This post features insights from the JTE article “Promoting Educators’ Use of Culturally Responsive Practices: A Systematic Review of Inservice Interventions” by Jessika H. Bottiani, Kristine E. Larson, Katrina J. Debnam, Christina M. Bischoff, and Catherine P. Bradshaw. The article is published in the Sept/Oct 2018 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education. You can read the full text by visiting this link.
In 2011, a Maryland school district was grappling with discipline data showing stark disparities between Black students’ and White students’ rates of being removed from the classroom (i.e., sent to the office with a discipline referral) and from school (i.e., out-of-school suspensions). In developing a plan to reduce these disparities, it became clear to school district leadership that supporting teachers to implement more culturally responsive practices in their classroom was a recommended course of action. Consequently, the district partnered with our research team, led by Dr. Catherine Bradshaw, Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, to identify practices to reduce these disparities.
Although we had a long track record of partnering with schools to improve schoolwide implementation of positive behavior supports, we knew from our research that these approaches, while effective in reducing office discipline referrals and suspensions, were not moving the needle on racial disparities in discipline. As we began looking to integrate culturally responsive practices, it became clear that there was very little evidence on what specific culturally responsive practices, and which teacher training approaches to support implementation of these practices, were effective. We were surprised as we started our systematic literature review to find that, despite the clear indication of the real and growing problem of the discipline gap, there was a shortage of evidence to help us decide what we could do to close the gap.
Specifically, our review found that out of more than 600 articles on the topic of culturally responsive practices and the discipline gap, just 10 actually reported a study evaluating whether the interventions worked or not to improve practices or close the gap. Of these, some interventions showed promise for improving teachers’ use of culturally responsive practices, but none of the interventions examined impacts on discipline disparities, and none of the research designs met standards in the field for establishing an intervention as evidence-based.
Since we published this review in the Journal of Teacher Education, there has been mounting media, practitioner, and research attention as to what can be done to close the discipline gap. Districts and schools are increasingly being held accountable, as a result of federal policy reforms (i.e., within Every Student Succeeds Act and Individuals with Disabilities Act), for racially differential discipline.
Despite these pressures, the research community is not able to provide interventions that we can definitively show have been effective in promoting teachers’ use of culturally responsive practices, reducing bias enactment in the classroom, or reducing the disproportionate impact of discipline on Black students. This may be a consequence of the challenges in measuring and monitoring culturally responsive practices and discipline disparities. As a result, we are seeing little movement in closing the discipline gap in national data.
Several new intervention approaches have emerged since we completed the systematic review. Research on these interventions and strategies for addressing the discipline gap are reported in a recent special issue published in School Psychology Review (SPR; Volume 47, No. 2) called “Closing in on Discipline Disproportionality.” In this special issue, research focused on interventions to promote classroom culturally responsive practices (Double Check, led by Catherine Bradshaw), reduce implicit bias enactment (Greet-Stop-Prompt, led by Clayton Cook), support school-wide restorative discipline (led by Anne Gregory), and school-wide systematic threat assessment (led by Dewey Cornell), with findings suggesting their promise for closing the discipline gap.
Although these latest studies are a good start, much more work is needed to develop, evaluate and scale-up interventions that will improve culturally responsive practices and close the discipline gap.