In the Los Angeles Unified School District, more students are now staying in school instead of losing class time because of suspensions. Thanks to the district’s successful approach to discipline, the number of days lost to suspension in 2010-11 plummeted to 26,286, from 46,006—an impressive 43 percent drop in one year. Among the lessons learned: Schoolchildren who engage in a positive manner in school are less likely to get into trouble.
To provide some context: Los Angeles Unified ranks as the nation’s second-largest school district, enrolling more than 664,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. About 80 percent of them qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. A large majority, 73 percent, identify as Latino. Ten percent of our students are African-American, 9 percent are white, and 8 percent identify as other ethnicities. The statistics indicate that today only a small fraction of our students get suspended, and the numbers are shrinking.
In a large urban school district, such as this one in which suspensions had once been rising, how did we accomplish this? The Los Angeles district’s “discipline foundation policy,” adopted five years ago, provides an overarching framework to maintain and encourage appropriate conduct on every campus. The policy establishes roles for administrators, teachers, support staff, students, and parents or guardians.
As a result, all schoolwide discipline plans for teachers include instruction on school rules, social-emotional skills, and effective classroom-management skills. We encourage positive student behavior by providing early intervention strategies that require appropriate consequences for misconduct and offer behavior-support strategies for the future.
We use a scaled approach to address student needs: Tier I interventions may include establishing expectations for schoolwide behavior that are consistently reinforced. For students who need more guidance, Tier II interventions may range from referral to a counselor to a “mini-course” that addresses the targeted behavior. For cases requiring greater support, Tier III interventions may require alternative programming or suspensions for students.
Essential to the policy’s success is the uniform training of all staff members in student discipline, including identifying disciplinary measures that violate the state education code. The district’s office of school operations holds mandatory training sessions for all staff members who are involved in student discipline. Having a common understanding improves our efforts and leads to consistent enforcement of policies. Identifying behavioral trends also helps maintain discipline and a positive school climate.
Suspension data are analyzed monthly by Superintendent John E. Deasy, his administrative team, and school officials. These regular reviews chart the effectiveness of schoolwide discipline plans and, if necessary, modify strategies to address specific needs of students on particular campuses. When discipline stubbornly remains a major issue at a specific school, greater support is provided.
What is the most effective approach for maintaining discipline and a positive climate in the public schools?
Education Week Commentary asked six thought leaders to share their answer to this question in Quality Counts 2013. Read the other responses.
Today, more students are in the classroom; discipline is maintained across campuses, and school climates are more positive.
The district’s efforts are working. The numbers, like the impressive 43 percent drop in the suspension rate in a single school year and the fact that the rate has held steady, tell a story worth repeating. Punishment alone won’t improve behavior, nor will it keep students in school so they can benefit from instruction.