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Expanding Transformative Agency: Learning Lab as a Social Change Intervention for Racial Equity in School Discipline

by Dosun Ko, Aydin Bal, Halil Ibrahim Çakir & Hyejung Kim - 2021

Background: In the United States, students of color are more likely to receive disciplinary exclusion compared with their White peers. The racial disproportionality in exclusionary school discipline (e.g., office discipline referrals and suspension) marginalizes students from nondominant communities and further aggravates inequalities in academic, social, and behavioral outcomes. As a socially, historically, and geographically situated inequity issue, addressing racial disparities in disciplinary outcomes requires a transformative experiment in which local stakeholders can engage in situated problem identification and problem-solving efforts in response to their specific needs, goals, and local dynamics.

Purpose of Study: This study examined how Learning Lab, an inclusive, collaborative problem-solving process, created a collaborative problem-solving space wherein school stakeholders exercised their collective, transformative agency to bring about a qualitative transformation in the school discipline system at an urban middle school for the creation of culturally responsive and equity-oriented learning environments for all students.

Setting: The research took place at Rogoff Middle School in Wisconsin, which has historically served students from urban, low-income families. The school community struggled with the overrepresentation of Black students in exclusionary school discipline.

Participants: Learning Lab comprised 14 members. Three parents and 11 school staff—administrators, teachers, social workers, an after-school coordinator, and a parent/paraprofessional working in a special education classroom—participated in the Learning Lab.

Research Design: This study used the Learning Lab intervention, taking place at an urban middle school between November 2012 and May 2014, as an instrumental case to explore how the participatory, design-based intervention transformed a schoolwide behavioral support system. Data collected from 14 meetings include observations, ethnographic field notes, school disciplinary data, and photos. All meetings were video recorded and transcribed, then analyzed using a transformative agency framework.

Findings/Results: With the aim of organizing inclusive problem-solving activities for shared, collaborative future-making learning experiences, the Learning Lab encouraged local stakeholders to exercise their collective, transformative agency in order to produce locally meaningful and emancipatory knowledge aimed at reshaping a dysfunctional, punitive system that historically has yielded racial injustice in school discipline.

Conclusions/Recommendations: As a community-driven, scaled-down design process, Learning Lab can be a powerful leadership tool for school leaders to unite school stakeholders by building authentic school–family–community partnerships and leveraging expertise, experiences, and ingenuity for the development of locally optimized solutions to inequity.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 2, 2021, p. 1-42
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23582, Date Accessed: 6/22/2021 10:42:56 PM

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About the Author
  • Dosun Ko
    School of Education at Wichita State University
    E-mail Author
    DOSUN KO, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Wichita State University. His research interests include racial disproportionality in behavioral outcomes (e.g., emotional/behavioral disorder [E/BD] identification and school discipline), culturally sustaining and trauma-informed inclusive education, and participatory social design research grounded in cultural historical activity theory. His research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education and Critical Education.
  • Aydin Bal
    University of Wisconsin–Madison
    E-mail Author
    AYDIN BAL, Ph.D., is a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His research focuses on the interplay between culture, learning, and mental health across local and global education systems. Dr. Bal examines the social justice issues in education, family–school–community–university collaboration, and systemic transformation. As a practitioner and researcher, Dr. Bal has worked with youth from minoritized communities from the United States, Turkey, South Sudan, Syria, the Russian Federation, and Anishinaabe Nation who are experiencing academic and behavioral problems in schools, hospitals, and prisons. His work has been featured in various academic journals in education and psychology, including American Educational Research Journal, Review of Educational Research, Exceptional Children, and Urban Education. Dr. Bal was the recipient of the 2019 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Scholars of Color Early Career Contribution Award.
  • Halil Ibrahim Çakir
    Department of Special Education at Giresun University
    E-mail Author
    HALIL IBRAHIM ÇAKIR, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Special Education at Giresun University in Turkey. His research interests include multicultural issues in special education, linguistic and cultural diversity, positive behavior interventions and support, and intervention and prevention programs. His scholarly works appear in peer-reviewed journals such as the American Educational Research Journal and Interchange.
  • Hyejung Kim
    Binghamton University
    E-mail Author
    HYEJUNG KIM, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at Binghamton University. Her primary areas of research include the disparities in school experiences and outcomes among students with neurodevelopmental dis/abilities from nondominant racial/ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Her research on intersectionality has garnered multiple research funding including the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Special Education Research SIG’s outstanding dissertation award. Her scholarly works appear in peer-reviewed journals, such as Race Ethnicity and Education.
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