“Our schools are in crisis,” says Dr. Richard Marshall of the University of South Florida Polytechnic. He explained why and offered some solutions as a featured speaker at the 22nd Annual National Youth-At-Risk Conference March 6-9 in Savannah, Georgia.
“Schools are in crisis because we have not come to terms with the fact that approximately 20 percent of students lack the necessary skills, abilities, motivation or background to fit into and to benefit from school,” said Marshall, an associate professor in USF Polytechnic’s Division of Education. “Current instructional and disciplinary practices seek to reward or to punish these children into compliance. But these efforts are failing both students and teachers. And they are failing because they simply don’t work for the children on whom they are used.”
According to Marshall, students with emotional and behavioral difficulties fall into three major categories: predators (bullies or other intimidators), students with mental illness, and students who are unsocialized or under-socialized. School-based interventions that rely almost exclusively on reward- and- punish approaches are notoriously ineffective for students in these three groups.
“It is estimated that approximately 10 percent–5,000,000–of children in grades K through 12 have a mental illness that is serious enough to cause impairments at home or in school,” said Marshall. “Unfortunately, teachers and school administrators receive little or no training that helps them understand and manage students with mental disorders.”
His presentation aimed to close that knowledge gap. He began with an explanation of the underlying brain abnormalities these students have and why traditional reward-and-punish discipline systems may not be working. He then offered alternative interventions and how to implement them in classrooms.
The alternatives he recommends are based largely on the work of William Glasser, called Choice Theory, and Ross Greene, called Collaborative Problem Solving. These and similar approaches share some common assumptions that explain their effectiveness.
“First, they assume that when students misbehave they are doing so because they are unable to self-regulate or they have never learned other ways to behave,” said Marshall. “These students have what we call ‘involuntary deviance.’ They would like to do better, but they can’t or they don’t know how. Rather than punishing them for their misdeeds, we should teach them what they do not know or cannot do. Teachers at all levels are encouraged to replace punishment with teaching.
“Second, these methods include the child in the conflict resolution. Unlike traditional reward-and-punish systems, interventions are developed with the child; they are not done to the child.
“Third, whereas reward-and-punish methods rely on external controls, our approach encourages students to develop self-control so that they can manage with or without adult supervision. “
At USF Polytechnic, Marshall teaches courses in educational psychology, counseling psychology, and reading assessment. He is also an adjunct associate professor of Child Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the USF College of Medicine. He is a licensed school psychologist with specialty training in pediatric neuropsychology, a clinical therapist, and a developmental specialist.
Marshall, who lives in Lakeland, joined USF Polytechnic in 2003. He earned an Ed.D. from West Virginia University and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia.