The Truth about School Discipline in America


Notes from the Backpack

Episode 101 │ The Truth about School Discipline in America

Monday, September 16, 2019

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John B. King, Jr.

School discipline is a hot topic. Policies vary widely across the nation, from corporal punishment to zero tolerance to restorative justice practices. Get the inside scoop on school discipline in America from former U.S. Secretary of Education and President of the Education Trust John B. King, Jr. We discuss the dangers of policies that keep children out of regular classroom learning, and what approaches schools can use to help students become responsible, thriving adults. King shares lessons learned from his personal and professional experiences and gives us insight into how disciplinary actions can affect self-esteem and bias and speaks to how we can build more “windows” and “mirrors” to help all children succeed.



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Transcript (Disponible en Español)


Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Notes from the Backpack, a PTA podcast. This series features real conversations with real experts, real parents and real educators so families can get the real behind the scenes story on what's happening in education. Get the inside scoop on how to help your child become successful in and out of school. As parents, we know that your child can sometimes forget to share the notes from their backpack. They tell you everything that's happening at their school. That's why we've launched this podcast, just for you. Welcome to Notes from the Backpack, a PTA podcast.

LaWanda: [00:00:37] Welcome to Notes from the Backpack. A PTA podcast. I'm your host. Lawanda Tony, Director of Communications at National PTA. And I'm here today with my co-hosts, Helen Westmoreland, who is our Director of Family Engagement. This week's episode will help families understand the truth about school discipline in America.

Helen: [00:00:55] As parents, we know that almost every child experiments with breaking the rules. Pushing boundaries is how kids learn and grow. So when we talk about school discipline, it's important to know when and how kids learn to exercise judgment, responsibility and other life skills. Lawanda, did you know that research shows that kids brains are not fully developed until they're about 26 years old?

LaWanda: [00:01:18] Wow. 26. I wish somebody would have told me that I would have made some different choices before I turned 26. And it explains why we see teens and even college students doing things. As parents, we wonder what in the world were you thinking? It's easy to get frustrated when kids make mistakes, but making mistakes is a part of growing up. We're here today to talk about how schools handle kids mistakes. Discipline is a hot topic for many parents. Whether you're on the receiving end of a phone call home are trying to make sense of new terms and approaches in your school.

Helen: [00:01:49] Some parents want schools to have very strict discipline approaches to help teach their kids life lessons and consequences. Other families want schools to avoid harsh punishments because they worry about the effects on their child or that they might be being stereotyped. Are they wrong? How do we ensure that our schools are using effective discipline policies that are also fair to every student? Before we dive in too much further, I'd like to introduce our audience to an extremely special guest who is all too familiar with our country's school discipline issues. Former United States Secretary of Education, John B. King Jr.

LaWanda: [00:02:23] John, I don't want to embarrass you, but I'm going to have to go through your resumé. And it's very impressive. John B. King Jr's life story is an extraordinary testament to the transformative power of education. John served as the 10th United States Secretary of Education under former President Barack Obama's leadership. Prior to serving on the national level, King was the first African-American and Puerto Rican to serve as the New York State Education Commissioner. He is also a former high school teacher and middle school principal. Today, John is the president and CEO of Education Trust, also known as Ed Trust's, a national nonprofit that seeks to identify and close opportunity and achievement gaps.

Helen: [00:03:08] John, thank you for joining us today.

John King: [00:03:10] Thank you. It's great to be here. Looking forward to the conversation.

Helen: [00:03:13] You have a very inspirational life story. Could you tell us a little bit more about what inspired you to begin a career in education?

John King: [00:03:20] For me, really, schools saved my life. Both my parents were teachers and spent their whole lives working for New York City public schools. But they both passed when I was a kid, and my mom passed October of 4th grade and I lived with my father, who was very sick with undiagnosed Alzheimer's. So home was this place where I didn't know what my father would be like from one night to the next, it was often lonely, scary, unstable, and school took on this incredibly important role in my life. It was the place that was consistent, that was structured, that was nurturing. I had this phenomenal teacher in fourth, fifth, sixth grade, Mr. Ostrow, and I remember the stuff that we did in his class like it was yesterday. Everything from reading The New York Times every day to doing productions of Shakespeare. We did A Midsummer Night's Dream. We did a production of Alice in Wonderland. He took us to the museum and the ballet. And he just made school this place where I could be a kid when I couldn't be a kid outside of school. And then my dad passed when I was 12 and I moved around different family members, different schools. It was always teachers who gave me a sense of hope and possibility and purpose. And so I really became a teacher.

John King: [00:04:28] And really, my whole career in education has been about trying to do for other kids what teachers did for me. I'm very clear that school can make such a huge, profound difference in the lives of kids. I also am very conscious of the importance of second chances, because like many kids who experience trauma as a child, I was a very angry teenager and I got in trouble a lot as a teenager. And I always tell folks I'm the first U.S. Secretary of Education to have been kicked out of high school. And I hope I'm not the last, because really part of my story is that folks who could have looked at me and say, here is an African-American, Puerto Rican young man. Family in crisis. What chance does he have? And giving up on me, which happens to so many young people in our society today, they didn't give up on me. They saw more potential in me than I saw in myself, and were willing to invest in me and give me a second chance. And part of why I've been able to do the things I have in my career is because people were willing to see me as more than the sum of my mistakes.

John King: [00:05:26] That is an important role that we can all play in the lives of young people; realize that people are going to make mistakes. And our task is to help them learn from those mistakes, grow from those mistakes, and really develop into successful contributing adults.

LaWanda: [00:05:42] And we talk a little bit about some of your experiences with teachers who were able to probe a little bit and go deeper with you. What did they do?

John King: [00:05:51] A lot of it was about making school really good. I think about Mr. Ostrow, that teacher describing he was the kind of teacher who when you finished a book, he was there at the next when you finished a math problem. He was there with another that was a little more challenging. That kind of sense of the joy and challenge of learning was so palpable in his classroom that made a huge difference. I'd also made a huge difference. That school was fun. I remember when my father was really sick. I was in seventh grade at Mark Twain Junior High School and had a teacher, Miss D, for seventh grade social studies. And we had a project where we did a Aztech newscast, even though a lot of times I would sit in class, not worry about my father, not worry what was happening at home. In Miss D's class, when we did the Aztech newscast, my whole goal was to be the best Aztech sportscaster there I'd ever been, that made a huge difference right out that I was able in her class to really embrace the joy of learning. So that was hugely important. And then, of course, relationship building. And this, again, is part of how I think we need to shift, how we approach discipline in many schools.

John King: [00:06:58] We've really got to see students misbehavior, our students being off track as an opportunity to build relationships, to deepen relationships, to get them back on track. And I was very fortunate, especially my school counselor, after I'd been kicked out of high school and I went to a high school in New Jersey, and the school counselor really convinced me that my life wasn't over because of the bad decisions I made. She took the time to build that relationship. And unfortunately, we know that we have many schools around the country that don't have the counselors, they should. There are 1.7 million kids who go to a school where there's a sworn law enforcement officer and no school counselor.

Helen: [00:07:35] Oh wow.

John King: [00:07:36] So we know we need more counselors, but we also know that counselors have an incredible student load; 500 students per counselor or 600 students per counselor. In that context, it's really hard to build those relationships. I was very fortunate that I had a counselor who was really able to give me the time and build the relationship to help me come to believe in myself.

Helen: [00:07:56] But you talk about sort of what does school discipline look like in America currently? And how would you describe it to the average parent?

John King: [00:08:04] Well, it's first important to say there are lots of schools around the country that are doing a great job creating safe and supportive climates for kids. That said, we have some real challenges. We know from the civil rights data collection, which is something that that U.S. Education Department puts out regularly, we know that African-Americans, for example, are more than three times as likely to be suspended from school as white students. We know that students with disabilities are disproportionately subject to suspension and expulsion from school. We know that this starts early. For example, African-American kids are about 19 percent of the kids in pre-K and about 48 percent of the students who are suspended more than once from pre-K.

Helen: [00:08:46] My gosh, at five years old, it's very sad.

John King: [00:08:49] Yeah, yeah. So when you think about, you know, when people talk about the school to prison pipeline that's starting in pre-K. So we have these challenges around disparities, racial disparities, disparities based on students with disabilities. But fortunately, we have places are trying to rethink discipline and this was a priority for us in the Obama administration. We put out guidance to try to make sure that states and districts paid attention to protecting the civil rights of students and really tried to focus on creating safe and supportive environments while reducing the use of exclusionary discipline, the use of suspensions and expulsions. And there are lots of places that have made progress. Places that have moved towards using restorative justice approaches, places that have increased their number of school counselors, access to mental health services, improved professional development for teachers. We really need to tackle these discipline disparities. The other sad truth is we still have 19 states that allow corporal punishment. So right now, as we are talking in a school in America, a student is being hit with a wooden object as a tool of discipline. And again, disproportionately that type of. Discipline is used with African-American students, particularly African-American boys with students with disabilities. In my view, it's something that should be banned completely. We need governors and legislatures to step up and ban corporal punishment entirely. But it's also reflective of a view about punitive discipline that is deeply problematic that we've got to tackle as a country.

LaWanda: [00:10:24] I am an African-American woman. I have a 6 year old. And I can't imagine having that type of discipline happen to my first grader. As a parent, what can I do? How can I make sure that that's not happening?

John King: [00:10:37] I think in terms of three things. One is data matter. Data are important. And so we want to know as parents in our school district, in our school, what are the discipline rates? What are the disparities? To what extent are students being suspended? Is corporal punishment used in my school? And then how are those types of discipline used based on different demographic groups? We need desegregated data to tell us whether or not there are disparities for students of color, for students with disabilities. So that's the first question is it's important to know what's happening inside of schools. Second is, what kinds of practices are the schools encourage and what kinds of professional development is being provided to teachers? What kinds of numerals are established in the school or on how we deal with misbehavior? Misbehavior is a part of life. Kids are going to test they're going to break rules. And the question is, how do we as adults respond? Too often we respond with exclusion. Right. And we would never do that around math. You know, you'd never say to us, you know, you did badly on this math quiz. No more math for you. Right? But we do say that around the socio emotional learning that students need, the socio emotional environment, we say, well, you're struggling with this environment. This peer environment. No more environment for you. We're gonna send you out. Instead, we should take the same approach. We get around the math class and say, OK, you're struggling now. What supports can we provide so that you are able to be successful? So how do we help students? So it's important to know how the school is approaching that support. You know, are the schools doing work around issues of implicit bias? It's important to know whether the school is doing work to make sure that there's a healthy environment for LGBTQ students, whether that curriculum reflects both. So I'd like to say windows and mirrors opportunities for students to see themselves. That's an important way that schools can create a safe and supportive space. Then the third piece is really getting to know your child's teacher and understanding what your child's experience is like in his or her classroom. What are they struggling with? Where are their peers struggling with? You know, one of the powerful ways that PTA is are such a tremendous resource in schools is it's a way to build stronger relationships between educators and parents.

Helen: [00:12:51] I'd love to talk a little bit more about some of the data that you shared, because I think as parents, we don't often see that behind the scenes of it. And so when we hear, you know, students of color are being suspended three times more frequently. I think a lot of fears about things like, well, those are just bad kids, they're just misbehaving or their parents didn't raise them. Right. Has that been true in your experience and sort of view of American schools? What's really going on there for that parent that might be thinking this is actually a problem with kids and parents, not the system?

John King: [00:13:25] There are a few things. One is there's no question that there are places where discipline is handled differently based on race or a student's disability status. That is a civil rights violation that needs to be addressed. And so there is evidence that in some schools for student of color commits a certain rule infraction. The consequence is different than the consequence for a white student. And there has to be address. We also have to acknowledge that oftentimes students who are struggling with behavior are struggling with other things. Many kids who've experienced trauma, the loss of a parent, violence in the community, domestic violence at home, folks in the family struggling with addiction, hunger, homelessness, all of that can manifest in misbehavior in the classroom. And so we've really got to think, not just in terms of a child breaking a rule, but what's going on with that child. What might be causing their behavior and then get to those root causes. And I find that often when folks step back and better understand the experiences that kids have had strictly outside of school, they have better sense of the need to rethink discipline. Then there's a third piece which is really about relationships between teachers and students. And I do think it's important to name that there are strategies that can help build stronger relationships, just as there are strategies that undermine those relationships.

John King: [00:14:46] The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has written extensively about ways to tackle implicit bias in schools. A couple interesting examples that they will talk about. One is this idea of why is feedback a way to build relationships in an academic context? There is this great study that was done that showed some students got on their paper a comment from the teacher. I'm giving you this feedback because you should have comments on your work. The other students, they were given a different kind of feedback on their paper where the teacher wrote, I'm giving you this feedback because I have high expectations for you. And I know you can achieve them. The students who got that second message about high expectations and belief were dramatically more likely to submit revisions of their paper and did better academically as a result. Right. So that why is feedback? That's a small step, but it's a way that teachers are able to signal to students that relationships matter. There is another study that any of us feel the F will talk about where the teachers were given a series of articles to read about how students experience school and some of the anxieties that students feel particular about discipline and fearing that they're going to be singled out or they're going to be treated differently than they were given a series of articles to read about ways that teachers leveraged misbehavior as an opportunity to build relationships. Then they were asked to write about how they in their classrooms would use misbehavior to build relationships. The result of this small training intervention was a significant reduction in suspensions among the teachers who participated. And that's really about just intentionality about relationship building between teachers and students.

Helen: [00:16:23] So I think what I hear you saying is that the suspension data is a clue of what might be going on in the school, sometimes more than an indicator of a student's actual behavior.

John King: [00:16:34] I mean, it's both. It can be about the school climate, and it can be about what's going on in that kid's life. And we need to address both. And I think one of the challenges in education now is that people have these debates, school have all the answers or all the answers outside of school. The reality is kids are in both places. So, yeah, we've got to make school as wonderful and supportive and safe and nurturing environment as possible. And we've got to be systematic about addressing some of the obstacles students face outside of school and making sure that we address gaps in access to health care and access to mental health services and access to affordable housing. We shouldn't feel like we've to choose. We actually have to do both things if we want to ensure that our kids are healthy and well supported.

LaWanda: [00:17:19] I wanted to talk about alternative approaches to discipline, and give some examples of some alternative approaches that you have seen our witnessed that have been kind of transformative for schools.

John King: [00:17:29] One of the things that a number of schools around the country are trying to implement is restorative justice, and that can look different ways in different schools. Partly it's about creating a sense of community and clarity for everyone in the community about what the expectations are for how we will treat each other. Many schools use community circles to try to instill that sense of community norms. Part of restorative justice programs is often helping the student who has committed a harm, interact with the student who was harmed and really come to understand the nature of the harm and then take some action to repair that harm and then repair the relationship with the community often through that same community circle mechanism. So it's really about how do you take again, the misbehavior that may be an inevitable part of schools. How do you then turn that into a learning opportunity for students and for the community? Another thing we see is that oftentimes, as we've talked about, when a student is misbehaving, it's a symptom of something that's going on with the student in their life outside of school. And so having access to counselors, having school based mental health services, which often can be reimbursed in a high needs school through Medicaid.

John King: [00:18:42] But having those school based services can make a huge difference for kids and families, because sometimes families may be reluctant to use mental health services. There is certainly stigma attached to mental health services, so they may not go to an outside provider. But if that provider is at school and can work with the student and the family, that may be a way to get at the underlying issues and help students develop healthier coping strategies so that they're not acting out in ways that disrupt learning or harm their peers.

LaWanda: [00:19:10] As a parent, how do you bring those approaches to the school if you want to share with them some alternative approaches to discipline?

John King: [00:19:18] A few thoughts. One is showing up at school board meetings and budget hearings in particular, right? And asking how many school counselors do we have? How are they assigned in our district? And which schools have more counselors and fewer counselors? Which schools have lower or higher counselor to student ratios being active in that way? And certainly the PTA can be a vehicle for that. I live in Montgomery County in Maryland. My kids go to Montgomery County Public Schools. My wife is the NAACP rep for our school's PTA. And those are the kinds of questions she's asking, right. She's trying to understand how is the district allocating its resources in ways that can advance equity. So that's important. I would say it's an. Portent to talk with the principal of the school or the leadership team of the school to understand what approaches they're taking to share resources with them. For example, there's a publication that their Schott Foundation, the AFT and the NEA co-publish called Restorative Justice, Fostering Healthy Relationships and Promoting Positive Discipline in schools. That's a great resource to share with folks and to start a conversation about how are we dealing with misbehavior in this school? What are some of our strategies? To what extent are we relying on suspensions versus something like a restorative justice approach? Parents, both through their relationship with the principal leadership team and through the PTA at the school, can be a voice for putting forward more progressive approaches to discipline.

Helen: [00:20:48] John, I want to go back a little bit. You described some alternative approaches, and I think one of the sticky points when you're trying to shift a school approach or climate, is that some nice people want research. And I know you also have a doctorate in education. How would you describe the research about, you know, so many of us as parents we're used to that more, I guess, punitive approach to discipline where kids are suspended, they're expelled, maybe there's corporal punishment. What do you see as sort of the outcomes and how they're different between sort of old school for lack of a better term right now, ways of discipline and maybe the future of discipline that may just seem kind of foreign and strange to a parent that didn't experience it?

John King: [00:21:29] We have a lot of evidence about the long term consequences of exclusionary discipline that students who are suspended from school are more likely to be retained in grade. They are more likely to drop out of high school. They are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system. They are less likely to pursue post-secondary opportunities. So we know that there is strong correlation between exclusionary discipline and bad outcomes. The research on alternatives is still emergent and we have to acknowledge that we are still building an evidence base around these different interventions. There's very strong research around some of the relationship building strategies that I talked about in randomized controlled trials. You know, the same kind of research approach that you would take in medicine. Yet we have really good evidence on the kinds of wise feedback and social blogging interventions that I described. The evidence base around restorative justice is still emerging. That is relatively new intervention in schools. And so that evidence base needs to be built. What we do know is that in many districts that have shifted their approach to discipline, reduce their reliance on exclusionary discipline. They have seen better attendance and improved graduation rates as a result of students missing last school year. And even the best teacher can't be effective with a kid who's not in class. Yeah, we know that there's good emerging evidence that districts thoughtfully improving their discipline policies can make a big difference. Now, we also see some districts that have not done this in a thoughtful way and have to acknowledge that because very hard on teachers when schools say change discipline tomorrow, but they don't invest in professional development, they don't invest in counselors. They don't invest in mental health services. They don't build relationships with parents and families in that context. Teachers just feel overwhelmed by the change. And under supported. And so the key is we've really got to do this in a thoughtful, well resourced way.

Helen: [00:23:26] You said most of the research that's out there is really positive about student teacher relationships. And I would imagine some of that can be trained, but some of that may depend on your hiring practices and who you're hiring and from what talent pool. And is that something that you see also affects discipline in schools?

John King: [00:23:42] Definitely. I think there's a couple opportunities. One is we've got to do a better job in teacher preparation, focusing on the skills of relationship building, helping teachers develop the strategies that they will need in the classroom to support students who are struggling with the social emotional environment. My own experience and teacher training, which was by-in-large great. But we really never talked about classroom management strategies or school climate or safe and supportive environments. But turns out you really need those things. Yeah. First day teaching 10th grade global studies. I really needed those skills.

Helen: [00:24:16] I can imagine.

John King: [00:24:18] I was fortunate that I worked in summer camps and runs camps, and so I had some skills to draw on, but it wasn't necessary for my teacher preparation. So that's one is we really got to improve teacher preparation that way. We also to be thoughtful about building diverse faculties in our schools. If you look across the country, majority of kids in the nation's public schools are kids of color, but only 18 percent of our teachers are teachers of color. Wow. Only 2 percent of our teachers are African-American men. It's really important for kids to have amongst their teachers and principals, again, windows and mirrors. They shouldn't have relationships with adults who are different from them. They also really need those relationships with adults who look like them. There's really strong research from a large data set in North Carolina showing that African-American. Susan said at least one African-American teacher, an elementary school, were more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college. And it's really powerful. It's really important for kids to see that diversity and that doesn't happen by accident. That requires investment at the state level in the higher ed institutions that serve large numbers of students of color. That requires districts to be intentional about hiring policies, requires principals to be intentional about how they approach hiring. And it requires districts and principals to be intentional about creating environments that are positive for teachers of color so that they stay. Because we see nationally that retention can be a challenge for teachers of color. We've got to do more work to make sure that folks feel valued and heard within their school communities.

LaWanda: [00:25:42] I grew up in South Carolina in a small town, and both my parents were teachers. One was a high school teacher, and the other was a middle school teacher. My dad was science teacher. College was never an option. It was mandatory. It wasn't something that I thought about. Like oh, this is the alternative because of the teachers that I had in my life, not just the ones in my house, but the other ones that looked like me that I wanted to aspire to be like. So I totally get it. And then when I went to college and had conversations with other peers, they talked about this is my first experience with an African-American professor. And I was kind of blown away like what I grew up with this my whole life. But it makes a difference. And so I just want to echo what you said about diversity is so important and being able to see yourself in the people who educate you make a big difference.

John King: [00:26:27] Absolutely. We've done a series of reports, and I'd trust that folks can find on our website at trust.org, on the experience of teachers of color. And one of the unfortunate things that happens in some schools is that folks really pay what I would call an invisible tax. As educators of color, it's assumed for African-American male teachers that you're going to be the disciplinarian or it's assumed for a Latino teacher that she's going to do the translating for families. Those additional responsibilities are not compensated and recognized. And so we hear that again and again from teachers. So it's so important that the role of those teachers can be so powerful. But we've got to make sure that they feel supported and are willing to stay. That's been a real focus for us. And trust both trying to improve the pipeline of new teachers, but also ensure that we retain our teachers of color.

Helen: [00:27:14] I think we experience the same at PTA, right? These sort of invisible burdens that so many people carry and retaining and growing leaders, parent leaders, especially when you're the only one or one of a couple, is really challenging. You can feel alone. You've talked a lot about big picture policy and maybe even you at the district level how parents could intervene. Did you bring it down a little bit to us? I'm a parent. I'm getting calls home all the time about my kid having trouble in school. What would you say to that parent who is really feeling like I feel like my kid might be getting unfairly targeted or they're on their road to suspension. What would you say, that parent, to help them navigate that very personal situation with their school and their teachers?

John King: [00:27:58] It's really important you talk to your child and to try to understand not only what happened in a particular incident, but how they're feeling, how they feel about their relationship with the teacher, how they feel about their relationship with their peers, how they're feeling about the work academically in that class. Sometimes misbehavior is an indicator that the student is really struggling in the class or sometimes indication that the student is excelling in the class and is bored. You really, I think, want to start with really understanding your child's experience, really talking with the teacher and trying to understand from their perspective what's happening in the classroom. You know, when I think back to having 30 students in a classroom, there's a lot of things going on. There's a lot of activity you're making in any given class period, thousands of decisions. Understanding from the perspective of the teacher what they think is going on, what they think. The dynamic is hugely important. Trying to strengthen that teacher student relationship and trying to help your child understand where the teacher is coming from, I think can be hugely valuable. Sometimes there are real problems, there are real injustices, and it may require going beyond the classroom teacher to a counselor or an administrator to try to resolve the issues. But I think, you know, too often in our society, we kind of pass over the step of really understanding what's going on.

Helen: [00:29:19] Well it's easy to get defensive. This is my baby. Baby. Yeah, that's right.

John King: [00:29:24] And, you know, you feel like, well, I taught them they should do X or Y and you know, what does that mean about me and my parenting?

Helen: [00:29:33] Yea, you feel judged.

[00:29:33] Well, we all have to remember misbehavior and social struggles are part of the human condition that's going to happen. You know, when I was in middle school principal, oftentimes I would talk with parents who would say, what happened to my child? My child's changed. And, yes, adolescence happens.

[00:29:51] Right, my sweet little baby isn't a baby anymore. LaWanda and I aren't there yet,  we're waiting. I don't want to say eagerly. Yeah, but it happens.

John King: [00:29:59] Right? You know, it's a big change and happens particularly between things like fourth and seventh grade. There is a lot that's changing in a child's life and how they interact with peers and adults. We all need to have grace with each other through that and and also be willing to sort of work together. Teachers and parents to support kids as they navigate that experience.

Helen: [00:30:20] Is there a place for suspensions and expulsions in school discipline? Is it one of an array of strategies? Like if I was a parent, sort of pushing back on this. Or is it really it needs to be faded out and replaced with something entirely different?

John King: [00:30:34] I think we have to make sure schools are safe, and there are times when a child is not safe either to themselves or to their peers. And that requires much more robust intervention that may require an alternative setting, that may require intense mental health intervention. So, yes, there are those situations, but there's a very small percentage of incidents. Many more times we could have dealt with the issue through an alternative strategy rather than exclusion. It's not to say that there's never a circumstance for again, for safety reasons. A student can't be in the classroom. But we need to be doing much, much more. And we need to convince ourselves that we've really done everything possible before we get there. And I think part of what we were responding to at the department during the Obama administration was the real clear evidence that schools were going to exclusionary discipline as a first response, not as a last response. We really have to do much more to invest in those other strategies so that we reduce that exclusionary discipline number down to only those situations where there's a real immediate threat to safety.

LaWanda: [00:31:47] In our research, we saw a lot of conversation about school to prison pipeline, and I wanted to learn more about that. I think our listeners hear that term, but they really don't know what it means. Can you help?

John King: [00:31:59] One of the things that we see is that students who frequently are excluded from school are more likely to get into trouble. Think about communities where there is significant violence and gang activity. And now you've got kids who are on or on the street. They're more susceptible to get involved in crime. And then that leads ultimately to juvenile justice and adult prison. We also know that is a problem in some schools of relying on police within the school to address student discipline issues. And we know that there are many cases where cause there aren't school counselors, there aren't mental health services, there isn't good professional development for teachers on alternatives, exclusionary discipline. Kids are arrested. And we know that disproportionately arrests in schools again affect students of color, particularly in some of our highest need schools. We see people relying on the police in schools rather than educators and schools to deal with Sunni behavior issues. And once you're involved in the juvenile justice system, your likelihood of ending up in adult prison goes up dramatically. Often because the juvenile justice system is not designed in a way that is restorative and focused on rehabilitation, but instead is focused on punishment. We know that in many states, students who are involved in the juvenile justice system are sent far from home to juvenile justice detention centers where they're not provided with meaningful educational opportunities, all of which sets them up to be much more likely to be unable to adjust back home and much more likely to end up in adult prison.

Helen: [00:33:33] John King, I want to thank you for joining us today. This has been a real pleasure to chat. I feel like I've learned a lot. How about you, LaWanda?

LaWanda: [00:33:40] Oh, yeah, definitely. Very insightful. I think our listeners will come away with a lot of great tools to be able to have these conversations kind of in their schools and in their classrooms with their teachers.

Helen: [00:33:51] And so with that, we want to give you a last opportunity of if there's one major takeaway you want parents and other folks listening to have today. What is that?

John King: [00:34:00] I think ultimately it's that part of what we want to do in schools is create environments that are characterized by love. We should want for every child what we'd want for our own child. And we would never want someone to throw our own child away. We would never want someone to give up on our own child. And so we shouldn't give up on any kid. And we should approach school with the mindset that with the right set of supports in school and outside of school, we can help every young person to be successful and to make of their lives what they will. You know, I'd also say that it's important that parents see whether it's through the PTA or through their relationships with principals and teachers, see themselves as real partners in building school climates that are safe and supportive for all kids. And we have to be willing as parents to stand up again, not just for our own child, but for other people's children. We have to insist that our schools are safe places for kids of color, safe places for kids from families that are struggling economically. We have to make sure schools are safe and supportive places for LGBTQ young people, that they're safe and supportive places for kids regardless of religion. That is our shared responsibility to build healthy communities. Where can parents find resources from? Ed Trust? Where can they go and trust start work, which is our Web site. We actually have a regular education civil rights newsletter that we put out that folks can sign up for. I would also say that NAACP Legal Defense Fund is a great resource on these issues, as well as the Schott Foundation and Learning Policy Institute. All of those organizations are doing really good work in this space.

Helen: [00:35:35] And before we leave, can you tell us your social media handles so people may be able to follow you on Twitter?

John King: [00:35:41] Yes, @Johnbking on Twitter and @EdTrust on Twitter as well.

Helen: [00:35:47] Well, thank you again to everyone listening in and joining us today. Please keep the conversation going by using #backpacknotes on social media. And we hope you tune in next time. Thanks again, John.

John King: [00:35:58] Thanks so much.

LaWanda: [00:35:59] Thank you.

Outro: [00:35:59] Thank you for tuning into Notes from the Backpack, a PTA podcast. Be sure to follow us on social media @nationalpta and online at pta.org/backpack notes.




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Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast is made possible by funding to advance family engagement and whole child learning through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.