Institutional Racism Institutional racism occurs when schools or districts remain unconscious of issues related to race or more actively perpetuate and enforce a dominant racial perspective or belief, for example, that the attitudes and abilities of students of color and their families are a basis for academic or discipline disparities. It has also been defined as “the power to create an environment where [racism] is manifested in subtle or direct subjugation of the subordinate ethnic groups through a society’s institutions”61 and “as the unexamined and unchallenged system of racial biases and residual White advantage that persist in our institutions of learning.”62 Institutional racism, which can be seen in schools not only in discipline practices but in tracking students into low tracks and allocating fewer resources to schools and classes with students of color, can lead to “feelings of racial inferiority for students of color and racial superiority for white students.” 63 As a start, schools can begin to address disparate treatment inflicted on students of color by adopting culturally conscious classroom management practices and revising their discipline policies to remove subjective offenses from the menu of options. Here are a few additional suggestions: Gain awareness of factors that influence discipline decisions. Take the Implicit Bias test at implicit.harvard.edu. Hire a diverse instructional and administrative staff. Students of color stay in school longer and perform better when they have teachers who look like them and who they can relate to and look up to.64 Examine suspension and expulsion data and systemically address disproportionate discipline results. Do this to influence decisions about discipline policies and to ensure that differential discipline is not applied to any group of students based on ethnicity, gender, ability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or any intersection of those identities. 61 Singleton, Glenn & Linton, Curtis, Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity (2006) , pgs. 41-2. 62 Id., p. 33. 63 Id., p. 44. 64 Tammy, Johnson, Racial Profiling and Punishment in U.S. Public Schools, Erase Initiative, Applied Research Center, p. 21. 62 How we can fix school discipline Adopt an alternative discipline policy, making sure to be mindful of and proactively seeking to combat implicit and explicit racial bias • Increase the awareness of teachers and administrators of the potential for bias when issuing referrals for discipline, • Utilize a range of consequences in response to behavior problems and treat suspension as a last resort65 • Make a concerted effort to understand the roots of behavior problems, including making relationships with students and employing a trauma-sensitive approach,66 • Remove subjective offenses from the menu for discipline and ensure that every offense has clear, objective parameters. Teach Culturally Responsive Classroom Management (CRCM).67 CRCM is pedagogical approach to running classrooms for all children in a culturally responsive way. Using this approach, teachers • Mindfully recognize their biases and cultural values and reflect on how these influence their behavior expectations and interactions with students; • Examine the broader, social, economic and political context in which all members of the school exist; • Filter all decision making about the physical environment in which students learn through a lens of cultural diversity making sure that many different cultures, including the students’ backgrounds, are represented; and • Commit to building a caring classroom community by actively developing relationships with students. Employ a “So What” Test. While clear behavioral expectations are necessary to create and maintain an environment conducive to academic and social learning, some expectations have more to do with power and control than a student’s learning. When a student’s behavior doesn’t conform to a certain expectation, a teacher or administrator can ask 65 This method is also consistent with current California law. See Cal. Ed. Code 48900.5(a). 66 See information about Trauma-Sensitive Schools and Districts in this Toolkit. 67 Information in this section adapted from Metropolitan Center for Urban Education (2008), Culturally Responsive Classroom Management Strategies, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.