Posted 1/28/14 by Philip K. Howard
For Better Schools, Overhaul School Discipline
Howard's Daily by Philip K. Howard
Unfair school discipline is good for no one and corrodes school culture, as today’s Washington Post feature suggests.
Schools should indeed have alternative settings so that disruptive students are not just cast onto the streets. But the core defect is solved not by tweaking the elaborate legal code—such as notoriously rigid "zero tolerance" rules—but by scrapping most legal controls.
The focus on racial disparities in discipline ignores the greater harm of racial disparities in learning—how can anyone learn when there's chaos in a classroom? America needs a complete overhaul of the school discipline system, giving back teachers and principals the authority to act immediately when confronted by disruption and to achieve fairness by using their judgment in context, and safeguarding against unfairness by human checks and balances—say, a student-parent complaint committee.
Formal legal due process in schools has proved to be a disaster, like pouring legal acid into what is supposed to be a culture of learning and sharing. (See Judging School Discipline by Professor Richard Arum.)