CPRE : Consortium for Policy Research in Education

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New research offers insights on climate and discipline in Philadelphia schools

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education and the School District of Philadelphia also announce a $3 Million Grant from National Institute of Justice for the implementation and evaluation of a multi-phase enhanced PBIS implementation model.

Philadelphia, PA Nov. 2, 2017 — A new report highlights findings from a two-year research study on the disciplinary practices and climate of schools serving K–8 students in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). Educational leaders across the United States are turning away from exclusionary practices like suspension, in favor of less punitive approaches to managing student behavior. Many districts are changing their policies and turning to evidence-based initiatives like Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) to bring about shifts in school climate.

The new report Discipline in Context: Suspension, Climate, and PBIS in the School District of Philadelphia was produced by a team of researchers led by principal investigator Abigail Gray, Philip Sirinides, and Ryan Fink of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

The report reveals that SDP schools are making efforts to reduce suspensions and improve climate, but critical barriers to these efforts include resource limitations and philosophical misalignments between teachers and school leaders.  Further, the study identified three profiles among SDP schools serving K–8 students based on information about disciplinary practices and climate, and found that these profiles are predictive of suspension and academic outcomes.  Students attending schools with collaborative climates and less punitive approaches to discipline have lower risk of being suspended and better academic outcomes. The report offers a series of recommendations for strengthening the implementation of climate initiatives, including PBIS, across the District.

“When I became Superintendent we had zero PBIS schools, today we have nearly 50.  Changing school climates and cultures is hard and takes time, but we are changing the conversation and practices around discipline and have begun to systematically tackle the issue of exclusionary disciplinary practices,” said Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of The School District of Philadelphia. 

Read the FULL REPORT, which includes interviews and case studies, at

The report sheds light on disciplinary practices used by SDP schools in the wake of the District’s climate efforts, and identifies successes in and challenges to the District’s focus on climate improvement and PBIS. This exploratory research was conducted through a collaboration between CPRE and SDP, and was funded by a Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) grant from the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice. The partners will implement the report’s recommendations beginning Spring 2018, with a second CSSI grant. This supplemental grant will provide $3 million over three years for the implementation and evaluation of an enhanced  multi-phase PBIS implementation model designed to address the challenges of the SDP context.

The study comes in response to recent efforts by SDP to reduce suspension and improve school climate. Serving some 130,000 students in 218 schools, SDP is among the largest public school districts in the country and one of the most diverse. SDP is also among the nation’s most financially and academically challenged districts. Nearly 90% of its students qualify for free lunch, most are historically underserved racial minorities, and two-thirds have experienced some form of trauma. Research aimed at improving the implementation of climate initiatives within this context is timely and applicable, both for SDP and for other urban districts facing similar challenges.

Five years ago the School District received a grant from the Philadelphia Foundation to implement PBIS in ten schools.  Since that time, the district has applied for, and received, additional federal funding, including a $4.5 million dollar School Climate Transformation Grant to support and scale the district’s PBIS efforts.  “We are now in year four of that five year grant and our collaboration with CPRE will allow us to build upon a strong foundation to provide enhanced PBIS implementation.  This report and the new $3 million grant from NIJ are positive steps forward to improving school climates and creating great schools close to where children live,” added Hite.

Actions taken by the School District of Philadelphia to improve school climates and reduce discipline problems in schools include:

  • Expanding PBIS services to 50 schools.
  • Shifting focus to use more comprehensive data on suspensions so principals, teachers and district staff have more detailed and timely information on types of suspensions in order to intervene and correct.
  • Continuing to improve school climate and culture through training and development for principals and teachers.
  • Focus on increasing attendance and keeping children in school; working to transform school climates with a Deputy for School Climate and Safety. 
  • Working with state and local judicial and law enforcement to develop a diversion program.
  • Emphasizing de-escalation and conflict resolution.
  • Stopping arrests for low level offenses that lead to school dropouts.
  • Eliminating out of school suspensions for dress code violations.
  • Eliminating suspensions in Kindergarten and gradually eliminating suspensions in K-2 grades.

About the Consortium for Policy Research in Education

The Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) conducts rigorous program evaluation and research studies using qualitative and quantitative methods, advanced survey techniques, and data analysis. Headquartered at the Graduate School of Education; CPRE consists of a broad network of leading experts in education, economics, public policy, sociology, and other social fields. This network of premier researchers is committed to advancing educational policy and practice through evidence-based research. Research conducted by CPRE is peer-reviewed and open access. For more information about CPRE, please visit


About Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) at the University of Pennsylvania

Penn GSE is one of the nation’s premier research education schools. No other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge-building as the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania. The School is notably entrepreneurial, launching innovative degree programs for practicing professionals and unique partnerships with local educators, and the first-ever business plan competition devoted exclusively to educational products and programs. For further information about Penn GSE, please visit 


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