December 18, 2018

Educators for Excellence Appalled by Trump Administration Recommendation to Rescind Discipline Guidance

December 18 (New York) — Educators for Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization, expressed deep disappointment today that President Donald J. Trump’s school safety commission recommended to rescind 2014 guidance that gave teachers the tools to more fairly and effectively discipline students. Teachers largely support the discipline strategies outlined in the guidance and want more training to practice them, according to the results from a nationally representative survey of teachers across the country.  

“As teachers, we work to ensure that our students of color are not unfairly disciplined in our schools and we look to the U.S. Department of Education for a resolute commitment to protecting their civil rights,” said Marisa Crabtree, an E4E member and English/AVID teacher at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles, who met with Secretary DeVos to defend the guidance in April. “Rescinding the guidance and failing to put forward a concrete plan of how schools can end unjust discipline disparities reflects a true failure of leadership. The guidance, which was needlessly scrapped today, made it possible for me to implement restorative justice practices in my classroom and work with kids and their families on a holistic level, serving their social-emotional and academic needs. Now is the time to provide more support for non-exclusionary, restorative strategies, not retreat.”

Voices from the Classroom: A Survey of America’s Educators, released on August 1, found that teachers across the country support the strategies outlined in the discipline guidance.

  • Teachers find non-punitive discipline strategies most effective
    • Teachers say positive behavior reinforcement (74 percent) and restorative practices (64 percent), such as those outlined in the guidance, are most effective in improving student behavior.
  • Teachers find punitive discipline strategies less effective
    • Far fewer teachers say exclusionary measures, such as out-of-school suspensions (39 percent) and expulsions (39 percent) are effective.
    • Teachers want more training in alternatives to punitive discipline
      • Teachers prioritized learning more about alternatives to punitive discipline, such as restorative justice and positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS), as their top choice for professional development.

“As early as preschool, black students and students with disabilities are suspended and expelled at far higher levels than their peers, leading to long-term, negative outcomes for students, thereby feeding the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Tynisha Jointer, behavioral health specialist for Chicago Public Schools and member of E4E-Chicago, who met with Secretary DeVos in April to defend the guidance. “This guidance offered the best opportunity to break that pipeline by raising awareness of this issue and providing educators with the tools to address behavior by fostering safe, supportive environments that facilitate students’ academic, social and emotional growth.”

“E4E teachers traveled across the country twice in the last year to speak with Secretary DeVos and Department of Education officials, because they wanted her to understand how discipline practices -- good and bad -- were impacting their students,” said Evan Stone, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Educators for Excellence. “She promised to listen to teachers, the real experts on student discipline, but their pleas clearly fell on deaf ears. The federal government still has a legal and moral responsibility to protect the civil rights of all students. This decision does not change the fact that there is a persistent problem that threatens the futures of millions of children, and the Department must work with teachers to find solutions.”

Led by E4E and in partnership with the Discipline Revolution Project, a group of more than 100 educational leaders from school districts, state governments, charter schools, nonprofits and advocacy organizations issued a letter this past summer to make clear to Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Sessions that the federal government has a duty to protect all students, including students with disabilities and students of color, from unfair discipline practices. The letter calls for the Trump Administration to keep the 2014 discipline guidance and commit to working to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

Last fall, E4E launched In Class, Not Cuffs, a campaign driven by hundreds of teachers who have written letters, op-eds and testimony to defend the guidance. As a result, a group of E4E teachers met with senior Education Department officials in December 2017 to urge the Department to preserve the discipline guidance and testified at an Office for Civil Rights hearing. Another group of teachers met with Secretary DeVos in April 2018 to urge her to keep the guidance in place and invited her to speak with more teachers across the country in townhall-style meetings.

The decision was part of a larger report that addressed school security, mental health and other issues.

“This report fails to address the school safety issues that matter most to educators,” continued Stone. “Teachers want safe, supportive environments for kids to learn, but they don’t want to sacrifice their students’ wellbeing nor perpetuate racial biases in order to have them. But instead of listening to teachers’ requests and taking meaningful action, the commission used the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy to get rid of guidance that was helping educators make schools more inclusive and safe spaces. Although the report highlighted a few best practices, they largely ignored what teachers and researchers alike say is critical to reducing violence and improving the relationships that are critical to student achievement in our schools.”