Open Society Institute-Baltimore
Mission and Goals
The Open Society Institute–Baltimore is the only field office for the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs, focusing on a single city and testing the effectiveness of place-based philanthropy strategy. Its three intertwined programs aim to keep children connected to and engaged in school by making city-wide reforms that lower suspension rates and increase attendance and enhancing after-school and learning initiatives; make drug addiction treatment accessible to all who need it through well-implemented health care reforms and supporting a diverse coalition to advocate for treatment expansion; and reduce the number of Marylanders caught up in the criminal/juvenile justice systems through diversion and re-entry programs and the systemic reform of ineffective and discriminatory sentencing, parole, and probation policies.
OSI-Baltimore was invited by Baltimore City Public Schools leadership to serve as co-chair of a new BCPSS Discipline Policies Working Group. This group included teachers, school administrators, leaders of community-based youth advocacy organizations, and parents. The Working Group’s purpose was to revise the district’s code of conduct so that there were fewer unnecessary suspensions.
The new code was implemented in Fall 2008. It emphasizes intervention and prevention, rather than just punishment. Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are minimized. This is especially the case for minor/subjective offenses like disrespect, insubordination, and classroom disruption. There are also caps on the number of days students can be suspended, if at all, for these offenses if they are repeated.
As a result of the new code, district suspensions decreased from 16,500 three years ago to 9,721 in 2011-12.
The on-time graduation rate for black males increased from 51 percent in the 2006-07 school year to 57.3 percent in the 2009-10 school year—a 12.4 percent increase.
The overall graduation rate increased from 60 percent in 2006-07 to 66 percent in 2009-10—a 10 percent rise.
The new Code also helped spark leadership to examine discipline across the state. After the Maryland State Board of Education released a groundbreaking study on discipline in February and July 2012, the Maryland Department of Education launched an effort to revise its guidelines for the state code of conduct, again in a collaborative fashion and with the support of Advancement Project.
The Maryland Board of Education proposed new state regulations, which, if passed, would require districts to address and fix disproportionality in discipline as well as provide some level of educational support for students who are suspended, among other things. These regulations are pending as of January 2013.
Research federal and state laws, regulations, and policies relating to school discipline to understand what disciplinary actions were required by law
Review school discipline data so that there was a better understanding of how suspensions and expulsions were being used in the district
Review discipline codes from other school districts within and outside of Maryland to identify promising policies and practices
Host input sessions to hear from a broader group of stakeholders, including students, parents, and school staff, both before the code was drafted and once a draft was complete
Challenges and Lessons Learned
There should have been more youth involved in this reform process, but it is challenging when the reform is being driven by the District as opposed to the community. Doing more targeted outreach to young people from the onset of the process would have helped secure more participation and input.
Again, when reform is driven by the District, it is more likely that changes – changes that the collaboration doesn’t agree with – can be made last minute. Without enough community pressure, pushing back is challenging.
Spring 2007: the BCPSS Discipline Policies Working Group is convened. The group begins its research and review process.
Spring 2007: Sessions are organized to get input from a broad group of students, parents, and staff
November 2007: Working group begins draft of new code
June 2008: three input sessions organized in Baltimore City for the public to have an opportunity to provide comments on the Code
Late summer 2008: Code adopted for 2008-09 school year
Contact and Acknowledgements
Baltimore City Public Schools
Jonathan Brice, School Support Network Officer
Open Society Institute - Baltimore
Katherine Rabb, Program Officer, Education and Youth Development Program & Jane Sundius, Director, Education and Youth Development Program
Open Society Institute - Baltimore
201 N. Charles Street, Suite 1300
Baltimore, MD 21201