Alternatives to Zero Tolerance Policies
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In bullying incidences, research shows that zero tolerance policies don’t work. This resource offers alternative approaches.
In response to highly publicized violent incidents in schools, such as the Columbine High School massacre, school disciplinary policies have become increasingly severe. These policies have been implemented at the school, district, and state levels with the goal of ensuring the safety of students and staff. Many of these policies have one component in common: zero tolerance. While it is clear that protecting the safety of students and staff is one of school leaders‘ most important responsibilities, it is not clear that zero tolerance policies are succeeding in improving school safety. In fact, some evidence based on nonexperimental studies suggests that these policies actually may have an adverse effect on student academic and behavioral outcomes.
Child Trends developed this brief to explore these issues. The brief does this in two ways: it reviews existing research on the implementation and effects of zero tolerance in the school setting; and it highlights rigorously evaluated, nonpunitive alternatives to zero tolerance that have shown greater promise in improving school safety and student outcomes. Nonpunitive programs that take a largely preventive approach to school discipline have been found to keep students and schools safe by reducing the need for harsh discipline. These programs take many forms, such as targeted behavioral supports for students who are at-risk for violent behavior, character education programs, or positive behavioral interventions and supports that are instituted schoolwide.