Date of Award

Summer 7-2016

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Antonia Darder

Second Advisor

Derrick Chau

Third Advisor

Emilio Pack


Schools are seeking to understand how to build positive school environments that help students learn and become good citizens in the school community. One practice used in charter schools is merit and demerit systems. The literature indicates that positive and negative reinforcements acts as punitive discipline that only works when adults are around students to enforce policies, rules, and expectations. One particular charter high school that used a merit and demerit system to discipline students was studied to understand the implications of such systems for students of color living in a low-income community. Using the principles of critical pedagogy, the study connected and drew inferences between teacher perceptions of discipline and how the merit and demerit system impacted student referral and punishment. A total of 12 teachers (ninth and 10th grade) participated in this qualitative study. Through classroom observations and focus groups, trends were triangulated and presented in this study. A major finding of this study involves the teacher understanding that the concept of a merit and demerit system is beneficial, but ultimately leads to a loss of student agency. The discussion focuses on explaining an authoritarian perspective and the perceptions and reality of the implementing a merit and demerit system at the high school level. Implications for educators to understand and improve school discipline policies that support students and rethink punitive and authoritarian practices are discussed. Recommendations for future research in the study are presented and summarized.

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