ZERO TO ONE-HUNDRED: WHY ZERO-TOLERANCE POLICIES HAVE FAILED OUR SCHOOLS AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
As a long time teacher, educational consultant and life coach one of the main themes of contention I hear and speak about with teachers is discipline. In fact, disciplinary management is arguably the most important element in effective teaching. Etymologically discipline comes from the Latin, Discipula, meaning ‘student’ and the verb, Discere, ‘to learn.’ Discipline is at the heart of teaching. The manner in which discipline is engaged in the classroom affects test results, dropout rates and violence levels. Rightly or wrongly, a teacher is often assessed by the quality of his or her disciplinary strategies.
I hear teachers complaining about the lack of consequences following student misdemeanors. Administrative officials are blamed for “taking the student’s side” and undermining a teacher when there is a classroom confrontation ending in the student being sent to the office. This is known as a student referral. Student referrals are a common metric used to evaluate effective classroom management. For example, if a teacher has a high number of referrals then she or he may be considered a poor teacher, a teacher at risk or a teacher needing help.
Since the mid 1990’s, schools have increasingly employed zero- tolerance policies. A zero- tolerance policy is a policy of punishing any infraction of a rule, regardless of accidental mistakes, ignorance, or extenuating circumstances (Wikipedia). Originally zero-tolerance policies were an attempt to curb extreme disciplinary issues such as drug use, arson or violence in schools. Over time a number of schools applied zero-tolerance policies to minor infractions, as well. Broadening the scope of zero-tolerance has resulted in disturbing trends beginning to appear within and between schools.
Emerging data from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) show:
As enlightening as these guidelines are, it remains to be seen if they are implemented into the budgets and schedules of our schools.
The questions remain: What gap is zero-tolerance filling in our schools and, if it is not working, what will?
Broad zero-tolerance policies are an attempt to replace the role of corporal punishment and the liberal power of schools to expel or suspend students that they had in the good old days. King Solomon’s wisdom, “He that spareth the Rod, hateth his son; but he that loves him chastises him betimes” was the dominate discipline philosophy from ancient times until the 1960’s. Its influence cannot be underestimated a mere half century later.
Although corporal punishment seems archaic or even criminal in today’s society there is ample evidence of its use in modern education. Time Magazine cites a new report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, “nearly a quarter of a million children were subjected to corporal punishment in public schools in the U.S. during the 2006-2007 academic year. …and how students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by such draconian methods of discipline.” 
If corporal punishment and broad zero-tolerance policies are not the answer to the growing disciplinary concerns in our schools, what is?
The simple answer is learning to understand the needs of our students in a complex and confusing time - in other words cultivating greater tolerance. Expanding our ability for greater tolerance requires investing resources into our teachers so they can not only transform their own pedagogical praxis but also share it with their students.
For more information, coaching and training on these skills go to Lawrence Carroll’s workshop and coaching pages.
 Wikipedia, A Free Dictionary. Zero Tolerance (Schools)) July 7, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_tolerance_%28schools%29 (Accessed January 10, 2014)
 NASP Resources, Fact Sheets, Zero Tolerance. Zero Tolerance and Alternative Strategies: A Fact Sheet for Educators and Policymakers http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/zt_fs.aspx (Accessed January 10, 2014)
 Rich, Motoko. Administartion Urges Restraint in Using Arrest or Expulsion to Discipline Students. The New York Times. Vol.CLXIII …No. 56,376, January 9, 2014.
 Stephey, M.J. Corporal Punishment in US School. TIME US August 12, 2009. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1915820,00.html (Accessed January 10, 2014)
Leave a Reply.
LAWRENCE CARROLL EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT & LIFE COACH
About Lawrence Carroll
Location: Berkshire County MA
Call (413) 212 2030
Services by Lawrence Carroll
Store and Products
"Lawrence Carroll's workshop on personal stress management, which he conducted with my Columbia Grad School class
was a huge success."
Neal Pilson, Columbia University, Former President, CBS Sports