Educating Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in the 21st Century: Looking through Windows, Opening Doors
Nelson, C. Michael, Education & Treatment of Children
The task (albeit self-inflicted) of making projections regarding what may happen in the dawning century with regard to special education for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD) is an intimating one. One reason is that, in the context of the millennium just past, our field is in its infancy. Public school programs for students with EBD have existed for less than six decades (Whelan & Kauffman, 1999) which hardly constitutes sufficient baseline data from which to project future trends, especially in a field that is being so dramatically impacted by social and political forces. The other reason is that a number of authors already have provided their cogent insights and forecasts regarding our field (e.g., Kauffman, 1999b; Walker, 2000; Walker, Sprague, Close, & Stalin, 1999-2000; Weber & Scheuermann, 1997). Over the years, I have drawn heavily from the work of these and other leaders in formulating my own thoughts and opinions; so much so that much of what I have to say perhaps is most accu rately characterized as a review of their work.
Another preliminary clarification regards my choice of metaphors for this article. The dictionary defines a metaphor as a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance. Metaphors have been quite popular among speakers and writers addressing the current status and the future of our field. For example, Kauffman (1999c) recently used mules as a vehicle for conveying his messages about the role of science in the field of EBD. Having been prepared initially as a teacher of English, I am drawn to literary devices such as metaphors. For this article, I chose windows and doors as metaphors: Both provide visual and physical passage, and both can let in drafts, keep out the unwanted, or contain the incarcerated. They also imply movement through space and time, as when one looks outside when planning the day's activities or opens a door prior to going through it. Finally, let me attempt to establish a context for my observatio ns. The first is that, while our field is very new, much has happened in the 20th Century (most of it in the past 30 years) to influence its development and shape its future. One significant event is the enormous proliferation of governmental bureaucracies. At the federal level alone, there are a multitude of agencies that direct and support diverse initiatives related to children and their emotional and behavioral needs. Each agency has established its own policies and priorities regarding children and youth with emotional and behavioral problems and their families. These government organizations provide essential support for programs and professionals dedicated to helping their clients. Understandably, other levels of government have followed suit, and professional disciplines also have evolved around the divergent perspectives of the multifaceted and diverse needs of our clientele. Unfortunately, at the level of the consumer, this proliferation of agencies means that the family of a child with complex emot ional and behavioral needs is likely to face a bewildering labyrinth of providers and agencies, many with differing eligibility criteria, service delivery patterns, and guiding conceptual models.
Professionals are hardly any better off: We tend to become isolated within our own disciplinary niches, talking to our own group of colleagues and creating our own literatures. The governmental agencies that regulate helping professions have their own funding streams and priorities, resulting in programs and services for children and families that are uncoordinated, competing, and sometimes incompatible. In the 1980s, the idea of a system of care emerged, in which services for children and families were coordinated across life domains and service providers to remove many of the artificial barriers to matching services to client characteristics and needs across all relevant life domains (Stroul & Friedman, 1986). Embedded in a system of care are such concepts as a single point of entry (automatic acceptance as a client by multiple agencies when a child or family is eligible for services by any one agency), services that are brokered by a transdisciplinary team, elimination of confidentiality barriers, and pool ed, flexible funding (Nelson & Pearson, 1991; Skiba, Polsgrove, & Nasstrom, 1996). In the early 1990s the Office of Special Education Programs sponsored the development of a national agenda for children and youth with serious emotional disturbance (Chesapeake Institute, 1994, September). This agenda embraced the system of care concept, including softening the boundaries between agencies and their governing state and local governmental bureaucracies.
Another contextual variable is public concern regarding youth violence and school safety. Although the most recent data indicate that youth violent crime is at its lowest level in a decade (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1998), media reports of school shootings and other attacks by children on other children have created a climate of alarm and calls for measures to improve school safety. Youth violence has been declared a national health epidemic. Politicians are campaigning for "get tough" practices such as "getting the thugs out of school," and boot camps for first-time juvenile offenders. At the same time, schools are adopting zero tolerance policies and are suspending or expelling children in droves. Alternative school programs for disruptive students are proliferating. Unfortunately, much of the activity generated around improving school safety has a knee-jerk quality about it. As Shiraldi (February, 2000) observes, a "disconnect" has emerged between researchers and policy analyst s on the one hand, and public policy, on the other. The public and our legislators are convinced that juvenile crime is out of control, and that the way to reduce juvenile crime is to invoke harsher penalties. The emphasis is on reacting to unwanted behavior or violations of school discipline codes with punitive and exclusionary strategies, often without examining whether such measures are in the best interests of the child, the community, or society.
But I find myself drifting into my first metaphorical point, and before going there, I need to build my metaphor. If we look at the systems we have created for serving children with EBD and their families as a building consisting of many rooms, then not much thought has gone into planning how to get around within it. I don't pretend to have any immediate or great answers to the question of how we could re-design our house. Instead, I'll merely suggest some features to which we should be attending.
Windows That are Sticking
Even the best designed house needs maintenance, and I suggest that some of the initiatives we've created aren't working just right, or haven't really started. These include prevention; full inclusion; identification and services to students with EBD; the recruitment, training, and support of teachers; and the use of effective practices. Given the public's widespread concern about school safety and violence among children and youth, it is alarming that so little thought (and almost no resources) have gone into prevention (Kauffman, 1999a). Our nation (and indeed all countries of the world) have responded to such threats to public health as smallpox, polio, measles, and diabetes with massive prevention campaigns. But, despite mounting evidence that antisocial behavior is a chronic disabling condition (Wolf, Braukmann, & Ramp, 1987), and the acknowledgement that youth violence is a public health issue, we do little or nothing to prevent its development.
Thanks to a number of careful research studies carried out over the past four decades (e.g., Dodge, 1983; Huesman, Eron, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1984; Kazdin, 1987; Loeber, 1982; Patterson, 1982 Robins, 1966; Walker, Shin, O'Neill, & Ramsey, 1987) we have learned a great deal about the factors that contribute to mental illness, antisocial behavior, and other behavioral aberrations in children. Moreover, we can use our knowledge of these factors to identify children who are at risk for developing these social maladies at a very early age. And there are tools to screen children who may benefit from proactive, early intervention services (e.g., Achenbach, 1991; Walker, Severson, & Feil, 1995; Walker & Severson, 1990; Walker et al., 1999-2000). Yet we wait until these children's problems become well-established and less responsive to intervention, and attempt to compensate for our lack of planning by reacting with intensely punitive interventions (Gunter, Denny, Jack, Shores, & Nelson, 1993; Rutherford & Nelson, 19 95). On the one hand, we espouse a philosophy of full inclusion, in which all students with disabilities are educated with their typical peers (Kauffman, 1999a). But on the other hand, students with EBD are the last to be included in general education classrooms (Morse, 1994; Kauffman, 1997). Students with EBD (a heterogeneous and conceptually amorphous population) also are the last group of students with disabilities to be identified in the public schools, and they are the most under-identified and under-served in special education programs (Kauffman, 1997). This might suggest that they are, in fact being included, but instead, students with challenging behavior increasingly are being excluded from the public schools.
At the same time, the supply of teachers adequately qualified to serve students with EBD is at an all-time low. For example, in Kentucky, 916, or 15% of teachers certified to teach students with Learning and Behavioral Disorders (the category in which students with EBD are served) currently have emergency or probationary certificates (Scott Smith, personal communication, March 16, 2000). I began my special education teaching career with a certificate as a teacher of English, and I can appreciate the frustration and panic that young persons must feel when they encounter students who are disruptive, non-compliant, and disrespectful, and whose academic deficiencies require sophisticated instructional strategies far beyond their knowledge. Placed in classrooms where they receive little or no administrative support or technical assistance, it is little wonder that the burn-out rate of teachers of EBD is so high (Center & Kauffman, 1993). A contributing factor to the current teacher shortage undoubtedly is the fail ure of teachers' salaries to keep pace with those of comparable professions. In his seventh annual address on the state of American education, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley noted that teachers with master's degrees earn an average of $32,000 less per year than their counterparts in other fields (Lexington Hearld-Leader, February 23, 2000).
Even without higher salaries, the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention might be eased, to some extent, if practitioners were prepared in and encouraged to use effective practices. And we know a lot about what these are. For example, meta-analyses of over 800 studies involving children with the most challenging behavior show the largest effect sizes for (a) social skills training, (b) behaviorally-based interventions, and (c) academic curricular restructuring (Gottfredson, 1997; Lipsey, 1991). Are these widely or appropriately used across the population of students with such behavior (identified or not)? Sadly, the answer is no. These same meta-analyses found that the interventions with the smallest effect sizes for this population were (a) psychotherapy, and (b) punishment- strategies which, beyond the small context of exemplary special education programs for students with EBD, are the major, if not the only, interventions attempted.
Tragically, it is our students who suffer the most because of these circumstances. The "rotten outcomes" of students with EBD are well-known: high drop out rates and low school completion rates; high arrest rates, both while in school and after; low rates of employment; and inability to live independently (Burns & Gaylord-Ross, 1991; Weber & Scheuermann, 1997). When we fail to retain and adequately educate students with EBD in the public schools, we are, in effect, deferring them to the next system on the road to social failure-the criminal justice system. In fact, based on the prevalence of mental and emotional disorders among the juvenile justice population (Otto, Greenstein, Johnson, & Friedman, 1993), the juvenile justice system is a "default system", because it is where many youth who can't read, write, or relate tend to wind up when they drop out or are kicked out of school. Many politicians tell us this is a good thing. But what they don't tell us is that incarceration is enormously expensive for the s mall proportion of youth who actually are apprehended and adjudicated for committing crimes (Snarr & Wolford, 1985). It costs taxpayers-not the parents of adjudicated youth-between $35,000 and $60,000 a year to incarcerate a juvenile (Co-ordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995). This is well above the cost of an entire college education in a prestigious university. This huge expenditure might be justified if the result of incarceration was rehabilitation; unfortunately, it is not. Measured against the criterion of recidivism, incarceration is arguably the least effective treatment imaginable (Lane & Burchard, 1983; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). On the other hand, the most effective crime prevention intervention is education (Center on Crime, Communities, & Culture, 1997).
To place this cycle in the perspective of the current educational context, we can identify children at risk for EBD and other forms of aberrant behavior almost before they are born. Poverty is the single most common demographic among children who are at risk for school and social failure (Shorr, 1988). Variables that are nested within the construct of poverty (lack of parental supervision, inadequate models of social or academic behavior, presence of family stressors) contribute to the likelihood that children from impoverished backgrounds will enter school without the building blocks they need to succeed in school. Lacking readiness skills, they find academic work difficult. When academic tasks are difficult (and when teachers lack the training to make learning more successful), a natural reaction is frustration, and frustration sets the stage for challenging behavior. The typical response to challenging behavior is to remove the student from the classroom. This may improve the learning environment temporari ly, but the student who is removed is not getting any academic instruction, therefore, he falls even further behind, and so work continues to be even more difficult. To the extent that the exhibition of challenging behavior becomes a predictable means to escape from tasks that are aversive, it becomes a pattern that is reinforced by removal from the classroom (Gunter et al., 1993; Scott & Nelson, 1999b). The long-term outcomes for students who fall into this pattern are school exclusion and life-long failure (Skiba & Peterson, 2000). While educators and the public may believe that, in the short run, excluding students with disruptive behavior makes schools safer, the impact of large numbers of unsupervised youth on community safety should not be overlooked. Juvenile violence peaks in after school hours on school days and in evenings on non-school days (Snyder & Sichmund, 1999, September).
Windows of Opportunity
I certainly can be accused of painting a bleak picture of the view out the window of the present. However, some current events have created opportunities for the future. These include the emphasis on school safety, national centers for technical assistance and research, and effective practices, specifically, functional behavioral assessment and positive behavioral support.
Given my previous observations of the strategies that have been pursued in the interests of promoting school safety, it may appear surprising that I view school safety as a window of opportunity. Calls for reactive, punishment-oriented interventions aside, the issue of school violence has focused public and political attention on the problem of dangerous student behavior and how to prevent it. The National Center for School Safety was established in 1984 by a presidential directive under a grant from the Department of Justice, in partnership with the Department of Education. A major focus of the work of this center, and centers like it that are being developed in a number of states (16 states now have centers for school safety), is the prevention of violence through positive strategies. Recently, a national guide to school safety (Dwyer, Osher, & Warger, 1998) was published and disseminated to schools, communities, and private citizens.
In 1999, two national centers were funded to provide technical assistance to schools and other agencies to improve school climate and discipline, as well as outcomes for students with disabilities. The OSEP Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS; Sugai et al., 1999) focuses on building the capacity of schools to effectively manage the full range of student behavior through strategies that are proactive, positive, and differentiated according to students' needs. The Center for Education, Disabilities, and Juvenile Justice (EDJJ), funded by OSEP and OJJDP, is a collaborative research, training, technical assistance and dissemination program designed to develop more effective responses to the needs of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system or those atrisk for involvement with it. These centers join the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, which was established to facilitate the National Agenda for Better Outcomes for Students with Serious Emotional Disturbance (Smith & Coutinho, 1997).
A central feature of these national centers is the promotion and dissemination of effective practices for students with, or at risk of developing, challenging behavior. Effective practices are those that have been proven to result in positive, durable student outcomes that have been replicated in research studies in diverse locations and across a range of student populations. For example, in numerous studies over many years, Direct Instruction has been found effective in improving the literacy skills across curricular content areas and with a range of student abilities, ages, and behavioral challenges (Becker & Carnine, 1980; Forness & Kavale, in press). Other practices that have demonstrated similar results include social skills instruction--when properly implemented (Forness & Kavale, 1996; Mathur & Rutherford, 1996; Nelson, 1988; Scott & Nelson, 1998), contingent reinforcement of desired behavior (Nelson, 1987; Nelson, Scott, & Polsgrove, 1999; Nelson & Rutherford, 1988), and systematic behavior modificati on (Forness & Kavale, in press).
Contemporary research continues to expand the depth and range of identified best practices. Efforts to create effective interventions for challenging student behavior that minimize the use of aversive stimuli began as work with individuals having severe developmental disabilities and extremely aberrant behavior (e.g., Carr & Durand, 1985; Repp, Felce, & Barton, 1988). In the past decade, this approach has been extended to research with students who are not developmentally disabled but who display seriously maladaptive behavior (Foster-Johnson & Dunlap, 1993; Sugai, Horner, & Sprague, 1999). This approach, which has come to be known as positive behavioral interventions and support, is based on detailed assessments to discover the functions served by deviant behavior (Lewis & Sugai, 1996a, 1996b; Scott & Nelson, 1999b; Sugai et al., 1999). Interventions derived from functional behavioral assessments involve identifying and teaching desired replacement behaviors that serve the function performed by the undesired behavior, and creating strategies to ensure that the replacement behavior will be more effective and efficient in serving that function than the maladaptive behavior (Scott & Nelson, 1999b).
Evidence is accumulating that PBIS is more effective than traditional interventions not based on functional behavioral assessments (Carr et al., 2000). The recent mandate to perform functional behavioral assessments and develop positive behavioral support plans for students with disabilities as an alternative to excluding them from school has accelerated research in this area.
The search for solutions to the problem of youth violence has generated efforts to identify comprehensive programs that have proven to be effective. Some early childhood programs have demonstrated positive effects on their clients into adulthood. These include the Regional Intervention Program (Timm, 1993) and the High/Scope Perry Preschool program (Weikart & Schweinhart, 1992). In Colorado, the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV) initiated a project in 1996 to identify ten violence prevention programs that met high scientific standards of program effectiveness to form an initial nucleus for a national violence prevention initiative. Once identified, these programs were described in a series of "blueprints" which include the theoretical rationale, core components of the program as implemented, evaluation designs and results, and the practical experiences encountered while implementing the intervention package at multiple sites. These blueprints allow states, communities, and individual agen cies to determine the appropriateness of this intervention for their state or community, estimate the costs of implementing the program, assess the organizational capacity needed to ensure its successful start-up and operation over time, and identify the potential barriers and obstacles that might be encountered when attempting to implement this type of intervention. In addition to the ten model programs meeting the selection criteria, a number of programs met some of the criteria and were designated promising programs (www.Colorado.EDU/cspv/).
The ten model programs that met the Blueprint criteria were selected from a review of over 450 violence prevention programs, and include the Midwest Prevention Program; Multisystemic Therapy; Big Brothers/Big Sisters; Nurse Home Visitation; Functional Family Therapy; Treatment Foster Care; Quantum Opportunities; Bullying Prevention; Life Skills Training; and PATHS. For more information about these programs, and the selection criteria, as well as 17 promising programs, visit the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence web site.
Doors We Should Open
Continuing with my metaphor, doors that should be opened translates as goals I believe we should pursue as professionals in the area of EBD. These include broadening our focus to make teaching behavior, not just academics, a responsibility of all educators; extending ownership from students who exhibit emotional and behavioral challenges to all students; and organizing our selves and our work so that we can achieve these goals without a huge increase in resources.
Broaden Our Focus
Earlier, I alluded to the tendency of human service agencies, providers, policy makers, and researchers to work in relative isolation. Certainly, new federal and state initiatives are encouraging greater collaboration, and we are beginning to recognize that the children and families we serve are not compartmentalized along established bureaucratic dimensions. Still, we have done a rather poor job of educating other constituencies regarding the needs, rights, and opportunities that our population of students represent. To illustrate, Terry Scott and I recently submitted a paper on school-wide prevention of and intervention for challenging student behavior, based on PBS to a national regular education journal. The following is a sample of the anonymous reviewers' comments we received:
"the students who have been identified as seriously emotionally or behaviorally disturbed are the very students who present the kind of behaviors that schools cannot tolerate. Therefore, it is to be expected that these students will be suspended or expelled more frequently, and it is just silly to refer to this as inequitable."
"In members of minority groups, males, and students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds present more frequent and stubborn problems of misbehavior at school, it is only to be expected that they will be punished more frequently for such behavior."
Needless to say, our paper was not accepted. Sadly, these comments suggest that some scholars in the general education field are not informed with regard to effective practices and do not support a philosophy of educational equity for all students. While it is easy to blame the reviewers, it must be acknowledged that we are guilty of preaching to the choir. As Skiba and Peterson (2000) pointed out, general educators have a much different attitude than special educators with regard to student misbehavior and the use of punishment. Schools that favor a policy of zero tolerance for almost any form of misbehavior are not likely to embrace discipline practices based on teaching and supporting desired behavior as opposed to excluding troublesome students.
Both the PBIS and EDJJ national centers are committed to achieving broader dissemination of our agenda and public consensus that society is better served by keeping students in school and choosing to work with behavior problems in this context as opposed to embracing policies of exclusion. In pursuit of this goal, we should embark on social marketing campaigns, such as those that have been successful in increasing public awareness of and response to such diverse topics as using seatbelts and attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Here are a few sound bites that we should supply to spokespersons of our agenda:
* Children belong in school, and teaching appropriate behavior is part of the curriculum;
* Incarceration is not an effective intervention, and it is ridiculously expensive;
* Schools should be child and family friendly, and families are our allies;
* With the most challenging students and the most challenged families, schools cannot be expected to do the job alone.
* Over the years, research has provided copious documentation to support such contentions as: (a) schools are not child-friendly environments, especially for students who exhibit undesired behavior (Gunter et al., 1993; Nelson et al., 1999; Shores, Gunter, & Jack, 1993; Skiba &Peterson, 2000); (b) Direct Instruction, behavioral interventions, and social skills instruction are effective with this student population (Becker & Carnine, 1980; Cole, Dale, Mills, & Jenkins, 1993; Fielding, Kameenui, & Gersten, 1983; Nelson, 1987; Nelson et al., 1999; Tarver & Jung, 1995); and (c) problem behavior is predictable and preventable (Gunter & Denny, 1998; Nelson et al., 1999). We should share these data widely and in formats that invite comprehension. Shiraldi (2000) also argues that professionals should be more aggressive in marketing useable data and real-life success stories to the media, to counteract its tendency to focus on sensationalized stories taken out of context.
Finally, we need to broadcast the fact that children and youth who exhibit problem behavior are not willfully evil, but merely reflect their life experiences, which often are different than ours. They need to be in school, and deserve the best interventions and support services we can offer. The public must be made aware that it is in our self interests to try to reach these students now, rather than denying them educational services in the mistaken belief that they will just disappear from view and never become tax burdens. Attempts to sort students who are labeled as socially maladjusted, conduct disordered, and the like from those who are EBD in order to remove them from schools is unethical and a waste of time. All students who exhibit or who are at risk for challenging behavior need and deserve effective educational services (Forness, 1992; Nelson, Rutherford, Center, & Walker, 1992; Skiba & Grizzle, 1991).
Increase Ownership of Students and Behavior
I've just argued that schools should take responsibility for all students and their behavior. The flip side of this position is that professionals in the area of EBD should do likewise. For as long as I can recall, we have restricted our work to those students at the end of the behavioral continuum. While we have developed an effective intervention technology for these students, we have not demonstrated to our general education colleagues how this technology applies throughout the continuum of student behavior, beginning with prevention. Models of PBIS, based on primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention (Sugai & Homer, 1999; Walker et al., 1996) address the full continuum of behavior. Universal strategies (primary prevention) focus on preventing initial occurrences of problem behavior through establishing clear and consistent expectations and teaching desired behavioral skills to all students, and are effective for approximately 90% of students (Scott & Nelson, 1999a). When effective universal interventions are in place, office discipline referrals have been reduced significantly (Lewis-Palmer, Sugai, & Lawson, 1999; Nelson, 1996), which frees school-wide disciplinary staff to devote their energies to more difficult problems. Targeted interventions (secondary prevention) focus on a small group of students with whom universal strategies have not been effective--roughly 7% to 9% of the student population of any given school (Sugai & Horner, 1999). Intensive interventions (tertiary prevention) address students whose emotional and behavioral needs span multiple life domains and require multi-system planning and intervention, approximately 1% to 3% of the school population (Sugai & Horner, 1999).
Special educators in the area of EBD typically have worked with the 1% to 3% at the end of this continuum. If we expect our general education colleagues to take responsibility for 97% to 99% of student behavior, we need to show them by example that it can be done, and how to do it. Working behind closed classroom doors with small numbers of students will not build the capacity that schools need to develop in order to take ownership of all students and all their behavior. Thus, the goals of broadening our focus and taking greater ownership meld together. As school districts are creating roles for behavior specialists or behavioral consultants, opportunities are expanding to demonstrate and share the expertise we have accumulated.
The need to better inform and equip our general education colleagues is great and immediate. The knowledge that poverty is such a reliable predictor of school failure led to the creation of such national early intervention project as Head Start. And the data support the conclusion that multi-faceted and intensive early intervention is effective (Lazar, Darlington, Murray, Royce, & Snipper, 1982; Timm, 1993; Weikart & Schweinhart, 1992; Zigler & Muenchow, 1992). Unfortunately, whereas educators tend to respond sensitively and effectively to the needs of students with poor academic readiness skills, students with behavior problems are punished and rejected. Schools contribute to the emergence of behavior problems, especially among students whose backgrounds place them at risk, by failing to establish dear, consistent expectations for appropriate behavior and sharing them with students, teaching students how to behave instead of waiting for problem behavior to occur and then punishing them, and allowing students to fall further and further behind academically (Mayer, 1995; Kauffman, 1997; Sugai & Lewis, 1998; Walker et al., 1995).
The goals I've just suggested imply an emphasis on the outcomes of school safety and effectiveness. One would assume that these outcomes are widely embraced by general educators and the public. In general, they are; however, the means that I've described for accomplishing them are controversial among these constituencies, to say the least. Most persons, including professional educators, believe that students with disruptive and challenging behavior do not belong in schools, either in regular or special education classrooms. That schools could do their job more effectively and efficiently if no children with disruptive behavior were present is inarguable. The question is, what do we do with these students once they're removed? It doesn't benefit our society, personal safety, or pocketbooks to put them out on the street or to incarcerate them. And skimming off the most behaviorally challenging students has no permanent effect on their number-others will rise to take their place (Sugai & Homer, 1999).
We Americans are proud of our national work ethic, and obviously, much can be accomplished by hard work. But it is incorrect to assume that by working harder, schools can become more safe and effective, and students with challenging behavior will be better served. Teaching is hard work, and the need to respond to numerous federal, state, and local regulations has increased teachers' burdens tremendously. Nevertheless, schools are one of this country's most resource rich human service environments. Given the current teacher shortage, it is unrealistic to expect an increase in the supply of teachers. We need to be thinking of ways to improve our efficiency and effectiveness with existing resources. One way to accomplish this is to implement the multi-level framework of PBIS that I described earlier.
Many schools now collect data regarding disciplinary actions (i.e., office discipline referrals, or ODRs). A typical ODR includes the student, the type of incident, time, and place of occurrence, recorded on a slip of paper that accompanies the student to the office (Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997). By entering the data from each ODR on a computer spreadsheet, an office worker may create a school-wide database that can be sorted, analyzed, and even charted a number of ways: by referring staff, location, time of day, type of offense, and student, for example. School staff then can use these data to identify the areas of greatest need. Lewis-Palmer et al. (1999) have suggested that schools adopt a set of decision rules to facilitate decisions regarding such priorities. For example, if a substantial proportion of the student body are receiving one or more ODRs, or if the average ODR per student is greater than two, attention should be directed to the behavioral expectations throughout the school, how these ar e communicated to students, and whether they are consistently taught and supported by staff. Classroom behavior management systems are indicated if the majority of referrals come from classrooms, whereas a large number of referrals from non-classroom settings indicates the need to establish strategies that address these areas. Office discipline referral data also can be used as a screening device to identify students who need more systematic and intensive intervention. Students who receive more than a certain number of ODRs in a given month may be candidates for targeted interventions, and those with even higher rates of referrals may need still more intensive services.
Research indicates that implementing school-wide disciplinary systems based on PBIS is, in fact, working smarter. Such universal strategies as establishing area routines (e.g., teaching students how to pass between classes), creating better ecological arrangements (e.g., eliminating lunchroom congestion by staggering lunch periods), establishing or improving rules (e.g., walk on the right in hallways), and improving supervision in certain areas dramatically reduces the number of ODRs (Nelson, 1996). When the rate of ODRs goes down, personnel who used to deal with large numbers of such events are freed to do other things. One of these things could be to work with staff in creating targeted or intensive intervention plans for needy students.
Another benefit of reduced rates of ODRs is increased rates of academic engaged time. Students who are not in the office or in suspension are more likely to be in class. If they are receiving effective instruction, presumably their academic performance contributes to improved scores on school performance indicators. Students who are not in school also cost their districts state and federal funds that are based on average daily attendance. These relationships indicate that adopting school discipline policies and practices with a focus on keeping students in the classroom is a self-interest proposition. It certainly has more appeal than puffing dozens of students out in the community each day with no supervision!
Doors We Should Close
During our brief history, we educators who work on behalf of students with challenging behavior have been seduced by a number of fads: patterning, the Finegold diet, and facilitated communication are examples that come to mind. Fortunately, careful independent research has shown that these approaches give false promise. Still, some of our current practices are driven by policies and short-term results rather than by solid evidence and long term benefits. Some current initiatives should be de-railed. One of these, of course, is unsupported inclusion, which often hides behind the euphemism "full inclusion." If students with EBD are going to be taught in regular classrooms, then let's make sure that they, and the staff who serve them in these settings, are prepared. This means assessing the setting to identify the academic and behavioral expectations, assessing the student against these expectations, teaching her the skills she needs to meet these expectations before making the transition, and providing follow-u p consultation and support to the student and the adults in the setting (Walker et at, 1995).
Another misplaced policy, which has become a popular slogan, is "zero tolerance" for misbehavior. If children are going to succeed in learning how to behave, they must be in situations where they are exposed to good models, have the opportunity to practice these skills, and receive corrective feedback and re-direction for their mistakes. Schools cannot and should not tolerate the possession of a weapon or illegal drugs on the premises. But these events comprise a relatively small proportion of the behavior problems in schools. For example the Kentucky Center for School Safety report (January, 2000) indicated that 5% of all law violations (437 of 9,396 incidents) by students in 1998-99 were for offenses involving weapons. Contrary to popular opinion, research supports the conclusion that schools having a major emphasis on zero tolerance are in fact less safe (Mayer & Leone, 1999).
Finally, we should look for a better metaphor than war to address our social ills. Since the War on Poverty during the Johnson administration, this country has demonstrated a penchant for declaring war on things we don't like: the war on drugs, for instance. I haven't heard anyone calling for a war on school violence, but it wouldn't surprise me. The fact is, we haven't solved any of our social problems by declaring a war on them, and aggressive responses, no matter how well intentioned, are not an appropriate image to evoke with regard to children and education.
It would be nice to declare that we are making the transition into the 21st Century with a clear vision of where our field is headed, confident that we have learned from past mistakes and are moving ahead with the conviction that children with or at risk of developing challenging behavior are going to be more adequately and appropriately served by the educational system. As I have attempted to document, we know a great deal about these children, and about what works and what doesn't work. In this regard, our science has served us well. Unfortunately, as Kauffman (1999B) has pointed out, we appear more confused than confident, and postmodern thinking has encouraged many professionals to view traditional scientific inquiry as untrustworthy. Almost 20 years ago, Lilly and Givens-Ogle (1981) observed that changes in education are based more on politics and expediency than on science. Alas, that still appears to be the case. Another rather insidious development that has surfaced over the past few decades is a blo ssoming of entrepreneurism. Years ago I quipped that "bad kids are good business" (Nelson, 1981). The proliferation of assessment tools, workshops, and intervention packages that address school violence and disruptive student behavior would seem to support the observation that some professionals are making a very good living by developing and marketing such products. Let me hasten to add that I see nothing wrong in selling tools and training that help educators do a better job of working with students. I only wish that potential consumers of these wares would ask for scientific evidence of effectiveness before making their purchases.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, trying to make evaluative observations about our field and suggest agenda we should pursue in the next century is a daunting task. While I have observed that we are doing some things wrong, I hope the message communicated here is one of optimism. We have the tools to work more effectively with students who exhibit challenging behavior. It is up to us to convince our colleagues, policy makers, and the general public that schools should be responsible for teaching and supporting responsible behavior, and that by working together, we can build the capacity for doing that job.
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Publication information: Article title: Educating Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in the 21st Century: Looking through Windows, Opening Doors. Contributors: Nelson, C. Michael - Author. Journal title: Education & Treatment of Children. Volume: 23. Issue: 3 Publication date: August 2000. Page number: 204. © 2009 West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.