ERIC Identifier: ED350727
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Gaustad, Joan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
School Discipline. ERIC Digest, Number 78.
School discipline has two main goals: (1) ensure the safety of staff and
students, and (2) create an environment conducive to learning. Serious student
misconduct involving violent or criminal behavior defeats these goals and often
makes headlines in the process. However, the commonest discipline problems
involve noncriminal student behavior (Moles 1989).
These less dramatic problems may not threaten personal safety, but they still
negatively affect the learning environment. Disruptions interrupt lessons for
all students, and disruptive students lose even more learning time. For example,
Gottfredson and others (1989) calculate that in six middle schools in
Charleston, South Carolina, students lost 7,932 instructional days--44
years!--to in-school and out-of-school suspensions in a single academic year.
It is important to keep the ultimate goal in mind while working to improve
school discipline. As education researcher Daniel Duke (1989) points out, "the
goal of good behavior is necessary, but not sufficient to ensure academic
growth." Effective school discipline strategies seek to encourage responsible
behavior and to provide all students with a satisfying school experience as well
as to discourage misconduct.
WHAT SCHOOL CHARACTERISTICS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH DISCIPLINE PROBLEMS?
When Johns Hopkins University researchers Gary D. Gottfredson
and Denise C. Gottfredson analyzed data from over 600 of the nation's secondary
schools, they found that the following school characteristics were associated
with discipline problems: Rules were unclear or perceived as unfairly or
inconsistently enforced; students did not believe in the rules; teachers and
administrators did not know what the rules were or disagreed on the proper
responses to student misconduct; teacher-administration cooperation was poor or
the administration inactive; teachers tended to have punitive attitudes;
misconduct was ignored; and schools were large or lacked adequate resources for
teaching (cited in Gottfredson 1989).
After reviewing dozens of studies on student behavior, Duke agreed with many
of the Gottfredsons' conclusions. Orderly schools, he noted, usually balance
clearly established and communicated rules with a climate of concern for
students as individuals, and small alternative schools often maintain order
successfully with fewer formal rules and a more flexible approach to infractions
than large schools typically have.
HOW CAN SCHOOLS DECREASE DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR?
change the above-mentioned characteristics may decrease disruptive behavior.
First, rules and the consequences of breaking them should be clearly specified
and communicated to staff, students, and parents by such means as newsletters,
student assemblies, and handbooks. Meyers and Pawlas (1989) recommend
periodically restating the rules, especially after students return from summer
or winter vacation.
Once rules have been communicated, fair and consistent enforcement helps
maintain students' respect for the school's discipline system. Consistency will
be greater when fewer individuals are responsible for enforcement. Providing a
hearing process for students to present their side of the story and establishing
an appeal process will also increase students' and parents' perceptions of
The Gottfredsons suggest creating smaller schools or dividing large schools
into several schools-within-schools (cited in Duke). This has been done in
several Portland, Oregon, middle schools that have large numbers of at-risk
students. For example, as Director of Instruction Leigh Wilcox explained, Lane
Middle School has been divided into three minischools, each with a complete age
range of students taught by a team of teachers (telephone interview, July 10,
Discipline policies should distinguish between categories of offenses. Minor
infractions may be treated flexibly, depending on the circumstances, while
nonnegotiable consequences are set for serious offenses. Actual criminal
offenses may be reported to the police as part of a cooperative anticrime effort
HOW CAN SCHOOLS INCREASE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR?
shown that social rewards such as smiling, praising, and complimenting are
extremely effective in increasing desirable behavior.
Citing studies showing that students who dislike school, do poorly
academically, and have limited career objectives are more likely to be
disruptive, Gottfredson (1989) recommends that schools work to increase academic
success for low-achievers. However, this alone is not enough. A comparison of
three alternative programs for at-risk youth revealed that while achievement
increased in all three, delinquent behavior decreased only in the program that
also increased students' social involvement and attachment to school.
Discipline problems will be reduced if students find school enjoyable and
interesting. When teachers at Wilson Elementary School in North Carolina changed
their instructional practices to accommodate a variety of learning styles,
discipline problems decreased dramatically.
Sometimes problem behavior occurs because students simply don't know how to
act appropriately. Black and Downs (1992) urge administrators to regard
disciplinary referrals as opportunities to teach students valuable social skills
that will promote success in future employment as well as in school. They
present detailed procedures for "de-escalating disruptive behavior, obtaining
and maintaining instructional control, teaching alternative behaviors, and
preparing students for classroom re-entry."
HOW IMPORTANT IS ADMINISTRATIVE LEADERSHIP?
plays an important leadership role in establishing school discipline, both by
effective administration and by personal example. Principals of well-disciplined
students are usually highly visible models. They engage in what Duke describes
as "management by walking around," greeting students and teachers and informally
monitoring possible problem areas. Effective principals are liked and respected,
rather than feared, and communicate caring for students as well as willingness
to impose punishment if necessary (NAESP 1983).
Duckworth (1984) found that teachers' satisfaction with school discipline
policy was related to their relationship with the principal. Good communication
and shared values are important elements in this relationship. Ideally, a
principal should be able to create consensus among staff on rules and their
enforcement. In practice, some principals create consensus by recruiting
like-minded staff over the course of years (Duckworth), or by arranging
transfers for teachers whose views "don't fit in with goals and plans for their
In a study involving eight Charlotte, South Carolina, middle schools,
Gottfredson and others concluded that stable and supportive administrative
leadership was the "overriding factor" determining whether a discipline program
was effective. Schools that successfully implemented a pilot program experienced
distinct improvements in discipline.
Strong district leadership can also be crucial, according to Lieutenant Steve
Hollingsworth, chief of public schools police in Portland, Oregon. When violent
gang activity began to emerge in Portland schools, the superintendent took
strong action from the start by creating and publicly announcing firm anti-gang
policies. Knowing they "had the support of the people at the top" helped school
staff present a united front to this difficult challenge (cited in Gaustad).
HOW SHOULD A SCHOOLWIDE DISCIPLINE PLAN BE DEVELOPED AND IMPLEMENTED?
A school discipline plan must conform to state and federal
statutes and to district policy. Meyers and Pawlas suggest that principals
consult district administrators beforehand and keep them informed as a
schoolwide plan is being developed. Frels and others (1990) review relevant
Supreme Court decisions and present sample suspension, discipline, and drug and
alcohol policies that may serve as guidelines in policy development.
A plan should be designed around the individual school's learning goals and
philosophy of education (NAESP). Grossnickel and Sesko (1990) present sample
discipline philosophy, goals, and objectives from which specific regulations can
be derived. According to Gottfredson, if a commercially developed program is
adopted it should be tailored to local conditions, as obstacles vary greatly
among schools. Allowing sufficient time for implementation is also important;
new disciplinary practices often fail due to unrealistic time expectations.
A uniform reporting system is an important element of a school discipline
plan. Uniform reporting permits assessment of the current extent of criminal and
other disciplinary incidents, helps pinpoint problem areas, and enables
administrators to evaluate the success of disciplinary actions (Gaustad).
Written policies should be developed with input from everyone who will be
affected by them. Teacher input is especially important because their support is
crucial to a plan's success. Meyers and Pawlas note that cafeteria and custodial
staff may have excellent commonsense suggestions based on their interactions
with students. They also suggest consulting parent and community
representatives. Student input is also desirable (NAESP).
Once developed, discipline policies must be communicated to staff, students,
parents, and community. But a policy on paper is meaningless in itself. Ongoing
administrative support, inservice training in new techniques, continued
communication, and periodic evaluation and modification are needed to adapt a
school discipline plan to the changing needs of the school community.
Black, Donald D., and John C. Downs.
ADMINISTRATIVE INTERVENTION: A DISCIPLINE HANDBOOK FOR EFFECTIVE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS. Longmont, Colorado: Sopris West, Inc. 1992. 94 pages.
Brodinsky, Ben. STUDENT DISCIPLINE: PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS. American
Association of School Administrators Critical Issues Report. Sacramento,
California: Education News Service, 1980. 80 pages.
Duckworth, Kenneth. SCHOOL DISCIPLINE POLICY: A PROBLEM OF BALANCE. Eugene,
Oregon: Center for Educational Policy and Management, 1984. 9 pages. ED 252 926.
Duke, Daniel L. "School Organization, Leadership, and Student Behavior." In
STRATEGIES TO REDUCE STUDENT MISBEHAVIOR, edited by
Oliver C. Moles. Washington, D.C.: Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, 1989. 187 pages. ED 311 608.
Frels, Kelly, and others. SCHOOL DISCIPLINE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES: A
PRACTICAL GUIDE-REVISED EDITION. Alexandria, Virginia: National School Boards
Association, April 1990. 39 pages. ED 322 597.
Gaustad, Joan. SCHOOLS RESPOND TO GANGS AND VIOLENCE. OSSC Bulletin. Eugene,
Oregon: Oregon School Study Council, 1991. 54 pages. ED 337 909.
Gottfredson, Denise G. "Developing Effective Organizations to Reduce School
Disorder." In STRATEGIES TO REDUCE STUDENT MISBEHAVIOR, edited by Oliver C.
Moles. Washington, D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S.
Department of Education, 1989. 187 pages. ED 311 608.
Gottfredson, Denise G., and others. REDUCING DISORDERLY BEHAVIOR IN MIDDLE
SCHOOLS. Report No. 37. Baltimore, Maryland: Center for Research on Elementary
and Middle Schools, 1989. 26 pages. ED 320 654.
Grossnickle, Donald R., and Frank P. Sesko. PREVENTIVE DISCIPLINE FOR EFFECTIVE TEACHING AND LEARNING: A SOURCEBOOK FOR TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATORS. Reston, Virginia: National Association of
Secondary School Principals, 1990. 26 pages. ED 320 205.
Meyers, Kenneth, and George Pawlas. THE PRINCIPAL AND DISCIPLINE. Elementary
Principal Series No. 5. Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Educational
Foundation, 1989. 32 pages. ED 315 915.
Moles, Oliver C. STRATEGIES TO REDUCE STUDENT MISBEHAVIOR. Washington, D.C.:
Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education,
1989. 187 pages. ED 311 608.
National Association of Elementary School Principals. "Developing a
Discipline Code in Your School." HERE'S HOW 2, 3 (December 1983). Reston,
Virginia: Author, 1983. 4 pages. ED 242 000.