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To Fix Student Discipline, Public Favors School Climate Efforts Over Harsher Penalties, Survey Finds

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American adults surveyed about improving school discipline tended to favor supportive solutions, like school climate efforts and additional training for teachers, over stricter practices like detentions or suspensions.

The poll, conducted by Gallup on behalf of Communities in Schools, found that 43 percent of respondents believe most teachers are "prepared" or "very prepared" to handle discipline issues in the classroom. And 54 percent of respondents said most teachers are "unprepared" or "very unprepared" to handle discipline.

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Those who said teachers were "unprepared" for discipline were asked what they would classify as the most concerning result. Most, 30 percent, said "unsafe school or classroom environments," 21 percent said "disruption of learning," and 20 percent said "unfair or uneven treatment of some students."

The results—from a phone survey of 1,000 adults conducted in February—come amid ongoing public debate about school discipline. 

The Trump administration recently rescinded Obama-era civil rights guidance that was aimed at reducing disproportionately high rates of discipline for students of color, particularly black and Latino students. Some opponents of that guidance had argued that schools had done too much to drive down suspension rates without finding effective replacements. Supporters of the guidance, including some schools and states that have maintained similar approaches since the document was rescinded, argue that it is has helped them to address implicit bias and to rethink policies that led to overly harsh consequences for minor misbehavior.

Of the survey respondents, 90 percent said that, in addressing discipline issues, it would be "very effective" or "somewhat effective" to provide more training for educators on appropriate discipline practices.

Ninety percent also said it would be "very effective" or "somewhat effective" to ramp up efforts to foster a positive school environment, 89 percent said increased student mental health services would be "very effective" or "somewhat effective," and 88 percent supported more consistent enforcement of discipline.

"Stricter disciplinary practices," like more detentions, suspensions or expulsions, were seen less favorably, rated as "very effective" or "somewhat effective" by 55 percent of respondents.

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