Troubled kids, troubled classmates

Children from violent homes don’t just do worse in school themselves; they affect their classmates’ achievement and behavior. So says a study by economists Scott Carrell of UC-Davis and Mark Hoekstra of the University of Pittsburgh in the new Education Next.

. . . adding one troubled student to a classroom of 20 students decreases student reading and math test scores by more than two-thirds of a percentile point and increases misbehavior among other students in the classroom by 16 percent.

The presence of troubled students lowers the academic achievement of higher-income classmates and worsens the behavior of low-income students, researchers concluded.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Is this surprising to anyone?

    I teach college and I can tell you that a single bad-attitude student (not necessarily “troubled,” just someone who doesn’t want to be there and is going to show their resistance by doing things like not participating in discussion, making snide comments, and texting in class) can very adversely affect how well a class goes.

    And it’s NOT the “teacher’s fault,” which is the common excuse used to explain why a college-level class goes bad. I’ve taught the same class the same way in successive semesters – one semester would be fantastic, where the students learned, where they did well on tests, where they were engaged – and then the next semester I’d just walk out of the class shaking each day, and dread going to class, because of the wall of resentment and bad attitude.

    I am not smart or talented enough to overcome a serious bad attitude. I don’t know how many professors or teachers ARE.

  2. Duh! Since a couple of economists did this study I’m sure they never thought of checking wtih a few teachers. They could have save themselves some time and effort.

  3. Correlation or causation, pleople?

    More bad science.

  4. News flash….the sun rises in the east!!

    “The presence of troubled students lowers the academic achievement of higher-income classmates and worsens the behavior of low-income students, researchers concluded.”

    Is this surprising to anyone?

  5. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Shocking!

  6. Tracy W says:

    Stacy – the paper’s authors sought to control for the causation or correlation problem by using incidents of parental domestic violence, on the basis that the actions of a elementary-age child’s peers do not cause domestic violence in the household. They think that assumption is plausible.
    They also added a series of controls by looking only at the child’s siblings, on the basis that families would be less likely to move children, and controlling for socio-economic factors, and say that they found that the results still appeared.
    The study might not be perfect proof of common every-day experience that disruptive children negatively effect their classroom peers, but they are aware of the correlation/causation issue.

  7. Is Stacy trying to say that bad schools make violent kids?

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    I have encountered this study before. It is not a bad one–but it does leave some holes in understanding. It is interesting that the “troubled children” were not identified by their behavior, but through cross referencing addresses with reports of domestic violence. Yet most readers here made the leap that there was a presence of “disruptive” behavior in the children (perhaps they presented as being very needy, clinging, lacking in skills, even hugely self-reliant). The authors also suggested, as an application of their research, that work to stabilize homes where violence is occuring would likely have a ripple effect throughout the community. While no one has said it out loud yet, forgive me if I am reading into some comments the suggestion that if we could just get those “disrupters” out of the classroom, things would be much better all around. This is not necessarily a good conclusion to be drawn from the fact pattern presented. The impact on classmates varied dramatically by race, gender and SES–some groups being nearly immune. For instance, the lack of impact on achievement of low SES groups raises the question of whether they have already been done in (achievement-wise) by some other factor in their environment–perhaps the quality of schools themselves–or if they have some other outside support that serves as a protective factor in this regard.

    I think that the report makes a much stronger case for the value of responding to households in crisis–for the good of the community as a whole–than it does in providing any helpful responses for schools.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    This needed a study? Nobody recalls being in school?
    Margo, as usual, wants the other kids to remain as punching bags until society figures out a way to straighten out adults.

  10. Credible social science research merely confirms common sense–or it’s not credible. It is very difficult to remove “incorrigible” students from public schools, unless something egregious happens….and even then, discipline is usually lax. The education code in each state needs to be amended, so that teachers and administrators can remove uncooperative students after x number of intervention attempts. It is a crime that so much learning time is taken from students who come to school ready to learn, and from teachers who would like to actually teach, not babysit. As a teacher and a taxpayer, I resent this waste of learning time and money on dysfunctional families who won’t raise their children to respect themselves or others. Alternative “boot camps” or family therapy schools should be considered.

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    Richard:

    And what part of the study or anything that I said leads you to believe that children are being used as punching bags?

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Your solution does not involve taking the bad actors out of the classroom.
    I recall about the same thing wrt the emotionally challenged, as well, some weeks back.

  13. Margo/Mom says:

    Richard:

    Play this thing through. First off, the study points out the “reflective” effect of behavior as an impact of growing up in a violent home OR being in a class with someone who has grown up there. Implementing the “get the bad kids out of here” strategy means that you need first to separate one from the other. Do you have a means of doing this? Is it legal? This study is very unique in that they were able to pull together the means of matching data from three different sources (student academic records, student discipline records, and public records of requests for restraining orders). The third source, while providing very good data for a study, is wobbly at best when it comes to determining kid’s school placement.

    Next–where are these kids to go? If one kid from a violent back ground causes a two point decline in test scores, is there any hope at all for a whole room full of them? Would such a policy create overall improvement or decline? Would the result be to doom the kids who are already victims?

    Third–the behavior of the “troubled” kids, while overall indicating more average incidents of discipline, does not fall neatly. Far more so for boys than girls. We don’t have information about the specific behaviors. How many kids were beating on others and how many were being beaten on by peers? How many were chronic “over-reactors?” Were they violent or stealing or clowning? We don’t know from the data presented.

    We can make all kids of policies and decisions based on assumptions. Facts provide a better basis.

  14. Margo/Mom,

    “Next–where are these kids to go? If one kid from a violent back ground causes a two point decline in test scores, is there any hope at all for a whole room full of them?”

    The negative effect on academic performance was not the same for all students. The study didn’t say which race/sex subgroups were most likely to exhibit behavior problems, but if they are black boys the study seems to indicate that the negative academic performance impact would be insignificant. However, making the same assumption about race the study does seem to indicate that the behavior problems would be compounded. So perhaps one logical conclusion of this study is that children in violent homes who have behavior problems in school should be put in schools with different support structures. For example, schools with more psychological services. The study does seem to indicate that the children who need this different support structure can be identified by school behavior.

  15. Next–where are these kids to go?

    How about to the charter schools, those pockets of educational innovation in the vast American education wasteland? They claim they don’t cherry pick, and they want to help pull all students up.

  16. Margo/Mom says:

    pm:

    The study actually contradicts the ability to identify by behavior which kids are “troubled” (meaning from violent homes). The study was pretty clear in its theses that some kids behavior stems from their violent homes, which other kids behavior is merely “reflective”–that is they have the behavior without the home–just the classmate. Also–while there was a greater incidence of discipline incidents (again, unspecified), it was by no means a universal indicator. Boys were more likely as a group to have incidents and the troubled boys more likely again. Girls–much less so. And then there is that troubling racial and SES disparity.

    Maybe we could just take all the asymptomatic kids and bundle them off to a school with fewer services–that way we could avoid the compounding factor of moving a vulnerable population.

  17. Mike Curtis says:

    Such sophistry from Margo Mom. One may conclude that common sense is the collective ignorance of a group; but, that will not make observed and measured behavior any less valid. A dancing nudist at Easter Mass, a screaming ape in a choir, or a disruptive student in a classroom all have a negative impact on the mission at hand…worship, sing or learn. There is credence in the addage “one bad apple will spoil the barrel” that transcends any feelings about how the apple became spoiled in the first place.

    If you want learning to take place in a classroom, then, anything interfering with that process must be ejected. Most certainly, the ejectee will be discarded into the collective dustbin; but, the majority, spared from the misbehavior, will benefit by not having to put up with such interference. Dustbin managers should welcome the job security.

    LisaK and I are like-minded on this subject.

  18. Well, it is a study of something obvious, but at least they quantified it so that the “if there wasn’t a study for it, the problem doesn’t officially exist” crowd is satiated.

    Now, what to do about it? Obviously, disruptive students need to be removed from the regular classrooms. But what do we do with them then? What do we do with the students who truly refuse to learn, or be civil? That’s the tough question…

  19. Margo/Mom,

    The summary indicates that the amounts of disruptive behavior was different between those children who experience violence at home and those just reflecting the disruptive behavior. So that would be the differentiator. I’m referring to this statement in the summary:

    “Children exposed to domestic violence not only have more disciplinary problems at school, they perform considerably worse in math and reading than other students.”

    Mikes idea to have chronically disruptive children go to a school of choice is an excellent one. And if we want well behaved children to attend school with their disruptive peers then we should make those schools attractive enough so that parents would choose to send their children there.

  20. Tracy W says:

    Margo/Mom, I think you’re missing the point of the study – that troubled students do negatively affect the performance of their fellow students, independently of possible feedback loops amongst the classroom – such as a class happening to have a high proportion of bullies who cause some of their victims to lash out violently.
    To quote from the introduction to the study:

    Credibly measuring negative spillovers caused by troubled children has been difficult. Most data sets do not allow researchers to identify troubled children. Even when such students are identified in the data, it is difficult to determine if a disruptive child causes his classmates to misbehave or if his classmates cause him to be disruptive, what scholars of peer effects call the “reflection problem.” In addition, troubled children are likely to attend the same schools as other disadvantaged children. One must rule out the possibility that the disruptive student and his classmates misbehave due to some common unobserved factor.

    Their thesis was not that “some kids behavior stems from their violent homes, which other kids behavior is merely “reflective”–”. That may be a conclusion you can draw from their paper, but it wasn’t the author’s thesis, the author’s thesis was to test whether disruptive kids affect their classmate’s learning. They didn’t look at whether the kids’ behaviour was caused by (or in your wording, stems from) their violent homes (another possibility is that there is a hereditary component to certain behavioural patterns, which causes violence at the household and violence at school amongst people unlucky enough to have inherited the genes – a change towards violent and disruptive behaviour is a common (but non-universal) consequence of a severe brain injury, indicating that the bits of the brain that control our violent impulses can be disrupted by physical shocks).
    Presumably there are other disruptive children who are disruptive for reasons outside the school environment but not associated with whatever causes domestic violence at home. This study provides some evidence, though not proof, that those disruptive kids will also affect their fellow students.

    Maybe we could just take all the asymptomatic kids and bundle them off to a school with fewer services–that way we could avoid the compounding factor of moving a vulnerable population.

    I don’t follow your logic here. What’s the point of bundling the asymptomatic kids off? If a kid isn’t being disruptive in class, what’s the point? And wouldn’t you be bundling everyone off by this idea – after all, just because violence at home is associated with more disruption doesn’t mean it’s the only assocation – any kid could have something causing disruptive behaviour (eg to go all TV medical show – undiagnosed brain tumour pressing on the bits of the brain that control impulses).

    I can understand that there are problems with bundling the disruptive kids off – in some cases the kids who are disruptive are so because they are being deliberately provoked by bullies in the class, or in some cases it’s a problem that can be solved by changes in the school’s teaching practices (eg putting a smart bored kid in a more advanced class, and please note I refer to the school, not to the individual teacher).

    I suppose your logic is that by leaving the disruptive kids in one school, the one with more resources (as the asymptomatic kids – presumably the majority – are bundled off to a school with fewer services in your scenario then the disruptive kids must have more), their learning will benefit, while the asymptomatic kids (everyone else) will gain from not being around the disruptive kids but lose from fewer services, so overall it evens out. Have I got that right? And if I have, assuming that the symptomatic kids are in the minority, wouldn’t it be cheaper to move them and some of the services rather than the majority of asymptomatic kids?

  21. Common sense not only says that disruptive kids interfere with learning, for the whole class, but that homogeneous grouping might lead to less disruption. Both bored kids who aren’t challenged and kids so far behind that they can’t understand the material are likely to cause problems, especially boys.

    I see this as a civil rights issue; each child should have be taught at his level, with the goal of mastering as much material as fast as possible. A middle school in the DC area tried homogeneous grouping, over the objections of some teachers, a number of years ago. At the end of the year, not only were there significantly fewer discipline problems, but test scores rose significantly. A number of teachers commented that they had never been able to cover as much material before.

    However, some kids do not belong in regular classrooms and some kids (the criminal, violent, psychotic, sociopathic etc.) don’t belong in regular schools. Pretending otherwise only leads to problems, like the kind we have now.

  22. Ragnarok says:

    “How about to the charter schools, those pockets of educational innovation in the vast American education wasteland? They claim they don’t cherry pick, and they want to help pull all students up.”

    Wouldn’t that be cherry-picking in reverse?

  23. Margo/Mom says:

    “Common sense” does not always add up to reality. This is one reason for careful study of problems. Senge talks about our “mental models” or the filtering systems that allow us to pay attention to those details in our environment that confirm our beliefs, while minimizing those that conflict. Psychologists refer to this as the reduction of cognitive dissonance. Senge, who studies organizational behavior has another concern, which is that these mental models frequently affect our behavior and interfere with the ability to implement improved organizational models.

    I would point out that while the study is specific about the “behaviors” more commonly seen in the affected group (those whose families have requested a protection order in their home), those behaviors are specified by the number of discipline incidents and performance on reading and math tests. Tracy–this does not indicated that individual children have a higher number of incidents or fall below a defining score level. As a group they have more incidents and as a group they perform lower. This is helpful in looking at the effects of home violence on students and peers. It is not helpful in providing a diagnostic tool that could identify kids who are experiencing violence at home and therefore need “psychiatric services” (at another location). One key point of the study is that the peers of these students also experience more incidents of discipline and lowered scores.

    However–despite the specificity of the study–many writers here have morphed “incidents of discipline” and lowered test scores into “disruptive” or violent behavior. This does not come from the study–but presumably from pre-existing mental models with regard to what “troubled” (and I suspect that the authors selected the term with some care) children look like. Parsing the data, it is clear that domestic violence does not provide a clear template of responses–and responses vary widely by race, gender and SES.

    My suggestion to take the unaffected kids to a less intensely supported location elsewhere was tongue in cheek. As the parent of a child with a diagnosed emotional disability I have ridden on that bus–off to the “special” place–always allegedly for the benefit of my child. Most often the chief benefit was to be free of the derision of students and adults from the “general” population. The trade-off was an increasingly chaotic environment and increased justification for things like restraints and putting kids in closets. When the battle was finally lost to keep test scores under wraps it turns out that many of these “special” places were scoring in the single digits (some zero) of kids reaching proficiency. The increased psychological support consisted of entry level social workers and paraprofessional aides. Up to half of the teachers were not appropriately certified to teach. This is far more the rule than the exception.

    And my kid was not exposed to domestic violence. He has a condition he did not ask for, didn’t want, doesn’t deserve (just as domestic violence victims did not ask for, nor deserve, their treatment). And yet–there are many people who believe that they (and they children) have a right to be free of HIM. It has been many years since his classroom behavior has been anything that might be classified as “disruptive.” This does not mean that he has a problem-free life. He has suffered academically from many years of shifting from one special place to another. And he has acquired the label of ED–which for many symbolizes “disruptive,” violent or dangerous to be around. Many people (in classrooms) also believe that any of the “labelled” kids can never achieve to the levels of the others. This justifies getting less–teachers who have never studied the topics that they teach, placement into whatever left-over building space there is after the “regular” kids are placed.

    This study is important. It points in the direction of enhanced services for families of abuse, because it identifies the risks that these children (and their peers) face. To suggest a solution of removal from the company of peers places the risk faced by the non-victim peers above that faced by the victims.

  24. And wouldn’t common sense tell you that “reverse cherry-picking” is actually what’s much more likely to occur then the opposite?

    After all, what parent would take a kid out of school in which they’re doing well absent some pretty persuasive factor like the new school is notably better or the cherry-pickee wasn’t doing very well in the old school?

    It is interesting though to see the gyrations proponents of the district model will go through to try to use the pretense of egalitarianism as a justification dumping kids willy-nilly into the same classroom.

  25. Tracy W says:

    Tracy–this does not indicated that individual children have a higher number of incidents or fall below a defining score level. As a group they have more incidents and as a group they perform lower.

    I fail to see how a group can have more incidents and perform lower without some individual children having more incidents and/or performing worse. Of course not all children need to have more incidents or perform lower for the group to perform lower, some could very well be better behaved and perform better than the average student not from a disruptive home – there are plenty of people who survive violence at home and go on to obtain great university degrees and normally law-abiding lives. But some individual students must be more troubled for the group average to be higher.

    If you merely meant to point out that individuals vary in behaviour, I already knew that and I can’t see anything in what I have written that contradicts it.

    This is helpful in looking at the effects of home violence on students and peers. It is not helpful in providing a diagnostic tool that could identify kids who are experiencing violence at home and therefore need “psychiatric services” (at another location).

    I can’t see anyone in this thread who has claimed that it does provide a diagnostic tool.

    Thank you for explaining what you intended by the suggestion of removing the asymptomatic children, I thought you were trying to be sarcastic in your suggested approach.

    He has a condition he did not ask for, didn’t want, doesn’t deserve (just as domestic violence victims did not ask for, nor deserve, their treatment). And yet–there are many people who believe that they (and they children) have a right to be free of HIM.

    I’ve worked at a secure centre for people with brain injuries, some of whom were very violent. I don’t think anyone asked for or wanted a severe brain injury, some victims may have been at fault for their injury, but others were definitely not (and who has never done something dangerously stupid ever in their life? Just most of us were lucky enough to get away with it). That doesn’t make violent behaviour any less scary to deal with. I don’t regret anything about the experience, I learnt a lot. But I do think that everyone has a right to be free of violence, however innocent the causer of the violence is, and even though I sometimes deliberately don’t exercise my right.

    Your son’s story is heartbreaking, it adds to my opinion that we have a fundamental problems with schools of a lack of incentive to deal with anything outside the norm. I note that many gifted children have suffered from a lack of any special effort from schools either. I don’t know what the solution to that is. The most plausible idea I have seen is from the voucher people, who advocate broad parental choice and extra-big vouchers for disabled kids, to encourage schools to want their parents to keep those kids at the school.

    To suggest a solution of removal from the company of peers places the risk faced by the non-victim peers above that faced by the victims.

    Yes it does. And if the victim peer is being violent or badly disruptive of the rest of the class, and adjusting the school’s practices isn’t helping in reducing the violence, that’s the placement of risk I prefer (obviously, if the victim peer is not being violent or badly disruptive of the class then there is no need for such a trade-off).

  26. Margo/Mom says:

    “I fail to see how a group can have more incidents and perform lower without some individual children having more incidents and/or performing worse.”

    OK–in the normal group, one in five children have two incidents of discipline. In the affected group, two in five children have two incidents of discipline. Same number/severity, but in more children.

  27. Richard Aubrey says:

    Margo.
    Where do we put them? Wherever. The responsibility is to the kids who are not disruptive and who are receiving a substandard education due to the disruptions.

    “Is it legal?” Not the point. The point is that your solution continues the situation where these kids can be disruptive and damage the education of others until we fix their parents.

    For that matter, is it legal to fix their parents? What if they don’t want to let the government into their lives? SWAT teams?

    I once heard that our system took the violent out the high school and put them in a special facility. I found out it was in part of the jr hi with no provision for containing them. When I asked a school board member about it, his first question was who told me. IOW, the fate of the non-disruptive kids comes second.

    Special facilities, charter schools…no matter. Just as long as the other kids get to continue their education without being subject to disruption or assault. Call me crazy.

    Thing is, these disruptive kids actually have the ability to make choices. They can act disruptively, or not. For making the wrong choice and damaging, at least, the education of the others, they get to go elsewhere. Change their choices, they can come back.

  28. Margo,

    While your story is heartbreaking, and your child’s actions in school obviously isn’t yours or his/her fault under the circumstances, you’ve still got to admit that the other students in the classrooms have rights to. Just because one child has special circumstances, doesn’t mean that child’s rights get to trump everyone else’s…

  29. Tracy W says:

    Margo/Mom, good point, missed that one on the proportions.

  30. Richard Aubrey says:

    Predaking. You’re preaching to the unconvertible.

  31. Sorry, “Margo/Mom”, but your responses typify everything that has gone wrong with educational policies since the advent of the Great Society (my symbol for the gross and massive government attempt at social reengineering). Title I, Title VII, Head Start, teacher/administrator authority constantly undermined by litigious parents, ad nauseum, etc. We are still paying the price for this, over 40 years later. We have sacrificed the greater good of the classroom as a whole, and maintaining high standards and propriety, for “compassion” for those from dysfunctional, irresponsible families. It’s not economic poverty, it’s poverty of values, spiritual poverty. Feelings have replaced standards, to the detriment of all. The standards-based, “back-to-basics” movement can only attempt to remedy academics; the values problems in the larger society will be much harder to solve. Sometimes, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

  32. Lisa, you are right. I posted on this site’s new illegitimacy thread on this topic. Poverty is not the issue; it’s all about standards. I grew up in a poor community, but kids had stable, married families. In the only case of divorce in the town, abuse was involved, and there weren’t any illegitimate kids. Yes, there were a few out-of-wedlock births, but those girls recognized that adoption by a married couple was the best decision for the baby. Of course, adoptions were sealed then; no kid appearing on the birth mom’s doorstep 18 years later, unless she chose that option.

    Also, I doubt that this country has ever seen anything approaching the current percentage of k-12 kids who actively don’t want to be there and don’t have any interest in learning. If you remove the kids with serious psychiatric and intellectual handicaps (please do), I think that these are the kids who cause most of the problems. They don’t belong; at the over-14 level, throw them out and let them get jobs. We’ve been running schools like a babysitting service or a warehouse far too long, and the kids who are trying to get an education are paying the price.

  33. BadaBing says:

    To momof4 and LisaK: Hear, hear!