, and rewarding best-in-class educators. It is also reflected in school-based professional development and additional support provided by partners and NPS coaches who have a particular expertise in motivating students and creating purposeful, respectful, and culturally-competent classroom cultures.

“Old-school” comprehensive high schools simply do not work for most students — but they are categorically detrimental for students who struggle. Given that 2/3 of Newark students come to the 9th grade at least one grade level behind in reading and/or math, we had to ask some tough questions about how our high schools are designed. We divvied many of our schools into smaller learning communities — in some instances creating academies within large schools and in others actually splitting individual schools into multiple schools. We invented and adopted new models, for example an all-girls school, an all-boys school, an early college model, as well as a sports and careers academy. We rescheduled 9th graders into longer literacy and numeracy blocks, so students are exposed to rigorous content through small groups, one-on-one instruction, and computer-assisted software, making a bet on depth rather than coverage. We worked with schools to develop “graduation trackers” that provided each student with clarity around where they were and how they were progressing towards graduation. We adopted the ACT to afford us a better measure of college-readiness, and we again used our teacher contract to reward and attract the most effective and talented educators into our hardest-to-staff schools.

When traditional schools — even those that have been redesigned — do not work, we need different and new models with even more intensive academic acceleration, time on task, and social-emotional support. During my tenure in New York City, I worked with a group of people to found a network of high schools for court-involved youth called ROADS (Reinventing Options for Adolescents who Deserve Success). ROADS — and other schools like them across the country — are building models that combine intensive counseling, extended school day and year, career connections, and cutting-edge work on literacy and numeracy for students who either struggle academically or who have missed many years of school. In Newark, we have created two “transfer high schools” that are building similar capacity. Every day, young people who have previously dropped out of school decide to reconnect. Too many systems either make this impossible and/or afford these students low-quality options that do not respect their intellectual abilities. Cities and districts need to work together to provide high quality, academically rigorous, and well-designed pathways for young adults. These pathways need to go well beyond helping young people “get a job” and should prepare them for a 21st century labor market where being able to read, write, and do math at high levels is critical for long-term success.

Most importantly, if policies and beliefs around discipline unduly punish a specific group of individuals, then radical changes are necessary. We’ve affectionately begun calling our approach “zero tolerance for zero tolerance.” Without a doubt, student safety is paramount and all students deserve safe and peaceful learning environments. At NPS, we believe this can be accomplished while avoiding the costly outcomes that come with biased school discipline systems. We started by training teams of police, school safety officers, central staff, administrators, teachers and student leaders on “restorative justice” practices that allow groups of students to hold one another accountable for missteps in a healthy and solutions-oriented way. We worked with partners to identify and model responses to misbehavior that show care for all students rather than derailing learning. We’ve rewritten policies to institute new checks and balances around who is at the table when a decision is made to put a student out. This decision is one not to take lightly because statistically, it is a very clear indication that these students will ultimately drop out and/or become court-involved. Similarly, we’ve revisited the policies around who is empowered at the school level to call police to arrest a student — another life-altering decision that too few adults were seeing as such. Research shows that fair, non-biased, restorative discipline policies that seek to support all types of students will lead to improved outcomes for all kids, not just those who adults perceive to be “behavior problems”.

While we admittedly have considerable distance to cover before reaching the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate, we are proud of our progress to-date. The percentage of graduating students who also passed both sections of our graduation exam has increased by 11 percentage points. Last year, 68 percent of our students graduated — up from 54 percent in 2009. This rise is particularly notable because it was achieved while reducing the number of dropouts by 500 students since 2011, applying more rigorous metrics than most districts and yielding 7 percent more actual graduates.

Equally significant is how dramatically our suspension rates and policies differ from years past, with NPS reducing the occurrence of extended suspensions while also proactively monitoring the issuance of suspensions with regard to race, gender, and for other historically over-represented populations such as students with disabilities. From school year 2012 to 2013 there was a 37 percent decline in the number of suspensions within NPS, for a total of 1,305 fewer suspensions. In addition, the District now conducts quarterly meetings to review trends in discipline and school culture to bolster efficiency and accountability. Our celebration of this progress will not distract us from the huge challenges ahead. We have much more work to do, to ensure that elementary schools put all students on a level playing field, that high-schools support all types of learners, that “second chance” options meet students where they are and help them attain previously unthinkable outcomes, and that school-based discipline policies are unbiased and support all students.

I must admit, I am impatient and I take this work personally. As the sister of two men of color, the life partner of one, and the Mom of another — this progress, in Newark and around the country, feels inadequate. At NPS, our incredible team goes to bed every night trying to challenge conventional wisdoms and dismantle the structures that hamper achievement, perpetuate oppression and prevent students from realizing their dreams. We are fiercely driven by the notion that justice should ultimately be done — and that education systems can either continue to cement cycles of systemic racism, or boldly break them.

A version of this article appeared on The Huffington Post.

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On June 23, 1972, Title IX was created. 45 years later, we have seen the ways in which the law has been bent and broken. Join founder Run4AllWomen Alison Desir and a panel of industry experts for a 5K run and after to discuss the history of Title IX—it’s intended and unintended consequences and the way it has transformed the world of sports.

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