I'm reading Lost at School, by Ross W. Greene.
"Kids Do Well If They Can" is a basic principle set forth in this book. I agree with it. Greene contrasts it to the much more prevalent "Kids Do Well If They Want To" belief which underlies most people's approach to discipline.
When the "kids do well if they want to" philosophy is applied to a child who's not doing well, then we believe that the reason he's not doing well is because he doesn't want to. This very common assumption is usually wrong and causes adults to believe that their primary role in the life of a challenging kid (and the goal of intervention) is to make the kid want to do well. This is typically accomplished by motivating the kid, by giving him the incentive to do well, by rewarding him when he behaves in an adaptive fashion and punishing him when he behaves in a maladaptive fashion.
By contrast, the "kids do well if they can" philosophy carries the assumption that if a kid could do well he would do well. Doing well is always preferable to not doing well, but only if a kid has the skills to do well in the first place.
... When is challenging behavior most likely to occur? When the demands being placed on a kid exceed his capacity to respond adaptively.
... My experience is that parents of well-behaved kids get too much credit for the fact that their children are well-behaved, and that parents of challenging kids get far too much blame for the fact that their children are not well-behaved. Blaming parents doesn't help anyone at school deal effectively with the kid in the six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year that he's there.
I really like Greene's approach, but I'm not sure how to help Younger Daughter's school implement his ideas on a day-to-day level. I recommended the book to the principal, but that's as far as I've gotten.