Teachers Say, Yeah, School Discipline Is a Big Problem

Source: Fordham Institute. Click for more legible image

Many people in Virginia’s political class have much to say about discipline in schools. Many politicians, advocacy groups and educators have embraced the narrative that discriminatory enforcement and unnecessarily harsh punishments have created a “schools-to-prison pipeline” disproportionately affecting African-Americans. Based on that belief, the state has pushed school districts to adopt a “restorative justice” approach to discipline. A few lonely voices, such as this blog, have argued that disciplinary practices may need reform but restorative justice contributes to disorder in the classroom, disrupts the teaching environment and harms students who want to learn.

One set of voices notably absent from this debate comes from teachers — those most intimately familiar with what is happening in hallways and classrooms. What do they have to say about discipline in schools?

A recent report, “Discipline Reform through the Eyes of Teachers,” attempts to address that deficiency. Partnering with the RAND Corporation, the Thomas Fordham Institute queried 1,200 teachers nationally. Because racial and socioeconomic equity is a key consideration in the discipline debate, the survey over-sampled African-American teachers and teachers in high-poverty schools — something that previous surveys had not done.

The findings? Let’s just say I get tired of being right all the time. Let me summarize:

Says Fordham: “Most teachers in high-poverty schools say a disorderly or unsafe environment makes it difficult for students to learn.”

Thirteen percent of teachers in high-poverty schools said that they were physically attacked by a student in 2017-18 — more than three times the average for low-poverty schools. Thirty-two percent said there was physical fighting in their school every day/week. And 33% said they dealt with verbal disrespect every day.

Fifty-eight percent of teachers at high-poverty schools agreed with the statement, “Student behavior problems contributed to a disorderly or unsafe environment that made it difficult for many students to learn.” (Even 24% of teachers at low-poverty schools agreed with that statement.)

Says Fordham: “Most teachers say discipline is inconsistent or inadequate — and that the recent decline in suspensions is at least partly explained by a higher tolerance for misbehavior or underreporting.”

Sixty-six percent of teachers said that school discipline policy was inconsistently enforced. Nearly half, 48%, said they found themselves “putting up with offending behavior in the classroom due to a lack of administrative support.”

A majority of teachers attribute the recent decline in out-of-school suspensions to the increased use of alternative disciplinary systems and a higher tolerance for misbehavior. Some teachers credited improved student behavior, but more than half pointed to under-reporting of offenses.

Teachers are less sure what to do about the problem. While most teachers saw value traditional practices like establishing consequences for misbehavior, such as out-of-school and in-school suspensions, they also saw value in alternative approaches such as systematically rewarding good behavior, addressing root causes (“trauma-informed” practices), and restorative justice.

Although teachers were concerned that suspensions would increase a student’s odds of getting involved with the criminal justice system, large majorities agreed that other students suffered from the actions “of a few persistent troublemakers.” Significant percentages of teachers thought persistently disruptive students should be expelled, put into separate classes, or diverted to “alternative learning centers.” White teachers and black teachers did not differ significantly in their responses.

Hat tip: John Butcher

There are currently no comments highlighted.

Leave a Reply