School Climate & Safety

Can a Teachers’ ‘Bill of Rights’ Bring Order to the Classroom?

Teachers say they need more support to improve classroom management
By Elizabeth Heubeck — June 20, 2024 4 min read
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Teachers’ complaints regarding student classroom behavior are reaching epic proportions. In some states, they’re spurring teachers to push for policies that will grant them greater authority over classroom management.

This May, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed into law The Teachers’ Bill of Rights, which gives teachers greater control in their classrooms by allowing them to remove students for reasons ranging from disorderly conduct, to the intimidation of students or the teacher, to the use of abusive or profane language. The law also requires school administrators to take “decisive action” based on a predetermined code of conduct before a student returns to class.

Few would dispute that growing behavior problems present challenges to today’s teachers. In a 2023 EdWeek Research Center Survey of more than 1,000 K-12 educators, 70 percent of respondents agreed that students in their schools were misbehaving more than they were prior to the pandemic.

A recent Education Week social media query on the issue received several responses from teachers, including this one: “The discipline problems [of] today are extreme. Chair-throwing, banging furniture against the wall, attacking other students, attacking teachers...”

Still, there’s no single perspective on how best to respond to these disruptions that pervade classrooms. Some educators and policymakers hail stricter disciplinary measures, like the one in Alabama.

But others raise concerns about the efficacy and long-term impact of exclusionary practices, like sending students to the principal’s office during class time or giving them detention or suspending them. Those tactics disproportionately affect students of color and fail to address the reasons behind the behavior, experts say.

Policymakers’ views on how to manage classroom disruptions vary widely

Teachers in Alabama lobbied for the measure, which received unanimous support from lawmakers. Prior to the bill’s passage, the Alabama Education Association collected personal anecdotes from educators statewide about classroom discipline disruptions and shared them with legislators, said Brian Massey, the director of government relations for the association.

“There were some pretty egregious stories about educators being beat up. Some included pictures—black eyes, bruises,” Massey said. “We’re ready to restore some law and order to the classroom.”

Massey said he believes the new policy will serve as an important step in ensuring that students receive “corrective actions” before returning to classrooms where they’ve exhibited disruptive behavior.

Even so, the debates in state legislatures about these measures have highlighted how complex and emotional these conversations have become.

While debating Alabama’s legislation, state Rep. Patrick Sellers, a Democrat, said: “When you take the paddle out of the hand of the teacher, part of your problem arrived.”

As West Virginia delegates this spring debated their own version of a Teachers’ Bill of Rights (that ultimately did not become law), at least one delegate noted limitations inherent in such policies.

“I do believe that we should have discipline and no teacher should have to suffer violence. … But we have to be more specific as to how we want our classrooms governed and just kicking children out without giving them the proper tools that they need when you reinstitute them back into class—they’re going to be the same child with no interventions,” state Delegate Anitra Hamilton, a Democrat, told fellow delegates, according to a local news report.

Such interventions require time, training, and resources.

Restorative justice, which aims to uncover why someone is choosing to use harmful behavior, requires understanding of and adherence to three main principles: holding the wrongdoer accountable, involving the victim/survivor, and engaging the community, Sandra Pavelka, a professor in the department of political science and public administration at Florida Gulf Coast University, told Education Week last month.

See also

Generic school hallway with lockers
Some districts have integrated more restorative justice practices into their disciplinary structure. Experts describe what restorative justice looks like and how it can be implemented in schools.
School Climate & Safety Explainer Restorative Justice in Schools, Explained
Brooke Schultz, May 31, 2024
1 min read

Even as some states move to implement more punitive policies in schools, some districts are gravitating more toward restorative justice practices. In a recent EdWeek Research Center survey of 953 educators, nearly half of respondents said their schools or districts are using restorative justice more than they did before the pandemic.

Further, a solid percentage of respondents reported decreased use of the following punitive measures in their schools compared to pre-pandemic levels: fewer expulsions (35 percent), fewer out-of-school suspensions (44 percent), and fewer in-school suspensions (36 percent).

Data points to inequities of punitive measures

That same EdWeek Research Center survey found that nearly 40 percent of educators received no explicit classroom-management training in their teacher-preparation programs, and 8 percent didn’t participate in a teacher-prep program. Limited training on classroom management may leave teachers with few resources to combat the increasing behavioral issues and accelerate the use of punitive measures, which disproportionately affect Black students.

Black students comprise approximately 15 percent of total enrollment in public schools, but made up closer to half of all suspensions and expulsions in 2017-18, according to federal data.

In Alabama, a Black student is suspended from a public school every 15 minutes, according to research by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center also found that Black children are more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts for similar offenses: 57 percent compared to 38 percent for all infractions, such as truancy, defiance, and general disruptions.


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