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Zero Tolerance

  • By: Russell J. Skiba
  • In: Encyclopedia of School Psychology
  • Edited by: Steven W. Lee
  • Subject:School/Educational Psychology (general), School Psychology, Educational Psychology

Zero tolerance is a disciplinary orientation emphasizing immediate and often severe punishment, typically out-of-school suspension and expulsion, as a method of maintaining school order. Growing out of 1980s drug policies, the zero-tolerance approach has been highly controversial. Proponents argue that schools need a no-nonsense approach in the face of increasing school violence, while critics point to seemingly trivial applications of the policy and civil rights violations. Evidence, however, does not support the effectiveness of out-of-school suspension and expulsion. Available research raises a number of serious concerns about zero tolerance, including inconsistent application, disproportional effect on minorities, and a host of negative school outcomes that appear to be associated with the approach.

History, Definition, and Application

Zero tolerance grew out of the 1980s drug enforcement policies that mandated ...

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