The struggle for children and youth in low-performing and under-resourced schools can be exacerbated by school discipline policies and practices that contribute to the disruption of teaching and learning opportunities for school staff and students. The most effective programs employ a more holistic approach to addressing unwanted behavior, focusing on social and emotional skills development, creating and sustaining positive interactions between peers, staff, and others, and reflecting on making responsible choices. This is best done with high-quality effective teaching in a consistent and caring manner, student engagement, and parent and community involvement.
Many social skills programs are designed to be delivered to the entire student body rather than to students identified in most need of such training. Before adopting such a schoolwide program, school officials must carefully consider the need for all students to receive such training against the instructional time that will be spent delivering it. These considerations require deliberate planning, implementation and ongoing evaluation for efficacy.
Cleveland Public Schools
In the Cleveland Public Schools, 100 percent of the students receive free lunch and more than 80 percent are African American or Latino. In 52 percent of the district’s 99 schools, students of color comprise more than 90 percent of the student body. Since a school shooting in 2007, the district has implemented districtwide changes incorporating social and emotional learning to improve conditions for learning. One program, PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), was implemented universally in kindergarten to grade 5. In all schools, K-12, planning centers replaced school suspension rooms. As a result, test scores improved, student perceptions of school safety dramatically increased, and the rate of out-of-school suspensions decreased by 59 percent between 2008-09 and 2010-11.
New York Public Schools—Positive Learning Collaborative
In 2012, the United Federation of Teachers and the New York City Department of Education partnered to form the Positive Learning Collaborative. The PLC emerged from the realization that the existing disciplinary school practices were disproportionately creating a system of exclusion for our most vulnerable children: children of color, children with learning disabilities and those from high-poverty sectors of our city.
In 2013, Young Leaders Elementary School joined the PLC. Young Leaders is located in the South Bronx, a notoriously under-resourced and underserved community. Through the extensive Therapeutic Crisis Intervention System (TCIS) training and on-site coaching, staff made great shifts in creating a positive, supportive school climate. The school used a multi-tiered framework that focuses on reflective and restorative practices while developing the systems needed for sustainability, resulting in a 64 percent reduction in violent incidents and a 53 percent improvement in school climate. The six schools that began with PLC in 2012 had an average of a 46 percent reduction in suspensions a year after implementing the PLC model.