PBIS in Iowa

Now that the election is over and the votes are counted, discussion on a local Facebook group has turned to PBIS.

Education Week posted an article a few weeks ago that, in part, detailed some of the federal involvement in pushing adoption of PBIS:

PBIS also has been written into other department initiatives as an encouraged practice, including Race to the Top, the federal competitive-grant program aimed at promoting education redesign in the states. Schools and districts are allowed to use Title I and IDEA funding to pay for positive behavioral support strategies. The Obama administration’s proposed budget also sets aside $50 million to help 8,000 schools create more nurturing school climates, in part through the use of positive behavioral support strategies.

In other words, they are offering rewards for schools that exhibit the desired behavior of adopting PBIS, and no doubt the offer of rewards works.  Iowa’s ESEA Flexibility Request (aka NCLB waiver application) included a plan for statewide implementation of PBIS.

The US Department of Education’s application for continued funding of federal PBIS activities is worth a quick read.  The school-wide implementation of PBIS is apparently an expansion of earlier efforts to focus programs on students most in need of assistance in complying with socially acceptable behavior and school rules.

The USDE claims that “[e]ffective implementation of PBIS frameworks has resulted in decreases in student discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions; increased safety and school satisfaction among staff, students, and parents; improved school climate; and increased instructional time.” (citations omitted)  Based on the Facebook discussion and Chris Liebig’s extensive blogging on the subject of PBIS, that has not been the universal experience of PBIS implementation locally.

Whether it is a failure of fidelity in implementation or an inherent flaw in the concept, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.  However, I was interested to find an article by Dan Willingham on the more general subject of the use of rewards in schools and classrooms.  Willingham notes that while rewards can be effective, they should be used according to three important guidelines:

  • Don’t use rewards unless you have to,
  • Use rewards for a specific reason, and
  • Use rewards for a limited time.

I think PBIS, as reportedly practiced locally, pretty clearly violates those guidelines.


2 thoughts on “PBIS in Iowa

  1. Tamela Johnson

    REWARDS are not/should not be the “center” of what PBIS is all about. PBIS is about explicitly teaching children about what the expectations are in specific settings, then the adults acknowledge students for following the expectations—not bribe or reward them for meeting the expectations. It provides a common language across all settings. It provides levels of Tier one, two and three supports.

    1. Karen W Post author

      Thanks for commenting.

      I think the local complaints fall broadly into two categories: 1) excessive and rigid expectations (like no talking at lunch or use exactly two pumps of soap) and 2) excessive emphasis on rewards, with some parents objecting to the use of rewards at all. I expect that there are differences of opinion about what constitutes reasonable expectations and parents certainly differ on the use of rewards.

      I would not be surprised to learn that PBIS may be implemented and experienced differently in other schools and districts.

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