Some teachers push back as schools expand discipline reforms

Teacher survey shows increase in fights and assaults in high poverty districts
By: | August 27, 2019
At Racine USD in Wisconsin, a Mitchell Middle School student meets with Lisa Lopez, a staff member from Violence Free Zones, an intervention program that helps students learns to better regulate their emotions.At Racine USD in Wisconsin, a Mitchell Middle School student meets with Lisa Lopez, a staff member from Violence Free Zones, an intervention program that helps students learns to better regulate their emotions.

As racial disparities drive more school systems to reduce expulsions and out-of-school suspensions, there are some signs of pushback as teachers and others question the effectiveness of restorative practices and other discipline reforms.

Teachers in high poverty schools report an increase in fights and assaults, and blamed inadequate discipline and a growing tolerance for misbehavior, according to the survey, “Discipline Reform through the Eyes of Teachers,” by the Fordham Institute and RAND Corporation.

Teachers surveyed in the report also said the majority of learners are suffering because of the behavior of a small group of chronically disruptive students, who don’t belong in a general education setting. Educators should use suspensions and expulsions more frequently, the teachers said.

Meanwhile, major districts across the U.S., including Oakland USD, San Diego USD and Broward County Public Schools, continue to expand the use of social-emotional learning, restorative justice and other reforms in widespread efforts to keep students in school.

And a bill that would prohibit schools from expelling disruptive students in grades K-8 passed The California State Assembly last week, the The Sacramento Bee reported.

In January, former Tucson USD assistant superintendent Eugene Butler wrote in District Administration that school leaders still have plenty of work to do to reverse the impacts of a long history of excessive suspensions.


Read more: New direction for school detention


The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found in a July report that students of color continue to be disciplined more often and more harshly than other students. It’s not due to higher rates of misbehavior, but because of “structural and systemic factors” such as higher percentages of black students and teacher experience, the commission said.

Along with reducing suspensions, district leaders are replacing detention with activities that they hope will inspire students to reflect on disruptive behaviors. At West Port High School in Marion County Public Schools in Florida, students write about what caused their behavior, its consequences and how it could have been avoided, Principal Jayne Ellspermann told DA in 2016.

“When students make poor choices, the most important thing we can do is help them not make the same choice in the future” she said. “If time out of the classroom or after school is paired with reflection, it can make a difference.”