Lack of Discipline in Public Schools Means Less Teaching Time

Discipline is a major problem in US public schools and results in a loss of teaching time in nearly 80,000 public schools.  Early in my research (2014) I discovered a 2004 report titled: Teaching Interrupted, Do Discipline Policies in Today’s Public Schools Foster the Common Good?  This report was written by a Brooklyn think tank named Public Agenda.  In all of my 9 years of research, this is the only source of information that attempted to assess the magnitude of our discipline problem in our public schools.  Most of the material about discipline focuses on the offending student and the tragedy of their suspension from school. 

The objective of the report was to determine if disruptive students were creating problems and if so what percentage of the schools had issues.

Here is an excerpt from the report’s Executive Summary:  

Too many students are losing critical opportunities for learning—and too many teachers are leaving the profession—because of the behavior of a few persistent troublemakers. 

These are some key findings based on national random sample surveys of 725 middle and high school teachers and 600 parents of middle and high school students. The surveys offer a detailed look at the discipline issue, exploring its causes, the effectiveness of current policies, the impact on school climate and receptivity to various solutions.

According to the study, teachers operate in a culture of challenge and second guessing—one that has an impact on their ability to teach and maintain order. Nearly half of teachers (49%) complain that they have been accused of unfairly disciplining a student. More than half (55%) say that districts backing down from assertive parents causes discipline problems. Nearly 8 in 10 teachers (78%) say that there are persistent troublemakers in their school who should have been removed from regular classrooms.

Teaching Interrupted, Do Discipline Policies in Today’s Public Schools Foster the Common Good? 

Here are two key findings from the report –

  • The vast majority of both teachers (85%) and parents (73%) say the school experience of most students suffers at the expense of a few chronic offenders. Most teachers (78%) report that students who are persistent behavior problems and should be removed from school grounds are not removed.
  • Students pay a heavy price academically when schools tolerate the chronic bad behavior of the few. Most teachers (77%) admit their teaching would be a lot more effective if they didn’t have to spend so much time dealing with disruptive students. Similarly, many parents (43%) believe their child would accomplish more in school if teachers weren’t distracted by discipline issues.

From the first bullet point above I selected a round number of 80% of the schools  have problems with a few chronic offenders.  There are about 100,000 public schools in America so take 80% times 100,000 to get 80,000 schools with problems.  This clearly makes discipline a major, major issue.