Academic journal article The Future of Children

Social and Emotional Learning and Equity in School Discipline

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Social and Emotional Learning and Equity in School Discipline

Article excerpt


Beginning as early as preschool, race and gender are intemvined with the way US schools mete out discipline. In particular, black students and male students are much more likely than others to be suspended or expelled--punishments that we know can hold them back academically. These disparities, and the damage they can cause, have driven recent reforms, including some that incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL) practices.

Anne Gregory and Edward Fergus review federal and state mandates to cut down on punishments that remove students from school, and they show how some distIicts are embracing SEL in their effOlts to do so. Yet even in these distIicts, large disparities in discipline persist. The authors suggest two reasons current discipline reforms that embrace SEL practices may hold limited promise for reducing discipline disparities.

The first is that prevailing "colorblind" notions of SEL don't consider power, privilege, and cultural difference--thus ignoring how individual beliefs and structural biases can lead educators to react harshly to behaviors that fall outside a white cultural frame of reference. The second is that most SEL models are centered on students, but not on the adults who interact with them. Yet research shows that educators' own social and emotional competencies strongly influence students' motivation to learn aI1d the school climate in general.

Gregory and Fergus desclibe how one school district is striving to OJient its diScipline policies around a conception of SEL that stresses equity and promotes both adults' and students' SEL competencies. Although such reforms hold promise, they are still in the early stages, and the authors call for rigorous empilical work to test whether such efforts can substantially reduce or eradicate racial and gender disparities in discipline.

Growing evidence shows that suspending or expelling students from school for misconduct can harm their academic progress. (1) We also know that students' race and gender playa role in how school discipline is meted out Statistical comparisons of students who've been referred for discipline for similar reasons (such as fighting) show that black students and male students are more likely to receive out-of-school suspension than white students and female students. (2)

Such disparities are spurring reforms at all levels of government. For example, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Signed into law in 2015, speCifies that one way to support learning is to curb the overuse of disciplinary practices that remove students from the classroom. Reforms are happening at the state level as well. California schools can't suspend students in kindergarten through third grade for infractions that don't threaten others' safety, such as "clisruption" and "willful defiance." Connecticut has banned suspension of young students for any reason, with minor exceptions. Some school distlicts, such as Denver, CO's, have revised their student codes of conduct in response to grassroots organizing by parents and students, who filed complaints and produced repOlts documenting disparate suspension patterns. And civil rights investigations by the S Department ofJustice have spurred extensive reforms in places like Oakland, CA.

In this article, we describe recent federal and state legislative policy reforms that aim to reduce schools' reliance on suspension. We also give examples of local efforts to reduce discipline disparities by incorporating ocial and emotional learning (SEL) practices--thus making room for more developmentally appropliate, SEL--oriented approaches to behavior. We describe in detail the multifaceted efforts of three school districts where proposed changes in disciplinary procedures and practices will likely create more opportunities for student SEL and for structures that SUppOlt SEL among adults in the schools.

Yet even if race- and gender-based equity diSCipline reforms fully embrace SEL as most people now understand it, the promise for substantially narrowing or eliminating disparities remains limited. …

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