Today in Michigan lawmakers voted to “ease zero-tolerance discipline policies in an attempt to reduce student suspensions and expulsions.” The pendulum of education reform continues to swing away…

I was a student when zero-tolerance policies were ushered in as a panacea for what was seen as a rising tide of school discipline problems. While I certainly don’t favor zero-tolerance policies, it’s hard not to be just a little cynical about this latest move toward restorative practices. That’s not because I don’t think restorative practices can work–I know that they can–but I fear that as often happens, schools will not get the training, vision, and support to implement them effectively.

Here’s an anecdote from one of the lawmakers:

The issue is personal for Schor, who told colleagues his son was suspended after bringing a jackknife to school and using it to sharpen his pencil because the classroom sharpener was broken.

I’ll suspend judgment here, but that’s one of the more far-fetched excuses for bringing a weapon to school I’ve heard in my day. Anyway…

Disabled and minority students are disproportionately affected by strict suspension and expulsion policies, according to the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, which encouraged schools to consider restorative justice programs as part of a guidance memo on discrimination-free discipline policies.

Every school benefits from having flexibility built into their schoolwide discipline program. Zero-tolerance policies were hailed as a solution because they were thought to be a deterrant. But once you understand that the source of students’ unproductive behaviors is NOT a lack of fear of punishment (and that a fear of punishment is not enough to end all unproductive student behavior), you see that zero-tolerance policies just leave you with a bunch of kids who are now even more isolated, separated, and disengaged from learning.

My cynicism aside, this seems like a step in the right direction for Michigan schools.

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2 thoughts on “Michigan votes no confidence in “zero tolerance”

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