By Jason Schultz
Schools nationwide should focus more on how to prevent bad behavior than how to punish misbehaving students, according to a nationwide study of schools being released this morning by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
The study, entitled The School Discipline Consensus Report, recommends that school officials focus on improving the learning environment in schools rather than focusing on how to react to bad behavior from students and gives a set of tools the group says can be used to move school discipline policies away from reactive punishment towards preventing bad behavior in the first place.
The report is a follow up to the Breaking Schools’ Rules report the group did in 2011 examining the link between school discipline, student success in school and how likely students are to get in trouble and end up in the juvenile justice system.
School Board Member Debra Robinson said the broad recommendation of the study to focus more on prevention than reactive punishment is exactly what the Palm Beach County School District has been doing for the last few years with its positive behavior intervention program.
Joseph Lee, the assistant superintendent of educational alternatives and interventions, said the district has moved away from a rigid student discipline matrix and is trying to focus more on supporting and and encouraging positive behavior in students to prevent the behavior that leads to discipline.
Lee credited the focus on intervening with troubled students and supporting positive behavior to prevent bad behavior with a major drop in out of school suspensions last year. The school district had been criticized in a national study several years ago that cited a high rate of suspensions, particularly among black male middle schoolers.
Lee pointed in particular to Palm Beach Lakes High School, which he said used to have one of the highest suspension rates of any school in the district and now has one of the lowest rates. He said that is because the principal, Anthony Hamlett, has bought into the idea of a proactive and preventive approach to support good behavior as opposed to a reactive approach of waiting for bad behavior and then handing out discipline.
Robinson said she would like to see the district go even further with its prevention methods, hiring what she calls school based team leaders at each school. Those leaders would be responsible for coordinating outreach efforts and getting resources to troubled students before they head down to bad behavior and discipline.