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Discipline in School Contexts (DISCO)

Suspension, Climate, and PBIS in the School District of Philadelphia
January 2016—Present

Suspension, Climate, and PBIS in the School District of Philadelphia

High student suspension rates have been identified as a pressing problem nationally, and particularly in challenged urban districts (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2014). As one step toward addressing this problem, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) revised its Code of Student Conduct in 2012-2013 in an effort to reduce out-of-school suspensions by narrowing the list of suspendable offenses (SRC, 2013). However, school-level understanding of the revisions to the Code is uneven, and the extent to which schools currently enact it is also unknown. A recent SDP report revealed that students in the district are still being suspended for minor infractions and that elementary and middle school students are suspended at higher rates than high school students (Engelman & Wolford, 2014).

CPRE's Discipline in School Context (DISCO) is a scan of the disciplinary practices in Philadelphia K-8 schools to give a better understanding of how and the reason why elementary and middle-school students are suspended, what factors may impede or facilitate changes in schools’ reliance on out-of-school suspension, and what promising practices and/or contextual factors are related to schools’ use of suspension. The goal of the project is to contribute new insights on the challenges urban schools face in working to reduce suspensions, and to provide the SDP with concrete information that can shape its future efforts to reduce out-of-school suspension. 

Principal Investigator and CPRE Senior Research Abigail Gray, Ph.D. is a former Philadelphia teacher and a Philadelphia public school parent.  Co-Principal Investigator Philip Sirinides, Ph.D. is also a former Philadelphia teacher.


Enhancing the Philadelphia School District’s Use of Evidence

Abigail Gray currently serves as a Stoneleigh Fellow and is working with the School District of Philadelphia on a research-practice partnership to improve school climate. Through her Stoneleigh Fellowship, Abigail Gray is working to enhance the implementation of the School District of Philadelphia’s school climate initiatives. She is partnering with the District’s leaders and its research office to institute a process for piloting and evaluating promising interventions through rapid-cycle research studies. The project will enable the District to quickly evaluate the impact of low-cost, evidence-based programs and practices on school climate outcomes, such as disciplinary referrals, suspensions, attendance, and academic achievement.

This Stoneleigh Fellowship will enable Abigail to:

  • Establish a research-practice partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to implement and evaluate projects to improve school climate. This includes collaborating with District leaders to identify targeted areas for improvement, selecting evidence-based interventions to pilot, and designing tailored studies to evaluate the interventions and their impact on student outcomes.
  • Increase the District’s capacity to use rapid-cycle research to directly inform practice within schools. Institutionalizing this process will help the District implement promising low-cost interventions, evaluate their impact quickly, and scale up programs that prove effective while ending those that do not.

Click here, to read more about the Stoneleigh Fellowship and, here, to read more about this project.

Researchers & Authors
Abigail GrayPhilip M. Sirinides

In 2016, CPRE received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an in-depth study of suspension practices in Philadelphia K-8 schools. This study will be completed in collaboration with the SDP and the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC), a project of Research for Action. 

In 2017, Abigail Gray was awarded a Stoneleigh Fellowship to focus on building SDP’s capacity to pilot, evaluate, and scale up innovative approaches to improving school climate. She holds a PhD in Education Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was an Institute of Education Sciences Pre-doctoral Training Fellow, and where she currently teaches mixed-methods and other research methods courses. She is a certified reviewer of group design studies for the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse.

Consortium for Policy Research in Education

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
3440 Market Street, Suite 560
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tel: 215.573.0700
Fax: 215.573.7914


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