School discipline policies have been under considerable scrutiny amid concerns over the negative effects of zero tolerance and similarly-inflexible disciplinary practices on students' educational prospects. The January 2014 release of a guidance package on school discipline
by the U.S. Department of Education has spurred important discussions
about how to define and remedy discriminatory school discipline
practices, the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of zero tolerance policies, the pros and cons of suspension and expulsion, and the underlying needs of students with behavior problems.
While the topic of school discipline may be a recent headline, it is not a new issue, and there are resources
to help those interested in promoting constructive school disciplinary
approaches. Here are five things to know about school discipline and the
movement to reform disciplinary practices:
School disciplinary actions are, at their core, a learning opportunity.
Student behavior problems may be about more than the behavior itself.
disciplinary infractions may reflect students' struggles with
increasingly rigorous academic expectations, or circumstances affecting
them outside of school. While behavior issues, absenteeism, and violence
in schools undeniably impact academic instruction, policies and
disciplinary actions that fail to consider the range of student
backgrounds and contexts are missing an opportunity to identify needed supports for at-risk and struggling students.
Research shows a strong link between disciplinary policies and actions and a host of negative outcomes.
Recent federal guidance supports efforts to ensure that discipline practices are fair and equitable.
In response to evidence
of the uneven application of school discipline practices based on race,
ethnicity, gender, or other characteristics -- known as "disproportionality" -- the Department of Education is encouraging schools and districts to develop research-based, locally-tailored approaches to discipline that strive to circumvent exclusionary discipline, especially for minor misbehaviors. Many school systems are embracing this opportunity to showcase and/or accelerate their progress in this area.
Schools set the tone for the disciplinary climate.