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High school tries new approach to school discipline -- suspensions drop 85%

High school tries new approach to school discipline -- suspensions drop 85%

Picture of Jane Stevens

[Note: This story was first published on ACEsTooHigh.com. It's long -- 6,000 words -- which is why a link is provided after the first section here. Who says a magazine-length story can't go viral? It's had nearly 350,000 page views in the last month, mostly shared via Facebook, and for a few hours it was No. 10 on Reddit. It's obviously touched a nerve. - J.Stevens]

The first time that principal Jim Sporleder tried the New Approach to Student Discipline at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, he was blown away. Because it worked. In fact, it worked so well that he never went back to the Old Approach to Student Discipline. This is how it went down:

A student blows up at a teacher, drops the F-bomb. The usual approach at Lincoln – and, safe to say, at most high schools in this country – is automatic suspension. Instead, Sporleder sits the kid down and says quietly:

"Wow. Are you OK? This doesn't sound like you. What's going on?" He gets even more specific: "You really looked stressed. On a scale of 1-10, where are you with your anger?"

The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face ."How could you do that?" "What's wrong with you?" and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: "My dad's an alcoholic. He's promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises." The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: "I shouldn't have blown up at the teacher."

Whoa.

And then he goes back to the teacher and apologizes. Without prompting from Sporleder.

"The kid still got a consequence," explains Sporleder – but he wasn't sent home, a place where there wasn't anyone who cares much about what he does or doesn't do. He went to ISS -- in-school suspension, a quiet, comforting room where he can talk about anything with the attending teacher, catch up on his homework, or just sit and think about how maybe he could do things differently next time.

Before the words "namby-pamby", "weenie", or "not the way they did things in my day" start flowing across your lips, take a look at these numbers:

2009-2010 (Before new approach)

  • 798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
  • 50 expulsions
  • 600 written referrals

2010-2011 (After new approach)

  • 135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
  • 30 expulsions
  • 320 written referrals

"It sounds simple," says Sporleder about the new approach. "Just by asking kids what's going on with them, they just started talking. It made a believer out of me right away."

________________

The dark underbelly of school discipline

Take a short walk on the dark side of our public education system, and you learn some disturbing lessons about school punishment.

First. U.S. schools suspend millions of kids -- 3,328,750, to be exact. Since the 1970s, says a National Education Policy Center report published in October 2011, the suspension rate's nearly doubled for white kids, to 6%. It's more than doubled for Hispanics to 7%, and to a stunning 15% for blacks. For Native Americans, it's almost tripled, from 3% to 8%.

[To read the rest of this story, go to ACEsTooHigh.com.]

 

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