Special Report
Families & the Community Opinion

Take a Positive, Personal Approach to Discipline

By Matt Cregor — January 04, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With the number of students missing at least a day of school due to suspensions or expulsions now double what it was in the 1970s, and suspensions a predictor of dropping out, how can we expect to resolve the dropout crisis?

This spike in exclusionary discipline raises a fundamental question of fairness. Students of color are far likelier than white students to be disciplined with exclusionary measures that take them out of regular public school. And, while white students are disproportionately likely to be punished for objective violations like smoking, students of color are far more likely to be disciplined for subjective offenses such as disrespect, making one wonder if we can close the so-called “achievement gap” as well.

Thankfully, some schools and communities have improved both safety and achievement by eschewing “zero tolerance” and implementing positive, preventive approaches to discipline. No one method works for every student, school, or community, but the skills honed by the schools cited here belong in any educator’s toolkit.

Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a community organization, led a multiyear effort to reform Denver’s school discipline policies. In partnership with the civil rights group, Advancement Project, Padres y Jovenes Unidos worked with the Denver public schools to revise the district’s discipline code to incorporate the principles of restorative practices. To promote trust, reconciliation, and mutual responsibility, restorative practices engage all members of a school community affected by a conflict in addressing and resolving it. Since implementing the new code in 2008, Denver has cut its expulsion rate in half and its suspension rate by a third.

• In Clayton County, Ga., the juvenile court, alarmed by dramatic increases in misdemeanor referrals from schools, convened leaders from the school district, law enforcement, the mental-health profession, and the greater community to develop a “school offense protocol” in 2004. By drawing a line between safety matters, which would be handled by law enforcement, and discipline matters, which would be managed by the school, Clayton County reduced its court referrals by almost 70 percent and increased its graduation rate by 20 percent. With school resource officers responsible for safety, not discipline, students felt safer, too.

• When two Illinois schools were combined to form Alton Middle School in 2006, the school’s discipline rates spiked. Alton now implements “positive behavior interventions and supports,” or PBIS—a practice shown to reduce disciplinary referrals while supporting gains in achievement, attendance, and perceptions of safety. PBIS schools teach and encourage positive student behavior, regularly monitor and address trends in disciplinary data, and provide individualized behavioral supports to students who need them most. Alton blended its PBIS effort with training to understand and address racial bias and inequality, reducing its suspensions by 25 percent—with the most significant drop for African-American students.

None of these approaches is a by-the-book program, but all rely on replicable frameworks based on the following principles:

1. Meaningful involvement of students and parents in developing, implementing, and monitoring discipline. The Dignity in Schools Campaign’s model code on education and dignity is an excellent resource on community involvement and each of the following matters.

2. Regular review of disciplinary data by race, gender, and disability. Programs like School-Wide Information System, or SWIS, can track the time, location, and type of disciplinary referral, providing a who, what, when, where, and why on discipline.

3. Establishing common expectations and common language on discipline, from principal to custodian.

See Also

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.

4. Supporting teachers, not just in managing classrooms, but also in making room for hard conversations about race and bias (an area in which we all could do better).

5. Reserving suspension, expulsion, arrest, and alternative school placement for the most serious offenses.

6. Not treating discipline as divorced from instruction. If you had to trade recess and art for test prep, you would’ve had trouble staying in your seat, too.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community 'I Need You to Wear a Mask to Protect My Child.' A Mom Fights for Vulnerable Students
Some parents see a tension between their medically vulnerable children's safety and their educational needs during the pandemic.
8 min read
Julia Longoria has joined a federal lawsuit by Disability Rights Texas against Texas Governor Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates in public schools. Longoria argues that the executive order prevents her child, Juliana, who is medically at-risk, from being able to attend school safely. Juliana Ramirez, 8, a third grader at James Bonham Academy in San Antonio, Texas, has ADHD and severe asthma which puts her at risk of complications from COVID-19.
Julia Longoria has joined a federal lawsuit by Disability Rights Texas against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over his ban on mask mandates in public schools. Longoria argues that the executive order prevents her child, Juliana, 8, who is medically at risk, from being able to attend school safely.
Julia Robinson for Education Week
Families & the Community Reported Essay Pandemic Parents Are More Engaged. How Can Schools Keep It Going?
Families have a better sense of what their child is learning, but schools will have to make some structural shifts to build on what they started.
6 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Families & the Community Opinion How to Preserve the Good Parts of Pandemic Schooling
Yes, there have been a few silver linings for student well-being in the pandemic. Let’s not lose them now, write two researchers.
Laura Clary & Tamar Mendelson
4 min read
A student and teacher communicate through a screen.
iStock/Getty
Families & the Community COVID Protocols Keep Changing. Here's How Schools Can Keep Parents in the Know
Parents and educators shared best practices for effective communication related to the pandemic. It all centers on transparency.
6 min read
communication information network 1264145800 b
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty