Behavior Problems Hurt Teachers, Students

Article excerpt


Unruly behavior in middle and high schools is a serious and pervasive problem that drives out teachers and undermines students' academic achievement, according to a study released yesterday.

The study, which is based on surveys of teachers and parents by the nonprofit research group Public Agenda, said schools have gotten better at responding to problems such as weapons and drugs, but everyday behavior problems that don't draw as much public attention still take their toll.

"This may be one of the most serious impediments to successful academic outcomes there is," Public Agenda President Ruth Wooden said.

The report, titled "Teaching Interrupted," says behavior problems mean students have less time to learn, partly because the teacher uses class time to discipline a few troublemakers but also because the troublemakers create an atmosphere that is not focused on learning.

"If you have a child in your classroom who is difficult to work with and they are setting a tone, you can have anything from a five-minute distraction to the loss of half a class period," Tina Dove, a six-year teacher on hiatus, told the Associated Press.

"If you try to deal with that child in a way that's going to have the least impact on everyone else," said Ms. Dove, who lives in Alexandria, "that can take up an amazingly large period of your class. Before you know what happened, you're behind."

According to the report, the problem's persistence has caused 34 percent of teachers to seriously consider quitting. The same percentage reported that teachers in their schools actually had left because they were fed up with student behavior.

A vast majority - 82 percent of teachers and 74 percent of parents - blame parents' failure "to teach their kids discipline," although smaller majorities of parents and teachers also identified pervasive disrespect in society and school overcrowding as causes.

Disrespect in society was identified by 73 percent of teachers and 68 percent of parents as a cause of discipline problems; overcrowding was identified by 62 percent of teachers and 54 percent of parents as a contributor to the problem.

Most teachers - 58 percent - also blame parents who challenge school-discipline decisions, 55 percent blame school districts that back down in such cases because they are worried about lawsuits, and 52 percent blame teachers who ease up on discipline because they worry that parents and administrators won't back them up.

"The insertion of litigation and lawyers into the process ... makes the stakes a little higher, makes the bill a little higher and slows the process down," said Julie Underwood, general counsel for the National School Boards Association.

Ms. Underwood also cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings that students have a right to due process that has to be balanced against discipline. …