Send disruptive kids to separate school

Disruptive students should go to a separate school till they learn to behave, says Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart. Don’t wait till a disruptive student turns violent, she told the City Club of Chicago.

“Here’s the problem: Teachers don’t always get the support they need from their principals. Too often, the principal returns disruptive students to the class like a boomerang,” Stewart said. “Teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn in a constantly disruptive classroom.”

. . . In the St. Louis school, students attend from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day and complete the full year at the alternative school before returning to their regular school the next year.

This is common sense, writes teacher John Thompson on This Week in Education.

It sure would be nice for the students who want to learn.

About Joanne


  1. It’s not an easy step just to whisk kids just because they are disruptive. If this were the case I’ll bet some teachers would try and get rid of half their classrooms. Use this analogy- when we send people to prison, how many of them are completely reformed when they come out?

    Hall Monitor

  2. Common sense, indeed. See my post penny in the fusebox.

  3. I’ve been for this since my first year of teaching.

    35 years later, I still think it is a good idea.

  4. There’s no question in my mind that chronic disruptors are in need of alternatives – and that students who want to learn and are well-versed in acceptable classroom behavior deserve to learn unimpeded. But, as Hall Monitor points out, just whisking them off the stage isn’t the answer, and I am concerned about the idea they should be removed until they “learn to behave.”

    I have a unique viewpoint on this – I teach half on-level courses, and half remedial (too often full to the brim with chronic disruptors due to my course’s “elective-but-remediation” status). All too often, in my experience, these students are simply put into alternative settings where they are isolated physically and socially from both peers and adults, expected to self-pace themselves through packet work to maintain their credit, and meanwhile are not given any of the instruction they truly need – socially acceptable behaviors for a variety of interactions like peer vs. peer, student vs. teacher, child vs. adult, etc. These are all things which MUST be taught to those children who do not receive adequate instruction in them from either their families or (let’s face it) their adolescent culture.

    The only lessons in “learning to behave” these students receive is the threat of returning to an environment where they are never challenged by social interaction if they misbehave again. No wonder so many of them are repeat offenders. What child, who is perplexed and befuddled by myriad social situations they aren’t familiar with, wouldn’t want to simply be left alone? Unfortunately, these kids aren’t being prepared for anything outside school.

    Any alternative program for chronic disruptors would be more effective for addressing those same social needs and behaviors which get kids thrown into them in the first place.

  5. Margo/Mom says:

    I cannot tell you how many ways I disagree with this approach. But I approach education like a parent. Any parent can testify to the incredible power of individuality in determining whether or not children “learn” appropriate behavior. And no parent ever gets the opportunity to send the tough case somewhere else until they get over their learning difficulty in the behavioral area. And wise parents get tuned into the meaning of children’s behavior. Hungry, tired children (and parents) get cranky and their behavior suffers. You can take the time to teach a lesson on transcendent methodology to maintain a high level of behavior despite circumstances–or you can work on seeing that they sleep and eat regularly. Guess which one makes parenting easier and more rewarding? And long term the attention to maintaining an environment that doesn’t push kids to the max pays off in kids who are empowered (to overuse and already overused term) to make appropriate choices (yet another overused term).

    Alternatively, refusing to focus on environmental stressors and sending misbehaving kids to time out, their room, or chronic disruptors school, result in kids who have no experience of self-control, live in a constant state of being overwhelmed and long term understand themselves to have no place with the family, or the “regular” kids (the ones who really want to learn).

    But–I will put it to the believers–where has this ever worked? And by worked, I mean that chronic disrupters are removed, fixed and returned with any degree of reliability?

  6. tim-10-ber says:

    As a parent I am all in favor of this — a few years ago my district had an alternative school that seemed to work…there were draw backs — kids could only attend for a semester rather than the rest of their high school years, the district shut it down…bummer…

  7. Better be careful Margo/mom that you don’t hurt yourself bending over backwards trying to find rationalizations for lousy policy.

    The reason kids with behavior problems are allowed to disrupt classes is because the people who have the authority to prevent those disruptions don’t have much reason to do so. It has nothing to do with the welfare of the disruptive kid because if the disruptive child’s welfare were a consideration then the welfare of the non-disruptive kids would be a consideration as well. Leaving the disruptive kid in the class shows a lack of concern for the rest of the class while doing nothing to bring the disruptive kid’s behavior under control.

  8. Margo misunderstands. The purpose of removing the disrupters is not to “fix” them, but to enable the other 85% to 90% of the kids to actually obtain an education. Fixing the disrupters would just be icing. Let’s be real.

    Actually, I have maybe two disruptive kids this semester in my one remedial class — and they’re managable. Even my regular 10th is completely under control, despite some interesting emotional issues. And it is amazing what teaching AP does for discipline problems. It’s nice to have a break.

  9. What about kids who are disruptive for one teacher and not for another? (thinking secondary here, of course.)

    I do think that ineffective teaching and poor classroom management likely contribute to escalating some of the misbehavior seen in the classroom. I’m not implying I have no misbehavior, but every year I am shocked to hear that some of my strongest classroom leaders are little brats in their math, science, art, whatever classes. And the other way goes as well. I have one young man this year that I’m trying to find a way to connect with…it turns out that my class is the only one where he acts out. It keeps me up at night trying to figure out how I can forge some connection that will engage him better and keep our relationship for escalating negatively…if we’re butting heads, it’s tough for us to work together toward helping him learn.

    “Misbehavior” is so complex and rooted in so many varied sources. Effective interventions are key, and shipping them off to a different campus should be about step fifteen after every other possible option has been exhausted…and I’m not talking about the teacher doing all the work here, either! Counselors, admin, resource officers, etc., should be doing the work on this one so the teacher can focus on improving student learning for all his/her students.

  10. “Hungry, tired children (and parents) get cranky and their behavior suffers. ”

    Margo/Mom You don’t live in any large city, do you? Here in LA, distruptive students are those who bring knives, guns, and gang affiliations to school. I don’t think a little snack at 10 am is going to do the trick.

    “result in kids who have no experience of self-control, live in a constant state of being overwhelmed and long term understand themselves to have no place with the family, or the “regular” kids (the ones who really want to learn).”

    Kids who have no experience of self-control don’t need to take up other people’s time to learn something that many kids figure out by middle school.

  11. “Disruptive” covers a wide range of behavior, though, doesn’t it? The student with epilepsy could cause disruptions in class, but in my opinion that wouldn’t merit being sent to a separate school.

    I would think that it might be tempting for some administrators to find children who are likely to score poorly on NCLB tests “disruptive,” in order to move them off their books. I am NOT saying that all administrators would feel that way, but if some have been caught encouraging students to be absent or to cheat on exams, getting them sent to another school would also be tempting.

    When I hear of disruptive students, I do think of those who misbehave continually, and whose disruptive behavior interrupts instruction. The teacher should not be the only adult attempting to improve the student’s behavior. At some point, though, it is not fair to the other students in the room to tolerate the interruptions.

    Has anyone attempted to study the class time lost to intentional misbehavior in different school systems? I know that the number of chronic disruptors in our suburban system is quite low, but it seems from Marilyn Stewart’s comments that the percentage’s much higher in Chicago. The achievement gap may correlate in some measure to differences in instructional time. The fewer disruptions in class, the more time the students can stay on task.

  12. “Chicago already has some alternative high schools but they are geared toward students with specific behavioral problems or criminal behavior. Chronically disruptive students are just supposed to be sent to the principal’s office, Stewart said.”

    So I think Marilyn Stewart’s statement was about something between simple criminal behavior and acceptable behavior. At a minimum we’d have to define what chronically disruptive behavior means. No such attempt is referred to in the article. For example, a student who incessantly asks irrelevant questions may be just as disruptive as someone who talks to friends too loudly. And from the comments so far I suspect most people would think either of these behaviors is child’s play and probably not worthy of a student being removed. But even if the behaviors I mentioned are less offensive than others I can imagine, I’m not certain they are less disruptive. And how to define chronic? Does that mean every day? What do people think? I’m curious to hear anecdotes from teachers.


    I’ve always thought bringing guns and knives to school is criminal behavior in CA schools. Not sure what is meant by gang affiliations, as that doesn’t describe a specific behavior. I know that gang attire is prohibited in our local school districts, but I’m not sure what enforcement applies. I know our school board, in CA, deals with student behavior problems every time it meets. I don’t know the details as those are generally withheld from the public, but students are expelled on a regular basis. True or not, it seems like people have the perception that this is not happening enough.

  13. A better word for disruptive is defiant. Many disruptive kids can be managed successfully by contacting parents, using the stick and carrot approach, being on the kid’s side rather than being his adversary, etc. Defiant kids need to be put somewhere, but not in my classroom. One thing I can’t stomach are those willing to sacrifice the cooperative majority in order to save recalcitrant recidivists. These are the people that see themselves on some kind of mission to save hearts and minds, and they’re mostly women. I’d venture a guess that their own egos have more to do with this idiocy than anything else. Stewart is a woman, and she’s more right than wrong.

  14. “every year I am shocked to hear that some of my strongest classroom leaders are little brats in their math, science, art, whatever classes.

    Yeah, that was me in any course where I had an inexperienced teacher who could not control the class. I was bored out of my mind throughout much of school because the pace was too slow and the material not challenging enough. To amuse myself, I would be a wisea** whenever I could get away with it. The veteran teachers usually could keep me in line, but the poor rookies often couldn’t.

    I wasn’t a bad kid, just in need of greater intellectual stimulation than I was getting.

  15. Kids who have no experience of self-control don’t need to take up other people’s time to learn something that many kids figure out by middle school.

    If you rephrase this to “Kids who have no experience of self-control don’t need to take up other kids’ time…” I’ll agree with you.
    But, well, I once went horse-riding with my then-new husband, who had never been horseriding before. He said this at the riding school and the instructor had a brillant response “Well, you’re never going to learn any younger, are you?” I took from this the general rule that if you haven’t learnt something in the past, and you want or need to learn it, the time to start is now, whenever now is.

  16. Mark G: Right. Sometimes it is as simple (and frustrating) as gender. My two naughty boys only misbehave with female teachers — they’re angels for the men. Sometimes it is the reverse. I sit in many meetings where I am surprised to learn a particular kid is a holy terror (or when I see the in-school suspension slip).

    So, yes, herding the kids who spoil it all for the rest would be tricky and rife for abuse.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    Two issues: The learning environment for the non-disruptive kids, and, what happens with the disruptive kids.
    Majority opinion about the first…yawn.
    The disruptive kids are entitled to punching bags.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Interesting. When I was a teacher, I excelled at drawing out the quiet, frightened, non-participating children. The disruptive children were a much bigger challenge for me, but there were never more than one or two per year (this was a very low-income, largely minority school). Fast-forward 15 years. AFter my children were grown, I considered returning to teaching, but it was clear that the number of disruptive children had grown tremendously, and I just couldn’t imagine spending so much effort trying to prevent in-your-face behavior day in, day out. So my talents were lost. I wonder how many potentially good teachers are lost every year, because they know that within many classrooms, job one is extreme behavior management. My hat is off to today’s teachers who have the instincts/guts/creativity/energy to be behavior mod experts as well as teachers.

    But they are clearly few and far between, and just as we accept that we can’t build effective schools on superstar teachers academically, I think we have to hope that some day there will be a place for teachers who are not superstars at managing behavior. It really says something unfortunate about today’s students that so many have to be “managed” in the first place, that they come to school with so little self-control and such great emotional needs that you have to create a strategy in order to get through a day or a class period with them.

  19. Is it fair to the reasonably well-behaved kids to let their classes be hijacked by troublemakers? I remember suffering through classes that got disrupted. Or I remember recess periods where we ALL sat quietly with our heads down on our desks because of the behavior of one or two kids in the class. (Yes, I realize, times are very different now; I went to school in the Jurassic)

    Considering that “alternative schools” exist (at least at the high school level) for kids in serious trouble, it doesn’t seem inconceivable that kids who are truly posing a threat to the ability of the teacher to teach and the students to learn? Sure, there may be teachers who try to abuse the policy, but couldn’t there be some oversight?

    I teach college and if I had someone truly disruptive in my class – yelling, threatening, stopping the progress of the class – I’d be permitted to call Security and have them removed. I’ve never had to do it but God help me if I got a truly disruptive student and was told I had to keep them in class.

  20. The comments here are excellent. Nobody says this is an easy issue. But if we could factor out the teacher-bashing which pervades this debate – though not the comments here- we could get better approaches for everyones’ benefit.

  21. ponderosa says:

    I agree with John that these are good comments; however, we’re focusing on the symptoms, not the causes, of misbehavior. Admittedly many causes are beyond our control as educators (e.g. dysfunctional families), but one is not: curriculum. I teach seventh grade and I find that my worst readers are my biggest behavior problems. If all of my kids had had seven years of content-rich, sequential and coherent curriculum prior to coming to my class, they would all have the built-in background knowledge to understand the texts we use in seventh grade. And I’ll bet the behavior problems would be radically reduced. To me this is yet another strong argument for E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum. His new book The Making of Americans is, in my opinion, a blueprint for vastly more effective and functional American schools.

  22. Can a teacher be expected to solve seven year’s worth of problems in eight months or less? I hate to use the word “triage” or even consider the concept, but is it really better to keep disruptive students in the class, and have the meek students be terrorized and not learn, or have the students who want to learn be demoralized – just because we’re trying to “save” some students who have problems deeper than what most teachers can cope with in the time they have with the student?

    Or is it better to remove disruptive students and let the non-disruptive students learn?

  23. Margo/Mom says:

    “Has anyone attempted to study the class time lost to intentional misbehavior in different school systems? I know that the number of chronic disruptors in our suburban system is quite low, but it seems from Marilyn Stewart’s comments that the percentage’s much higher in Chicago. The achievement gap may correlate in some measure to differences in instructional time. The fewer disruptions in class, the more time the students can stay on task.”

    In fact, George Sugai measures administrator time spent with classroom removals as an indicator of improvement in schools implementing positive behavioral supports. However, he makes the key point–all too often overlooked–that unless and until the more overall and comprehensive environmental behavioral issues are addressed, there is no way that students with more extreme issues can ever be supported. They may be removed for a time and worked with–but on return, all of the same stressors and lack of support will tent to return them to their original behaviors. Schools get burnt out from trying to solve problems individually. If the hallways and restrooms are in chaos, and teachers are surviving by closing their classroom doors, it is going to be exceedingly difficult for those classes to be effective–and for some teachers it will be impossible.

    I recall the year that my son was on the “school bus from hell.” Two routes were combined resulting in a middle school bus that was overcrowded. I was aware that it was late nearly every day because the driver was stopping and trying to regain order, putting kids off, calling security, all in a desperate effort just to drive kids home. As a parent, I was asked by a teacher, a counselor and the driver to call and complain about the situation–apparently they had come to appreciate my tenacity. I did spent some time on the phone, working my way up the chain of command until I got someone with sufficient clout to move some kids onto other routes. First this should not have been so difficult. Second–this should not be the job of a parent. Three professionals (including the bus driver) were not able to adequately make the case that an unsafe (and actually illegal) set of conditions was impacting behavior on a daily basis on that bus–with expected carryover to all other facets of school. And I will point out that the teacher and the counselor were more aware of conditions outside the building than average–most teachers avoided “bus duty” like the plague–save that for the newest and least experienced.

    This was a dysfunctional school. Teachers did not routinely work together. Those most responsible carried far more than their share of the burden–generally because they cared. I can guarantee that there were plenty there who would stand up and cheer at the opportunity to off-load some “chronic disrupters.” In fact, the union fought long and hard to establish a building where they can now do that. Jury is still out.

    But again, I have to ask–where has this been found to be effective? By what measures and over what span of time? And if, as some suggest, it is not intended to be good for the “disrupters,” but for the others, what then is the impact on the disrupters?

  24. Richard Aubrey says:

    Margo. You don’t get it. The impact on the disruptors is a secondary concern.
    To make it a primary concern will require a huge amount of resources no school system could ever put together. A real “special” school staffed with teachers and counselors and lots of security.
    So we have to choose: Allow the disruptors to disrupt and not learn anything while keeping the others from learning, or allow the disruptors to disrupt–in the sense that they take time and effort and a separate building if only a warehouse–and allow the other kids to learn.
    In effect, there is no “impact”, save that the disruptors are denied some fun. They won’t learn either place, so why not get them away from the learners?
    I get really creeped out by folks who think the disruptors deserve a daily shot at the rest of the student body. Really, really creeped out, no matter how it’s phrased. It’s as if the rest of the student body deserves getting roughed up for being so bourgeois or something.
    Get the buttheads away from the good kids. When the buttheads–who choose to be buttheads–stop being buttheads, they can come back. In the meantime, let’s protect the rest of the student body.
    I know, I know. I don’t have any compassion.
    Used it all up on the victims, maybe.

  25. Margo/Mom says:

    Richard–when I ask the question, I am really asking two questions. One, is there a measureable positive impact on the kids who are not removed, and two what is the impact, positive or negative on the kids who are removed. As the penny in the fusebox analogy illustrates, it is sometimes “logical” to solve a problem in ways that only cause future and much larger problems.

    What percentage of kids can we afford to write off as unreachable (currently somewhere from 30-50%, depending on the way you count and where you are)? It’s a really appealing rationalization to suggest that we are only talking about removing the “buttheads” and that “buttheads” are “buttheads” because they choose to be “buttheads,” and that furthermore, we cannot have any impact on their “buttheadedness.” But, I want to see some more concrete evidence. Define buttheadedness (and goodness). Show me a system in which defined buttheads are removed resulting in improvement for the non-buttheads. And demonstrate to me that this removal does not result in irreparable harm to anyone (and I would include the buttheads–considering that we are talking about minors and I would expect there to be at least an expectation of not damaging any children). Where is the evidence? What is the percentage of buttheads in the world–does it vary by race, gender, SES? Is buttheadedness impacted by environment at all, or is it innate? Are there to be any safeguards against faulty findings of buttheadedness?

    Again–my district has implemented such a system. Recognizing that they have a (legal) responsibility to educated even the buttheads, they have attempted to view this as a place of remediation and return. But, as I said, the jury is still out–and I can guarantee that they are not gathering evidence in the way that would be needed to responsibly answer any of the questions.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Children who are disruptive because of emotional disability (this can’t be anywhere near 30%-50% of all children) need a therapeutic environment. Only to a small extent can a regular classroom function as that therapeutic environment; those children who can function well with those smaller interventions, should certainly stay in the classroom. That’s if we figure out which intervention/environmental change will be of assistance to them. That might be a fairly large proportion of the (currently) disruptive children. So the problem becomes, discerning what those interventions are, and implementing them.
    I certainly agree that one very important intervention is better curriculum in the early grades, so that children will not arrive at the upper grades feeling like failures. If you put me in a University classroom where I was supposed to understand astrophysics, I would be very stressed out and would devise ways to avoid dealing with my feelings of failure; in my case that would be daydreaming, but younger people often choose acting out.

    BUT, there is also certainly a lot of disruptive behavior that is not strictly due to emotional distress. It’s due to general lack of discipline in the environment and in the culture. Children and teens who could control their behavior, are choosing not to. The overall chaotic atmosphere in some schools certainly must seem like “permission” to act out, for students who haven’t formed (enough) the habit of respect for their peers and teachers. The existence of “turnaround” schools makes it clear to me that it’s possible to motivate students to improve their behavior without turning school into a therapeutic environment based on behavior supports, but rather by raising expectations and rewarding good behavior.

  27. I agree with the last post re. real emotional problems. I’d extend it to severe cognitive ones; some kids just don’t belong in an academic environment. Neither does criminal and/or dangerous behavior.

    For the rest, you not only need to reward good behavior, you need to establish and enforce consequences for bad behavior; it’s the carrot and the stick. Also, back in the Ice Age when I started school (early 50s), self-control was explictly presented as an absolute virtue, from first grade onwards. (no kindergarten). We need to get back to that idea because it’s an important life skill. Your boss won’t tolerate tardiness, laziness, sloppiness, surliness and poor results, let alone insults and tantrums; neither should schools.

    I also think that both the current school structure/philosophy and curriculum exacerbate the problem. A teacher-centered classroom (direct instruction) makes it easier to control the class, in addition to being more efficient than a student-centered class. Group work is also inherently more disruptive. Also, homogeneous grouping by subject allows each student to be taught at a level where he can succeed with reasonable effort and avoid boredom. That also is more efficient. I know others disagree with that, but I have yet to hear a persuasive argument that 10 minutes of a teacher’s attention each period (assuming 5 levels of students) is as good as 50 minutes (assuming all students are at about the same level).

    And yes, the needs of the cooperative majority should come first. I’ve seen far too much of the tyranny of the minority, whose wants/needs should come first regardless of their impact on the majority.

  28. One idea I’ve been pondering lately is the whole concept of mandatory education. Now I realize that this is highly controversial, but hear me out.

    It is a simple fact that most urban high schools are graduating fewer than 50% of their incoming freshman class. So our current system of mandatory attendence is not producing stellar results.

    It is also a simple fact that we do not value what we are given for free. (good example…go look at the trash cans at any school that gives free breakfasts and free lunches) If students were forced to earn the right to go to school, perhaps they would value it more.

    Many of our chronic disruptors are disruptive because they are forced to spend 7 hours a day in an environment they abhor. They refuse to cooperate because they see no value in an education, and resent being forced to go to school. Almost all of these chronic disruptors are going to wind up in the 50% who don’t graduate anyway.

    The first response is always, “So what are you going to do with all of the kids who won’t go to school anymore, what type of job will they be able to get?” My response is “What are we doing with them now?” They’re not getting an education now, even if they are forced to sit in the classroom. I’ve had students at the middle school level who got straight Fs two years in a row (failing all six classes all three trimesters that is) and were promoted to the high school. How much did they learn in middle school? How much were they going to learn in high school? How many got kicked out? How many dropped out? We’ll never know because the schools will never compile such information.

    The more important question is: How much education and learning did they deny their classmates?

  29. Gahrie – I LOVE that last sentence. There’s a very old saying; “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” It’s the same with education; you can offer the opportunity, but if the student is unwilling/unable, you are wasting your time and compromising the opportunities for the willing. As a teacher/principal relative said; “Learning is an active process, not a passive one.” Without student effort, there is no learning and therefore, no reason to keep that student in the classroom if he is compromising the opportunities for others.

  30. Richard Aubrey says:

    “We” are not writing off any kids. The kids are writing themselves off. This is no Up The Down Staircase fiction.
    Show you studies….
    I’d like to see some done, for sure. You think current politics, including yours, would allow that?
    We’re in the realm of simple common sense. Some of us recall being in classrooms with disruptors. It would be extremely foolish of you to insist we didn’t see what we saw and experience what we experienced. Oh, wait. You’re already doing that.
    Some of us are teachers. Don’t even start trying to tell them to ignore their lying eyes.
    Let me put it in pseudo-scientific terms. No time can exist in two times at the same time or any other time. If a minute is used in dealing with a disruptor, that minute is forever lost. Forever. There is no way of obfuscating that. I expect you’ll try. The follow up to that is that the minute lost cannot be used in instructing the learners. No how. No way.
    I know the usual crap is to pretend that, if the buttheads are no longer allowed to beat up the learners, we’re writing them off and denying them an education.
    My suggestion is to put them someplace else where they can’t disrupt class and injure the learners. If they can be taught there, okay. If not, then that’s okay, too. Because they are no worse off, except for the frustration of not being able to steal lunch money and grope the freshmen girls. They weren’t learning in school, they’re not learning in the alternate setting. A wash.
    If they can be taught in the alternate setting, go for it. But first get them out of the learners’ hair and the teachers’ hair.
    Definitions…. Sorry. Not going to bite. Anything I said would be fodder for endless nitpicking.
    It’s kind of hard to get the wrong kid as a butthead. Unless the witnesses misidentify him or something. It takes a good deal of time to exhaust a teacher’s patience and by that time the teacher will more than likely know the kid’s name. I don’t see much room for error.
    Whether the kids are emotionally damaged or simply choose to be buttheads is, in one sense, immaterial. Get them out of the learners’ hair. If you choose to then treat the two groups differently, fine. But first, protect the learners.
    When I was in school, buttheads usually flunked a grade or two. One benefit of promoting everybody is that the buttheads are now rarely a couple of years older than their classmates, with all that means in terms of bullying. So there’s that benefit to wimping out on academic standards.

  31. Why student choose to be disruptive is a large question. I think it would be very interesting to ascertain the reading ability of students who qualify for an alternative placement, or who choose to drop out. I suspect that a good percentage of the disruptors are poor readers. If you can’t read, much of the material after 2nd grade will be out of reach.

    I know this thought sounds simplistic, but it’s not a simple problem at all. Schools and students don’t want to admit the reading problems which exist. After a certain age, it is assumed that students can read, and it’s On with the Mandated Curriculum! I don’t know of any provision in the standard public school curriculum to allow for targeted, one-on-one help for students who don’t qualify (or whose parents don’t apply) for an IEP, but who read poorly.

    Whatever the causes, though, we can’t afford to allow a few children to deny education to the many. Everyone loses when a student is permitted to disrupt a class. When a teacher asks a principal for help by sending him/her a disruptive pupil, that principal should never send that student back to the same class period. That sends a message that learning is not paramount. All the students in that class learn that the teacher has no authority in the school. The problem builds. It’s analogous to the “broken windows” school of policing, which was credited with turning around New York City. If you stop those who misbehave when they’re chewing gum or fresh to the teacher, they’re much less likely to phattack the teacher later on.

  32. Huh? Lots of high schools have reading classes, reading coaches, you name it. When I teach remedial English it is essentially a targeted reading class that the kids take concurrently with the actual reading class.

  33. I don’t see the welfare of disrupters as a secondary concern. They are too young to choose and we can’t write them off.

    One half of my complaint is that the current system is writing those kids off. Alternative settings are problematic, but they would work a lot better than the insane system of today.

  34. Lightly Seasoned, does the targeted reading class work? Are all the students who can’t read well identified? Dyslexia researchers have made the point that dyslexics become very adept at hiding their lack of reading skills.

    If they are getting targeted reading instruction, it’s not working all that well, for the nation as a whole. Perhaps your school provides targeted instruction, but not every school does. “For example, on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 33 percent of fourth-graders and 26 percent of eighth-graders cannot read at the basic level; and on the 2005 NAEP 27 percent of twelfth-graders cannot read at the basic level.” (

    It’s possible that the students who are disruptive aren’t poor readers. If there is a correlation, though, it would open avenues for remediation. Rather than send students to alternative schools which present the same material, provide these students with remedial, individual instruction. Make certain they can read and do basic arithmetic. If there isn’t a physical reason for academic difficulties, test them on their grasp of the basic skills students need for success in high school. Yes, some/many disruptors are mentally ill, and some enjoy being defiant. Not all, though, surely?

    If your behavior shows that you don’t want to be in the classroom, and your behavior prevents other students from learning, why must you remain with the group? When students become violent, it’s the other students and the teachers who are the targets. Marilyn Stewart is right, it is better to not tolerate disruption.

  35. I should add, the politicians and the wealthy–their children aren’t in the public schools, by and large. Their children and grandchildren are in private and parochial schools which Do Not Tolerate disruptive behavior. It would be nice if they’d permit the students in public schools to enjoy the same academic environment.

  36. Richard Aubrey says:

    John Thompson.
    Okay. Is the welfare of the disruptors equal to or greater than the concern for the non-disruptors?
    Would you have any objection to taking the most wonderful care of them imaginable–in a setting away from the rest of the students?
    Didn’t think so.
    Did it ever occur to you that you’re asking other parents to send their kids as human sacrifices?

  37. I agree with many of the comments above. I respect everyone’s thoughtfulness.

    While several have pointed out that many disruptive students feel uncomfortable or imprisoned during the school day, my teaching experience saw many more disruptors who loved coming to school every day. They just didn’t come for the purpose of learning. Many of these kids were socially very popular. Lots of kids think drug dealing students are cool. Several dropped out of high school in May, after making no effort to pass their classes. If they were okay with the idea of dropping out, why not do it earlier? Because they loved hanging out at school…even if not in their classes when they should have been.

    Anyway, my biggest reason for supporting the addition-by-subtraction of sending disruptors elsewhere is that I think a school with, say, 15% troublemakers and 20% honors students, will see many of the kids in the middle beginning to emulate the troublemakers and learning to disrespect the teachers that have to try to control the troublemakers. So you end up with an overall lowering of the student body’s behavior in addition to diligent students being robbed of valuable instructional time.

    Dan K.

  38. DanK,

    What kind of behaviors are you seeing that don’t already lead to kids being removed? Is the difficulty in proving that students are committing certain acts? Or is the difficulty that rules don’t exist for students to be removed for the behaviors that can be proven?

  39. Parent2: Yeah, targeted reading instruction works. Barring serious wiring issues, it can generally get a kid to jump a couple years. Some of these kids have been targeted all along, but they had to settle down enough to actually do the work before the instruction could “take.” Some of them just spend all their energy avoiding learning.

  40. I teach in a high-poverty area (have so most of my professional career). Some thoughts:

    1) Yeah, there are those who are hungry, but they are few – and, in my experience, more likely to be white than black, more likely to be because of desire to get/maintain figure. The non-stop snacking causes problems because brats won’t use the wastebasket, but stuff their food/packages in drawers (non-locking right now, but I ordered a master key – MY expense. Oh, well.)

    2) True thugs need to be GONE – at least, expelled. It’s quite difficult – they are sneaky about their behavior, and use their friends/family to intimidate witnesses. Once in a while, you catch them. Often, some chuckleheaded twit cries that you can’t expel them for “just one little mistake”. Just one, my eye. Just one we finally caught them at red-handed.

    3) Most of the disruptive are below grade in skills. They get NO help in actually learning how to read, but some lame “decoding” assistance. Skip that – they need to go back to the beginning, with a personal tutor, until they are caught up. Or, are they considered to dumb to learn? They aren’t.

    Same with math. I’m sick of seeing a kid who, when confronted with the problem a=b/c who can’t figure out which number goes into the calculator first. For pity’s sake, teach them. Don’t shove them into a class without a hope.

    4) Bring in the dogs. Drugs have no place in school. Get rid of the kids that use, and send them to an alternative setting.

    You know, it’s usually only about 2-3 kids that cause almost all of the disruptions. The slightly troublesome kids, I can handle. The ones that will hit, or threaten to hit (including me), need to be out. The teacher doesn’t need to be told that the reason they were assaulted was a bad lesson plan (yeah, that excuse has been used), or that OF COURSE the kid is acting out, the teacher is a color that has been deemed not able to understand poverty (this from an administrator, raised in an upper-middle class house, educated in private schools, to me, kid from the poor side of town, with a dropout father, first in her family to attend college – community, then state).

    Do I sound frustrated? I am. Sometimes you get a good administrator, who will not throw referrals in the trash (yes, some do), and sometimes you get the other kind, who became an administrator for the money and/or to get out of the classroom.

    The rot starts at the top.

  41. Define buttheadedness….

    It’s like defining obscenity. You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it. The Hand-wringing People for a Perfect World want definitions, data, studies, more proof, alternative ways of dealing with the problem. Meanwhile, the good suffer, excellence is defined down, and home-schooling looks better and better.

  42. Margo “I only believe something is true if some grad school Ed students took a few surveys between their macaroni & glue projects”…

    Richard, Linda, and Lightly Seasoned are totally correct. The first step to ending the insanity that is the current K-12 school system in the USA is that the dreamers of the world have to admit that it’s literally impossible to “save them all.” Do we try? Of course. But, like any utopian dream, it’ll never happen. Back in the days when the truly disruptive/*very* special needs/thuggish kids were sent to three different alternative schools, the regular schools were probably able to save >90% of the students. Now, with the insistence that Johnny has to accept getting beaten up for his lunch money every day, and Mrs. Turnbough has to accept being spit on (literally) and having things thrown at her, all because if Keith isn’t held ultimately responsible for his actions (the alternative school), it’ll hurt the little guy’s feelings, it’s more like <50% today. Well, when do Johnny's and Mrs. Turnbough's feelings start to matter? Oh, wait, Mrs. Turnbough is a low wage slave to the parents (if you don't spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the school, to the beck and call of even the most unreasonable parents and kids, you're a bad teacher these days) and Johnny was being a bad citizen by not sharing his wealth voluntarily. So, you'd be upset because Keith got robbed of his 'happiness' (being able to disrupt class and hurt people as he pleases) but are not worried about Mrs. Turnbough's or Johnny's happiness at all? Something has to give here.

    "The teacher doesn’t need to be told that the reason they were assaulted was a bad lesson plan (yeah, that excuse has been used)…"

    That, and throwing office referrals in the trash, is simply evil. Many K-12 administrators are a three-way cross between incompetent, apathetic, and openly hostile to the teachers they're supposed to help and, when needed, protect.


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