Addressing the Root Causes of Disparities in School Discipline

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This guide provides tools to assess and systematically address disparities in school discipline. It describes how to carry out a descriptive analysis of disparities in school discipline and how to conduct a root cause analysis to systematically address school-based factors that contribute to disparities. These analyses should result in an actionable understanding of the following:
  1. Who is being disparately disciplined and what is happening to them
  2. The systemic causes of disparities in school discipline and why they occur
  3. How you can reduce and eliminate disparities in school discipline     

The primary audience for this guide is school teams and school district teams. The guide helps willing education leaders and other stakeholders use a data-informed process to examine disparities in school discipline and systematically change policies and practices. It also is for use by schools and districts required to complete an assessment of disparities and change practices. The guide is written to support efforts that include all stakeholders invested in schools—students, families, community-based organizations, advocates, and agencies, including health and mental health professionals and those representing youth development, child welfare, law enforcement, courts, and juvenile justice agencies. 

To assist in completing the tasks outlined in the guide, there are a suite of resources provided for your use. Other resources are noted throughout the guide, including tips for conducting the difficult conversations that need to occur to sensitively and productively address racial, ethnic, and cultural issues that may emerge. The table below summarizes and links to resources introduced throughout the guide.

View the presentation, Supporting School-Level Root Cause Analyses of Disproportionate Discipline Outcomes, presented to “Rethinking School Discipline” attendees at The White House on July 22, 2015.

Action Planning Guide  Addressing the Root Causes of Disparities in School Discipline:
An Educator’s Action Planning Guide
This planning guide provides a rationale for addressing disparities in school discipline and discusses core issues related to disparities. It is organized into three stages: Digging Into the Data, Getting at the Roots of Disparities, and Creating an Action Plan.  Download an accessible version here.

Resource 1


This resource defines a selection of terms underlined in the guide and describes how they apply to addressing discipline disparities.

Resource 2

Discipline Data Checklist

This resource helps determine and track which data you collect, including identifying gaps to be filled.

Resource 3

Data Mining Decision Tree Tip Sheet

This resource offers graphical guidance on data collection decisions to be made.

Resource 4

Disciplinary Disparities Risk Assessment Tool

This resource provides a series of Microsoft Excel–based worksheets with detailed instructions on what data to collect, how to collect them, how to enter them into the tool, how to answer key questions, and how to analyze your results. The tool autogenerates graphic representations of your results.

This tool can be used as-is, modified, or serve as a model for designing a tool that can integrate with or import data from an existing school or district database or student management system. The tool also can be used in concert with existing data collection efforts, such as PBIS.  

Resource 5

Supportive Data Resources

This resource describes the type of data your school or district may already be collecting under federal grants and initiatives as well as behavioral strategies, such as PBIS or restorative practices, which can inform your disciplinary analysis.

Resource 6

Action Plan Template

This resource provides a blank template for you to gather important information as you work through each of the three stages, culminating in a complete plan.

Resource 7

Root Cause Diagnostic Tree

This resource provides a blank template for you to fill in issues, causes, root causes, and corrective actions as they are identified. 


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The contents of the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments Web site were assembled under contracts from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Supportive Schools to the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Contract Number  91990021A0020.

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