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Reducing Exclusionary Discipline and Ensuring School Safety

Award Information

Award #
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Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $497,491)

The Statement of the Problem: In light of federal school discipline guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Education in January 2014 and a range of policy reforms occurring at the state and local levels, school districts across the United States are under increasing pressure to reduce their use of out-of-school suspension (OSS) and to close racial disparities in school discipline. Although these reforms are intended to reduce harms to students, critics argue that they may incentivize under-reporting of exclusionary discipline and jeopardize school safety. In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Urban Institute proposes an exploratory research project aimed at producing generalizable information on lessons learned from reforms occurring in Massachusetts since the state’s new Chapter 222 school discipline legislation took effect in 2014. Our mixed-methods research design combines analysis of statewide administrative school discipline data with qualitative data collection in four strategically-selected school districts. In each case study district, we will conduct in-depth interviews with school administrators, SROs, and other school staff who address student behavioral issues; focus groups with teachers, students, and parents; and systematic observations in classrooms and common spaces. Using administrative data, we will examine trends in OSS rates, disparities by students’ race/ethnicity and disability status, and school violence for all public school districts in the state before and after Chapter 222 took effect. Using qualitative case study data, we will document how school administrators and other staff are attempting to achieve reductions in OSS and related disparities and describe how students, parents, and school staff members perceive these reforms. In the process, we will document implementation challenges and unintended consequences of the reforms that may not be captured in administrative data. Although Chapter 222 applies to a single state, its provisions are consistent with recent federal guidelines and are similar to those being implemented in states and districts across the United States. Therefore, this study will provide generalizable, actionable information for policymakers and practitioners across the country who aim to reduce reliance on exclusionary discipline without compromising school safety. Deliverables will include confidential feedback reports to participating districts, an aggregate report to be published by Urban, and one or more peer-reviewed journal article(s). With guidance from our team’s senior education policy research advisor, we will develop a comprehensive dissemination plan to ensure that the findings reach broad audiences of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners through media outreach, blog posts, presentations, and publications in practitioner-focused outlets. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 14, 2016