School Zero Tolerance Policies not Backed by Evidence
|July 24, 2011||Posted by M. P. under Education, Program Model, Research|
Shootings and other violent occurrences on high school campuses, combined with the related pressure from parents and communities to prevent such activities from happening in their schools, have lead to increasingly severe zero tolerance policies. While the protection of students, administration and staff is of utmost importance, there is little evidence on how well the zero tolerance approach (the blanket application of punitive measures for rule breaking regardless of circumstance) operates in practice. In fact, a recent brief suggests that there is not much scientific research on the effectiveness of such policies at all.
In the brief from Child Trends, entitled Multiple Responses, Promising Results: Evidence-Based, Nonpunitive Alternatives To Zero Tolerance, authors Christopher Boccanfuso and Megan Kuhfeld posit that while zero tolerance policies are widespread in America, they are actually doing little to deter bullying, use of illegal substances and even violent behavior. In some regions, reports of misbehavior in school have increased since the implementation of zero tolerance policies. Reports also indicated that zero tolerance policies were found to be used in many cases for non-violent infractions and may have been applied to some groups of students in a disproportionate manner. Finally, the authors point to studies that have linked severe punishments (such as expulsion) to further negative outcomes, possibly worse than the offending behavior itself, to suggest that this approach may not be the most useful or efficient in addressing bad behavior.
Alternatives to zero tolerance policies, including effective nonpunitive programs targeted at troubled students, are listed and discussed in the brief. The complete brief is available at the Child Trends website.