Reducing Dropout in Alabama through PBIS

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"Effective Discipline for Student Success: Reducing Student and Teacher Dropout Rates in Alabama," Southern Poverty Law Center (July 2008).

This report describes the ineffective and exclusionary school discipline policies that contribute to the dropout crisis in Alabama schools and presents Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as a positive approach to discipline that can improve achievement and reduce dropout.  The report states that Alabama’s high school graduation rate is 61.3%, 43rd in the nation.  This translates into 29 students dropping out of school every day in Alabama. For students with disabilities, only 31.9% graduate with a regular high school diploma. The report also refers to high rates of teacher dropout. The Governor of Alabama stated that every year 4,000 teachers enter the school system, and within 5 years, 50% of those teachers will leave.

The report cites research demonstrating that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to dropout of school, and that  suspensions do not deter future disruptive behavior in a significant percentage of students.  In Alabama, an average of 417 out-of-school suspensions are issued a day, and 7 students are expelled from school. Between the 2000-2001 and 2006-2007 school years, while Alabama’s enrollment increased by 2.1 percent, the number of out-of-school suspensions increased by 33 percent, and the number of expulsions increased by 75 percent. In 2006, African-American students were 3.2 times as likely to be suspended as their White peers and almost 3.8 times as likely to be expelled.  

The report presents PBIS as an effective alternative to suspension and expulsion.  Under PBIS, teachers and school staff teach and reinforce positive behavior and develop school-wide and individualized plans to address problem behavior.  The report cites research which finds that schools implementing PBIS have reduced office referral rates (and, consequently, suspension and expulsion rates) by up to 50% per year, have increased instructional time and attendance, have improved academic achievement and reduced dropout rates.  PBIS is currently practiced in approximately 7,100 schools across the country, including a number of Alabama schools. It is recommended or required by statute in three states and is the subject of statewide initiatives or school/university partnerships in all 50 states, including Alabama.


Southern Poverty Law Center

July 2008
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