Punishment in Schools

Students act as committee to advise schools on updating punishment and discipline polices that are fair and effective.

Task Force: Punishment in Schools


You have been appointed to a national committee that advises schools on updating their punishment policies. Your job is to teach schools how to design punishment policies that are fair, effective, and reduce harm to students. 

Why Are We Doing This?

Figuring out the best way to discipline students is a hot debate in education today. It also has important implications for student learning, mental health, futures, and relationship with the punitive system. For the sake of this activity, assume that you are giving your recommendations to a school that has been struggling with behavior issues, but has received complaints about how the teachers and administrators deal with rule-breaking. 


  1. Research some common punishment policies and think about the ones at your own school. Think about points of agreement and disagreement. 
  2. Also, research what different groups say about punishment in schools. 
    1. What types of punishments are commonly criticized? 
    2. What do racial justice advocates say? 
    3. What do disability justice advocates say? 
    4. What do experts say about what types of punishment/discipline are most effective? 
  3. Now, craft your recommendation. Consider the following questions:  
    1. Are there any types of punishment that you will suggest banning? 
    2. What methods of dealing with behavior issues and rule-breaking will you suggest? 
    3. How will you ensure that punishments are appropriate for the infraction? 
    4. Who should be responsible for enforcing punishments? 
  4. Think through the possible objections to your plan. Particularly, think about how you would justify your plan to students, parents, and teachers.   
  5. Share with the group and see if you can convince them that your policy will help solve behavioral issues, while still considering student needs. 

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • You do not have to come up with an exhaustive policy. It’s better to come up with a few ideas that you feel confident with and spend time thinking through possible objections to them. 
  • You don’t have to worry about answering all possible objections, but you should have some defense of why you think your idea would work. 
  • Your suggestions should be things that states could realistically implement.