In our last blog entry, we touched on the issues facing schools over discipline. Strong, zero-tolerance policies may improve the school environment, but they appear to be putting many students at risk of joining the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
There is data to back up what activists call the “school-to-prison pipeline”: 20% of black boys and 12% of black girls are suspended from school each year in the United States, compared to 6% of white boys and 2% of white girls. 95% of those school suspensions are for non-violent offences like verbally disrupting class. Yet once suspended, students experience academic delays and become twice as likely to drop out, get involved in street violence, (and) then get sucked into the criminal justice system.
KIPP, a charter school program deployed across the country, holds to a ‘no excuses’ code of discipline. Jonathan Chait, in a recent article for The Guardian, maintains that their program is effective because it ‘teaches poor kids “middle class norms.” Sociologist Annette Lareau posits that middle-class and higher income families approach discipline in a very child-centric way. These parents allow their children to explain themselves and their side of the story. Punishment is a negotiation not a straight equation.
Negotiation is hardly the approach used within KIPP’s no excuses policy. Students march through the hallways in military silence. They are required to adapt specific postures during class and must maintain their gaze on the teacher. One school isolated children with behavior issues in a windowless closet that sports padded walls.
Syracuse City School District, looking at its own efforts with zero-tolerance policies that saw students moving to alternative programs in response to discipline issues, found this solution to be lacking. Despite their best efforts, the alternative programs were never as good at somehow keeping the students in their classes with their highly qualified teachers.
There are some innovations going on in other schools that may hold the key to a broader solution for all. One movement that holds promise is “restorative justice” an approach that works with students to get them to speak to each other as well as with trained professionals in order to address issues, like fear, anger, and anxiety, which are often the root causes of discipline issues.
Restorative justice teaches students how to resolve conflict and enforces critical problem-solving skills. These problem-solving skills are essential to functioning as an adult in the world at large, so students who face issues under this program actually receive more education rather than less.