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Study Puts TX at Center of School Discipline Reform Movement



July 19, 2011

DALLAS - Texas is fast becoming the nation's leading laboratory for examining approaches to school discipline.

A groundbreaking study released today by the Council of State Governments (CSG) and Texas A&M University anonymously tracked Texas students who were expelled or suspended. Researchers wanted to see if the most common types of formal discipline throughout the nation affected student academic performance or involvement in the juvenile justice system during the course of six or more years.

Report author Michael Thompson, CSG's Justice Center director, says tactics vary widely from school to school, but discipline-heavy classrooms seem no better off.

"We see so many kids being removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons, often repeatedly - demonstrating that we're not getting the desired changes in behavior. We see an increased likelihood in students repeating a grade, dropping out or not graduating. We also see increased likelihood of juvenile-justice involvement."

Nearly six in 10 Texas students receive formal discipline at least once during their secondary-school years, the stdy says. After an expulsion or suspension, the likelihood that they soon will wind up in the juvenile justice system increases almost threefold. Non-whites and students with educational disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be removed from classrooms at the discretion of teachers.

Thompson praises Texas policymakers for their bipartisan support of the study, and says the findings can be useful nationwide.

"There's no reason to believe that Texas is an outlier in terms of how it uses suspensions and expulsions. In fact, in some ways it appears to be more progressive than other states."

Some Texas districts are trying alternatives - such as Positive Behavior Intervention and Support programs in Amarillo and Austin - which require special training for teachers and administrators. Some have seen significant reductions in the percentage of students suspended, expelled or sent to alternative schools - without negatively affecting the learning environment.

LaKashia Wallace, a Dallas mother of four, says her 13-year-old son - diagnosed with bipolar and attention deficit disorders - has fared well in classrooms where staff used positive reinforcement. However, she adds, when teachers aren't trained to handle discipline challenges, they tend to give in to confusion and frustration ...

"... and would rather have a child removed from school - put out, displaced - rather than deal with it."

After doing well in elementary school, Wallace says, her son has been expelled eight times since sixth grade. She believes each time has damaged his self-image.

"He feels as though he can't be successful. How disheartening is it that, in the morning when you drop your other three kids off, the last child to drop off, he says: 'I don't want to be here. I don't like this school; they don't like me.'"

Wallace recently joined the Texas Organizing Project's efforts to persuade the Dallas school district to explore more positive alternatives to discipline that are less likely to steer children toward the juvenile justice system.

The full report is online at justicecenter.org. Information on the Texas Organizing Project efforts is at organizetexas.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX
 

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