Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Texas – What is Known; What is Needed (An Excerpt)
The Texas legislature established a policy in 1995 requiring school districts to have an “alternative educational setting for behavioral management.” Students can be removed from their school and sent to the alternative program if they:
- Engage in conduct punishable as a felony.
- Commit a series of specified serious offenses while on school property or attending a school-sponsored activity.
- Commit other violations specified in student “codes of conduct” developed by individual school districts.
A picture of success would show students who have committed such offenses receiving the appropriate personal attention they need while they are learning in school. We would see qualified, dedicated adults providing that support to students. We would see formerly disruptive students who are now learning and achieving in school.
We would even probably see a reduction in violence in public schools that can be attributed to this strategy. We would definitely see schools and alternative programs that are accountable for results.
The following is an excerpt from a policy brief, Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Texas – What is Known; What is Needed, by IDRA that examines the details of how this idea has been carried out in Texas. From the little information that is available, however, we see a very different picture emerging. The most critical concern is that we actually know very little about these new alternative programs. The pendulum has swung. For the most part, alternative educational programs are being used as dumping grounds for “undesirable” students who, once there, get little or no support.
The solution does not lie at either end of the dilemma; it lies somewhere in between. As a nation and in the state of Texas, we can have both. We can find the best way to deal with violence and crime in our schools, and we can have excellence and equity in education for all children.
We can and we must.
Based on the research presented in this policy brief, IDRA recommends the following.
- The decision to refer a student to a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) should be made in conjunction with a student's parents, with all options available to them clearly delineated before the school imposes a referral.
- The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should expand the data collected on DAEPs to include more information on referring teachers and schools, data on DAEP staffs and curriculum, and follow-up data on students' academic and disciplinary status.
- Local districts should have the option of operating DAEPs that do not isolate referred students from other students, particularly those referred for less serious offenses.
- TEA should review districts operating DAEPs for numbers of referrals, with on-site state agency reviews triggered when minimal threshold referral levels are exceeded.
- School districts and TEA should compile academic achievement and disciplinary referral data on all DAEP students at least annually, with reports submitted to the local school board and community.
- TEA should hold DAEPs to the same accountability standards applicable to all public schools in Texas.
- DAEPs should be familiar with and should structure their activities to be consistent with research on effective DAEPs.
- Disciplinary action options available to schools should be different for elementary, middle and high school students. Districts should be prohibited from operating DAEPs involving classrooms with students from different school levels (elementary school, middle school and high school).
- TEA should expand local and state dropout reporting data to include summary reports on dropout statistics for students referred to DAEPs.
Findings at a Glance
Origins and Intent of the Texas Policy
- Teacher organizations developed the concept of DAEPs. Teachers wanted the right to remove any pupil they felt was “disruptive” or interfering with their attempt to deliver instruction in the classroom.
- The policy establishing such programs was promoted as a safety issue for teachers and compliant students.
Research Basis of the Texas Policy
- Policy makers did not examine comprehensive research studies of effective alternative programs before designing DAEPs.
- Some limited data on characteristics of successful DAEPs is emerging. But there is little evidence comparing such programs to practices less severe or less disruptive than removing students from their home campuses.
- Anecdotal reports on exceptional programs exist, but there are no conclusive studies on the effectiveness of such programs for students forced to participate.
Almost 73,000 students were removed from their classrooms.
- The number of students subjected to removal to a DAEP grew from 70,958 in 1995-96 to 72,997 in 1996-97, a net increase of 2,039 (3 percent).
- The number of removals decreased from 99,381 in 1995-96 to 98,233 in 1996-97, a decline of 1,148 or 1 percent (fewer students were removed more than once in a school year).
Only one-fourth of the students were sent to DAEPs for serious offenses.
- Almost three-fourths of all DAEP removals were for violations of local school codes of conduct rather than for major offenses specified in the state law. School officials are using the Texas DAEP program to remove students for reasons other than those emphasized during state policy consideration. District discretion accounts for 73.8 percent of all student referrals to DAEPs in Texas. The number decreased from 73,302 out of 99,381 (73.8 percent) in 1995-96 to 69,125 of 98,223 (70.3 percent) in 1996-97.
The majority of students sent to DAEPs were minority students.
- The majority of students referred to Texas DAEP programs were minority students, with Hispanic students referred at levels above the percentage that they constitute of the statewide student population.
- In 1995-96, Hispanic students accounted for 40.9 percent, African American students for 21.8 percent, White students for 27.8 percent, and other students for 1 percent of all DAEP referrals.
- In 1996-97, minority students continued this disproportionate representation, with Hispanic students comprising 39.1 percent of all removals, African American students 22.2 percent, White students 27.7 percent, and other students 1.1 percent.
The majority of students referred to Texas DAEP programs were minority students, with Hispanic students referred at levels above the percentage that they constitute of the statewide student population.
There was a dramatic increase in reports by schools that a referred students' race or ethnicity was “unknown.”
- The number of DAEP students whose racial or ethnic origins were classified as “unknown” increased from 1,230 (1.8 percent) in 1995-96 to 7,235 (9.9 percent) in 1996-97.
- The growth in the number of “unknown” students resulted in a questionable reduction in the percentages of Hispanic and White students removed to DAEPs, while the African American percentages held constant.
Low-income students and students in special education programs were more likely to be sent to DAEPs.
- For the first time, the TEA report showed percentages of DAEP removals by income last year. Low-income pupils comprised 54.6 percent of all removals, a percentage that exceeds the group's proportion of the state's overall enrollment (48.1 percent).
- Surprisingly, 21 percent of DAEP removals involved special education pupils, about three times their proportion of the state enrollment.
- TEA's summary data show that 58.9 percent of DAEP referrals involved students considered “at risk.” Ironically, since referral to DAEPs is now a basis for reclassifying pupils as “at risk,” that number will no doubt increase in subsequent years' reports.
At least 841 of 1,044 school districts removed students to DAEPs.
- TEA surveyed 1,044 districts in 1995-96. Of those, 841 reported DAEP referrals, 184 reported zero referrals, and 19 did not respond. A 1996-97 survey of 1,059 districts showed that 764 reported referrals. Data was not available on how many districts did not respond to the 1996-97 survey, so the referral number may actually be higher.
- Unfortunately, many programs collect little data on effectiveness compared to student achievement or discipline. Too often, DAEP successes are reported through collections of anecdotes, with little or no “hard data” collected, tabulated or analyzed.
- TEA and local school districts collected only minimal data: numbers of students referred, limited information on student characteristics (e.g., age, ethnicity) and reasons for removal from regular campuses.
- Critical DAEP referral information is neither required nor collected. No data is available on:
- Which teachers are referring students.
- Campuses from which students are referred.
TEA staff members reported major difficulties in making those determinations even if they were to link the report data to the more comprehensive individual student Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).
- The accountability system established for DAEP programs in Texas differs from accountability procedures established for regular schools and school districts.
For a copy of “Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Texas – What is Known; What is Needed,” contact the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership, Dr. Albert Cortez, director, at 210/444-1710 or view the policy brief and related tables on-line at www.idra.org.
Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at
[1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]