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Can PBIS Build Justice Rather Than Merely Restore Order?

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In a multicase qualitative study, inclusive school leaders attempted to move their schools from the excessive use of suspension; they employed positive behavioral intervention and support (PBIS) as an alternative they thought would be therapeutic rather than punitive. However, the PBIS system traded a disciplinary system of control for a medicalized system of restoring order. Unwanted behavior came to be defined as evidence of possible behavioral disability. Hence, the PBIS system exchanged one deficit identity of "disorderly" student for another of "disordered" student, subsuming other considerations of race, class, and gender identity. Following the study’s findings, this chapter proposes more liberatory practices for PBIS that interrupt dominant culture discourses of normal behavior and power, and hold promise for establishing justice, rather than simply reinstating order.
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The School to Prison Pipeline: The Role of Culture and
Discipline in School
Can PBIS Build Justice Rather Than Merely Restore Order?
Joshua Bornstein,
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To cite this document: Joshua Bornstein, "Can PBIS Build Justice Rather Than
Merely Restore Order?" In The School to Prison Pipeline: The Role of Culture and
Discipline in School. Published online: 24 Feb 2017; 135-167.
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CHAPTER 7
CAN PBIS BUILD JUSTICE RATHER
THAN MERELY RESTORE ORDER?
Joshua Bornstein
ABSTRACT
In a multicase qualitative study, inclusive school leaders attempted to move
their schools from the excessive use of suspension; they employed positive
behavioral intervention and support (PBIS) as an alternative they thought
would be therapeutic rather than punitive. However, the PBIS system
traded a disciplinary system of control for a medicalized system of restoring
order. Unwanted behavior came to be defined as evidence of possible behav-
ioral disability. Hence, the PBIS system exchanged one deficit identity of
“disorderly” student for another of “disordered” student, subsuming other
considerations of race, class, and gender identity. Following the study’s find-
ings, this chapter proposes more liberatory practices for PBIS that inter-
rupt dominant culture discourses of normal behavior and power, and hold
promise for establishing justice, rather than simply reinstating order.
Keywords: PBIS; deficit identity; ableism; critical disability studies
Disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline will be significantly influenced by
the way that school leaders encourage their schools to adopt new practices
and systems for dealing with unwanted behavior and even to reconceptualize
The School to Prison Pipeline: The Role of Culture and Discipline in School
Advances in Race and Ethnicity in Education, Volume 4, 135167
Copyright r2017 by Emerald Publishing Limited
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 2051-2317/doi:10.1108/S2051-231720160000004008
135
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the issue. Ideally, we want to build justice in our schools, rather than simply
restore order. We know from research that a hallmark of such inclusive
efforts must be stopping the excessive use of school push-out and suspension
to deal with unwanted behavior (Kim, Losen, & Hewitt, 2010;Skiba et al.,
2003). If we conceive of the project as a social justice effort to build inclusive
schools, then we know from the literature that successful leaders envision a
place for all students with respect to race, class, disability, sexual orientation,
gender identity, and language fluency (Marshall & Oliva, 2006;Ross &
Berger, 2009;Shields, 2010;Theoharis, 2009;Vilbert & Portelli, 2000).
Positive behavioral interventions and support (PBIS) has been indicated as
one of the hopeful possible systems to disrupt excessive suspension (Netzel &
Eber, 2003;Vincent & Tobin, 2010).
However, a recent study of inclusive school leaders in five diverse school
districts (Bornstein, 2014) indicates that PBIS has its own pitfalls. Although
the five school districts varied by size, race, and economics, two dynamics
were consistent. First as they implemented PBIS, they fundamentally used it
to restore disruptive students to compliance. Thus, PBIS became another
mechanism for enforcing order. Second, when intervention efforts failed to
achieve compliance, the educators involved with PBIS came to treat the
students as potentially having emotional behavioral disorder, even if they
lacked the clinical authority to make a diagnosis themselves. Consequently,
students who were formerly regarded as disorderly increasingly came to be
regarded as disordered.
These outcomes were the ramifications of structural imperatives of PBIS,
not simply the results of misguided attempts by a select group of individuals.
Qualitative research can illuminate the complexity and contradictions of sys-
tems like PBIS as they are lived (Bogdan & Biklen, 2007) as opposed to how
they are intended to work in theory. Indeed, programs rarely work as logi-
cally and beneficently as intended.
With that caveat in mind, this chapter summarizes the earlier study
(Bornstein, 2014) as a cautionary tale to leaders who choose PBIS as the
alternative to excessive and disproportionate discipline. In his final book,
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? King (1968, 2010)
argued for the likely necessity of social welfare programs as a measure of
progress in the Civil Rights Movement, “but not for use as supplicants” he
cautioned: “We require programs to hold up to our followers which mirror
their aspirations” (King, 1968, 2010, p. 145). Likewise, we can acknowledge
that social justice for students requires significant programmatic change to
disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, and that PBIS may be an attractive
option. However, it would be hard to imagine that students would prefer
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to be regarded as possibly having an emotional or behavioral disorder
rather than delinquent. Students aspire to belong to a community that
embraces them, rather than holds them at arms’ length.
Truly dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline requires leaders who will
build schools with core ethics, policies, and practices that build King’s
beloved community. Thus, the study presented here may be read as an
admonition about making too facile a move from one system of disciplin-
ary control to another medicalized one. Best practices are offered that may
well enhance the promise of PBIS and have a better chance of establishing
justice in our schools, rather than merely reimposing order.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
This study attempted to understand the actions of leaders by examining
power as it was encoded in policy, implemented in systems, and enacted in
decision-making practices. As such, it relied on Foucauldian discourse
analysis (Baker & Heyning, 2004;Hall, 2001;Jones & Ball, 1995) to unpack
the interplay of knowledge and power. In particular, this discourse analysis
helped to identify how schools constructed deficit identities for students who
showed unwanted behavior and who may thus have been regarded as
emotionally disabled (Harwood, 2006) and impossible to include (Youdell,
2006). Furthermore, it relied on an emerging area of analysis known as
DisCrit Theory (Annamma, Connor, & Ferri, 2013) that applies both critical
race theory and disability studies in education to understand the complex
interactions of whiteness and ableism in school systems.
Difference Interpreted as Deviance and as Possible Disability
Disability studies is a powerful framework for understanding how difference
can be cast as deviance, which can in turn be cast as disability when institu-
tions analyze individuals in putatively scientific systems. Conrad and
Schneider (1992) described this dynamic between families, schools, and
medical professionals, creating a discourse that regarded energetic children
as hyperactive. Informal and formal diagnoses of attention deficit hyperac-
tivity disorder (ADHD) were powerfully framed by the schools’ inability to
accommodate active learning. This became a switch from “badness to sick-
ness” (Conrad & Schneider, 1992).
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Deficit identities are constructed by comparison to what is considered
acceptable or normal. Since so much of the PBIS system is about compar-
ing students’ behavior to normative behavior standards, it is instructive to
take Davis’ (2006) point that
To understand the disabled body, one must return to the concept of the norm, the
normal body. So much of writing about disability has focused on the disabled person as
the object of study. Just as the study of race has focused on the person of color. But as
with recent scholarship on race, which has turned its attention to whiteness, I would
like to focus not so much on the construction of disability as on the construction of
normalcy. I do this because the “problem” is not the person with disabilities; the prob-
lem is the way that normalcy is constructed to create the “problem” of the disabled
person. (Davis, 2006,p.3)
Broderick and Leonardo (2016) extended and complicated this analysis with
DisCrit theory by understanding that school’s codes of conduct institutionalize
White behavioral patterns as the basic definition of acceptable and normal
conduct. This analysis build on similar work from Ferri (2012) and Artiles
(2007) regarding response to intervention’s (RTI) reliance on White norms for
acceptable academic performance. With that baseline established, school sys-
tems such as child study and intervention teams examine learning styles and
behaviors that deviate from the norm. Brantlinger (2006) encapsulated the
dynamic elegantly when she described efforts to fix students who measure up
as deficient by established school standards. She took on both meanings of the
word “fix” (1) to remedy purported deficits and (2) to “determine a place for
certain individuals such as through classification or other specialized classroom
arrangements” (Brantlinger, 2006,p.viii).Hence,theseeffortsoperatewithin
systems whose goal is to return all students to normalcy and which do so by
placing them in some form of classification scheme, such as the PBIS pyramid.
Thomas and Glenny (2000) argued that when schools characterize
students as needing emotional and psychological therapy, this can often be a
diversion that is fundamentally about the schools’ exercise of disciplinary
power over students. Qualitative research has borne this out with respect to
specific diagnoses such as ADHD (Conrad, 1988, 2006) and conduct disorder
(Harwood, 2006), noting that psychopathologizing of students brought them
in line as purposefully as did explicit school discipline. Compliance through
clinical intervention was thereby more prevalent and preferred to the alterna-
tive of creating classrooms and schools that accepted a broad range of
student behaviors (Danforth & Smith, 2005;Smith, Danforth, & Nice, 2005).
Two senses of disorder have figured prominently in these discourses that
prioritize compliance: disorder-as-organizational-turmoil and disorder-as-
illness. In the first sense of disorder, students who routinely, dramatically,
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or dangerously disrupt class and school, have come to be regarded as too
disorderly for school to handle, and thus also legitimately excludable
(Fabelo et al., 2011;Losen & Gillespie, 2012;Reid & Knight, 2006;Skiba
et al., 2003). These policies and practices associated with this meaning of
disorder will be well known to readers of this volume on the school-to-
prison pipeline.
The second sense of “disorder” connotes illness or disability, as in Conrad
and Schneider’s (1992) “medicalization of deviance.” The formal diagnosis of
emotional behavioral disorder has historically been vastly disproportionately
applied to males, students of color, and students who live with poverty
(Harry & Klingner, 2006;Hosp & Reschly, 2003;Oswald, Coutinho, & Best,
2002). Furthermore, the diagnosis has been used across the nation to rational-
ize segregated placements out of general education classrooms and yet further
to alternate schools (Fierros & Conroy, 2005). Research with principals indi-
cates that they regarded disruptive behavior as their greatest challenge when
building inclusive schools (Avissar, Reiter, & Leyser, 2003;Houser, Bell,
Dickens, & Hicks, 2010). Even inclusive principals have been willing to segre-
gate students who were regarded as having diagnoses of emotional and
behavioral pathologies (Barnett & Monda-Amaya, 1998;Praisner, 2003).
Thus, an examination of the school-to-prison pipeline can also quite legiti-
mately take up medicalized segregation as a twin practice to disciplinary
exclusion via suspension.
PBIS as Policy and Practice
The leaders in this study worked within the framework of the Individuals
with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) (United States Department of
Education, 2004), reauthorized in 2004. IDEA established PBIS and RTI
as major features of the landscape of inclusion. PBIS intended to replace
exclusionary discipline practices such as suspension and expulsion with
more therapeutic supports in the classroom and the school when students
showed emotions and behaviors that were most troubling in the context of
school (Sugai, 2010). RTI intended to do likewise with respect to disabil-
ities that impacted academics (Jimerson, Burns, & VanDerHeyden, 2007).
The system was based on a public health triage model for diagnosing the
most critical cases and applying appropriate interventions to return a basic
stasis to the situation (Merrell & Buchanan, 2006). Importantly, both RTI
and PBIS prioritized giving all students access to high-quality instruction
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for academics and clear expectations for behavior as precursors to any fur-
ther examination of learning or behavior that may go awry.
The terms RTI and PBIS have sometimes been used interchangeably
(Gresham, 2005;Hawken, Vincent, & Schumann, 2008). For example,
Gresham (2005) proposed the systematic use of RTI as an alternative
means to effectively identify up to 20% of the student population he believed
had undiagnosed emotional disabilities. Whether called RTI or PBIS, the
essential protocols and assumptions of this public health model remain
adroitly similar. The pyramid graphic below typifies the images used to rep-
resent the RTI/PBIS pyramid, as for example, at a Fairview board of educa-
tion meeting. The “Academic” side of the pyramid was conventionally
referred as RTI, whereas the “Behavioral” side was known as PBIS (Fig. 1).
PBIS established several significant system-wide practices. First, schools
and districts established and promulgated consistent behavioral norms and
expectations across all spaces and times (Dunlap, Sailor, Horner, & Sugai,
2009), represented by the base of the pyramid. In the parlance of PBIS, this
was the Universal Tier I. Indeed, most schools implement PBIS thoroughly
only at Tier I.
Fig. 1. RTI/PBIS Model.
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Nonetheless, the upper tiers of the system have remained important. The
upper tiers of the pyramid have represented an escalation of the severity of
the labels assigned to the unwanted behavior and the interventions as applied
to return the student to baseline expectations. The use of interventions have
had two roles: restoring Tier I behavior, and providing data on the student
that could be relevant for further analysis and diagnosis. If an intervention at
a given tier has restored the student to Tier I behavior, then all was well and
good. However, if an intervention has failed in this regard, then this has been
taken to indicate that the student had more intense needs, and thus required
more intensive interventions (Dunlap et al., 2009). While school personnel
themselves have not been diagnosticians, this system became a powerful medi-
calized discourse, in which unwanted behavior is increasingly seen to originate
in an inherent deficit within the student medicalization of deviance.
Third, PBIS brought with it data collection and analysis as a first level of
screening for the entire population of students (Burke et al., 2010). The most
prominent data in PBIS and the most relevant for this chapter were
office discipline referrals (ODRs), used to determine when the level of con-
cern about a student moved from one tier to another (Flannery, Fenning,
McGrath Kato, & Bohanon, 2011;McIntosh, Campbell, Carter, & Zumbo,
2009). Some concern has been raised about the validity of using ODRs, in
that some researchers believe that early referrals did not necessarily predict a
pattern of more referrals to follow (McIntosh, Frank, & Spaulding, 2010).
On the opposite end of concern, Bezdek’s (2011) study of ODRs revealed the
possibility of false negatives, in which students with grave emotional or psy-
chological needs slipped through the cracks of ODR analysis as conducted
by PBIS teams.
Herein, some of the confusion between RTI and PBIS has arisen.
Some schools may use the PBIS process solely as a Tier I education and uni-
versal screening tool to evaluate the entire school (Mass-Galloway, Panyan,
Smith, & Wessendorf, 2008), and save RTI for identifying and intervening
with individuals of concern (Hawken, Adolphson, MacLeod, & Schumann,
2009;Hawken et al., 2008;Pearce, 2009). Others however, use PBIS for
both, ascending the pyramid with more intense identification of an indivi-
dual’s emotional and psychological needs and more intense interventions to
match (Eber et al., 2009;Sailor, Dunlap, Sugai, & Horner, 2009;Sugai et al.,
2000). Indeed, as the findings below demonstrate, the same confusion existed
among leaders in this study. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this chapter in
considering PBIS as an alternative to discipline, it is important to identify
the basic dynamics of a system that can locate a deficit within the student
and avoid other dynamics of institutional power that may be at work.
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When school leaders have believed that establishing an orderly school
environment requires them to choose between inclusion and exclusion,
therapy and discipline, the logics of badness-as-illness and compliance-as-
health have been further entangled. The critical lens offered by the present
study provides insight into paradoxes that arose in the work of inclusive
leaders endeavoring to build schools that worked for all students. For
educators who seek to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and establish
justice in practice, the examples described here may help emphasize how
thoroughly we must examine even the reforms put in place with the best
intentions.
METHODS
This multicase study was undertaken in five school districts in a
Northeastern state. Participating districts and individuals were selected as
a criterion sample (Patton, 2002) of inclusive leaders. All five districts and
15 of 18 individual participants had participated in university partnerships
or professional development programs on inclusive leadership (Table 1).
Greendale was the largest city in this region. Pleasant Hills and Fairview
were adjacent to Greendale, where Fairview operated like an extension of the
city itself and Pleasant Hills the middle class suburb. Lakeview was a small
rural community an hour from Greendale. Finally, Clearwell was a mix of
rural and suburban, adjacent to a different small college city in the region.
The sites’ demographic differences as urban, rural, and suburban were a
deliberate part of the study’s design because of the opportunities for
comparing and contrasting practices and policies among them. Since they
were all in one state, the districts were also subject to the same governing
policies on discipline and special education. Greendale is the largest city in
this economically depressed region of the state. The city was identified in
the top tier of cities across the nation with the highest concentration of
poverty in African American and Latino communities for the period
covered by this study (Jargowsky, 2015).
Within each district, I included the superintendent, the director of special
education (or central office equivalent), and at least one principal. The parti-
cipants were positioned both to set a vision for inclusion and to implement it
via policy and application, thereby potentially manifesting principles and
practices of inclusive leadership (Frattura & Capper, 2007). Superintendents
set the tone and policy for the entire district. Directors of Special Education
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and their equivalents implemented PBIS, especially in terms of establishing
an alternative to suspension as per Individuals with Disabilities in Education
Act (2004). Principals set the discourse and implemented practices for their
schools (Table 2).
Data Collection and Analysis
This study triangulated data from multiple sources and data collection
strategies (Denzin, 1978). I conducted individual semistructured interviews
(Rubin & Rubin, 2005) ranging from 60 to 90 minutes with the 18 respon-
dents individually from January 2011 to June 2012. Initial interviews
helped to establish the discourses that each participant employed and
Table 1. District Demographics.
Greendale Clearwell Fairview Lakeview Pleasant
Hills
Number of schools >30 <10 <5<5<10
Total enrollment >20,000 1,0003,000 1,0003,000 <1,000 3,0005,000
Race and ethnicity
American Indian or Alaska
Native
2% 1% 1% 1% 2%
Black or African American 53% 3% 3% 1% 4%
Hispanic or Latino 12% 0% 5% 1% 1%
Asian or native Hawaiian/
other Pacific Islander
6% 1% 1% 1% 2%
Multiracial 0% 0% 4% 0% 1%
White 28% 96% 86% 97% 90%
Additional services
Limited English proficiency 10% 1% 4% 0% 1%
Students with disabilities
(all)
19% 17% 13% 14% 14%
Students with emotional or
behavioral disabilities
3% 4% 2% 0% 1%
Free or reduced-price lunch 79% 37% 46% 51% 29%
Note: Data collated from annual State Education Department school district report cards and
reports of students receiving special education programs and services (State Education
Department, 2010, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2012d, 2012e).
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identified opportunities for field observation and pertinent district docu-
ments. Final member check interviews (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) with all but
two participants who had left their posts during the course of the study
probed two essential questions on developing theories: (a) “Do I have this
correct?” and (b) “What is the story to be told about this?” I also presented
the respondents with the interpretive theories about those data points that
I had developed during data analysis (Denzin, 1994) and repeated the same
questions in order to verify the validity of my data and conclusions.
For 12 months beginning in March 2011, I conducted 19 field observa-
tions (Adler & Adler, 1994; Bogdan & Biklen, 2007). Participants indicated
that their leadership on relevant matters could be observed in these ses-
sions. The observations included planning and implementation meetings
for PBIS, data review sessions on individual students and on aggregate
data, staff development sessions, and faculty meetings.
Documents gathered from the field and from websites associated with the
districts constituted another data set (Hodder, 1994; Zeeman, Poggenpoel,
Table 2. Sites and Participants.
Greendale Clearwell Fairview Lakeview Pleasant Hills
Superintendent
Angela Silva Ruby Trumbull Lesley Newsome Bill Boniwell Carol Ferrara
District office personnel
Patrick Quinn,
Director of
Special
Education
Denise Galliano,
Director of
Special Education
Mary Danton,
Chair of
Committee on
Special Education
Claire Carson,
Director of
Special
Education
Alice
DeMartino,
Director of
Special
Education
Rob Nielsen,
Director of
Admin.
Michelle Vinter,
Coordinator of
Youth
Development
Principal (school, grades)
Sian Ingraham
(Jones, K-8)
Erin Sanders,
Asst. Principal
(Clearwell
Elementary K-5)
David Underwood
(Fairview Middle,
48)
Vanessa
Blanton
(Lakeview
Elementary,
K-5)
Marcia Brumson
(Heights
Elementary, K-5)
Grace Lowthian
(Warren, K-8)
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Myburgh, & Van, 2002). Participants volunteered artifacts of field observa-
tions and documents to me during interviews, such as data recording forms,
meeting agendas, and supporting graphics. I also gathered documents from
websites of the five districts and of the State Department of Education.
Within a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) to the data,
I used open and axial coding via NVivo software to yield emerging themes
(Richards & Richards, 1994; Welsh, 2002). Critical discourse analysis (Gee,
2012) and Foucauldian discourse analysis (Hall, 2001;Harwood, 2003)of
the data helped to establish the discourses of order and medicalization that
emerged. Numerous strategies validating my conclusions included data and
method triangulation (Denzin, 1978), negative case analysis (Morse et al.,
2002), sample adequacy and saturation (Morse, 1991), member check inter-
views (Lincoln & Guba, 1985), analytic humility (Kincheloe & McLaren,
1994), and noting my subjectivities (Walkerdine, Lucey, & Melody, 2002)
via reflective journaling (Rolfe, 2006).
SEEKING INCLUSION VIA COMPLIANCE
Inclusive leaders wanted earnestly to include all students. As they described
their efforts and led others through planning inclusive systems and prob-
lem-solving sessions, they indicated the belief that the tenets of PBIS
offered them the best opportunity to do so. Paradoxically, the systems they
embraced built a logic that could ultimately justify excluding students who
were regarded as having emotional or behavioral disabilities. The commit-
ment to inclusion while simultaneously rationalizing moments of exclusion
was neither hypocritical nor insincere. Indeed, it was painful, as all leaders
acknowledged their own struggles when sending a disorderly student to a
more restricted, segregated environment.
Pulling apart the logic of that rationalization took several steps. In these
findings, I have reviewed first the participants’ definitions of inclusion. In
particular, they defined the principles of successfully including children
whom they regarded as having emotional or behavioral disorders. Second,
I have compiled their descriptions of the types of behaviors and emotions
they found most challenging to include. Third, I have examined actual
instances in which these students were identified. Finally, I have presented
an extended scenario from one participant. The scenario is an example of
how the discourses surrounding a PBIS approach could exchange one deficit
identity of the disobedient student for the disabled one.
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Disciplinary Normalcy in Codes of Conduct
Some of the leaders studied called their practice RTI. Some called it PBIS.
Some called it both, and some called it neither. Regardless of the label, the
leaders used several of the basic tenets of the RTI/PBIS system as described
by theorists (Jimerson et al., 2007;Sugai, 2010). Notably, they (1) expected
fidelity to standardized school rules and PBIS procedures; (2) used data to
identify students in need of assistance, to determine their needs, and then
to prescribe ways to meet those needs; (3) applied a graduated continuum
of interventions they regarded as research-validated; and (4) regularly
assessed students’ behavior in the process known as progress monitoring.
The founding point for their work was how to include students who
were regarded as disorderly. And the basis for that identity lay in codes
of conduct established in each district and school. All school districts fol-
lowed a state mandate to specify student behavioral expectations (Project
Safe Schools Act, 2000). Normal behavior was codified in the “Student
Responsibilities” section. All five districts’ discipline policies were notably
similar in their expectations. Following school rules was first or second on
every list, thereby cementing school authority and power in determining
what constituted a good or bad student (Table 3).
Every discipline code instituted normative behavior by requiring
students to be responsible for an environment “conducive to learning.” The
students were thus not only responsible for themselves, but also for the
Table 3. Student Responsibility for Learning Environment as per Codes
of Conduct.
District Excerpt from “Student Responsibilities”
Greendale Contribute to maintaining a safe and orderly school environment that is
conducive to learning and to show respect to other persons and to property.
Clearwater Contribute to maintaining a safe and orderly school environment that is
conducive to learning and show respect to other persons and to property.
Fairview Contribute to the maintenance of an environment that is conducive to learning
and to show due respect for other persons’ property.
Lakeview To work to the best of his/her ability in all academic and extracurricular pursuits
and strive toward the highest level of achievement possible.
Pleasant
Hills
Contribute to the maintenance of an environment that is conducive to learning
and to show due respect for other persons’ property.
Be safe, and not interfere with the educational process.
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common good. Individual students could be held accountable for disrup-
tion of the organization of school. Most codes aligned order and safety
with learning. While Fairview did not explicitly call for safety and order,
respect for property substituted as an equivalent.
In other sections of the codes of conduct, three districts identified
some classroom behaviors presumably conducive to learning. Greendale,
Clearwater, and Fairview wanted their students to ask questions when they
did not understand what was going on in class or with their assignments.
Within the text of the codes of conduct, students were not expected to
collaborate, show curiosity, create, or even participate. Indeed, the verb
“participate” arose only in the most passive sense in the clauses in which
students were expected to behave well when “participating in” or “attend-
ing” extracurricular events. Typically, in those instances, the students’ good
behavior was normalized as acting like “representatives” of the district
when they might be on display for other members of the general public.
Furthermore, although students were tasked with maintaining an environ-
ment conducive to learning, that environment was never actually described.
A discourse analysis must examine what is not said along with what is
made explicit. The codes of conduct were silent on other behaviors that
could enhance environment for learning, such as collaboration and curios-
ity. This silence contrasted with explicit expectations for respectful and safe
behavior created a discourse in which orderly compliance was the basis of
normative behavior.
Definitions of Disorderly Behavior: Runners, Biters, and Chair Throwers
Disorderly behavior arose again and again in interviews and observations
as the greatest challenge for inclusive leaders and their staffs. Several beha-
viors emerged from interviews and observations repeatedly as icons of dis-
order. Running from class, biting, and throwing furniture were shorthand
monikers for the most significant challenges of building fully inclusive
schools. In the initial interview, I asked each leader about the most difficult
challenges to inclusion. Their responses are shown in Table 4. All respon-
dents focused on behavioral challenges.
Unpacking Director Denise Galliano’s description proves an instructive
example of the discursive strategy that defined students based on disorder.
She gave her example within an extended discussion of how she wanted
Clearwell to use the diagnostic and prescriptive process of PBIS. She
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Table 4. Descriptions of Behavior.
Participant/District Behavioral Description
Greendale
Superintendent Silva “Basic insubordination, talking back. Not so much
egregious behaviors. It’s mainly students being defiant
to teachers.”
Director of Special Education
Quinn
“We do have a lot of angry kids, and that is where we
have got aggression replacement training in some
schools.”
Principal Ingraham “I have teachers right now with kids who are extremely
violent. They bite a lot.”
Principal Lowthian “She sees demons, threatens suicide when she sees
demons approaching. She is interfering with her own
education and the education of others.”
Clearwell
Superintendent Turnbull “Runners are very challenging. The kids who have a
‘flee’ response to stress are very challenging.”
Director of Special Education
Galliano
“When their learning is so disrupted or when they are
so disruptive to others’ learning, when there is a
possibility of injury to others or injury to themselves,
when they are spending more and more time out of the
classroom due to behaviors, which is going to disrupt
their learning, when there are constant office referrals.”
Assistant Principal Sanders “We do have students with severe behaviors, as most
schools do. Violent.”
Fairview
Superintendent Newsome “I look at, ‘How do we change any behavior that
interferes with that child’s education or the education
of others?’”
Principal Underwood “The emotionally disturbed kids they had big
breakdowns and meltdowns, a lot of noise.”
Director of Administration
Nielson
“I think the kinds of behaviors are when a teacher’s
authority is challenged or when they think that kids
might be in danger of getting hurt. I think that those
are the kinds of behaviors that are most challenging.”
Committee on Special Education
Chair Danton
“Explosive. Harmful to self or others. I get involved
there, when they rise to that level.”
Lakeview
Superintendent Boniwell “Disruption in classrooms. We do not get a lot of
physical stuff here. It is mostly just disruptive
behavior, upset.”
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expected that the schools should identify a student as needing interventions
when
[t]heir learning is so disrupted or when they are so disruptive to others’ learning, when
there is a possibility of injury to others or injury to themselves, when they are spending
more and more time out of the classroom due to behaviors, which is going to disrupt
their learning, when there are constant office referrals.
“Disruption” grounded her description. The disruption was to classroom
order regarded as necessary for learning. Galliano also signaled that her
scope of concern was not simply the child herself, but also peers.
Disruption was followed by the threat of injury early in the description and
yet bore repeating in a reprise.
Table 4. (Continued)
Participant/District Behavioral Description
Director of Special Education
Carson
“He [Superintendent Boniwell] is not going to tolerate
kids throwing chairs and hurting other kids.”
Principal Blanton [Regarding a boy who had hidden in the bathroom one
week prior to the interview.] “And the next day he was
fine. But who knows when that can happen again.
That’s a real challenge. It makes me really nervous
when I can’t be in the building. Not that I’m any
miracle worker but to let somebody else be responsible
for that kinda stuff and that’s a dangerous situation,
have him locked in the bathroom and then climbing on
top of the walls. So those are challenges.”
Pleasant Hills
Superintendent Ferrara “Acting out behaviors can be avoiding work I have
trouble doing. Also, there’s the kid who makes poor
choices because experiences and role models have
developed that pattern. Choices are impulsivity, rather
than making good choices.”
Coordinator for Youth
Development and Leadership
Vinter
“Slapping, biting, hitting other children. There were
really truly safety issues. Running out of the
classroom.”
Principal Brumson “The bigger challenge still remains for the cafeteria
staff and it’s really about aides who don’t get it. You
know, they just see somebody being naughty and
needing to make him comply.”
Director of Special Education
DeMartino
“Defiance and noncompliance.”
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As for safety, Galliano reemphasized a duty to protect the student and
peers. Furthermore, it was not the act of violence per se, but the potential
of violence that she noted. In this phrase, the person who could predict or
interpret “the possibility of injury” was unnamed. Tacitly, the listener was
to assume this was an educator.
spending more and more time out of the classroom” described the
establishment of a pattern. This was an important moment in the descrip-
tion. It indicated that single incidents may not warrant concern, but
repeated and patterned ones did. Patterning was epistemologically signifi-
cant. It conveyed the truth of interpreting student behavior as disruptive.
constant office referrals” reinforced two hallmarks of this troubling
scenario. First, the constancy spoke to patterns. Second, sending a child to
the principal’s office via a referral was an official action, resulting from
adult judgment of something wrong. Thus, the adult’s judgment was veri-
fied as a way of knowing students as disorderly.
Referrals were more than acts, though. When they were collated, calcu-
lated, and tracked, they became data that evidenced disorder. Galliano
embedded the example of problematic behavior in a discussion of the data-
driven regime of PBIS, even if she did not specifically call it so at this
moment. Moreover, her focus on reading the data and searching for causes
in the patterns signaled the power of school authorities. In her view, they
had a responsibility to maintain order and safety plus a further duty to
diagnose the underlying etiology of unwanted behavior and do their best
to find a therapeutic cure. Grounding that work in data as she alluded to
the PBIS tenets demonstrated a positivist discourse that lay at the heart
of medicalization.
Running, biting, and chair throwing showed up repeatedly in these
descriptions as paradigmatic behaviors and were echoed in most interviews
and observations. They were used so frequently that I chose to examine
them as symbols of disorder. They held power as explanatory devices in
discourses of alterity and mental illness. For example, chairs were ubiqui-
tous classroom objects. How they were arranged in any classroom spoke
volumes about the order of that learning space: Were they arranged in
rows, indicating decades of stand-and-deliver teaching? Were they arranged
around tables, hinting at cooperative learning pedagogies?
Thus, whenever these educators invoked “throwing a chair” in descrip-
tions of student behavior, that language symbolized that the student was
misusing the furniture according to the accepted social organization of a
classroom. Also, students were to sit on their chairs. References to chairs
thus not only spoke to the use of those objects but also to the regulation of
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student bodies in the classroom. Sitting on chairs was passive, whether done
in rows, at collective tables, or in a circle. Throwing was far more active
transgressively active because sitting was the socially sanctioned use of
chairs. Throwing chairs also signaled danger from an irrational threat. A
thrown chair could not be caught like a ball in physical education class or at
recess the conventional ways of throwing anything in school. Thus, the
phrase “throwing a chair” conveyed two ideas: (1) a student was harming
others and (2) a student was irrational. In effect, that icon alluded to disor-
der in both its meanings: disorder-as-turmoil and disorder-as-pathology.
Applying PBIS Principles
Pleasant Hills, Fairview, and Greendale had been cited by the State
Department of Education for suspending too many students with disabilities
in recent years. Furthermore, during the same period as this study, Greendale
was investigated as one of 20 urban districts that regularly, excessively, and
disproportionately suspended students of color and students with disabilities
(Losen & Martinez, 2013). Impelled by these accountability measures, the
leaders turned to PBIS as their systematic remedy.
In Pleasant Hills, Coordinator Vinter made her case for PBIS by focusing
on the power of fidelity when an entire institution was using the same PBIS
practices. She compared two schools in the district through the lens of a
school nurse who transferred from one to the other. The nurse had moved
from the school with the longest history of using PBIS to the newest.
They’ve been implementing for 10 years. She went from going to South Street Elementary
to Rhodes Elementary. Rhodes was our last elementary on board with PBIS. She called
me one day, and she said, “Michelle, there’s a marked difference between the behavior of
the kids at South Street,” which is our lowest socioeconomic, Title I school, “to the kids at
Rhodes,” just typical kids.
The kids at South Street really embraced the model and understood the expectations
and followed the rules better. To me that was just kind of anecdotal testimony that if
you implement the model with fidelity, you’re going to get positive results. South Street
has the fewest discipline problems. I know some of that is based on the principal and
the personalities of the teachers, but all in all, I think it’s testimony to the fact that
teachers really embrace PBIS.
Vinter found the nurse’s analysis of such a disjuncture between the two
schools compelling. As she described the power of implementing PBIS with
fidelity, she was actually talking about social class more than each school’s
history with PBIS. Vinter decoded what was so shocking to the nurse. She
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explained parenthetically that South Street was a school of the “lowest
socioeconomic” class, as opposed to Rhodes’ population of “just typical
kids.” Title I was a federal support program for schools whose academic
performance and socioeconomic status were low. Thus, Vinter intimated
that South Street was not only a poor school economically but also
academically. In this narrative about South Street, orderly behavior was
remarkable not only because it was pervasive, but also because one would
expect good behavior more from “typical kids” than from those in a low
performing and low socioeconomic class school. Those deficit identities did
not fit with normative orderly behavior.
What got the credit for breaking that expectation? Implementing PBIS
with fidelity over time was the evident cause in this discourse. And, beyond
10 years of implementation, “embracing” PBIS also epitomized success.
Systematic fidelity was more powerful than social class and even more
powerful than the “personalities” of the teachers or the leadership of that
school in this narrative, although Vinter believed they may have a part in
South Street’s success as well. The major lesson of this account of two
schools was that if fidelity led to success in a significantly deviant school,
then it should certainly work in a normal one.
All the schools included in this study had teams that focused on
troubling students. Although the precise composition of each team varied,
they generally included the building administrator, social worker, psycholo-
gist, and academic specialists, such as a reading teacher and a nurse. Items
pertaining to disorderly students dominated agendas of these teams. At
Jones School in Greendale, Principal Ingraham presided over a weekly
meeting of her Student Staff Support Team (SSST). In two hours, the
SSST discussed 16 students. All but one were behavioral concerns.
The same pattern was evident in meetings of the Lakeview School
Based Intervention Team (SBIT). The team worked through an agenda of
13 students in June 2011. As each child was discussed, emotions and behav-
ior were not always presented first. However, for 12 of 13 students, the
discussion turned to emotions and behavior as the presumed roots of the
issues at hand.
When Principal Vanessa Blanton reflected on this afterward she was sur-
prised, but believed it may have been due to the calendar. She reasoned
that by May and June, teachers had tried all the strategies they knew.
Having exhausted their repertoire and energies, teachers came to believe
that behavioral or emotional causes were undermining their students’
success in class. Checking out that calendar explanation, I attended another
SBIT team meeting in October 2011. That meeting was conspicuously
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similar to the June gathering. Again, behavior became the eventual topic of
discussion for all ten children on the agenda.
The SBIT team often employed two deficit discourses of family to
explain students’ disorderly behavior and unruly emotions. The first deficit
discourse described students’ homes as chaotic. Parents in jail, the loss of a
job, the intermittent presence of pseudo-parental boyfriends or girlfriends
of mother or father, prolonged illness, all figured in the SBIT team’s analy-
sis of causes for a student’s disorderly behavior. Second, the team made
comparisons to other family members. Team members explained the
current child’s behavior by referring to disorderly behavior and emotions
of siblings, parents, and other relatives who attended Lakeview schools.
The team also used pathology as an identity marker in itself. This came
in several forms. One version was using psychopathological diagnosis as
shorthand for student need. Psychiatric diagnostic labels (American
Psychiatric Association, Task Force on DSM-IV, 2000) such as Asperger’s
syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, and attention deficit disorder
mixed with other diagnostic references, such as “selective mutism,” and
“obsessive compulsive” (which only needs the word “disorder” to itself be a
DSM-IV label). A second related strategy was invoking pharmacology as
an effective response or intervention, as when the nurse reinforced her
claim that a student had attention deficit disorder by commenting that she
would be a good candidate for medication. Third, the team entwined
pathology (“selective mutism”), bad parenting, and heredity as causes for
disorder, noting that the parents allowed the children to “run the house.”
Using Data
These team meetings exhibited this kind of anecdotal data analysis. All the
included districts identified disorderly students based on what they considered
to be sound data. Greendale’s Special Education Director Quinn presided
over meetings of a broad district team of administrators, teachers, and mental
health specialists from the district and the city. He had convened this diverse
group to design Greendale’s PBIS pyramid because he regarded the planning
and implementation of PBIS as “bigger than special ed.” The participants in
those meetings came back repeatedly to endorsing ODRs and attendance
records as data to identify students in need of support beyond Tier I and as
trigger data to move a student up subsequent tiers of their PBIS pyramid.
In one pivotal meeting, that endorsement withstood challenges from the
Director of Elementary Education and the Parent Advocate who questioned
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how PBIS would function in a district with a discomfiting legacy of institu-
tional racism. How could ODRs be trusted when “teachers who don’t
look like our students” wrote petty referrals, according to the Director?
Furthermore, behavioral data and analyses had a danger of being used to
construct “our kids” as “buck wild and needing mental health services” in
the view of the Parent Advocate. After some meandering discussion, a
school psychologist asserted that she and other clinical specialists held the
keys to solving that dilemma because “good assessment drives strategies.”
Director Quinn allowed that declaration to stand. His clear message was
that Greendale was choosing PBIS data analysis to diagnose students as a
way to “deal with race” as the Elementary Director insisted they should.
Although he did not refer to it in this meeting, Quinn regarded Warren
School’s use of data as a model for the district. During one of my field
observations at Warren, Principal Lowthian highlighted for me the school’s
“war room” that had earned Quinn’s approval. The room featured a wall
of response to intervention charts for reading achievement facing a wall of
PBIS charts for behavior (Fig. 2). A PBIS pyramid on which the teacher
had written students’ names in the appropriate colored tier represented
each class. The room gave Lowthian and colleagues an immediate way to
know the school at a glance. They might also zoom in on a particular class
or student to see where s/he was placed on the pyramid. The room’s nick-
name drew on military symbolism of course, in which the stakes are high,
resources are precious, accurate “target” assessment is necessary, and the
overall corrective system intends to work reliably on the population in
question. In the context of regarding PBIS as dealing with emotional or
behavioral disorder, the analogy was much like symbolism used in the “war
on cancer” (Sontag, 1990).
Medicalization Discourse Permeates Data Analysis,
Identification, and Intervention
On a staff development day, Assistant Principal Sanders called together the
district’s social workers, counselors, and an elementary principal for a dis-
cussion on how to implement RTI strategies for children whose behaviors
were regarded as disorderly. Sanders introduced a data review of ODRs to
set the ground for when and how to apply interventions. She brought the
group’s attention to an accounting that 36 students received 448 referrals
last year, and translated that into percentages: “17% of the kids got 61%
of the referrals.”
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One social worker’s reaction was immediate. “They’re mine! They’re
ED!” By this she meant that they were part of her caseload because they
had been classified as emotionally disturbed.
From there, the discussion moved to examining the referrals themselves,
whether they were consistently entered in the electronic student database
called SchoolTool, and what the coded behaviors meant. For example,
Sanders noted that she and the principal of her school were continually
reinforcing with teachers that they should log referrals in SchoolTool. At
the same time, she challenged the usefulness of some codes. “Inappropriate
behavior is not always a good descriptor,” she said. The social worker rein-
forced this point, noting that the statistics for “inappropriate language”
would have been be a lot higher “if we SchoolTooled every incident.”
Sanders responded assertively that students “need to know that we will
suspend for threats of ‘I will kill you.’” As evidence that this sanction had
become more accepted, she noted that suspensions were down for that
behavior. Thus she believed students had gotten the message. “We talk
about biculturalism, where they know that school is different.”
Fig. 2. PBIS Data Wall in the “War Room.”
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With “biculturalism,” Sanders used the discursive strategy of normaliz-
ing orderly behavior in this discussion. The “biculturalism” she referred to
here picked up a point from an earlier exchange at this meeting in which
the turmoil of many Clearwell families was attributed as a root cause for
ODRs. Sanders was telling the group that a school culture of order and
safety would prevail and would be the basis against which deviance was
judged.
This “biculturalism” also harkened back to our initial interview, in
which Sanders explained her position as an inclusive leader. Sanders under-
stood her mission as “compassionate,” particularly in reference to negotiat-
ing the social class discourses of home and school.
You know, love is. I’m pretty tough on the kids. I grew up working class. I am not from
an educated family. My older brother. I moved around a lot, my family, so I identify
actually with some of our most severe families here. That’s my background. I have my
degrees up on the wall because that’s a miracle to me. Those are a miracle. If you knew
my upbringing, you would know that that’s a miracle. The dissertation’s a miracle.
I identify with those kids. I’m getting emotional. I’m working class, and one of the things
I always have to mitigate is middle class discourse, because sometimes our kids need
tough love. No one’s going to save them. No one saved me.
Sanders preferred to read disorderly behavior as an expression of work-
ing class culture, rather than illness. She saw that her school’s behavioral
expectations were grounded in middle class values, which she believed were
likely different from the values of her students’ homes. Her heartfelt mis-
sion was to help students navigate school’s middle class norms for orderly
behavior. She tacitly accepted that working class culture was constructed as
a deficit by the school “those kids” with whom she identified were from
“some of our most severe families.” In essence, she was coaching working
class on how to pass as middle class while in school.
During the staff development meeting, this tension between pathology
and class emerged again. As the group worked their way through creating
Clearwell’s set of “tiered interventions,” they contrasted two students as
examples. In the excerpt below from my observation notes, Sanders and a
social worker disagreed about one of the two children.
Principal: You [Sanders] mentioned children of incarcerated family members, and you’re
[Social Worker’s] mention of kids with more needs is important. Let’s look more at that.
Sanders: We could go down the case list [of students getting Tier II support], to see
what are the themes of what’s going on with them.
Social Worker: We have kids with emotional disabilities, or things going on that are
emotional, and kids with bad behavior. Teachers have a hard time distinguishing.
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Like S11,
1
crying and carrying on. He has emotional issues now, but not nearly what
they were in 2nd grade. That’s a bad example. There’s no ED with him.
How about S12, who has emotional issues and will always have issues? He is emotionally
disturbed. Tomorrow, he will be emotionally disturbed. He will always be emotionally
disturbed.
S11 will tell you, “I have different rules at home and school, and sometimes I get mixed
up.” He hasn’t got deep-seated emotional issues.
Sanders: I’d argue with you about S11. I worry about taking him out of this safe
context.
Social Worker: [Chuckling] She always argues with me about him!
Sanders: I worry about him. He’s been crying and crawling under his desk.
Social Worker: That’s what he does at home.
Sanders: [Collecting her papers.] When can we meet again?
The group used the list of children receiving Tier II intervention as a refer-
ence point. The RTI/PBIS pyramid thus became the technology for defining
students’ deviant identities. Regardless of whether the etiology of deviance
was coming from a home with an incarcerated family member or “deep-seated
emotional issues,” the pyramid showed the students to be comparable.
Could schools deal effectively or not with that deviance, and what did
that mean for the student’s identity? This was the subtext of disagreement
between the social worker and Sanders. Indeed, it was the logic at the heart
of diagnosing someone’s response to intervention. Sanders implicitly
concurred with the social worker that there were students like S12 who had
a legitimate disability. She attempted to destabilize that category, however,
stating that a “safe context” was crucial to this student. Furthermore, she
signaled that a student with an emotional disability might legitimately be
excluded by being taken out of that safe context.
The social worker asserted that the student’s behavior was the “same at
home.” She acknowledged Sanders’ list of disruptive or disorderly beha-
viors, such as crying and crawling. However, if they were the same at home,
the social worker implied that the cause lay within the student, regardless of
context. Thereby, she discursively constructed the student as having an
emotional disability. Significantly, Sanders dropped her challenge at this
point and shifted the agenda to scheduling their next meeting.
In a follow-up interview, Sanders reflected on that exchange. Although
the moment had a playful, collegial tone, it underscored some tensions.
“I think that’s part of, probably, what we’re wrestling with as a commu-
nity. What is the difference between those two concepts of a student?”
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Sanders laid out how best to make that distinction. Her description was a
powerful statement of the diagnostic discourse of response to intervention.
I think part of it might be that, for the student who’s naughty, there’s a possibility that
that child could self regulate and relearn behaviors and be shifted in their behaviors.
I think, when we start looking at that Tier III level, we’re also looking at students who
may not have the capacity themselves to regulate, who are subject to They them-
selves don’t have the skills in them. And I think that’s where, with that one student, we
go back and forth on, “Can the student regulate, can he not regulate? Will this student
ever have a moment where they know what’s right and what’s wrong?”
For Sanders, a naughty child could learn, change behavior, and could
internalize that change to the point of self-regulation. This was posed as
normalcy. Within that normalcy, she had earlier signaled that she believed
that someone who switches codes between working class behaviors and
middle class behaviors is skillful and admirable. Thus, she expected stu-
dents to have made school’s behavioral expectations so thoroughly their
own that they could self-discipline (Foucault, 1979)and even do so
nimbly.
From Sanders’ perspective, if disruptive students were not naughty-
turned-disciplined, then they might never show the capacity to tell right
from wrong. Importantly, Sanders posited that tiered interventions would
reveal the true pathology in a student. Thus, the technology of the pyramid
discursively created the student as having a disability.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
Paradoxically, the leaders in this study enacted discourses that pathologized
and prioritized control, even as they sought to move away from punishment.
To begin with, they rooted their description of ideal behavior in Codes of
Conduct that emphasized compliance and order. Second, they used office
discipline referrals as the fundamental data to measure students’ deviation
from that behavioral norm. Third, the protocols of PBIS drove them to inter-
pret that data as evidence of behavioral disability. Such analysis led them to
substitute one deficit identity disordered student for another disorderly
student. Indeed, it could even lead them to substitute one version of exclusion
medical placement at another facility for disciplinary suspension.
A growing body of literature challenges the cultural proficiency of a
one-size-fits-all PBIS system (Bal, Thorius, & Kozleski, 2012;Fallon,
O’Keeffe, & Sugai, 2012;Sugai, O’Keeffe, & Fallon, 2011). In related
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critiques of RTI, Artiles (2007) and Ferri (2012) dispute the validity of a
medicalized approach to students that psychopathologizes them. Annamma,
Morrison, and Jackson (2014) draw the two together in examining their
connection to the school-to-prison pipeline.
The evidence in this chapter argues that in order to create a system that
“mirrors the aspirations” of our students, social justice leaders should not
only implement culturally responsive practice but also deconstruct the falsely
scientific medicalizing discourses embedded in conventional PBIS practices.
They ought not fall prey to a system that swaps one deficit identity for
another. Both “bad” students and “disabled” students are marginalized
students whom schools make impossible to include (Youdell, 2006).
Nonetheless, I would contend that there are several promising possibili-
ties for culturally responsive and democratic practices that may significantly
disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. The first would be seeking balance in
the analysis of PBIS data. As documented here, the upper tiers of PBIS as
practiced were fundamentally analyzing deficits. Data-informed leadership
could interrupt this practice simply by documenting strengths as thoroughly
as documenting deficits. In another balancing data analysis, the lens of data
analysis and intervention could be turned back on adults and the school’s
systems as much as it is trained on students. For example, it is one thing
to analyze who is receiving office discipline referrals and disciplinary
consequences for student patterns. Better practice would be to profitably
disaggregate for race, class, disability, gender, and language proficiency of
the students, as suggested in a new wave of literature on culturally respon-
sive PBIS (Bal, Kozleski, Schrader, Rodriguez, & Pelton, 2014;Bal et al.,
2012;Jewell, 2012). If in theory, PBIS is supposed to address both student
and staff behaviors, it would be equally profitable to turn the same focus on
the teachers, administrators, and discipline codes that enact those referrals
and consequences. In that way, analysis shifts from the passive voice in
which students are the objects of disproportionate discipline to the active
voice in which a school and its adults are the subjects. Disaggregating
referrals by race, gender, disability, and economic status of the adults would
constitute a balanced and culturally responsive data analysis. Likewise,
examining codes of conduct for implicit sexism, ableism, racism, and class-
ism would provide a richer and more just understanding of the culture,
climate, policies, and practices of a school.
This balanced and culturally responsive data analysis will occur best in a
democratic sharing of school power. With all stakeholders involved in ana-
lyzing data and setting behavioral expectations, other perspectives come to
the table to guide the process, as some districts are doing in the work
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described by Bal et al. (2014, 2012). Although broader participation is prom-
ising, it may not be sufficient, as the Greendale planning meeting illustrates.
The literature on effective social justice leadership suggests strongly that
democratic participation on implementation must be joined with uncompro-
mising visionary leadership for just and inclusive schools (Capper,
Theoharis, & Sebastian, 2006;Larson & Murtadha, 2002;Theoharis, 2007).
To that end, leaders would do well to keep the focus on establishing justice
rather than restoring order and avoid swapping disciplinary stigmas of
“disorderly” students for medicalized stigmas of “disordered” ones. This
chapter argues that maintaining a critical eye toward the allegedly scientific
discourses of PBIS is one important component in doing so.
Some more early work on culturally responsive PBIS not only speaks of
democratizing the process but also grounding the school’s expectations in
terms that are relevant to the cultures of the students of that school. In
one New Mexico school for example, much productive work went into re-
interpreting Tier I expectations from a generic PAWS (P¼Be Positive and
Polite, A¼Achieve Your Goals, W¼Work Hard, and S¼Stay Safe) to
the Dine
´word T’aahwiajiiteego, meaning that an individual is “responsible
and accountable for one’s own choices” (Jones, Caravaca, Cizek,
Horner, & Vincent, 2006). Relevant biographies of Jim Thorpe, Chief
Wilma Mankiller and others communicated the core principles in the
Tier I lessons promoting those values.
One can imagine local stakeholder groups doing likewise in communities
across the country. However, I would argue that the democratic process
should go further than defining a locally relevant set of expectations. PBIS
systems must use data that reflect those expectations and not default to
disciplinary data such as office discipline referrals.
They may have to create such data points. For example, if a school used
universal expectations such as mastery, belonging, independence, and gen-
erosity such as are found in a promising multicultural behavioral program
known as the Circle of Courage (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern,
2002), many more kinds of data would count as identifying acceptable and
unacceptable behavior. Likewise, different interventions would be applied,
as the PBIS teams tried to encourage either mastery, belonging, indepen-
dence, or generosity, rather than compliance alone. Developing those new
definitions of acceptable behavior, signifying data, and interventions would
involve the courageous conversations (Singleton & Linton, 2006) that
deconstruct White privilege and culture as they manifest in behavioral
data, as they then define more liberatory paradigms.
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What these promising alternatives have in common is that they more
closely resemble restorative justice paradigms. When disruption occurs in a
community, these methods call into question the imbalance of power in
that community. Understanding the root expectations of a community and
its structures for maintaining them is crucial in establishing justice.
Understanding how power comes to be expressed by individuals is likewise
at the heart of building justice rather than restoring order. Changing the
PBIS conversation in these ways would acknowledge that the structure is a
fixed part of the current landscape, as King (1968, 2010) did in identifying
the necessity of social welfare programs. Doing so and having the courage
to analyze adults and the school culture as a whole I argue would be major
contributions to creating school systems that builds justice rather than
simply restores order.
Furthermore, restorative justice should be the first option rather than
PBIS to disrupting the excessive discipline of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Restorative justice fundamentally shifts away from blaming students for
the conflicts in which they find themselves, and seeks just resolution rather
than stigmatizing deficit labeling. Implementing culturally responsive PBIS
can itself be a practice of restorative justice but only if it simultaneously
takes on the medicalizing deficit practices and assumptions within conven-
tional PBIS. Challenging the school-to-prison pipeline should be rooted in
creating schools that affirm our students’ aspirations, not replacing the
disciplinary structure of enforcing compliance with another.
NOTE
1. S11 and S12 are the eleventh and twelfth students discussed in the meeting.
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... 304). Bal (2018) and Bornstein (2017) further indicate that conventional codes of conduct, MTSS systems, and other school wide policies and practices enshrine White norms of acceptable behavior. Thus, disciplinary and therapeutic means to return students to Tier I "normal" behavior implicitly means getting them to act White (Bornstein, 2015). ...
... Thus, disciplinary and therapeutic means to return students to Tier I "normal" behavior implicitly means getting them to act White (Bornstein, 2015). And paradoxically, when inclusive school leaders uncritically deployed PBIS (an early version of MTSS) to address excessive and racially disproportionate suspension, they wound up exchanging one deficit disciplinary identity ("disorderly student") for another psychopathological one ("disordered student") (Bornstein, 2017). ...
... However, we rarely, if ever, disaggregate the same data for the adult identities. Bornstein (2017) points out that analyzing office discipline referrals (ODRs) by disaggregating the authors' race, gender, disability, and so on sheds a whole new light on patterns of conflict in the classroom. Likewise, analyzing institutional policies and practices for their responsiveness or opposition to the identities of students potentially reveals implicit bias at a structural level. ...
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... 304). Bal (2018) and Bornstein (2017) further indicate that conventional codes of conduct, MTSS systems, and other school wide policies and practices enshrine White norms of acceptable behavior. Thus, disciplinary and therapeutic means to return students to Tier I "normal" behavior implicitly means getting them to act White (Bornstein, 2015). ...
... Thus, disciplinary and therapeutic means to return students to Tier I "normal" behavior implicitly means getting them to act White (Bornstein, 2015). And paradoxically, when inclusive school leaders uncritically deployed PBIS (an early version of MTSS) to address excessive and racially disproportionate suspension, they wound up exchanging one deficit disciplinary identity ("disorderly student") for another psychopathological one ("disordered student") (Bornstein, 2017). ...
... However, we rarely, if ever, disaggregate the same data for the adult identities. Bornstein (2017) points out that analyzing office discipline referrals (ODRs) by disaggregating the authors' race, gender, disability, and so on sheds a whole new light on patterns of conflict in the classroom. Likewise, analyzing institutional policies and practices for their responsiveness or opposition to the identities of students potentially reveals implicit bias at a structural level. ...
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This study adds to the extant research on the school-to-prison pipeline by investigating how school-based service providers and administrators conceptualize the causal mechanisms constraining and enabling the school-to-prison pipeline in a large urban district. Thirty-three schools were selected for the study based on their suspension rates. Support staff and district partners (n = 36) participated in focus groups guided by semi-structured protocols. Most participants emphasized structural and systemic causes of the school-to-prison pipeline, such as institutional racism and poverty. To minimize the school-to-prison pipeline, participants highlighted the importance of relationship building and non-punitive practices in response to misbehavior, although solutions offered limited evidence of promising interventions. Given strong research indicating that racial disparities cannot be explained by differential behavior, scholarship in this area emphasizes the need to increase school-level practices that promote positive school climate. The persistence of exclusionary and punitive attitudes among a subset of the sample suggests a need for differentiated professional development to address competing frameworks for understanding the root causes of, and solutions to, the school-to-prison pipeline.
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A revolution in working with difficult students began during the 1980s, with a dramatic shift away from dependence on simply punishing bad behavior to reinforcing desired, positive behaviors of children in the classroom. With its foundation in applied behavior analysis (ABA), positive behavior support (PBS) is a social ecology approach that continues to play an increasingly integral role in public education as well as mental health and social services nationwide. The Handbook of Positive Behavior Support gathers into one concise volume the many elements of this burgeoning field and organizes them into a powerful, dynamic knowledge base – theory, research, and applications. Within its chapters, leading experts, including the primary developers and researchers of PBS: • Review the origins, history, and ethical foundations of positive behavior support. • Report on applications of PBS in early childhood and family contexts, from Head Start to foster care to mental health settings to autism treatment programs. • Examine school-based PBS used to benefit all students regardless of ability or conduct. • Relate schoolwide PBS to wraparound mental health services and the RTI (response to intervention) movement. • Provide data and discussion on a variety of topics salient to PBS, including parenting issues, personnel training, high school use, poorly functioning schools, and more. This volume is an essential resource for school-based practitioners as well as clinicians and researchers in clinical child, school, and educational psychology.
Book
Education professionals have traditionally relied on a wait-to-fail formula to identify and assist students experiencing academic difficulties. With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, however, a unique early-identification tool – known as response to intervention (RTI) – now offers professionals the option of implementing a collaborative, problem-solving tool designed to ensure that all students achieve academic success. Until now, practitioners have had access to very few detailed descriptions of RTI methods and the effective role they can play in special education. The Handbook of Response to Intervention fills this critical information gap. In a single, comprehensive volume, more than 90 expert scholars and practitioners join together to provide a highly usable guide to the essentials of RTI assessment and identification as well as research-based interventions for improving students’ reading, writing, oral, and math skills. Each chapter explores crucial issues, defines key concepts, and answers real-world questions regarding implementation, including such major topics as: • Psychometric measurement within RTI • RTI and social behavior skills • The role of consultation in RTI • Monitoring response to supplemental services • Using technology to facilitate RTI • RTI and transition planning • Lessons learned from RTI programs around the country The Handbook of Response to Intervention is a must-have volume for all education practitioners, researchers, and graduate students as well as anyone involved in curriculum reform or resource allocation. "This handbook provides essential reading for all stakeholders seeking to increase their knowledge base about RTI. It is an excellent and timely resource. I challenge everyone to read it, and then follow-up with actions to ensure that every child benefits from RTI." -Bill East, Ed.D., Executive Director, National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) "The Handbook of Response to Intervention: The Science and Practice of Assessment and Intervention is a comprehensive compilation of research articles and information on RTI. Noted researchers, university instructors, and practitioners have contributed to this handbook, addressing issues related to evidence-based instruction, systems consideration, and implementation. This handbook is an excellent resource for all educators." -Diane Morrison, Ed.D., Director of Support Services, Northern Suburban Special Education District "The Handbook of Response to Intervention represents a comprehensive and balanced presentation of the array of professional knowledge essential to understanding this important concept. The scope of the coverage includes theoretical aspects, reviews of important related issues, balanced coverage of controversial aspects, and practical steps towards implementation. Educators, advocates, school psychologists, and anyone interested in this critical innovation for American schools should carefully read this important professional reference." -W. Alan Coulter, Ph.D., Director, National Center for Special Education Accountability Monitoring, LSU Health Sciences Center