Study: Prevent Bad Behavior in Schools, Don’t Punish It

The Council of State Governments Justice Center released a nationwide study yesterday entitled The School Discipline Consensus Report that suggests that school officials focus on improving the learning environment rather than spending so much time dwelling on how to react to bad behavior. The study also shares a set of tools which can be used to minimize reactive punishment and maximize preventing bad behavior before it happens.

Jason Schultz, in his article for The Palm Beach Post, adds that the report follows the Breaking Schools' Rules report in 2011 which took a close look at the link between students' success and school discipline. It covered the likelihood of students getting in trouble at school and ending up in the juvenile justice system.

In a related article written by Allie Bidwell for U.S. News and World Report, the Council of State Governments Justice Center says that schools should change their policies to promote targeted interventions and to form stronger relationships with law enforcement organizations to improve learning environments and to reduce suspensions and expulsions of students.

Joseph Lee, assistant superintendent of educational alternatives and interventions says that the Palm Beach County District had been criticized in years past for the number of out-of-school suspensions it had issued, particularly the number of black male suspensions.

Last year, because of the focus on positive behavior, the number of suspensions lessened significantly. Palm Beach Lakes High School in particular has one of the lowest rates of suspensions, after having had the highest number of suspensions in the district a year ago. The district is hoping to hire "school-based team leaders" who would be responsible for outreach efforts toward getting resources for troubled students before they head down the negative path.

The 460-page report aims at reducing "zero tolerance" policies and concentrate on more training for educators to help de-escalate conflicts. The study showed that LGTB students, minority students and the disabled are more likely to be suspended or expelled. Being expelled or suspended has an impact on students' learning success and graduation rates.

The positive mindset in teachers, however, can have a real effect on a student's academic success, and on their ability to use good judgement. Rainier Beach High School in Seattle has a few teachers at the entrances to the school each morning to spot tardy students, not to punish them. The teachers are there to spend 3-5 minutes talking through strategies that might help them change what happened on that day to something different; something that might get them to school on time the next day.

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Republican who also serves as chairman of the Council of State Governments, said in a statement that it's important to note that the report does not serve as a "top-down, one-size-fits-all approach" to school discipline.

"Instead, it's a vision directly from the field about how to move beyond the old way of thinking and establish a variety of proven systems that can fit within any given district with its own unique set of challenges," Norris said.

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