Study: Many schools see breakdown in discipline

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District on March 1 released a nearly year-old study of its disciplinary practices portraying a haphazard, poorly executed system that, in many schools, neither prevents nor deals adequately with disruptive and often dangerous student behavior.

The report was completed last summer by Ellen Green-Ceisler, former head of the Police Department’s Integrity and Accountability Office. News media pressed for its release after teacher Frank Burd suffered two broken bones in his neck during a confrontation with a student at Germantown High. He is recovering.

Green-Ceisler reviewed District policies, interviewed hundreds of teachers, principals and administrators and visited several schools in the 2005-06 school year. She found “a lack of consistency, uniformity, transparency, and accountability in the disciplinary system, all of which seriously undermines its overall integrity and effectiveness.” She said that some teachers and principals have given up on it out of frustration and “feelings of futility.”

A statement issued by the School District emphasized positives cited in the report, including streamlining of procedures and better data collection, and said it was moving to address the other concerns.

Ceisler-Green described a system with cumbersome requirements that are poorly understood by those responsible for enforcement. At the same time, she found, teachers and principals often didn’t take advantage of training that was offered.

Schools with successful discipline policies, she said, had strong leaders and a stable staff confident that their decisions would be supported. Teachers were willing to stay after school to attend meetings and visit students’ homes, and students believed teachers cared about them.

Schools that exhibited little control were characterized by high teacher and staff turnover, inconsistent enforcement, unwillingness by staff to put in extra time, and an atmosphere of mutual disrespect between students and staff.