Effective Student Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class
The ChallengeStudies have demonstrated that ‘zero tolerance’ school policies and other factors have triggered a growing reliance by school officials on the most stringent administrative sanctions available or on referrals to the court system for a growing number of student behaviors. Some argue that the schools use overly stringent disciplinary options for relatively minor incidents. Long term absences from class increase the likelihood that the student will ultimately fail and drop out before obtaining a high school degree. High school dropouts are significantly disadvantaged economically and have a higher risk of entry into a life of crime than their better educated peers. The phenomenon of arguably excessive school disciplinary action disproportionately impacts disadvantaged youth, especially young black males.
Georgia Appleseed's Approach
Completed in June, 2011, Effective School Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class documents the findings of the 18-month study of student discipline policies and practices in Georgia's K-12 public school system. It includes analysis of millions of data points provided by the Georgia Department of Education. These statistical findings, combined with feedback from 200 stakeholders interviewed by Georgia Appleseed volunteers, showcase the wide variability among student discipline in the state's 180 school districts.
In some districts, out-of-school suspensions (OSS) are imposed on more than twenty percent of the school population annually. Moreover, OSS is disproportionately imposed on black students, poor students and special education students, up to three times as often. Not surprisingly, schools districts with high OSS rates tend to have lower than average graduation rates.
Striving for Balance
The report notes the challenging 'balancing act' faced by teachers and school administrators every day, to maintain a safe, conducive learning environment while also upholding each student's right, even one who is periodically unruly, to a reasonable opportunity to graduate.
The study revealed successful alternatives that maintain order and a safe environment while keeping kids in class. For example, 250 Georgia schools have had promising results with integrated 'positive behavior support," a pro-active school-wide approach to discipline. According to Rob Rhodes, the report's author, "The point is not to keep kids in school for the purpose of failing them out at the end of the process. The goal is to keep them in school and on the path of the school-to-success pipeline."
Call to Action
Culminating the report is its call to action for parents and policy makers, to affect law and policy that will help keep kids in class. Recommendations include improved disclosure of discipline data, evaluation of alternative education options, resources to implement behavior management programs, refinement of the Georgia code "disruption statute, and more focus in student conduct codes on student supports and parent involvement.
More than 100 legal and other professionals volunteered on this project. The Effective Student Discipline (ESD) Consulting Committee, comprised of multi-disciplinary experts in school discipline issues, provided advice throughout the process.
To learn more, contact Rob Rhodes, Georgia Appleseed Director of Projects.
A list of the Effective Student Discipline Consulting Committee members can be found here.