Exploring the Impact of Discipline Alternative Education Programs on Student Academic, Attendance, and Discipline Outcomes.

Author:Randle, Edward

The No Child Left Behind Act (2002) has affected student outcomes and academic achievements. It has placed a greater emphasis on educating all students including disruptive students and students at risk for dropout. Although the NCLB's desired results proved unattainable and the law was eventually replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (U.S. Department of Education, 2015), the goal of educating at-risk students remains. At-risk students tend to display disruptive behavior, perform below grade level, score lower on standardized tests, graduate at lower rates (Davis & Jordan, 1994; Morrison & D'Incau, 2000; Skiba & Rausch, 2006), and have emotional problems (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2003; Brooks, Schiraldi, & Ziedenberg 2000). These behaviors often result in expulsion from school and create hardships for students and parents; they eventually lead to students dropping out of school. Dropouts affect communities with regard to their economy and social implications such as crime (Ball, Maguire, & Macrae, 2000; Macrae, Maguire, & Milbourne 2003; Pinkus, 2006).

Repercussions of expulsion and school dropout include living at a lower socioeconomic status (Henry & Oetting, 2011) or below the poverty line, unplanned pregnancy, and loss of parental social support. The unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma in 2014 was 9 percent; earnings for those who were employed were estimated as $488 per week. In 2013, 19.2 percent of those who did not complete high school were increasingly likely to become the working poor. In 2015 the classification of working poor applied to those whose wage earnings were less than $342.87 a week, who were employed at least twenty-seven weeks in a year, and whose earnings fell below the poverty line (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015a). Table 1 compares the weekly income in 2015 for high school and post-secondary graduates.

In 2015, 20 percent of students without a high school diploma were unemployed (Hussar et al., 2016), whereas in 2010, 15.8 percent of students without a diploma were unemployed (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). In 2014, 575,000 high school students dropped out of school; 58.8 percent were not seeking employment (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015b). During that same year, black youth constituted the highest percentage of the unemployed (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015b). Health outcomes are affected as well; higher rates of depression (Liem, Lustig, & Dillon, 2010) and other health issues result from lack of quality medical care and/or health insurance that accompany the lower wages.

In 2014, 68.4 percent of students who completed high school enrolled in college. Earning a diploma increases students' lifetime earnings, hirability, and health outcomes, as well as their chance of staying out of jail (Moretti, 2007; Muennig, 2007; Rouse, 2007; Waldfogel, Garfinkel, & Kelly, 2007). Dropping out of school has been shown to result in an increased chance of incarceration (Swanson, 2009). Students arrested in ninth or tenth grade are more likely to drop out of high school than students who were not arrested. Additionally, students detained in these grades are 3.5 times more likely to drop out than students not arrested (Hirschfield, 2009).

School social workers are needed to intervene and prevent at-risk students from dropping out. Franklin (2009) estimated that more than fourteen thousand school social workers actively practiced in schools in the United States in 2005. School social workers possess diverse skills needed to assist at-risk students with behavior change. Additionally, school social workers deal with complex social issues in schools such as gangs, school shootings, bullying, assaults, dropouts, classroom disruption, and possession of weapons and drugs. Agresta (2004) has suggested that school social workers must assume roles such as counselors, advocator liaisons, dropout prevention specialists, outreach coordinators, and crisis interventionists to alleviate these social issues. Additionally, school social workers work within multidisciplinary teams consisting of school social workers, principals/administrators, academic counselors, and teachers to develop interventions with the aim of student success. School social workers can assist in preparing students to cope with the above-mentioned social issues, achieve academic success, and modify dysfunctional behaviors (Schoeneberger, 2011).

Approaches to Behavior Change

Martella and colleagues (2012) identified seven models of behavior management utilized in modifying student behavior in alternative schools settings. They include assertive discipline; logical consequences; reality therapy; Love and Logic; and the Ginott, Kounin, and Jones models. Praise and reinforcement are important aspects of behavior management. Hattie and Timperley (2007) emphasized that feedback is vital to the success and achievement of student learning. Epstein, Atkins, Culminant, Katash, and Weaver (2008) identified five recommendations as best practices for teachers to reduce behavior problems:

  1. Identify the specifics of the problem behavior and the conditions that prompt and reinforce it.

  2. Modify the classroom learning environment to decrease problem behavior.

  3. Teach and reinforce new skills to increase appropriate behavior and preserve a positive classroom climate.

  4. Draw on relationships with professional colleagues and students' families for continued guidance and support.

  5. Assess whether school-wide behavior problems warrant adopting school-wide strategies or programs and, if so, implement those that are shown to reduce negative and foster positive interactions.

    Simply stated, these recommendations seek to provide more meaningful student learning experiences aimed at reinforcing positive behaviors. These models all utilize the philosophy of consequences for misbehavior (Canter, 1992). No one model is superior to the other, but each model must be chosen specifically for the population whose behavior needs to change.

    Boys Town Education Model

    As stated above, different models exist to address behavior change in school settings and alternate placements. The Boys Town Education Model (BTEM) was created in 1975 as the teaching-family model to address behaviors of school-aged students who lacked appropriate social skills, such as interpersonal communication. The model focuses on helping students build healthy relationships to influence healthy school environments (Fluke, Peterson, & Oliver, 2013). In addition to their teaching responsibilities, teachers are expected to serve as mentors who also provide firmness and compassion. Teachers are expected to build positive relationships, model appropriate social skills, communicate expectations, and remain consistent in delivering the components of the BTEM (Fluke et al., 2013).

    The Boys Town Educational Model provides teachers, student support staff, and administrators with a structured approach to intervention that encourages positive behaviors and consequences. Before teachers are able to implement the model, they must attend a three- to five-day intensive training that consists of videotape reviews, lectures, and behavior modeling. This training includes ongoing consultation (the BTEM staff provides the school district with a representative who consults daily with district personnel) and program evaluation forms that assist in the assessment of effective model implementation. During this training, teachers are taught the proper utilization of social skills daily sheets, building teacher-student relationships, reinforcing appropriate behaviors, and the principle of modeling social skills behavior based on social learning theory. Teachers are also taught the importance of student-teacher relationships, consistency, and the proper utilization of consequences and reinforcements.

    The Boys Town Educational Model has four components that are rooted in the principal theory of applied behavioral analysis (Dowd, Tobias, Connolly, Criste, & Nelson, 1993): social skills curriculum, teaching interactions, administrative interventions, and the motivation system. The first component, the social skills curriculum, consists of sixteen social skills. The skills, categorized into basic, intermediate, and advanced skills (Thompson, Nelson, Spenceri, & Maybank, 1999), consist of the following:

  6. Following instructions

  7. Accepting criticism or consequence

  8. Accepting no for an answer

  9. Greeting others

  10. Getting the teacher's attention


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