A new study released by Child Trends evaluates the effectiveness of different types of discipline policies current administered in schools. The study evaluated the effectiveness of zero tolerance policies as well as non-punitive alternatives.


Zero tolerance policies usually call for an extreme measure if a child violently misbehaves, resulting in suspension, expulsion, transfer to a harsher school, or even corporal punishment. Because these policies vary widely from school to school, this current study could draw no valid conclusion from its data. However Child Trends reports that previous studies have shown that zero tolerance policies do not produce a reduction in school violence and can even contribute to continued “negative outcomes” for the student. “For example, students who receive a suspension in middle or high school are also significantly less likely to graduate on time and are more likely to drop out.”

The researchers at Child Trends did find that non-punitive approaches to discipline show “promise in improving school safety and student outcomes.” These methods are largely preventative, and includes programs like character building and social-emotional learning.

These are very clear findings about how behavior should be managed in schools and should be a major focus of school reform. For more on corporal punishment and its impact on students check out:

CNN.com. More than 200,000 kids spanked at school. August 20th, 2008:

“Every public school needs effective methods of discipline, but beating kids teaches violence, and it doesn’t stop bad behavior,” wrote Alice Farmer, the author of a joint report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. “Corporal punishment discourages learning, fails to deter future misbehavior and at times even provokes it.”

Time.com. Corporal Punishment in US Schools. August 12th, 2009:

“Based on 202 interviews with parents, students, teachers and administrators, and supplemented with data from the U.S. Department of Education, the report reveals how the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child philosophy continues to rule thousands of classrooms across America, and how students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by such draconian methods of discipline.”

Human Rights Watch. “Corporal Punishment in Schools and Its Effect on Academic Success” Joint HRW/ACLU Statement. April 15th, 2010:

“Many children who have been subjected to hitting, paddling or other harsh disciplinary practices have reported subsequent problems with depression, fear and anger.”

STC Schools: What are your best practices for behavior management and character building?