Culturally Responsive Behavior Supports  

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...the same kids who are least likely to do well in school are also the kids who are getting a disproportionate amount of discipline in school.  And to show you the insanity of it, we typically discipline them by denying them school time.

--Pedro Noguera 

Equity Alliance Online Special Feature

Racial Disproportionality in School Disciplinary Practices


Racial disproportionality in school disciplinary practices has a long history, and still continues today. This brief discusses zero-tolerance policies and their disproportionate use with low SES and minority students.


*This paper is one of the brief practitioner-oriented pamphlets produced by the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), which has since become the Equity Alliance.  

Frequently Asked Questions 

1.  What are Culturally Responsive Behavior Supports?   

2.  How are Culturally Responsive Behavior Supports structured?   

3.  Is PBIS culturally responsive?   

4.  Are Culturally Responsive Behavior Supports just for special education?   

5.  Can Culturally Responsive Behavior Supports work in all school settings?   

6. How are families involved in positive behavior support? 

Upcoming Events

Central SIG regional education conference Leading Successful School Turnarounds: Learning from Research and Practice May 23, 2011 - May 24, 2011  


PEAK Parent Center's Region 5 Parent Technical Assistance Center (RPTAC) is hosting its annual conference June 1-3, 2011  


Equity in Action Conference Equity: The Cornerstone of a Quality Education for all June 10 & 11, 2011  

Online Tools

Positive Behavior and Intervention Supports Evaluation Tools 


Resources to help Teachers use Positive Behavior Support


Building District-Level Capacity for Positive Behavior Support  


Culturally Responsive Classroom Management Strategies  


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Online Publications


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The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) was founded in 2008 to address issues of educational opportunity, access, equity, and diversity in the United States and internationally. SCOPE engages faculty from across Stanford and from other universities to work on a shared agenda of research, policy analysis, educational practice, and dissemination of ideas to improve quality and equality of education from early childhood through college.  


SCOPE's work is concentrated in three areas:


1) Research on the Opportunity Gap

2) Cross-national comparative analysis of educational opportunity

3) The development of policy and practice to expand educational opportunity



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Students need to feel physically and emotionally safe before they can focus their attention on actively participating in their own learning.  Today many teachers and school administrators are often challenged to meet the diverse social and behavioral needs demonstrated by  students.  As the demographics have changed within many school communities, educators have struggled with proactively addressing the behavioral and social needs of an increasingly diverse population of students for a variety of individual and organizational reasonsOne, among many, is that approaches to school discipline have traditionally been punitive.  These ineffective measures have done little to teach new behaviors and have frequently contributed to school failure for countless students throughout the US.  School administrators, teachers, families, and students have the immense, shared responsibility of creating and sustaining safe and orderly learning environments where students are empowered to safely share their opinions and perspectives. These strategies are used at individual, classroom, and school levels to prevent and intervene culturally, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.  This collective endeavoris vital to improving learning outcomes forALL students.


Punishing problem behaviors is associated with increases in aggression, vandalism, truancy, and dropping out.   Many schools have initiated comprehensive approaches to developing positive social and academic behaviors to avoid punitive responses that often exclude students from academic learning.  These strategies used as individual, classroom, and school levels to prevent and intervene culturally, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. Commonly used frameworks, such as Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS), are useful for achieving important social and learning outcomes.  However, it is critical to consider how culture influences social and emotional responses and behaviors as well as filters behavioral expectations for both students and adults in schools.  Most frameworks in use today reflect the norms and values of the dominant culture within schools and do not attend to the historic and emerging norms and values of students and families within the learning community. Cultural and linguistic nuances must be considered in proactive and culturally responsive discipline approaches so that student engagement and communication patterns are co-constructed with students and families (King, Harris-Murri, & Artiles, 2006). 


When significant differences exist between school and community cultures, teachers can misinterpret students' behavior as disobedient, disrespectful or disorderly.  Schools and other communities of practice define normative ways of belonging, including acceptable forms of behavior, which often place students in the difficult position of negotiating new identities that signal membership (Artiles & Kozleski, 2007).  In fact, studies show that students of color are referred for disciplinary actions most often for subjective behaviors like disrespect, excessive noise or loitering, while white students are most often referred for infractions like smoking or obscene language, behaviors that tend not to rely on subjective interpretation (Skiba et al., 2000). Adults in schools must build awareness of their own culture, particularly beliefs and values, in order to recognize the impact of their expectations for student behavior and understand how they might begin to negotiate spaces in which both adults and students can find new norms together (White, Zion, & Kozleski, 2005).  Cultural differences affect how behaviors are interpreted by everyone as well as burden students and families with making subtle and overt shifts in their behavior when school behavior codes are not transparent.  Further, because the power for making these judgments often falls to school personnel who may not understand or be conscious of the relational nature of their cultural stances, behavior issues are often magnets for conflict among and between students, families, and school personnel.  Where cultural differences exist, but are not adequately considered, school personnel, families, and students may exacerbate conflict rather than help to defuse and redirect and negotiate new norms.  


Culturally responsive behavior supports situate positive behavior prevention and intervention strategies within an equity framework and include frameworks for systemic planning about how to:


    * Create inclusive and equitable communities.

    * Cultivate school cultures that are respectful of the histories of students and adults and responsive to cultural norms of the students;

    * Prevent problems from occurring by including the entire learning community in explicitly developing and learning school-wide expectations;

    * Intervene effectively when issues surface using strategies that support the cultural perspectives of the people involved;

    * Provide students with supports for learning and demonstrating expected behaviors at all levels of need.


Artiles, A. & Kozleski, E.B. (2007). Beyond Convictions: Interrogating Culture, History, and Power in Inclusive Education

King, K., Harris-Murri, N., Artiles, A. (2006).  Proactive Culturally Responsive Discipline.  National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems

Skiba, R J., Michael, R.S., & Nardo, A.C. (2000, June). The color of discipline: Sources of racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment. The Indiana Policy Center Research Report.

White, K.K., Zion, S. & Kozleski, E.B. (2005).  Cultural Identity and Teaching. National Institute for Urban School Improvement.

Equity in Action

The Davis Joint Unified School District has a strong reputation for providing a high quality education to its nearly 9,000 students, and has historically had some of the highest scholastic achievement scores in the region. However, as this suburban community addresses changing demographics, they've also taken notice of achievement disparities among students, and they are tackling these disparities head-on.  Currently, the district has several support staff, teachers and administrators that are participating in the Culturally Responsive Teaching in California online professional learning module designed by the Equity Alliance and being piloted by the California Department of Education.  Participants engage in online learning designed to help develop dispositions, skills and critical perspectives related to culturally responsive teaching and learning, and also attend facilitated sessions to delve into complex ideas more deeply.  Parents in the district are also learning about equity and culturally responsive approaches to education, and the district has plans to expand professional learning around culturally responsive

education to more staff members, teachers, administrators, parents and community members in the school year to come.


The work of the Equity Alliance includes partnering with school systems such as Davis Joint Unified to close achievement disparities and to help examine and design programs and policies that are inclusive of diverse learners.  Concerned with sustainable practices, we work systemically over time to ensure change that is embraced across all levels of the school district.  We assist districts in the use of multiple forms of data to analyze policies and practices that stand as barriers to the type of outcomes the district is seeking. Our primary task is to build local capacity, so local change efforts are given the chance to take hold.  The Davis Joint Unified School District embraces the fact that well-educated and supported educators are at the heart of educational equity. Their work to build capacity at all levels in order to bring about systemic and sustainable change is headed in the right direction toward delivering positive outcomes for all students.  We applaud them for their commitment, and look forward to continuing our work together.

Tools You Can Use

Things to Read   

Responding to Problem Behavior in Schools: The Behavior Education Program by Deanne A. Crone, Robert H. Horner, and Leanne S. Hawken is a proactive, research-based intervention for responding to moderate problem behavior and preventing the development of more serious problems. For use with students who fail to meet schoolwide disciplinary expectations but do not require the highest level of behavior support. The approach incorporates daily behavioral feedback, positive adult attention, and increased home-school collaboration. Includes case examples and all needed resources for implementation - including reproducible daily progress reports, student handouts, and planning tools.


The School-to-Prison-Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform. The "school-to-prison pipeline" is an emerging trend that pushes large

numbers of at-risk youth-particularly children of color-out of classrooms and into the juvenile justice system. In thiscomprehensive study of the relationship between American law,and the school-to-prison pipeline, co-authors Catherine Y. Kim, Daniel J. Losen, and Damon T. Hewitt-all civil rights attorneys specializing in juvenile justice-analyze the current state of the law for each entry point on the pipeline and propose legal theories and remedies to challenge them. The authors assert that law can be an effective weapon in ensuring that our public schools and juvenile justice system further the goals for which they were created: to provide meaningful, safe opportunities for all the nation's children.   


7 Steps for Developing a Proactive Schoolwide Discipline Plan 

by Geoff Colvin,  contains a full range of effective behavior management practices to help educators develop a strong, affirming school environment that successfully serves students and staff.  Emphasizing the critical roles that collaboration and teamwork play in achieving success, this powerful resource presents a seven-step process to assist administrators and teachers in working together to develop and implement a practical and proactive schoolwide discipline plan. This guidebook is filled with practical checklists and user-friendly forms that include explicit instructions to help educators: define the purpose of the plan; establish schoolwide behavior expectations; teach and sustain behavior expectations; correct problem behaviors; collect and utilize data; and maintain the plan over time.

Things to Watch


 Edutopia offers a series of videos of educators sharing tips for classroom management.  While watching the videos, think about other strategies that might achieve the goal of culturally responsive positive behavior supports. 


Introduction to Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support: Systematic Supervision. For more info go to Final hour-long program coming in Fall 2009. Copyright IRIS Media Inc.

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