That can’t be right was my reaction, and I imagine a lot of folks’, to the report out last month that 60% of Texas students get suspended or expelled in middle or high school. When I was in school, getting suspended or expelled was for the worst of the worst: the showing-up-drunk-in-class-and-hitting-a-teacher types. News that good research finds it’s happening to most Texas teens—that the majority of the million kids studied were suspended or expelled repeatedly—got to me.
My little one is going to enter public school before long, and I’m not too crazy about these odds that say, more likely than not, at some point the system is going to throw up its hands and take her out of school if she acts up. I understand that teens misbehave and need limits, but suspension and expulsion are like the H-bomb of school discipline. Maybe some sanctions or diplomacy could be tried?
The study, which was done by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, found children removed from class were five times more likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school and twice as likely to enter the juvenile justice system. Yet the offenses that got kids removed, in nearly every case, were minor enough to be considered against school rules but not against state law. (For serious offenses, schools have to suspend or expel.) Less fair still, schools aren’t enforcing those rules the same for every child: kids of certain races or with special needs bear the brunt of the punishments.
Fellow adults: let’s step back for a moment and consider what it would be like if, every time we had a not-so-good day on the job, our employer kicked us out. I think that would be a pretty hostile work environment, particularly if I were going through a lot of transition and drama at the time, as nearly every adolescent is. Schools, of all places, need to be able to handle kids being kids without periodically throwing in the towel for 60% of those in their charge. There are less reactionary ways to discipline and guide behavior.
School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is a method on a lot of school campuses that prevents kids from acting up, leads to students and teachers feeling safer at school, and improves student grades and attendance to boot. An Austin American-Statesman piece yesterday noted that it works so well, not only does the Texas Education Agency recommend it, the U.S. Department of Education is working actively to bring it to more schools. PBIS looks like the low-hanging fruit our schools need to replace what isn’t working in school discipline today.
What did you think of the report? Do you have kids in your family or of friends who have been over-disciplined at school? What advice would you give parents who think their school crossed a line when it came to discipline?