To the point week of 01-17-08

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THERE WAS AN INTERESTING STUDY released recently from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy dealing with the discipline of students in schools.

In the study, researchers came to the conclusion that schools cannot solve disciplinary problems by punishing all students the same way. The study says that schools that use such things as “zero tolerance” and automatic one day suspensions for certain problems are not likely to change the student’s behavior.

The study was undertaken because Indiana has an alarmingly high rate of disciplinary problems in our schools – particularly in high schools.

It pointed to data that the researchers had collected involving the 2005-2006 school year, where schools in Indiana suspended 313,322 students during the year – and expelled 6,324 students.

The student cited the Indiana Department of Education as saying that more than 600 schools reported a rate of higher than 10-percent – that’s more than 10 students out of every 100 students being suspended at some point during the school year.

The study suggests that school systems develop a program where discipline is looked at on more of an individual basis, rather than having one rule that automatically applies to each and every child.

Now on the surface, that looks like a good recommendation (then again, “No Child Left Behind” looks good, too, but that’s another column); but in reality there has to be a standard through which students are expected to behave.

Yes, I do think some students deserve the benefit of the doubt at times; but those types of decisions are left to administrators to make – not legislation.

The same blanket does not cover every person equally. There has to be some room for a teacher or a principal to adjust a student’s punishment for an offense.

The statistics from the study are alarming, because it appears that schools, in lieu of trying to discipline students, are simply sending them home. That doesn’t impact anyone in a positive way, and I think that most of the time the student returns with an even bigger chip on his shoulder.

In our court system, judges have the leeway to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances when handing down a sentence – but those are based off of a standard sentence.

The feeling here is that most parents would think individual punishments would be a good thing – as long as their child was the one getting the break.

Can you imagine what happens on the “other end” of that situation?

“Mom and dad. I got in a fight at school today and got suspended for three days.”

“What happened to the other kid?”

“He got a day of in school suspension because he hasn’t been in trouble before.”

“Really? Well I’m going down to that school and tell them that my lawyer will be in touch over this whole thing. They’re not going to do that to my kid.”

You see, everyone has a lawyer these days.

And that’s exactly why individual punishments based on individual students – when it is written in school policy – will not work. Everyone will want it to work in their child’s favor, and no one will be happy when it doesn’t.

I went to school when teachers and principals had paddles. Big, wooden paddles with holes drilled in them for better aerodynamics. My old high school principal would knock on a classroom door, call out the student, and position him in a particular way.

With the door open, the violator would be told to “grab your ankles” (Everyone my age has heard that term). When that happened, the kids head would lean into the room, with the rest of him still out in the hallway, where the principal and his paddle were.

Sitting in class, you could see the kid’s face, but nothing else.

Suddenly there was a ‘crack’ that resonated down the hallway. Although you didn’t see it, the look on the kid’s face was enough to know what just happened. For students in other classes, the noise racing down the hall told everyone that discipline was being handed out.

Enough said.

Now before you start writing to tell me how barbaric paddling is, you need to know that I believe that there is a distinction between paddling a child and beating a child. Do I advocate abuse? Of course not. Do I think it doesn’t hurt a kid to get a swat every now and then?

You bet I do.

And that is the deep valley that ties the hands of schools today.

When I was a kid, your parents told me that “If you get in trouble at school, you’re going to get it worse when you get home” (another sentence all people my age heard) – and they meant it.

Now, parents are calling lawyers and filing lawsuits and contacting “advocates”.

You want discipline that works? Then you have to do the impossible – get parents and educators to come to an agreement on discipline policies and then enforce them and make sure that both sides stay in agreement. When a student sees that he or she can’t play both ends against the middle, then behaviors change and problems fade.

No, I don’t live in some far away land where everything is perfect all of the time, but I do believe that affecting positive change in the life of a student can be accomplished without someone looking like the ‘bad guy’.