Classroom disorder increases in Milwaukee and Madison after school administrators unveil a new discipline policy

Dave Daley (PDF), via a kind reader:

Lunch break over, students at a Madison high school file into class. The bell rings. Only a little more than half the students are in their seats, but the teacher starts anyway, ticking off homework assignments.

Two students trickle in, one carrying a bag from a fast-food chain, the other a basketball under his arm. “Hey, man — gimme some fries,” calls out a stu- dent. The kid with the fast-food bag saunters over, bag open, warning his hungry classmate
not to take too many. More students join in, begging for fries, too.
At the front of the room, the teacher struggles to stay on topic and get his students’ focus

back on the lesson. The student with the fries is making his way to his seat, kids reaching into his bag as he passes, snatching fries, joshing him — “Wow, you are old!” — about his generosity.

The student is the center of attention. The teacher stares at him as he finally slides into his seat. The teacher picks up the lesson, just as three more late students trickle in, one eating a bag of Cheetos, a second munching a candy bar.
More calls ring out. “C’mon — some chips, dude, bring ’em over here.” The teacher stops. No one is listening anyway. Everyone’s attention is on still more late-arriving kids, half a dozen this time, the students laughing and calling out to one another as they saunter to their seats.

One of the late students sees the hard look on the teacher’s face. “Sorry, I’ll be quiet now,” he offers as he sits down.

Hunched over their desks, the top performing students — the good kids — are reading their books or doing homework, trying to concentrate as the hubbub swirls around them. Finally, 15 minutes after the bell rang, everyone is seated, and the teacher can pick up the lesson.

No one is disciplined for tardiness. Or for bringing food into the classroom. Or for disrupt- ing class. The teacher does not bother writing up the late students — repeat offenders — even though habitual tardiness is an infraction of the school’s discipline code. There is no point filling out an office referral form; the teacher knows administrators will just ignore it.


The Madison Metropolitan School District, the state’s second
largest with more than 27,000 students, is in its second semester of a kid-friendly discipline policy aimed at keeping rule-breaking students in school. But some are questioning it.

“Utter chaos,” says the teacher who struggles every day to get his students seated after the bell rings. “It feels like the inmates are running the institution.”
Madison’s new suspend-as-a-last-resort discipline policy mirrors a shift by schools across the country from tough zero-tolerance to a far less punitive approach that tries to keep kids in school under the mantra that children don’t have a chance of learning if they’re not in the classroom.

That more relaxed approach, which emphasizes teaching kids positive behaviors, is already in place in the Milwaukee and Racine school districts, where it is dramatically cutting suspension rates.

Like many schools across the country, Milwaukee is using the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports concept, which emphasizes teaching students what behavior is expected rather than meting out punishment after bad behavior.