Survey Refutes Sa'ar's Recipe for Calmer Schools

Morning roll calls, behavior codes and having students rise when the principal enters have no effect on a school's level of discipline, a new study says.

This conclusion contradicts Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's policy of trying to improve school discipline by introducing such practices.

These practices have "declarative value only, and are liable to come at the expense of the truly educational act - a good, caring relationship between teacher and student," wrote the author, Dr. Eliezer Yariv of the Gordon College of Education in Haifa.

Since taking office, Sa'ar has adopted a "zero tolerance" policy toward discipline problems in the schools. He has increased principals' disciplinary powers, amended the Student Rights Law to make it easier to remove troublemakers from classrooms and required elementary and middle schools to institute dress codes. Now he is considering making it mandatory for students to rise when the teacher enters the classroom. "Many countries have abandoned liberal theories that only lead to the destruction of the education system," he has said.

However, Yariv wrote in the latest issue of the journal Mifgash Le'avoda Hinukhit Sotzialit, his study found "no connection ... between the existence of a [behavior] code in the school and the level of discipline or the quantity of discipline problems."

The same was true of roll calls or making students stand when the principal enters - although the study did find a very slight improvement when all three were used together.

The study was based on a questionnaire filled out by 127 principals from throughout the country.

They were asked whether their schools used tactics such as roll calls or behavior codes, and also about the frequency of disciplinary problems in their schools.

In recent months, the Education Ministry has spent about NIS 10 million, and put in thousands of training hours, to instruct teachers and principals about the new rules.

But Yariv calls this investment of time and money "misdirected."

"The principals are mainly interested in what sanctions they are now allowed to apply," Yariv said. "The focus of their work is formulating a code and ranking disciplinary infractions. This leads to two problems. One is that education becomes alienated, because the response to students' misbehavior is almost uniform. The second is that this policy ignores the fact that a significant portion of the disciplinary problems are the result of flawed teaching methods or teachers who don't know how to teach."

There is nothing in the ministry's new directives, he added, "that requires the teachers to examine themselves and their responsibility."

"An aggressive, bureaucratic approach to disciplinary issues will achieve the opposite of what is intended," Yariv concluded.

The principal of one elementary school in central Israel agreed. "A teacher or principal who has to use force to gain authority isn't doing his job," she said. "That's the easy solution, which often enables you to evade dealing with the student."

But another principal, also from the central region, disagreed. "The students, and no less their parents, are waiting for us to impose order," she said. "A behavioral code that stipulates the school's response and the punishments to be imposed in the event of a disciplinary infraction is an excellent tool. Once, perhaps, teachers were respected, but that isn't the reality today. Therefore, we need to set clear boundaries."

The ministry responded by highlighting Yariv's finding that "the combination of all three actions together produces the lowest level of disciplinary problems. This finding accords with the ministry's approach that schools should employ a full range of actions - starting with practices such as these," but also including efforts to "increase dialogue between teachers and students" and to give "personal attention" to each student.