An excellent piece in Mother Jones this month drives home the point that using suspensions to punish kids who have behavior problems in school doesn’t help them learn how to control their behavior. What it does is channel them into the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
A 2011 study of the records of nearly a million kids found that those suspended or expelled—even for minor infractions like small scuffles, using phones or making out—were three times as likely as other students to end up in the juvenile justice system within a year. And kids with diagnosed behavior problems like ADHD are the most likely to be disciplined.
As the writer, Katherine Reynolds Lewis, asks: “Are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?”
The article chronicles successes in schools that have reoriented their disciplinary approach to helping kids solve their behavior problems instead of punishing them. By recognizing that many kids are struggling with anxiety, learning disabilities, ADHD, or trauma, school staff can help kids identify why they are acting out and teach them techniques to manage their emotions more effectively.
Problem solving strategies are being tried by several hundred schools around the country, from public and private elementary schools to juvenile detention centers. One youth correctional center in Maine found that not only did disciplinary write-ups and injuries of both students and staff decline dramatically; the recidivism rate also dropped from 75 percent to 33 percent.
That’s what Ross Greene, who pioneered this skills-based approach, sees as the big win: not just to reduce behavior problems in school, but to set kids up for success on their own.