Student Discipline: How much is too much?

Are discipline problems in schools getting worse?  If so, are they due to school discipline policies, increasing poverty, or something more subtle?  We need to think about this issue and understand the different perspectives.

Derek Thomas, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, wrote a book called:  Ending Zero Tolerance.  He makes the case that harsh discipline strategies hurt all students, not just those who are pulled out for behavioral problems.   He also points to the progress in moving away from overly harsh discipline because of federal policies that the court system helps to enforce.  Yet, the change of policies in the new federal administration, he argues, threatens that progress.

It is important to understand the differences in approach and the consequences they engender.

Jennifer Berkshire interviewed Professor Thomas, and his perspective gives voice to those that argue that how schools and communities see discipline policies is not only a racial issue, it is a community problem of long standing.   Even well intentioned communities that promote school integration may assume that schools need to maintain order for ‘good kids’ because ‘bad kids (mostly black??) are disruptive.  Such assumptions may well trigger a culture of ‘us and them’ that creates problems.

The school choice movement exploits these tendencies to label children through their zero tolerance policies implemented in many charter and private schools.  Children who have trouble conforming to any set of arbitrary rules are simply dismissed.  It is a process that instills not only fear but also results in a punitive environment that sends children back to public schools rather than helping children learn the social skills they need to acquire.  Dismissal rates are not publically reported, but public schools feel the impact. They too need to devise better strategies to help students manage their disruptive behavior.

Read the interview here.

 

 

Voucher Students Get Dismal Results

I was particularly interested in this report about Ohio.  For many years the lead author, David Figlio, conducted evaluations of Florida’s tax credit voucher program.  Figlio is a strong advocate for competition.  In Ohio, he stated that competition helped public school students but hurt students with vouchers who attended private schools.

At the risk of being overly harsh, I have to wonder if the purpose of vouchers is to create ‘sacrificial lambs’ i.e. sending some students off to fail in private schools so those remaining in public schools will do better.  Nothing in me wants to believe such an idea, but until the quality of alternative choices is assured, that is the risk parents unknowingly take.

 

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What is ‘Public’ in Public Education?

School reformers want to privatize public education ‘in the name of choice’.  Literally, it means parents should expect to find a ’boutique’ school to match their children’s needs or aspirations all for free.  If one cannot find just the right school, parents can get together and create their own using public tax dollars.  There is something lurking underneath such an idea.  It is an expectation that the individual is more important than the common good.  The ‘right’ to exclude dominates a need to include.

This line of reasoning has societal consequences.  The stronger the pull toward privatization and profit, the greater the strain on a sense of equality and justice.  This is one of those perpetual tug of wars that our democracy experiences.  The history of this power struggle is summarized in a New York Times article entitled:  Have we lost sight of the Promise of Public Schools?

This theme is central in the debate over school choice.  A collection of individual choices does not lead to an equitable system.  As our recent history has shown, our schools and neighborhoods are segregated in complex ways.  Even within a school, students are grouped into academies and academic levels more intensively than those of our youth.  Magnet schools, charters and tax supported private schools accentuate the racial, economic and achievement segregation process.  Are we simply running away from one another and/or competing for some elusive advantage we are afraid to share?

Communities are beginning to look at how they are structured. Have they become a collection of silos that have no common core?  Or, is there a sense of the ‘common good’ that actually reflects the structure of neighborhoods and the student bodies of schools?  How far along the continuum of the individual right vs. the public good have our communities moved?  It is a worthwhile conversation.  Read the NY Times article and ponder.

 

 

Constructive Committee Discussion

The House Committee on PK12 Quality held a thoughtful meeting.

State Rep. Matt Willhite asked “Could we do without school grading?”  “When we have school grades with continuous failing grades, are we benefiting the child telling them they are in a failing school?

Sen. Jake Rayburn R. Lithia, stated that whether you give an F or not, you have to figure out what to do with low performing schools.

Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R. The Villages asked ‘If there is any benefit (from testing)?  He said that the most frequent complaint he heard was about the stress and time taken away from other academic efforts at the schools.

The State School Superintendents requested a return to paper and pencil testing which take much less time to administer than testing in limited space computer labs.  Removing test scores from teacher evaluations would allow districts to develop their own assessment strategies.

Of course we need to test to see how children are learning.  It is a matter of how much testing is needed and how scores are used.  Hitting teachers, students, and schools over the head with school grades just makes everyone frustrated and destroys neighborhoods.

Missing from the discussion was the growing evidence that over the last 15 years of school choice, many neighborhoods have gone into a downward spiral, much like in Gainesville where four low income area schools used to have grades with A, B, and Cs.  Now one school is closed and the three remaining post Ds and Fs.  Teachers and students leave.  Socio economic data show that charters in the area do not take or keep the difficult problems.  It is hard to swallow but giving parents choice has created more problems than it has solved. The charters here fail more often than the public schools.

The bottom line is that folks want to make things better, but the stronger the focus is on schools rather than kids, the bigger the problem is.  Bad problems get worse.  Everyone blames everyone else.  Grading schools and teachers highlight problems but do not fix them.

Making schools more equal could help depending upon how it was done.  Now, the three struggling schools receive $1.5 million in federal funding to support extra time and wrap around services.  The money helps but does not eliminate the failing stigma. It does nothing for similar students who are dispersed in schools across the district.   Once we had an extra hour and summer school, funded by the State, to help children who start school behind and stay behind.  Once we had high quality early Head Start.  Once we had teachers who loved their schools.  Gone, all gone.  But, at least people are talking.

The Suspension Gap

“Fixing” struggling schools with a load of good intentions only goes so far.  Strong leaders have to figure out ways to get children to show up for school and find time, teachers, and learning strategies to help them.  School success is measured by student learning gains.  Achievement gaps between white and black, rich and poor students must be narrowed.  This is only one of the gaps leaders must close.

 

 

 

 

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School Turnaround: Caught Between the Crosshairs

In a news report on President Obama’s legacy, one commentator stated that is focus on eliminating failing schools would survive.  These are the ‘turn around’ schools where most students do not meet state proficiency levels.  Some say that the goal to have all students be proficient is like assuming all students must be ‘above average’.  Proficiency standards, however, are set at levels most but not all students are expected to reach.  The expectations are an ever increasing target.  As achievement goes up, standards go up.

It is a trap, however, to excuse low performance because students have not been expected or even required to do better.  Is there an escape hatch?

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Making Good Choices: Equitable Public Schools Do Better

Researchers at Stanford University have published a new study comparing public school vs. school choice privatization systems.  Public schools that focus on equity win hands down.

The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that serves each and every child than by a market-based competition approach that creates winners…..and losers.

It is worth taking a minute to see how and why.

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Is a war brewing over education? Be there!!

The Tampa Bay Times reported that a bi-partisan panel of legislators voiced support for teacher pay raises and less testing in schools.  Even  more surprising was the opinion that all there should be more equity in school accountability for public schools, charter schools and private schools.  This has been a major issue in the League of Women Voters  arguments that all schools that receive state funding directly or indirectly through tax credit vouchers should meet the same testing and accountability standards.

Who is supporting public schools?  Is there a war brewing?

 

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