Education professor hoping alternatives to suspensions work in middle school test
by Tom Joyce, The Center Square, Nov 28, 2023
(The Center Square) - A new approach to poor classroom behavior that avoids suspensions and expulsions is being put to the test in Oregon, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, California and Hawaii.
Developed by associate professor Rhonda Nese and her team in the University of Oregon’s College of Education, the approach is different than exclusionary discipline, an approach involving removing students from classrooms and schools.
Nese and her team recently got a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to test the Inclusive Skill-building Learning Approach in 60 middle schools in Oregon and five other states.
The project will evaluate how effective the model is in boosting education access and the "quality and the social and community environment to prevent school exclusion and substance misuse," according to the University of Oregon.
The approach aims to improve relationships between students and teachers. It also strives to make administrators interact with students better and to find alternative ways to solve behavior and social problems.
Nese claims the approach improves student behavior and reduces the need to suspend or expel students.
“We’re moving away from the holding cell mentality of in-school suspensions where you just sit in a room and do nothing,” she said. “That’s not a teaching strategy, it does not lead to improvements in children’s behaviors or academic performance, and in fact, it only makes things worse.”
Nese said research shows exclusionary discipline “is inextricably linked to substance abuse, incarceration, academic failure, trouble with employment, and lots of horrible predictors for kids.”
She added that her approach “creates environments that are inclusive, supportive, and built on the idea that we only succeed as a class when all of us succeed."
The Inclusive Skill-building Learning Approach trains teachers, office staff, counselors and administrators "to help middle school students feel welcome and supported, resolve problems and avoid conflict," the release said.
Some strategies include having teachers greet students individually, setting expectations for classroom behavior, de-escalation techniques and practicing making amends.
Nese said the approach dovetails with what teachers already do instead of creating more work for them.
“Greeting students as they come into your classroom isn’t a new thing,” she said. “It’s about doing it thoughtfully and systematically because it’s actually been associated with an increase in classroom engagement and decreases in disruptive behavior. And it’s preventative, meaningful, and takes little to no prep.”
Since the program trains an entire school's staff, it offers teachers backup and support when they need help dealing with a difficult situation.
"Everyone from front-office staff to top administrators gets trained, providing more ways for students to get help," the school said.
The approach's development was initially funded via a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences.
"The new NIH grant will now allow the approach to be tested on a variety of indicators of student success and student risk, such as student engagement, inclusive teaching practices, racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline, and opioid and other substance misuse."
If the collected data yields positive results, the plan is to offer training materials to more schools nationwide.
“Tax dollars are what funds our research,” Nese said. “So we give all our materials back to our public education systems because this is how we can positively impact the most students.”