Last summer, Governor Kasich signed, a wide-ranging school safety and security bill. It contained several provisions related to student discipline, including a mandate for each public school to implement a (PBIS) system, a prohibition of out-of-school suspension or expulsion for students in grades pre-K through three for minor offenses, and a requirement for districts and schools to annually report all out-of-school suspensions of students in those grades.
It’s too soon to know whether these changes will have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of teachers and students. But over the course of the next few years, it’s critical for lawmakers to pay close attention to the data—both numerical and anecdotal—that come out of schools.
A good place to start is a recently released report from my colleagues in Fordham’s D.C. office.is the first scientifically rigorous national survey on school discipline to be published in over a decade. It asked a nationally representative sample of African American and white educators who teach grades 3–12 a series of questions about discipline policy and practice in their schools. The survey data yielded five key findings, but two in particular are connected to Ohio’s recent law changes. First, most teachers reported that discipline in their schools is “inconsistent or inadequate.” Second, although many teachers see value in approaches such as PBIS, they also say that suspensions are useful and appropriate in some circumstances.
Building off of its findings, the report also includes a series of four recommendations for policymakers. Again, there are two in particular that Ohio lawmakers should consider. First, given teachers’ assertions that suspensions can be useful and appropriate, it would be wise to focus on improving the environments to which students are removed (such as in-school-suspension centers or alternative schools). Second, schools need additional resources to hire staff that have the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to respond to student misbehavior and support teachers and principals.
The common link between these recommendations is that schools may need more funding to adequately address the challenges of student discipline. In many states, calling for more funding is a challenge—budgets are already tight, and there are dozens of initiatives and programs vying for state dollars.
Ohio isn’t usually an exception to this rule. But thanks to the most recent, public schools now have $675 million to and address non-academic needs. The that wellness funds can be used to support discipline reform. But several of the allowable uses the law outlines could go a long way toward helping schools improve discipline policies and procedures, and thereby improve the wellness and academic performance of their students. Here’s a look at three.
1) Mental health services
In 2016, NPR published aon mental health in American schools. The are telling: One in five public school students show signs of a mental health disorder, and nearly 80 percent of affected students won’t receive the treatment they need. It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying outright: These undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues can negatively impact student behavior. And based on the survey results from the Fordham study, teachers are desperate for more mental health professionals in their schools to help. In fact, a whopping 40 percent of them listed it as their top choice for how to spend potential additional funding geared toward improving student behavior. Student wellness funds could make this a reality for Ohio teachers. Schools might not hire mental health professionals solely to improve suspension and expulsion numbers, but it seems logical that providing students with the support they need could lead to a decrease in student misbehavior.
2) Mentoring programs
In education circles, there’s a lot of talk—and—about the importance of teacher mentoring. But mentors for students can be just as important. Thirty-three percent of teachers in our survey reported that hiring more teaching assistants to increase the number of adults in classrooms would be their top choice for how to spend additional funding. Obviously, there is a difference between hiring teaching assistants and establishing a mentoring program. But innovative schools could use wellness funding to create a hybrid program, something that would put well-trained adults in classrooms to support teachers dealing with misbehavior and to mentor students who need behavioral intervention and support.
3) Family engagement and support services
This option is closely related to the need for mental health services, as many families lack access to resources that could help their children. Surveyed teachers seem to agree: 14 percent of them called for hiring more social workers to help students and families cope with issues like abuse or addiction. One teacher said, “A couple of high schools I taught at were in desperate need of full-time mental health professionals to support students whose parents couldn’t afford it or didn’t know how to find the appropriate resources and help.” While this teacher specifically mentions mental health, there are plenty of other services that could also improve student behavior, such as academic enrichment or tutoring for bored or struggling students, organizations that provide for basic needs such as housing and nutrition, and programs that. Student wellness funds could help schools connect families with these critical support services. They could also be used to ensure that students who are suspended or expelled don’t fall behind.
I’vethat student wellness funding is an opportunity for Ohio to become a national leader in using integrated support services to improve academic outcomes. Given the survey results from Discipline through the Eyes of Teachers, it seems like wellness funds could also be instrumental in helping Ohio schools improve their learning environments and address student discipline issues. Here’s hoping that districts and schools use these funds in ways that best serve the needs of their students.