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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Zero tolerance policies were designed to create safety by implementing automatic exclusion (e.g., suspensions, expulsions) for misbehavior in response to rising school violence in the United States. However, evidence over the past four decades shows that these policies fail to increase objective and subjective safety, and instead foster poor school climate and disproportionate rates of minority groups in the school-to-prison pipeline. Previous research and literature reviews suggest there are a host of developing Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) practices that have promising potential to reduce exclusionary outcomes and foster equitable treatment of vulnerable student populations, such as Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports and Restorative Practices.

This mixed methods systematic review collates available data regarding the effectiveness of various MTSS interventions as alternative discipline practices that intend to replace or reduce exclusionary outcomes in schools. This review identifies both the quantitative outcomes for each universal, secondary, and tertiary non-exclusionary disciplinary intervention, as well as the qualitative processes and perspectives associated with each MTSS strategy, such as subjective impact, acceptability, feasibility, and implementation barriers and facilitators across multiple types of stakeholders. Studies included in this systematic review were limited to peer-reviewed research in United States general education K-12 settings published in 1997 and later in order to capture the most relevant, high-quality work on this topic.

This systematic review incorporates school-level, staff-level, and student-level effects and perspectives across multiple types of study design, therefore highlighting prevalent themes across various practices so that these strategies can be more easily replicated in under-resourced settings with access to less support. In order to ensure more unbiased assessment of the evidence, the quality of each study's reporting, methodology, and evidence are discussed to frame how strongly these findings should be taken into consideration when drawing conclusions. Each of the 59 studies is discussed in terms of its design, setting, population, intervention focus and MTSS tier, methods, and outcomes, followed by an overview of the shared characteristics and key findings across studies.

While conclusions are limited by the available study designs and comparisons between interventions, recommendations are provided for administrators, educations, and practitioners in schools moving forward, as well as directions for future research on what we still need to know about alternative discipline practices to reduce exclusion and promote equity. Key themes for future implementers include: promoting school-wide culture change through relationship-building; using behavioral strategies to incentivize positive behaviors; implementing brief teacher-focused trainings to enhance empathy, cultural responsiveness, and awareness of implicit bias; offering trauma-informed trainings to enhance contextual awareness; providing ongoing professional development to prevent "initiative fatigue"; selecting core common practices across interventions to simplify implementation and reduce burden; tailoring interventions to fit students' developmental level; and involving stakeholders in development, implementation, and evaluation of these interventions. Implications for implementation science and disability critical race theory are also discussed.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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