Research News

Welsh leads equity-centered research practice partnership to reduce racial disparities in school discipline

By Jenna Somers

Richard Welsh
Richard Welsh

Last year, Richard Welsh reported findings on the persistence of racial disparities in exclusionary school discipline practices. Despite suspensions declining over the past decade as schools reformed their policies, exclusionary disciplinary rates remained higher for African American students. Across the South, in-school suspensions (ISS) are particularly prevalent and disruptive to the education of racially minoritized students. Given these facts, Welsh has embarked on a new co-design process of ISS that leverages an existing research-practice partnership with a school district in Georgia to crack the code on truly resolving racial inequities in school discipline policies and practices.

Supported by a $474,178 grant from the William T. Grant Foundation and a $125,000 grant from the American Institutes of Research Equity Initiative, Welsh is leading a three-year project with the school district to understand the role of race and power in equity-centered research-practice partnerships, how the dynamics of the partnership affect partnership activities, and how these activities influence research use by school administrators, district leaders, and school board members.

“These are the three key decisionmakers who can advance racial equity in school districts through policies, programs, and personnel. They make decisions about codes of conduct, which disciplinary programs to implement, and who to hire, including behavioral specialists to support students’ social-emotional development,” said Welsh, associate professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development.

“Improving the use of research evidence among education leaders via equity-centered research-practice partnerships can possibly lead to disruptive decisions necessary to addressing persistent racial inequities in school discipline. Also, turning the analytical lens on ourselves to examine how inequities might manifest in the partnership has implications for partnership and student outcomes,” Welsh added.

The research team will analyze their interviews with key decision makers, research-practice partnership primary investigators, and co-design team members. They will also observe school board meetings, school discipline committee meetings, and partnership meetings, as well as co-design workshops, district- and school-level documents, and materials to record the partnering process as well as the use of research evidence and disruptive decision-making. By engaging in cycles of disciplined inquiry to improve ISS processes, the partnership aims to reach its goal of improving youth outcomes.

The co-design process includes working with a team of school leaders and school personnel at three middle schools to analyze and reimagine their ISS process and infrastructure.