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Research on Performance Contracts for Students With Behavior Problems

by Dr. Stanley Gajda, studioD

According to a report in “The Guardian,” disruptive behavior in classrooms soared when school funding plummeted in 2013. Performance contracts, also known as behavior contracts, are written agreements between teachers, students and their families. They specify behavior expectations, rewards or consequences and enforcement mechanisms. Experts agree that such contracts often work.

Tried and True

Excuses for poor student behavior (It’s not fair,” “The teacher hates me,” “I don’t fit in”) are as old as behavior contracts themselves. Research on contracting for desired student behavior dates back to a study published in the fall 1969 issue of the “Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.” Researchers at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute used contracts to address student aggression, motivation, theft and truancy. Underachieving students earned points for doing specific things at school that they could later exchange for privileges, and in doing so established a means for overturning timeless excuses.

“It’s Fair!”

In a study published in the March 2005 issue of “Focus on Exceptional Children,” a researcher at the University of Colorado found a single student without a contract may interrupt class up to 10 times a day. The severity of the consequence differed each time, depending on the teacher’s frustration level. Contracts fostered a sense of fairness by involving everyone in identifying behavioral standards, agreeing upon rewards, enforcing behavior expectations, solving problems and debriefing after successful interactions.

“My Teacher Likes Me!”

The positive teacher attention that contracts facilitate also strengthen teacher-student relationships. In a study published in the April 2007 issue of “Journal of Developmental Disabilities,” researchers at the University of Rochester found contracts helped replace negativity with positive recognition for desired behavior. Students learned to manage themselves and required less teacher attention. The class as a whole commended the contracts for allowing the teacher to stay focused on the entire class and not pick on individual students.

“I Fit In!”

Some students, by their affiliation as well as their behavior, are at high risk for social exclusion. In a study published in the November 2007 issue of “Psychological Reports,” researchers at the University of Cadiz designed contracts for wards of the court attending a mainstream school. Contracts helped reduce undesirable behavior including lounging on desks, refusing to work, smart-mouthing and vandalizing school property. Moreover, contracts seemed to increase peer acceptance in the classroom and prevent adult criminality in the future.

About the Author

Stanley Jacob Gajda earned a PhD in higher education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He also studied at Bowling Green and Ohio State University. Dr. Gajda writes on socially responsible leadership in and out of the classroom. His work has resulted in documented increases in student engagement, workforce efficiency and program funding.

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