Education Reform From the Teacher's Perspective

Friday, November 16, 2007

Zero tolerance in schools may on the surface seem like it is a good policy that saves lives and protects the safety of our nation’s schools. However, while as good intentioned as the assorted policies and rules that are termed as “zero tolerance” may be, there are problems that arise out of such strict interpretation of rules and consequences.

Zero tolerance can trace its roots back to an act of Congress, the Gun-Free School Act of 1994. an act requiring the States to create laws that will expel students for no less than one year who are found to be carrying weapons to school (Fries & DeMitchell, 2007). These zero tolerance policies have expanded to include drug possession and other non-violent behavior such as gang activities and even in some places, habitual profanity (Fries & DeMitchell, 2007).

Detractors of zero tolerance policies suggest, as Fries and DeMitchell note (2007), in an effort to prevent certain offenses in schools, schools have “sacrificed measured and proportional responses for mechanical, non-discretionary decision-making (p. 214). However, there may be an even more insidious consequence in zero tolerance policies. Several researchers have noticed an alarming disproportion in the number of Black male students whose behavior falls more often into, or rather, is identified to fall under zero-tolerance policies. Solomon and Down (2006) note that in some studies there is a disproportionate number of Black students who are suspended or expelled under safe school rules than other groups of students (p. 103).

Zero tolerance may be an effective method that has improved the security of our nations schools, however, it is important also that educators, policy makers and other stakeholders examine it’s effects, intended or unintended, to make sure it does not create more problems that zero tolerance rules wanted to prevent in the first place.


Solomon, P., & Down, L. (2006). Transforming the culture of violence in schools. International Journal of Learning, 13(4), 99-107.

Fries, K., & DeMitchell, D. (2007). Zero tolerance and the paradox of fairness: Viewpoints from the classroom. Journal of Law & Education, 36(2), 211-229.
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Dr. James Norwood is a middle school teacher (English/Language Arts and Drama). He is very passionate about true education reform that reaches all students and all parents. Dr. Norwood possess a PhD in the area of curriculum and instruction and spends much of his time working with his school and district developing a more holistic approach to the curriculum. Contact me


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