In 1999, IDRA published its first assessment of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEPs) in Texas. This article provides an updated assessment of these operations in Texas. A review of available data, related reports compiled by other organizations and discussions with others who have monitored these programs indicates that, while there have been some slight improvements in credentialing and accountability measures, major policy reforms are still needed. An expanded examination of Texas DAEPs will be available in a forthcoming policy report to be released by IDRA.
The Dawning of the DAEP
DAEPs in Texas were created in 1995 to deal with students who had violated the state criminal code. Although originally intended for students with serious violations, such as bringing drugs or firearms to school, DAEPs soon became an option for schools to systematically rid themselves of students who were considered “troublemakers.”
This was bolstered by teacher groups concerned with isolated incidences where teachers were injured or threatened by individual students, and others concerned with expulsion of students into unsupervised settings in their communities. These diverse interests successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature to create disciplinary alternative educational settings to deal with “these” students until they were deemed “ready” to return to the traditional campuses.
To facilitate adoption of these new discipline-based centers, proponents of DAEPs originally focused the policy in a way that limited DAEP referrals to the most serious student offenders – specifically those students who committed an offense specified in the Texas criminal code. These offenses included drug-related activities, gun violations and assault – all violations that had been punishable by referral to the Texas juvenile justice system. Due to cost factors, not all areas of the state had access to JJAEP facilities, and the new policies were presented as a means for creating options that would remove serious offenders from all regular school settings, including many smaller or rural communities where no JJAEP facilities existed.
Initially, some administrative groups opposed the requirement that all school districts create a separate discipline-focused setting, in part out of concerns about related facilities costs and the challenge of creating one more separate operation that would require their oversight.
Opposition to the segregation of students with serious discipline problems wilted in the face of overwhelming support from major teacher groups who saw the issue as one of restoring some power to the classroom teacher – seen as having eroded with the adoption of state-mandated curriculum, teacher assessments and related issues.
In the eventual compromise, DAEPs were required to be established. But the state did not require removal of students to separate campuses, leaving physical location of the DAEP to local school officials.
In 1997, however, the DAEP policy was modified to extend the basis for which individual students could be referred to a DAEP. In that policy change, local school systems were allowed to refer students on the basis of violations of local codes of conduct that spelled out unacceptable behavior in Texas schools.
In their early stages, the programs were becoming the concern of many student advocates who viewed the creation of DAEPs as a mechanism for excluding students from regular school settings, while downplaying a review of discipline management and related school-based factors impacting student behavior.
In 1999, IDRA published the first comprehensive analysis of DAEP operations in Texas (Cortez and Robledo Montecel, 1999). In that initial study, IDRA reported that DAEPs were growing rapidly, curriculum requirements were not comparable to those applicable to students on regular school campuses, minority and special education students were over-represented, there was little coordination and communication between sending schools and DAEPs, and these alternative settings were subjected to a watered down evaluation process that differed from that applied to regular school operations.
More than a decade after their creation, IDRA conducted a subsequent review of DAEPs. To our disappointment, we found that with a few exceptions the numbers of students referred to DAEPs had grown 93 percent. Concerns raised in IDRA’s 1999 review have remained largely unaddressed.
Based on our review of the latest data on Texas DAEPs, IDRA has concluded that DAEP referrals have continued to increase over time, raising serious questions about their effectiveness in improving student discipline. If one of the purposes of alternative education referral was to discourage students from violating school rules, one would expect a gradual decrease in DAEP referrals.
The data indicate that the opposite is true. Almost all of the disciplinary alternative education efforts conducted to date have reflected little, if any, improvements. In 1997, the first year in which data on DAEP referrals were collected, the Texas Education Agency reported that 70,958 students had been referred to a DAEP. Over time, the number of students assigned to DAEPs increased steadily. By 2006, the number of students assigned to DAEPs had increased to 136,938 students, a 93 percent increase in a 10-year span.
In addition, student referrals to Texas DAEPs vary by race, gender, age, family economic status and special education placement, with minority and special education students notably over-represented in the numbers of students referred. African Americans are over-represented in the early elementary years. Hispanic students are over-represented in the secondary school years.
The Texas Appleseed Project recently completed its own comprehensive study of Texas DAEPs and arrives at conclusions that closely align with IDRA’s findings (2007).
IDRA will soon release a full report on the status of DAEPs in Texas with recommendations to reduce the over-utilization of these dysfunctional operations.
Despite early evidence that DAEP sites required expanded local and state monitoring, improved academic support, more effective counseling to facilitate transitions to the regular campus, and processes to address over-representation of sub-groups of minority, low-income and special education students, little has changed in most DAEP operations, other than notable increases in the number of students being referred.
Texas can do better than this. It is possible to deal with violence and crime in our schools while at the same time ensuring equity and excellence in education for all students.
Cortez, A., and M. Robledo Montecel. Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Texas – What Is Known; What Is Needed (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1999).
Harvard Civil Rights Project. Opportunities Suspended: The Devastating Consequences of Zero Tolerance and School Discipline Policies (Cambridge, Mass.: The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, 2000).
Silichenco, O. “State Policies Related to Alternative Education,” ESC StateNotes [Online] (Denver, Co.: Education Commission of the States, November 2005).
Texas Education Agency. 2005 Comprehensive Biennial Report on Texas Public Schools (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 2006).
Texas Appleseed. Texas School Discipline Policies: A Statistical Overview (Austin, Texas: Texas Appleseed, 2007).
Dr. Albert Cortez is director of IDRA Policy. Josie Danini Cortez, M.A. is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the May 2008 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]