Educators Report Growing Behavioral Issues Among Young Students
Los Angeles, Calif. – Disruptive behaviors have increased rapidly in elementary school classrooms in the last three years, according to a new survey of nearly 1,900 elementary school teachers, administrators, and staff. The trend is alarming teachers, who often feel they lack guidelines and training to address the growing number of disturbances.
Behavioral disruptions—including tantrums, bullying, and defiance—increased in kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms. These negative behaviors cut into the instructional time for all students. Teachers estimated they lose nearly two-and-a-half hours of instructional time each week as a result of behavioral disruptions, which adds up to nearly three weeks of lost instructional time each year.
“Students and teachers deserve a positive classroom environment that is conducive to learning, yet more than 70 percent of elementary school teachers in our survey told us they have seen a recent increase in disruptive behavior in their classrooms,” said Pete Talbot, EAB’s managing director of strategic research and lead researcher on the white paper, “Breaking Bad Behavior: The Rise of Classroom Disruptions in Early Grades and How Districts Are Responding,” which was released today at a meeting of The School Superintendents Association (AASA).
Teachers, administrators, and staff disagreed on the reasons for worsening behavior. Administrators were much more likely than teachers to point to trauma in the family and untreated mental illness as causes. Teachers, on the other hand, were more likely to blame overexposure to electronic devices and inadequate playtime in addition to changes in parenting styles.
Tantrums and defiant behavior were the most common disruptions reported. More than half of teachers said they see these behaviors at least several times a week, and 25 percent reported that they see tantrums or defiance several times each day. Emotional disconnect and unresponsiveness were the next most common types of disturbances. Nearly half of teachers reported that they see these behaviors at least several times a week.
“Proven strategies for addressing disruptive behaviors are available,” Talbot said. “The challenge is ensuring teachers are aware of effective classroom management strategies. School districts and individual schools should clearly communicate their policies for addressing behavioral issues and ensure teachers and staff receive appropriate training and support.”
For example, all participating school district administrators reported their districts employ Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, known as PBIS, yet only 57 percent of teachers confirmed they use these proven practices frequently in their work. Only 63 percent said they had received training to implement this approach.
“Since consistency across classrooms is critical to the PBIS approach, the fact that all teachers are not trained, and even those who are trained do not use the practices in their daily work, undermines its effectiveness,” Talbot said. “It is essential that schools give teachers the time and resources they need to develop strong classroom management skills.”
The online survey, conducted between October 4 and November 14, included responses from 41 public school districts across the country. Responding districts represent a mix of urban, suburban, and rural schools of different sizes and varying racial and financial demographics.
EAB partners with 1,500 colleges, universities, and K-12 schools across North America and abroad to foster student success at every level. Our work with K-12 districts is focused on identifying the most innovative, scalable, and proven strategies to address top challenges. Our research and implementation toolkits focus on topics such as narrowing the third-grade reading gap, college access, career readiness, teacher recruitment, district communications, and school safety. By equipping schools with best practices to solve critical problems, we are making education smarter and our communities stronger.