Punishment in Los Angeles Schools

A recent headline in the Los Angeles Times proclaimed, “L.A. Unified school police to stop citing students for minor offenses.”

The article cites the example of Michael Davis who experienced firsthand the effects of coercive discipline when he received a police citation for tardiness in middle school and later was removed from class for failing to wear the school uniform in a South Los Angeles high school.

This is a typical example of the punishment culture prevalent in too many schools—especially urban middle and high schools.

The change away from punitive law enforcement actions reflects growing research that handling minor offenses with police actions does not necessarily make campuses safer—but instead often pushes struggling students to drop out and get in more serious trouble with the law.

Last year, the Los Angeles Board of Education directed school police to reduce their involvement in minor student offenses. This change in the nation’s second-largest school system comes after years of pressure from community groups and intensified monitoring by the federal government over discriminatory school discipline practices. In a 2011 voluntary agreement with the U.S. Education Department, the district pledged to track and report discipline data and eliminate inequitable practices.

However, as long as punishment is imposed, call it “logical” or “natural,” inequitable practices cannot be eliminated. For example, if two boys are fighting and one of the combatants has continually bullied and picked on the other, and the victim finally defends himself—and both boys are suspended for fighting—is this fair or equitable?

A much more effective noncoercive approach is to have the consequence elicited. Using this approach gives ownership to the student—the reason being that people do not argue with their own decisions. In addition, victimhood thinking is eliminated because the young person takes responsibility for the decision.

National studies show that one arrest doubles a student’s chance of dropping out of school. Another study found that Texas students who were suspended were far more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, and have further run-ins with the juvenile justice system.

The move away from a punishment culture is backed by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Nash who presides over the county’s Juvenile Court. Nash lauded what he called a “turn away from the failed punitive ways” to work with students in favor of more effective methods to change their behavior. “We don’t need courts to punish kids for being kids,” Nash said. “We need adults to work with and teach kids to respect themselves, their peers, and the other members of their communities.”

The Discipline Without Stress Teaching Model shows precisely how to accomplish this goal.