Lawmakers have set aside $10 million in one-time funds to be used during the next three years to train teachers and administrators across the state on how to use more positive approaches to disciplining students.
The funding, which was part of a trailer bill to implement the budget, is for training educators to develop a Multi-Tiered System of Supports — from creating a positive school climate for all students to providing individualized counseling to troubled students. The funding is a response to recommendations from the Statewide Special Education Task Force report, said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance. The task force found that students in special education are disproportionately suspended and expelled, and recommended the multi-tiered approach to school discipline.
“I’m thrilled,” said Laura Faer, an attorney with Public Counsel, a public interest law firm that has promoted positive discipline. “There is such a high demand for this training. We can now create a real network statewide that can support our students.”
Heidi Holmblad is executive director of the California Association of School Psychologists, which had supported a bill that would have increased funding for positive disciplinary approaches. She said many schools already have instituted a multi-tiered system, but many others have not.
The new funding “is a way to bring the multi-tiered approach to as many schools as possible to ensure that the reasons for the misbehavior are addressed rather just being punitive,” Holmblad said.
Under a multi-tiered system, schools initially establish a positive climate for all students as a first tier. For example, schools can begin the week with students and the teacher in each classroom forming a circle to discuss what is going on in their lives and at school. Staff, from janitors to the principal, can make an effort to get to know students and greet them by name. Schools also can create clear and simple rules about what behavior is expected at school, such as being respectful and responsible.
The second tier would involve interventions with students who are having academic or behavioral problems to teach them more effective ways to get their needs met and to understand the impact of their behavior on others. For example, students who are having problems might meet with a counselor in a small group.
The third-level tier would be individual counseling support for students at high risk of not succeeding at school.
The approach relies heavily on data. For example, if most of the referrals to the principal’s office are coming from one teacher, then an administrator would investigate why and provide the teacher training in alternative methods of disciplining students. Or if most of the problems are happening during lunchtime because of conflicts between 7th- and 8th-graders in a middle school, the administrators might adjust the lunchtime schedule to separate the grades.
The goal is to keep students in school and build a culture that is respectful and supportive of all students, Faer said.
The California Department of Education will choose one or two county offices of education to determine how to allocate the funding to districts. The details have not yet been worked out.
“Competition for the funding is going to be fierce,” Hornblad said. “Our main concern is that it go to lower-cost programs that are quite effective and working in the schools.”