Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Does punishment work?

We discussed punishment in previous blogs. The LA Times bring the issue back, this time in school settings.

“School administrators typically have handled misbehavior problems by suspending students. But this year Markham and Gompers middle schools have reported marked reductions in that form of discipline — as has the L.A. Unified School District overall, where the suspension rate dropped to 1.5% last year from 8% in 2008.”

In this article (http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-lausd-suspend-20140601-story.html#page=1) alternative discipline strategies in school settings are discussed. 

“The drop came after the Los Angeles Board of Education and L.A. schools chief John Deasy called for fewer suspensions as concern grew nationwide that removing students from school imperils their academic achievement.”

Kudos to the chief. I understand that schools may suspend problematic students for safety reasons. Aggression (physical and verbal, including cursing), property destruction, class disruption, threats (including bringing weapons to school), are all safety concerns.

However, from a discipline point of view sending problematic students home not only doesn’t address the real problem but often times rewards bad behaviors. Students who don’t want to go to school get to be home playing videogames, or something worse, frequently unsupervised because their parents need to work.

I’m aware of the fact that teachers and school administrators have a hard time dealing with misbehaviors, especially since years of tight budgets have left limited funding for the critical extra staff and training. 
“Principal Traci Gholar said she readily suspended disruptive students in 2011-12, her first year at the helm, to drive home to families that she was intent on building a safe, orderly and positive school climate. When superiors questioned her high suspension rate, Gholar asked for new resources that would support alternative disciplinary approaches: a conflict resolution specialist, a restorative justice coordinator, more campus aides, performing arts events and other activities.”

Alternative disciplinary approaches, interesting. Since I know you are a fervent follower of our blogs, you are familiar with alternative forms of discipline, positive ones aimed at building behavior repertoires, including life skills.

“The extra help appears to have made a difference. According to school data, incidents involving student misbehavior declined from 1,035 in the last school year to 663 as of May of this year. And although most of the misbehavior was serious enough to warrant suspensions, Gompers made a greater effort to address it in alternative ways, reducing the suspension rate to 3% from 30% last year.”

“Markham has also reported significant progress. Student incidents have declined from 1,732 in the last school year to 1,463 this year and the suspension rate has fallen to 7% from 12%. Like Gompers, Markham has received extra help, including a restorative justice coordinator.”

 Wow! These alternative strategies not only sound good but they work.

“As Gompers students celebrated "peace week," featuring games and banners decrying violence and bullying, eighth-graders Wesley Price, Cindy Birrueta and Maria Gomez said the atmosphere on campus has improved greatly. Gomez said that "community building circles," in which students share experiences, build trust and forge friendships, have helped reduce tensions.”

In other words, proactive strategies to foster and encourage appropriate behaviors and create a positive atmosphere (“peace week”, visual reminders, support groups, special activities to increase motivation, etc.), address the real problem. As we always say, behaviors are communication. When an individual misbehaves he/she is expressing a need. By punishing, the needs remain unresolved.   

Often times I hear the statement “there are no real and consistent consequences in school settings,” meaning punishment.

I think the problem is that there are no real and consistent rewards, making learning fun, teachers that know how to get the attention of their students by motivating them rather than policing or forcing.  

Let’s stop the madness and start training and educating parents and teachers on effective ways of teaching and fostering appropriate, functional, social significant behaviors. It would be cost-effective by rising and nurturing productive members of society. It is the right thing to do. 


Daniel Adatto, BCBA


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