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Grant to fund study on school discipline

The Annenberg Institute’s $1 million grant will fund research on equity-based disciplinary policy

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform received a $1 million grant in September from the Atlantic Philanthropies to research discipline in four U.S. urban school districts, Oona Chatterjee, co-coordinator of the project and assistant director of the Annenberg Institute’s New York City Organizing, wrote in an email to The Herald.

The Institute will study methods of discipline and how they may have disproportionately adverse effects on economically disadvantaged students of color, Chatterjee wrote.

The project is primarily intended to aid district leaders in creating and effecting policies that will “reduce disparities and promote positive approaches to school discipline,” Chatterjee wrote.

In conducting this research, the Annenberg Institute hopes to combat the “school-to-prison” phenomenon, in which primarily low-income, urban students get in trouble with the law, entering the criminal justice system prior to graduation, according to an Annenberg Institute press release.

By dealing with these issues, the Annenberg Institute hopes  to decrease the marginalization of at-risk youth and improve the quality of their education.

The Atlantic Philanthropies, an international organization that aims to help disadvantaged people, first approached the Annenberg Institute about the potential grant. Though the process was not competitive, the proposal took three months to complete, Chatterjee wrote.

This project marks the first time the Annenberg Institute has received an external grant to study urban school discipline, Chatterjee wrote.

“Annenberg’s strengths in equity-based district reform, community engagement, research and communications offer exactly the right combination to provide crucial support to the school districts across the country taking up the charge to reduce suspensions, expulsions and arrests,” said Stephen McConnell, country director of U.S. Programs at the Atlantic Philanthropies, in the press release.

Over the course of two years, the Annenberg Institute will select and work with schools in four major U.S. cities. During the first year, the researchers plan to accomplish four goals — data gathering and review, creation and implementation of policy, encouraging collaboration between the research sites and formulating a timeline for improving the disparate rates at which discipline policies affect different groups of students, Chatterjee wrote.

Though the districts have not yet been chosen, the Annenberg Institute has begun the selection process. It aims to select four districts with histories of strong leadership, advocacy and program design, Chatterjee wrote.

In the second year, Annenberg Institute leaders hope to see results of the policy changes in the form of reduced racial disparities in the effects of school discipline and increased safety.

“Racial and other disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline practices such as suspension and expulsion are a significant contributing factor to the persistent achievement gaps that sustain this pipeline of failure,” Chatterjee wrote.

Cortney Griffith GS, a masters student in the Urban Education Policy program who is involved in the new research project, said she is looking forward to gaining “a deeper insight on the root and systemic causes of discipline disparities.”

“What can we as researchers do to inform districts on how to train teachers to respond to the needs of students in urban school districts?” Griffith asked. She added that she likes that the project is “action-based,” with researchers “actually creating intervention programs that are going to help combat the disparities that exist in these districts.”

In addition to writing and implementing new policy, the Annenberg Institute hopes to encourage more cohesiveness and collaboration within school districts in applying current policies. This approach will allow improvements to continue after the completion of the study, Chatterjee wrote.


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