In March, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) released the results of a study showing that black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined. WOVEN has developed and is supporting a NICE (Nurturing Inclusive Community Environment) program that in just two months has lowered the number of disciplinary actions and trips to the Principal’s office in a school that has minority students, many fitting the profile of the students defined in the GAO report. NICE’s goal is to make this a nationwide program.
What the GAO Found
Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) in K-12 public schools, according to GAO’s analysis of Department of Education (Education) national civil rights data for school year 2013-14, the most recent available. These disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended. For example, Black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school—an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points (see below).
Officials GAO interviewed in all five school districts in the five states GAO visited reported various challenges with addressing student behavior, and said they were considering new approaches to school discipline. They described a range of issues, some complex—such as the effects of poverty and mental health issues. For example, officials in four school districts described a growing trend of behavioral challenges related to mental health and trauma. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the issues that influence student behavior, officials from all five school districts GAO visited were implementing alternatives to disciplinary actions that remove children from the classroom, such as initiatives that promote positive behavioral expectations for students.
Education and the Department of Justice (Justice) documented several actions taken to identify and address school discipline issues. For example, both agencies investigated cases alleging discrimination. Further, to help identify persistent disparities among the nation’s schools, Education collects comprehensive data on school discipline every other year through its Civil Rights Data Collection effort.