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Volume 15, Number 5
September/October 1999

Rising to the Discipline Challenge

Amidst growing concern about bad student behavior, practitioners and researchers point to some tried and true ways to keep order in the classroom


When results of the 31st Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll on attitudes toward public schools were released in August, discipline was again the country's top educational concern, as it has been in all but one of the last 14 surveys. Of the 1,103 adults polled, 18 percent said "lack of discipline" was the biggest problem facing public schools. Fighting, violence, and gangs claimed second place (11 percent), while issues like lack of financing (9percent), crowded schools (8 percent), and low standards (2 percent) fell into the background. Less than a quarter of those polled thought schools were "very safe and orderly."

The topic of discipline cuts a wide swath across today's most important educational debates. Conservatives and liberals (and all those in between) may argue about policies and methods, but everyone seems to agree that better discipline is needed in our schools. Tragedies like those in Littleton, CO, make the issue seem more urgent. Teachers' unions ask for stricter disciplinary codes. President Bill Clinton, in his 1999 State of the Union Speech, urges "all states and school districts (to) adopt and implement sensible discipline policies." Advocates of charter schools and character education promise programs with better discipline and, as a result, better learning.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

L.C. Rose and A. M. Gallup. The 31st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa International, 1999.

The State of Our Nation's Youth. Alexandria, VA: Horatio Alger Association, 1999.

P.E. Barton, R.J. Coley, and H. Wenglinsky. Order in the Classroom: Violence, Discipline, and Student Achievement. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1998.

D. Nicholls and S. Houghton. "The Effect of Canter's Assertive Discipline Program on Teacher and Student Behavior." British Journal of Ecucational Psychology 65 (1995): 197-210.

A. Kohn. Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996.

C.B. Swanson and B. Schneider. "Students on the Move: Residential and Educational Mobility in America's Schools." Sociology of Education 72 (January 1999): 54-67.

E. Brantlinger. "Adolescents' Interpretation of Social Class Influences on Schooling." Journal of Classroom Interaction 28, no.1 (1993): 1-12.