Sound Discipline Data Teams: Addressing Disproportionality in Discipline

Student in the classroom

Sound Discipline school data teams are representatives from the school community who share leadership and meet regularly to review disciplinary referral data with a trauma informed, solution focused lens. As day-to-day situations come up, the data helps place those incidents in a broader context, revealing patterns and pointing to deeper systemic issues — processes, policies, practices, and mindset — often the upstream causes of problems in the classroom.

Ms. Thompson’s 4th grade classroom was a stark example of the kinds of issues data teams can uncover. When Ms. Thompson saw her disciplinary referral numbers, she was shocked. All of the students she was referring to the principal’s office were Black girls.

When I saw that, it was a wake-up call and I had to take a hard look at myself. You see, when I was a child in my house, it was crystal clear. When speaking to our parents, we were never to raise our voices. We were to comply with directives without comment. So much so that it would never have even occurred to me to do otherwise. When I saw that I was referring only Black girls, I figured out that I was the problem. What I saw as disrespect really wasn’t. I was looking through a biased lens and I was getting it wrong. They were just being themselves. I woke up. Sometimes I still get mad, but I tell my class I need a minute to calm down. I gotta walk the talk.

The situation at Ms. Thompson’s school is not unusual. According to an October 1 New York Times analysis on disciplinary disproportionality, entitled “A Battle for the Soul of Black Girls,” Black girls are more than “five times more likely than White girls to be suspended at least once from school, seven times more likely to receive multiple out-of-school suspensions than white girls and three times more likely to receive referrals to law enforcement.”

Citing data from a long list of sources – the Department of Education, Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, the American Civil Liberties Union — and quoting authors and experts including Monique W. Morris, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and former Iowa City Council Member LaTasha DeLoach, the Times article recounts story after story of girls whose testimony call out not only causes, but also the soul-crushing consequences of disparate and punitive disciplinary school practices — education disparities, loss of educational and life opportunity, criminal detention, even suicide. University of George education professor Bettina L. Love, calls it “spirit murdering.”

Giving educators new frameworks, tools, and support is important. Change must be global — what happens on the bus, in the front office, and in the lunchroom are as important as what happens in the classroom. Every adult in a child’s life must feel part of the solution. These changes are important, and we must go further.

To make deep and durable systems change, we must change disciplinary referral policies — around suspensions, detentions, police referral, in-school safety officers, and data collection. We must support the adults to see and respond to students differently. Children themselves must experience belonging within a community where their talents, beliefs, backgrounds, ways of living, and inherent worth and dignity are honored. School and district leaders must see this as their mission.

When her school began working with Sound Discipline, Ms. Thompson and most of her colleagues were absolutely certain that students were the problem. Sound Discipline Program Director Stacy Lappin remembers, “In the beginning it was messy.” After learning about trauma, training and practicing new classroom approaches, and building a system for regular review of discipline data, everyone in her school sees with different eyes. “Now we approach discipline data and other things that come up with a mindset of how can we make this system work better for students? As part of that, we ask our students for their help — what solutions can you think of to make our school better.”

To learn more about Sound Discipline’s work or to inquire how we might support your family, classroom, school or district, please contact us here.