There is a growing national consensus, reflected in the positions and priorities of lawmakers at all levels of government, that the U.S. criminal justice system must be reformed with the goal of ending mass incarceration. That consensus extends to upstream preventive strategies, especially for improving approaches to school discipline. The zero-tolerance approach to school discipline leads to approximately three million children being expelled or suspended annually, with a disproportionate number being children of color. This indisputably contributes to increased school dropout rates, juvenile justice system involvement, and ultimately to higher levels of incarceration.
A July 22 meeting at the White House to “Rethink School Discipline” reflects this growing consensus. The Obama Administration convened several hundred school leaders from around the country to hear from federal policymakers and share best practices and current research. There were major addresses by the heads of two federal departments—U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch made concluding remarks. But center stage belonged to local school leaders, philanthropists, and academics.
Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children’s executive director in Washington, D.C., reported on the breakout session he attended, “Building Trauma-Informed Schools.” One takeaway message, said Lamb, is that there is a roadmap to follow in schools and in classrooms to help manage the impacts on teaching and learning from the stress in children’s lives, especially those affected by the trauma of multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). [Learn more about adverse childhood experiences at ACES 101.]
“This gives us hope for the most challenged children,” he said.
In his report on the small group conversation, Lamb highlighted three messages. He noted that the data might be scary but the situation is not hopeless. The