ERIC Identifier: ED259455
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Gushee, Matt
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Student Discipline Policies. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational
Management: ERIC Digest, Number Twelve.
Educational policymakers and administrators must choose from a bewildering
variety of discipline models and techniques. Legal intervention and
contradictory research findings further complicate the matter. There is,
therefore, no cut-and-dried solution to student behavior problems. Rather,
discipline policies must be based on community values and on their makers' best
judgment of students' welfare.
WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF A DISCIPLINE POLICY?
A school discipline policy can help prevent and control student behavior
problems by coordinating the school's disciplinary procedures and by informing
students what types of behavior are expected of them and what types are
Such a policy, however, has inherent limitations. On the one hand, many
disruptions occur in the classroom and are inseparable from the student-teacher
relationship. On the other hand, even the best policy is only a document, and
how it is carried out is at least as important as what it says. According to a
growing body of literature, the primary determinant of discipline policy
effectiveness is a healthy relationship between school and student--as indicated
by such variables as principals' leadership styles and students' perceptions of
whether or not they are fairly treated.
With the above limits in mind, we can define the basic functions of
discipline policy. Ben Brodinsky, for example, states these functions as follows
--Informing the reader of the school board's discipline philosophy
--Placing responsibility for policy enforcement
--Specifying offenses and fixing their seriousness
SHOULD THE POLICY EMPHASIZE PUNISHMENT OR PREVENTION?
American schools have traditionally dealt with student misbehavior by
checking it as it arose, usually through punishment. In recent years, however,
suspension and corporal punishment, the two most common punitive methods, have
increaseingly come under fire. Corporal punishment, many believe,
psychologically harms students and presents great potential for abuse if applied
maliciously or in anger. Suspension may discriminate against racial minorities,
remove from school those students who most need to be in school, and actually
reward some by giving them a "holiday."
Common sense as well as some research argues powerfully for prevention. With
fewer day-to-day discipline problems, schools would become more "productive" and
educate happier, healthier individuals. Critics claim that preventive methods
like incentive programs and counseling are costly and ineffective, whereas
punishment at least reduces immediate disruptions. In-school suspension, having
both punitive and preventive aspects and often incorporating counseling, may be
effective against some types of misbehavior, but it, too, is subject to many of
the criticisms noted above.
There is currently no firm scientific basis for choosing one discipline
method over another. For now, practical, moral, and legal considerations must
guide educators' choices.
HAVE THE COURTS HANDICAPPED SCHOOL DISCIPLINE?
In the late 1960's and early 1970's, a number of court decisions limited
schools' ability to punish students and prohibited them from restricting student
activities protected by the First Amendment. Many educators see these decisions
as impairing their ability to maintain appropriate discipline; the due process
requirements established by Goss v. Lopez for student suspension are
Although the law clearly affects the content of discipline policy and indeed
has spurred school systems to create more explicit and comprehensive policies,
the courts have intervened only reluctantly and have confined their decisions to
clear violations of students' constitutional rights. Due process requirements
are not stringent. Moreover, suggests Goldsmith (1982), due process may improve
discipline in a very immediate sense: disciplinarians are better able to set
appropriate penalties when incidents and causes are clarified in pre-suspension
hearings. In any case, the courts have stripped schools of little, if any,
Indirect effects of legal intervention may be much more harmful. Lufler
(1979) argues that the debate over discipline has been guided by an incorrect
analogy between school discipline and criminal justice. This false analogy has
caused schools to turn to inappropriate penalties, to overreact to minor
offenses, and to blame students for problems that may originate in the school
environment. Rather than treating school discipline problems as legal problems,
policy makers and researchers should look closely at the purposes and the
functioning of discipline systems.
Should schools attempt to be fair to each student, or should they curtail the
rights of the disruptive minority to maintain an orderly school environment for
the majority? This question, which involves the fundamental values of our
society, runs through both the theoretical and legal debates outlined above and
is crucial to selecting disciplinary strategies.
WHAT MAKES A DISCIPLINE POLICY EFFECTIVE?
Each school, each student, and each situation is unique. There is no single
solution to discipline problems. A few broad recommendations emerge from the
--Information. Policies must be aimed at factual problems, not rumors. School
districts should gather accurate data on student behavior in their schools
before setting policy
--Involvement. All groups affected by a policy should be involved in creating
it--in this case, the students who must conform to the policy, the school
personnel who must enforce it, and, ideally, students' families and other
--Problem definition. Policy-makers cannot assume that everyone agrees on
what constitutes undesirable student behavior. Defining the problem is the first
step toward solving it
--Flexibility. Rather than relying on a rigid system of penalties, policy
should allow for different situations and prescribe different methods for
--Communication. All students, parents, and school personnel should be aware
of the school's discipline policy or student conduct code. A readable and
well-designed student handbook is a widely used tool for informing students
--Consistent enforcement. If students are to cooperate with a discipline
code, they must believe they will be treated fairly.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Brodinsky, Ben. STUDENT DISCIPLINE: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS. AASA CRITICAL
ISSUES REPORT. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators,
1980. ED 198 206.
deJung, John, and others. STUDENT DISCIPLINE POLICY IN MIDDLE SCHOOLS.
Eugene, OR: Center for Educational Policy and Management, University of Oregon,
Duke, Daniel L., and Vernon F. Jones. ASSESSING RECENT EFFORTS TO REDUCE
STUDENT BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American
Educational Research Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 11-15, 1983.
ED 233 440.
Goldsmith, Arthur H. "Codes of Discipline: Developments, Dimensions,
Directions." EDUCATION AND URBAN SOCIETY 14 (February 1982):185-196.
Harris, J. John III, and others. A LEGAL-HISTORICAL EXAMINATION OF STUDENT
DISCIPLINE: ALTERNATIVE TRENDS IN EDUCATIONAL POLICY. Paper presented at the
annual meeting of the American Educatioal Research Association, Los Angeles,
April 13-17, 1981. ED 203 507.
Kaeser, Susan C. "Suspensions in School Discipline." EDUCATION AND URBAN
SOCIETY 11 (August 1979):450-464.
Lufler, Henry S., Jr. "Debating with Untested Assumptions: The Need to
Understand School Discipline." EDUCATION AND URBAN SOCIETY 11 (August
National School Boards Association. STUDENT DISCIPLINE: PRACTICAL APPROACHES.
Washington, D.C., 1979. ED 177 691.
Wu, Shi-Chang, and others. STUDENT SUSPENSION: A CRITICAL REAPPRAISAL.
Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education, 1980. ED 224 087.
Wynne, Edward A. "Defusing Discipline Problems." AMERICAN EDUCATOR: THE
PROFESSIONAL JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS 7 (Summer