Documentary of the Week - APM Reports "Spare the Rod"

Aug 29, 2016

Spare The Rod: Amid evidence zero tolerance doesn't work, schools reverse themselves.

A get-tough attitude prevailed among educators in the 1980s and 1990s, but research shows that zero-tolerance policies don't make schools safer and lead to disproportionate discipline for students of color.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers recently issued a remarkable mea culpa.

For years, Randi Weingarten supported "zero-tolerance" policies in schools. Under zero tolerance, students who break certain school rules face mandatory penalties, including suspension and referral to law enforcement. The approach gained popularity during the 1980s, and by the mid-1990s, most school districts in the United States had adopted some form of zero tolerance.

But at the end of 2015, Randi Weingarten wrote an editorial in American Educator saying those policies had been a failure.

"When you see that you're wrong, you have to say that you're wrong and apologize for it," Weingarten said in an interview.

Zero-tolerance policies were supposed to make schools safer and make discipline fair. But in practice, the policies "didn't help us get to the safe and welcoming school environments that every parent wants for his or her child," Weingarten said.

Across the country, schools are moving away from zero tolerance and trying to reduce the number of students they're suspending. The turnaround is a response to a growing body of research showing that zero-tolerance policies resulted in a disproportionate number of kids of color suspended, expelled, and referred to law enforcement.

"Spare the Rod" airs Thursday, September 1st, at 12Noon on Public Radio 89.5 HD-1.