News from the Superintendent

Fair and Effective Discipline for All Students (Based on Research)

Bear, G., Quinn, M. & Burkholder, (positive behavior supports), Safe and Responsive Schools Project. ,  Technical Assistance on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (, Project Achieve Second Step Curriculum

Recently, I have received complaints that Marcola School District needs to put in place more severe consequences (punishment) in place to correct the poor behaviors of a few students.  As an educator and coach who has worked with youth for over 40 years, I can tell you the punishment model does not work.   In the past, Marcola School District used the punishment model to correct behaviors – and we also had one of the worst graduation rates in Oregon.  For the past three years our staff has worked hard to make changes to a system that would build positive relationships with students instead of just kicking them out of school.  Numerous students with physical, intellectual, emotional, behavioral and social issues have made tremendous gains and are now back on the path to move forward with a high school diploma.

Disciplining students, particularly those with chronic or serious behavior problems, is a long-standing challenge for educators.  We have to balance the needs of the school community and those of the individual student.  At the heart of this challenge is the use of punitive versus supportive disciplinary practices.  Though, very common in many schools, reliance on punitive approaches to discipline such as “zero tolerance” policies, has proven largely ineffective, even counterproductive.  This holds true both for general education students and those with disabilities.  Current research and legislation offer alternative “best practice” strategies that support the safe education of ALL students. Such effective discipline practices ensure the safety and dignity of students and staff, preserve the integrity of the learning environment, and address the causes of a student’s misbehavior in order to improve positive behavioral skills and long-term outcomes.

Research repeatedly has demonstrated that suspension, expulsion, and other punitive consequences are not the solution to dangerous and disruptive student behaviors.  In fact evidence indicates that dangerous students do not become less dangerous to others when they are excluded from appropriate school settings, quite often they become more so.  Youth who are not in school and not in the labor force at exceedingly high risk of delinquency and crime. Each year’s class of dropouts drains the nation of more than $200 billion in lost earnings and taxes every year. Billions more are spent on welfare, health care and other social services.

The elementary school is using PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), a schoolwide approach to make schools safer and improve student behavior.  The Middle School/High School has daily advisory classes where teachers and students have opportunities to discuss behavior, emotional, social and career readiness skills to be successful beyond high school.  We have a Behavior Specialist and two staff members who work with individual students and have small group sessions (Connections Class) to discuss behavioral, emotional and social issues.  

Please know, I do not support a punitive model for discipline, our students do not learn how to correct their behaviors and mistakes unless we can spend time with them at school.  When students are not getting along with each other, we bring them together to identify the problem and discuss a solution.  In many cases, we require them to write down the problem and identify possible solutions for moving forward.  Our goal is to teach our students how to constructively handle very difficult issues and come up with mutual solutions for resolving the issue and move forward.

Is our system working?  Yes, absolutely.  Our graduation rate has increased, our enrollment has increased, and we have numerous students who got back on the path and are doing very well in school.  Please read the differences between a school that implements Zero tolerance policies and Positive Discipline Strategies:

Zero tolerance policies as usually implemented:

  • Do not increase school safety.
  • Rely too heavily on suspension and expulsion, practices that neither improve school climate nor address the source of student alienation.
  • Are related to a number of negative consequences, including increased rates of school drop out and discriminatory application of school discipline.
  • Negatively impact minority students and students with disabilities to a greater degree than other students—studies have shown that these students constitute a disproportionately large percentage of expulsions and suspensions.
  • Restrict access to appropriate education, often exacerbating the problems of students with disabilities and achievement difficulties, and thereby increasing the probability that these students will not complete high school.

Positive Discipline Strategies Improve Safety and Outcomes for All Students

Positive discipline strategies are research-based procedures that focus on increasing desirable behaviors instead of simply decreasing undesirable behaviors through punishment.  They emphasize the importance of making positive changes in the child’s environment in order to improve the child’s behavior.  Such changes may entail the use of positive reinforcement, modeling, supportive teacher-student relations, family support and assistance from a variety of educational and mental health specialists.

Research has proven that positive discipline strategies benefit all students because:

  • Opportunities to forge relationships with caring adults, coupled with engaging curriculum, prevent discipline problems.
  • Discipline that is fair, corrective and includes therapeutic group relationship-building activities with students reduces the likelihood of further problems.
  • Strategies that effectively maintain appropriate social behavior make schools safer.  Safer schools are more effective learning environments.
  • Positive solutions address student needs, environmental conditions, teacher interactions and matching students with curriculum.
  • Reducing student alienation through ‘schools-within-a-school’ and other peer relationship can dramatically reduce acting out in schools, especially in large settings
  • When students are given an appropriate education in a conducive environment, they improve behavior and performance
  • Appropriately implemented, proactive behavior support systems can lead to dramatic improvements that have long-term effects on the lifestyle, functional communication skills and problem behavior in individuals with disabilities or at risk for negative adult outcomes.

If you have any questions or concerns, I welcome you to please arrange a time when we can meet and discuss our positive discipline strategies.


Bill Watkins
Marcola School District