Cover: Time for Change?

Time for Change?

Educators' Perceptions of Discipline Reform in Their Schools

Published Apr 9, 2020

by Rachel Perera, Courtney Armstrong

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Research Question

  1. Do secondary teachers and principals see discipline reform as a priority in their schools?

Beginning in the late 1980s, policymakers concerned about violence in schools began to enact "zero-tolerance" policies in districts and states across the country. These policies mandated the use of exclusionary discipline for a range of behaviors, including such less serious offenses as classroom disruption and dress code violations. The efficacy of exclusionary discipline has been challenged, given persistent concerns that schools' safety and discipline policies and practices do not create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students; empirical evidence demonstrating persistent disparities in school discipline; and the negative consequences of harsh discipline practices on a number of student, teacher, and school outcomes. Over the last few years, the state policy landscape has begun to dramatically shift away from exclusionary discipline in response to both local and federal pressure. This American Educator Panels Data Note provides insight into teachers' and principals' perceptions of the need for discipline reform in their schools.

Key Findings

Educators prioritize discipline reform, especially in high-poverty schools

  • Discipline reform was identified as one of the top three most important interventions by 31 percent of teachers and 25 percent of principals.
  • Secondary teachers were more likely to identify discipline reform as a top three issue than secondary principals, although this difference was not statistically significant.
  • Secondary teachers and principals in high-poverty schools were more likely than those in low-poverty schools to identify discipline reform as a top three important intervention, although the difference diminished after also controlling for numerous school-, district-, and state-level variables.


  • Although many educators indicate a need to prioritize discipline reform as an intervention for their schools (among the given options), it remains unclear why they identified discipline reform as one of the top three needed interventions for their schools. Further research is required to provide a detailed understanding of educators' perspectives on the efficacy of different discipline methods.

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The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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