The Problem with Zero Tolerance

Faced with mounting evidence that get-tough policies in schools are leading to arrest records, low academic achievement and high dropout rates that especially affect minority students, cities and school districts around the country are rethinking their approach to minor offenses.

After reading the above quote in Lizette Alvarez’s New York Times article, Seeing the Toll, Schools Revise Zero Tolerance, something awakened inside me: I am not alone. With educational reform dedicated to its strict aims, it seems like everyone is on the zero tolerance train. Alas, right on the front webpage of The New York Times, I see that others, too, are baffled by this idea.

I have often wondered: if we want students to change their “bad habits,” why kick them out, possibly even for their first (and only — after all this is zero tolerance we’re talking about) offense? How can someone change if they are merely kicked to the curb without any support? Instead, I like the ideas expressed in Alvarez’s article: “Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.” There’s an idea: let’s help these kids, instead of throw them back on the very streets that enabled the behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.

The more we do for these kids — and these, especially — the better our educational system will be. Who knows — maybe we can start closing some prisons in order to open more schools, instead of the other way around.

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