Lisa Clouse, Guest Contributor
Einstein once said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Research has often revealed issues in education grounded in history and exlusion that would benefit from change and, in essence, avoid the insanity of ineffective practice. This applies to many aspects of education including disciplinary practices. David DeMatthews, assistant professor of education leadership at the University of El Paso, Texas, examined national school disciplinary data finding that when data was disaggregated by race, it demonstrated that African American students received disciplinary actions in school 3.78 times more often than their white peers (pg 7). This begs the question as to why this huge difference exists as well as what practices allow it to continue.
DeMatthews contends that this disparity exists due to systemic norms that create an environment unable to serve students of color in an equitable fashion. Many schools still embrace practices grounded in traditional practices and structures that were in place for almost 200 years before the first student of color attended public school. These traditional approaches were designed by white leaders for white students with white culture in mind. Unfortunately, many schools did not keep up with the changes presented by a more diverse student population. By remaining rigidly embedded in bias and a singular cultural perspective, schools have positioned students of color to fail in many ways, behavior/discipline being one of them.
In order to move toward a more equitable practice in serving students of color, schools and those who lead them must be willing to change. DeMatthews’s work suggests that change must begin with eduction leadership and the out of date programs preparing them. Recognition of bias, willingness to critically examine practices and policies, and acting as an advocate for social justice is critical to creating the type of authentic change that students need (pg 9). Leaders cannot just attack this blindly without foundation for understanding and must be educated in data and theory that can assist in critical assessment, such as Critical Race Theory (CRT). This theory accepts that race is accepted as a point of contention in the United States, and that it plays a role in the ways in which people of color are treated, viewed, and positioned in the world (pg 8).
Better preparation is a step in the right direction, but it will take tangible efforts to achieve real change. DeMatthews offers several possible approaches to change with many representing the chracteristics of a community school structure (pg 10). A community school exists when the local school succeeds in becoming a hub within the community and an integral part of the community culture. Trust and relationships are central to this type of school and extend to include families as well as community stakeholders. It is through these interactions that school leaders can begin to understand the norms behind behaviors normally deemed outside traditional expectations. Understanding and collaboration is what will allow school leaders to create the type of environment and opportunity that truly serves all children.
DeMatthews, D. (2016). Effective leadership is not enough: Critical approaches to closing the racial discipline gap. The Clearing House,89(1), 7-13.
Lisa Clouse is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.