Out of control

Once the elite high school in Washington, D.C., Dunbar High is out of control, reports the Washington Post.

Nearly half the senior class is not on track to graduate, more than 100 students are taking courses they’ve already passed and the campus is growing increasingly unsafe.

A private contractor hired to turn around the school two years ago was fired by Kaya Henderson, the interim schools chancellor.

“In general, the building seems to be in turmoil at all times,” Henderson wrote in a termination letter made public this week. “Well after the school day begins, many students are wandering around the building, strolling to class with absolutely no sense of urgency.”

The district plans to spend $100 million to build a new Dunbar to open in fall 2013.

Dunbar is only slightly worse than the district’s other open-enrollment high schools, reports the Post.  Citywide, 39 percent of open-enrollment high school students aren’t on track to graduate in four years.

Dunbar has had 22 security incidents this fall deemed “serious,” meaning they involved fighting, assault or incidents with weapons. That places the school just slightly above Woodson and Ballou high schools, both with 19. Police arrested six Dunbar students last month and charged them with raping a female student in a stairwell. The charges were later dropped, but the school community was shaken.

School safety stats are unbelievable, writes Jay Mathews. They’re way too easy to manipulate.

About Joanne


  1. That makes two posts this week talking bad about DC public schools.

    Next time there’s a thread gushing over Michelle Rhea I’ll be sure to point back to them, along with any threads of how great private contractors are.

  2. Wow, Mike, I couldn’t have said it better. Let’s not forget, though, that Rhee got test scores to increase.

    So, Dunbar is a shining testament to rising test scores, which make schools look good on paper to bureaucrats but produce students who learn nothing and ultimately drop out.

    Yet, people like Michelle Rhee continue to be recognized by Oprah as those leading education reform in America.

    What a dismal portrait of our future.

  3. It just seems so absurd to blame the teachers for a situation like this. 2,000 kids vs. 200 adults? In each classroom, 30 kids vs. 1 adult? The kids are powerful in a pack, and they know it. I laugh when I hear progressives say, “We need to empower kids.” No, we need to DIS-empower them –so that they listen and learn, and thereby, ultimately, become intellectually empowered.

    Fixing schools like Dunbar requires a hundred-prong, hundred-year plan.

  4. Who can deny that the empowerment needed is of the power to distance oneself and one’s children from savage animals. This why we move out of the city, and why we move, again and again, whatever it will take to get away.

    If anyone says otherwise, let him send his children to a school like Dunbar. If we can’t solve this problem withing the existing public school system, then it is the system as a whole which must be changed. What has to stop is good children being thrown away as cannon fodder, used up like a commodity, to keep up a failed system.

  5. The D.C. School system is not fixable.

    Issue vouchers for private schools and gradually shut the public schools down over a ten year period.

  6. Washington Post columnist Colbert King, a Dunbar High alum, has a thoughtful commentary:


  7. Out-of-control kids are not savage animals; they’re undisciplined and low-information humans. Many of them are terrific kids individually, but they’re defenseless against the invidious sway of group dynamics, so they act out and socialize in class rather than learn. We shouldn’t demonize the kids, just as we shouldn’t demonize the teachers. There are deep structural problems that are beyond the power of individual humans –or even individual generations –to change much. The cure –if there is one –will take a long time.

    That said, I agree that the well-behaved kids should be separated from the badly-behaved kids.

  8. In 1963 during basic training I met a graduate of Dunbar HS in DC. At the time and prior to that time Dunbar HS was one of the best HIgh Schools in the Nation, black or white.

    Dunbar HS students were almost all black and Dunbar graduates scored higher than the graduates of public all white schools in the south.

    The problem today began in the late sixties and early seventies with the COMPLETE DISINTEGRATION of black families that continues to this date. So long as Black American men and women decide to have children out of wedlock and engage in self-destructive cultural behavior this situation will not change.

    No amount of money is going to change the disintegration of black families or inner city black schools. It is going to take a MAJOR CHANGE in the behavior of blacks in our country. That is not happening and not likely to happen in our lifetimes. White Culture and self-destructive behavior is also increasing dramatically as white men and women make decisions that do not include education, marriage and the joint raising of children.

    This is not a problem that can be solved with money.

  9. “Out-of-control kids are not savage animals; they’re undisciplined and low-information humans.”

    Low-Information humans? They are little brats that haven’t had their asses kicked by their parents. Or parent.

    I spent 13 years in public school, in classes of 30+ for the entire time. If the student has no respect for the adult in charge, yes the classroom will devolve into chaos. What you do is toss him out into the real world and let him try to survive. He will, as long as the older convicts in prison let him.

  10. Oh, shit. Now she’s in Sacto!

  11. I am so sick of this political correctness bullshit that people like Ben F. expouse.

    We, as the people of the USA, do not owe you an education. You are given the opportunity to get an education, for free, as long as us taxpayers agree to continue funding, as long as you follow the rules that we, taxpayers, have laid out. Violate those rules, and face the consequences. Banishment from society is one of those consequences.

  12. Mark Scarberry says:

    Michelle Rhee was forced out a while ago and while still in office faced great resistance to what she was trying. Is it fair to blame her for these problems? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem likely.

  13. Yes We Can Build a http://www.NewNation.org


  14. Meanwhile, in nearby Hyattsville, MD, an educational miracle is occurring:


  15. close the system. raze the buildings. sell the land.

  16. Bad kids shouldn’t be in school period.

  17. No excuses says:

    Hey Ben? You know what? It doesn’t take generations to restrain unruly kids. It just takes authoritarian and disciplinary action that is either unfashionable or in some cases illegal in the stupid US system. Move those kids to Singapore or Japan or China and I bet you a lot of them would be calmed down in a hurry. Moreover, even if most aren’t savages, one or two may well be. A good system would make sure to come down hard on those and not let them infect the others.

  18. BeanerSpace says:

    Who cares of if they kids don’t graduate? Dunbar’s sports program is still the best in the district.

  19. Obama08Supporter says:

    The answer is more money. Give the teachers more money. Increase the pensions by 100%. Purchase brand new computers and laptops. One laptop per child. Increase the salary of the administrative staff and introduce learning and cooperative concepts through the use of rap and hip hop music. Also, we need more condoms and more abortion services. To deal with academic failures, get rid of the concept of grades and “learning and passing”. Learning is achieved by doing. Dealing drugs can be considered equivalent to learning math. Innovative thinking is what we need.

  20. Most of the problem is single mothers having 4 babies before the age of 19 ….the kids wind up running the streets in packs ( gangs ) When they go to school the school can’t kick them out unless they murder someone and these kids disrupt classes for everyone.

  21. pashley1411 says:

    Thomas Sowell I think is a product of Dunbar, you can just feel the burning rage he has for the levelers who made that high school just like any other.

    I’m with those who think there are no bad kids, but lots and lots of bad influences. From that start, my solutions are near totalitarian.

    Fiscally speaking, blow up welfare communities; limit the number of recipants per zip code. We are comfortable warehousing poor people, old people, and minorities, and support it with our fiscal policies, and we shouldn’t be.

    Make upper level education, both at high school and higher, dependent on passing scores. Ya, some will be late bloomers, but in every instance avoid the egalitarian impulse, we are too broke to be dumb.

    Give the principal authoritarian control over the school. Yea, some will be liberal piss-pots, other will shine, that is the nature of excellence. Give the parents the money to pick their schooling. Again, some will have open enrollment classes, some creative learning, but you’ll never improve the system until you give the system the resources to improve.

    And, as always, and everywhere, kill the bureaucracy.

  22. Some of these commenters’ views are distorted by anger. I understand the anger, but keep in mind that there are plenty of instances of terrible misbehavior by middle class teens as well. What I do think, however, is that if we permit students to behave the way the Dunbar students (many of them) are behaving, we are showing them great disrespect. We are letting them develop habits and attitudes that will cripple them. We have to do whatever it takes to restore order to schools like Dunbar.

  23. Hey Joanne!

    Either delete my post in it’s entirety, or post it as I wrote it. Censorship is a crime in the real world. And yes, you live in the real world.

    Yes, you run this blog. But you do yourself no favors by editing posts that you did not write. You are as bad as the lame stream media when you do that.

  24. Hey Slimetree, middle class kids understand a good kick in the ass just as well as the so called under privileged kids in school. Who in the above comments was making an exception for Biff and Buffy? And the phrase under privileged is code for undertaxed. Or not taxed at all, and getting money back that they never payed in.

    And yes, I am angry. We have let this go on for too long. Amazing how everyone is suddenly now so butthurt that this is happening. And I am getting real tired of providing funding for these little brats whose parent don’t pay a damn dime towards their education.

    I have seen it going on for 20 years or so. And it is getting real old.

    Just to give a little background. Third oldest in a family of 8 children. Dad sole provider. Mom stay at home mom. Good life, no hunger, Christmas was something to look forward to. Dad came home EVERY day at 4:45PM. Loved like a child should be. So don’t tell me it cannot happen even in todays environment.

    Dickhead groups like NOW and Planned Parenthood have said that if can’t happen. Athiests that say God cannot be a factor in your life. Abortion gone rampant. Millions of babies dead every year. Erosion of family values.

    And now you wonder why the kids in this world don’t behave and respect authority.

    I don’t pity you, I despise you.

  25. theBuckWheat says:

    Do the math. Cost per student per year * 12 years DIVIDED by the percent who are competent at grade level upon graduation. Result for DC schools? It costs over ONE MILLION DOLLARS to graduate a single competent student.

    The public school model is badly broken and no amount of money will fix it. What we need is a new model for education, the will to experiment with various voucher and private education schemes in an attempt to find the best direction of reform, and the will to move towards a solution that benefits the students, no matter how many educrats and union officials complain about it.

  26. Richard Aubrey says:

    Interesting that the implication is that the “good” administration is one which can control the kids who cannot be controlled by an ordinary administration.
    We need better keepers, is the conclusion.
    That’s a sorry situation.

  27. No Excuses,
    You make a good point. I’m all for authoritarian administration of schools (though not of government). I do think this would help the situation a lot. But a lot of kids would still rebel and get bounced, have kids, etc. It’ll take generations to get this group to “play school”.

  28. I currently have a student who was transferred to community day school last year, and decided to come back this year.

    He currently has 15 days of suspension (not counting class suspensions and on-campus suspension, and he has those too), 31 absences (and he enrolled late) and has been caught three times this year with drugs on campus. He is failing all seven classes, and in my class turned in no assignments the whole semester.

    His expulsion was kicked back. His Mom refuses to send him back to community day school. So on those days he decides to attend, I and my students are graced with him again next semester.

  29. Easy-peasy!! Simply DOUBLE the salary of all black teachers and ALL will be OK!!

  30. It’s good that we’re all angry about this – because anger leads to change, which is what these kids so desperately need. These kids need a change in administration, how they are taught and the low expectations that society places on them. Human beings naturally will rise to whatever expectation you put in front of them. Raise the bar – both of the students (behaviorally and academically) AND of the parents. I taught in DC public schools my first two years out of college and I can tell you that I rarely had a discipline problem and my students came out at the top of their classes. I was tough, no-nonsense and respected them while expecting them at all times to do the same. If they didn’t, the consequences from me would be much worse than the administration or their parents would give. A healthy dose of fear and respect can’t hurt when teaching students. Nothing brutal – just a shared and EARNED respect. Acknowledging their situation and then telling them “so what? You’re better than the cards you’re dealt” works wonders.

    My only fear in this conversation is that the anger that is being portrayed here won’t go anywhere. It’s no good to sit here and vent on a blog and then not work toward becoming a change agent. Yelling and posting angry comments online is easy. Working to make that anger into a changed situation is hard, but THAT is the one thing these kids at Dunbar and elsewhere need. That’s a dedicated education system that is willing to be the “tough guy” in these student’s lives. And not just suspensions and the like. Give them a reason to get invested in education and they will be.

  31. The government runs a virtual monopoly in education, with entirely predicable results. Failure in government is never anybody’s fault. Nobody ever gets fired. Michelle Rhee may or may not have had good ideas, but we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ideas she rejected–those to which D.C. schools have returned–do NOT work.

    So, by all means, let’s spend even more money, hire even more bureaucrats and administrators, and elevate the prerogatives of the unions. Because it’s all about the adults.

  32. Richard Aubrey says:

    Susan Riley.
    Would you be so kind to explain what consequences you used on misbehaving kids?
    Unless the statute of limitations has not yet run for child abuse and assault and things like that.
    In which case, I suppose, being vague is best.

  33. Of course I wouldn’t abuse a child – obviously. Those are the kind of statements that I was referring to on this blog post that are non-productive and stupid. But I suppose you are not the change agents we are seeking for our schools. What I meant was that if there were behavior issues in my classroom, I had built up enough respect and trust with those students that when it got to the point where I had to yell, call home or otherwise hand out a punishment, it ALWAYS felt far worse coming from me than coming from administration or home because they had built up a relationship with me as their teacher. Kids would tell me time and again they would rather I sent them to the office because they “didn’t care” about what happened up there. But if I was the one personally punishing them, they felt terrible.

  34. Richard Aubrey says:

    Susan Riley
    I did some teaching here and there. I liked it when I had sergeants to manage classroom control. I taught in a remediation setting in MS in the Sixties at Rust College. No behavior problems there, of course. And some professional courses. None in public school.
    However, it happens that almost all of my female relatives, from mother to daughter, daughters-in-law, my son’s mother-in-law, my wife, are or were public school teachers.
    Good schools, bad schools, good classes, bad classes. Endless talk about the matter of classroom management for, in the case of my wife, some decades.
    Hence my scepticism.
    But, having been labeled not one of the desired change agents, I must go and sit among the ashes.

  35. Haha! Point well taken, Richard! I understand the skepticism, but I’m so passionate about the children I teach, I become defensive when people label a strong stance on classroom management as “abusive”. Kudos to you and your family for making education a priority in your lives. It is not a field for the weak of heart.

  36. Michael E. Lopez says:

    The ability to remove disruptive, or even unmotivated kids from the classroom is really what’s missing.

    The mere presence of a credible removal threat would be enough to deter most offenders and light a fire under the unmotivated.

    The fact that there is no credible threat merely encourages those who would otherwise behave and be engaged to not care.

    Teenagers, and even tweens, are very practical creatures in the short-term.

  37. Be as angry as you like, but all that anger does nothing but give you ulcers and tension headaches.

    You can’t deny a free and appropriate public education without just cause. The Supreme Court has ruled on this, and that makes it law. A child choosing not to learn isn’t a legitimate cause for such denial. You can argue all you like that the representatives of the people can alter this reality, but they won’t. Kicking kids out of school isn’t a winning political move, regardless of party affiliation. “Banishment from society” is a preposterous suggestion that isn’t really worth a response. Regardless, the problem students aren’t going anywhere.

    A kick in the ass will work for a reasonable student who is not a slave to impulse. For the other 85%, it won’t be effective without additional supports. Guess what? Education doesn’t have these supports, nor will they get them. Here’s why.

    A kick in the ass from school only works with parental support. While most parents are supportive, it’s a gamble. Some litigious folks are looking for opportunities to score a financial settlement as an alternative to work. They will seek any avenue that presents itself, including schools. Because a school can’t know which parents will be supportive and which will sue, they must err on the side of caution in every single case. Taxpayers won’t tolerate education funding going to strings of lawyers, nor should they.

    A kick in the ass from parents only works when a kid loves his parents or doesn’t understand the role of family services. In alleged cases of parental abuse, the child is always afforded the benefit of the doubt. As such, parents fear disciplining their children.

    Even absent such fears, a kick in the ass from parents only works when mom and/or dad are around to follow through on the threats. But mom and dad aren’t around. And this isn’t their fault, despite your indictments to the contrary.

    The single-earner middle class household no longer exists in the United States. It hasn’t existed for decades. The median household income in the US is almost $50k/year. A family of ten cannot live as in a post described here unless both parents are working or the breadwinner is in a lucrative career making over $100k/year. Mine is a family of two (one parent, one child) with a household income just above the national median. We are living healthy, but we are definitely not well off.

    If both parents are busting their asses to pay the mortgage, who is communicating with the school? Who is checking on truancy and test scores? A single parent has it much worse, as she’s probably working at least two jobs just to pay the bills. In such cases, parental support is provided in terms of food and housing. Homework and classroom behavior are way down on the priority list. Besides, aren’t the master’s educated teachers trained to handle kids?

    A healthy respect comes from trust. Trust comes from the belief that others (1) care about you and (2) are competent in their roles. Scaring kids was an option in the past to coerce compliance. Kids today are savvy enough to know it’s all bark and no bite. This means you have to rethink your methods. If fear is no longer an option, it’s either trust or the old dangling carrot. Which is preferable?

    Talk about family values and abortion and behavior control are all well and good. And if this were “Leave It to Beaver” or your own personal dictatorship, you’d be all set. The trouble is you have 400 million other citizens whose opinions don’t all align with yours, and each of them also get a vote.

    What’s often forgotten in all the “fix it” hollering is that we’re just howling at the moon. No amount of griping is going to change the culture, particularly for those whose basic needs go wanting (Maslow, anyone?). No amount of democratic legislation is going to return society to one based on the family values of yesteryear. So, that being sad, how do we fix it with what we have today? Because that’s all we have.

  38. Richard Aubrey says:

    Susan Riley.
    You misunderstand me. I am sceptical of the story.

  39. Bocomoj is correct. A student’s refusal to participate in his education doesn’t abrogate the school’s responsibility.

    That’s what has to change and until it does, all of this is going nowhere. Susan’s post is a joke–and I, like Richard, very much doubt that she had the type of students at Dunbar. If she ran a tight ship and the students responded, then she didn’t have the population under discussion here.

  40. Actually, in Plyler vs Texas (1982), the USSC said that all persons under 18 had the right to an education, but with all rights, it is not absolute. It’s a fallacy to assume that kids actually want to be in school (which has become more like taxpayer subsidized day care – compulsory attendance, rather than actual education).

    I remember the way schools used to be, if a kid didn’t want to be there, the school didn’t waste their time trying to track them down, they just let them drop out (today, districts get $$$ for every person enrolled by a certain date, so they want to make sure they’re enrolled, even if they don’t learn anything).


  41. Wow, Cal. There’s so much cynicism running out of your post, I hope you are not a person who is charged with being a teacher. The story is, in fact, true – what would be the purpose of lying here? Sorry that you feel it is a “joke”, but the kids I taught were kids from poverty, single-family homes and much more. You’re certainly selling them short if you think my experience isn’t indicative of the possibilities that we have with these kids. I’m certainly not making this out to be an easy task – it doesn’t smell like roses in the DC public schools. But you and Richard are making this out to be impossible which I can guarantee you it is not.

  42. Thanks, also, to you both for giving me my new topic to write about over on my blog. I appreciate it!

  43. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Do we get to find out what your blog is?

  44. but the kids I taught were kids from poverty, single-family homes and much more.

    So are mine. So what?

    I’am saying either a) you had very different students or b) you aren’t telling the truth. It’s probably a. The joke is not that you are lying, but that you believe that teachers just like you are all it takes to turn things around at a place like Dunbar.

  45. Roger Sweeny says:


    I’m not sure Plyler was actually that broad. It said that Texas could not discriminate against alien children when providing (primary and secondary) education but I don’t think it announced any “right to education.”

    Of course, it may be convenient for various politicians and bureaucrats to interpret it differently.

  46. It is possible to lower the mandatory schooling age, however. DCPS , and Dunbar, might look very different if the age was dropped to 14.

  47. Michael: Sure – my blog is http://www.educationcloset.com Cal: Obviously, you misunderstand my original post. I don’t expect every teacher to be like me. Certainly, we want teachers far better than me with these kids. I do expect, though, that every teacher puts forth an effort into every child regardless of circumstance. I expect that every teacher walk into a classroom at Dunbar or any other school with the initial thought of making a difference in a positive way every single day. Are you going to be disappointed and frustrated and feel like you’re banging your head against the wall? Sure. But you get up again and come back to it with the understanding that you’re there to be the positive change and example. Michael Fullen’s article “Why Teachers Must be the Change Agents” does a great job of addressing that. I don’t expect one teacher to be the answer to these kids’ problems – there are too many other factors at play. But I do believe, wholeheartedly, that a teacher can set the tone and provide the intrinsic desire to succeed and achieve that these kids so desperately need.

  48. Michael E. Lopez says:

    What momof4 suggested would definitely be a start. The fact is that 14-year olds, as stupid and inexperienced as they are by nature, are competent to make decisions, even ill-informed decisions, about what they want to do. It does no one any favors to treat them the same as 8-year olds and force them to sit at desks, not leave campus, etc.

    * * * *

    Also, apropos of the legal discussion percolating between Bill and Roger… my understanding (and my legal specialty is not education) is that right-to-education cases are entirely at the state level. The federal cases deal with denial of educational benefits for impermissible reasons such as race, nationality, sex, religion, etc. It’s part of the whole “enumerated powers” thing that is still hanging on by a thread.

    At the state level, most of the cases have been about funding: the state has to offer a certain level of educational funding to meet its (state) constitutional responsibilities to provide public schooling. My understanding is that the “property” right line of argument comes into play precisely because of the “compulsory” statues. If the state is going to mandate attendance, the state has to provide schooling. Otherwise you’re criminalizing people for not being able to afford private schools. There have been some instances where states have simply guaranteed an education as well, thus creating an actionable property right.

    Because it’s a property right, it falls under the 14th amendment due process clause: you can’t take it away without due process. That’s what the Goss case stood for; the students deserved hearings and procedures and all that before they could be suspended for 10 days. (The 4th Circuit has, I believe, effectively limited Goss in some respects, at least with respect to the IDEA, but that’s getting into arcana that’sbeyond my knowledge without diligent research.)

    Anyway, the long and short of it is that it would be up to the states to modify their created property rights by amending the state constitutions to allow the property right in question to be subject to certain limitations or qualifications. Those limitations and qualifications would have to accord with federal due process law. Because you know if a state decided to qualify its education laws by, say, excluding a child over 14 who had been convicted of three juvenile offenses from attending mainstream public schools, there would be a rash of lawsuits claiming, inter alia, racial discrimination and so forth. And because the federal judiciary is often willing to have the Constitution say whatever it decides is good (please show me where the “penumbra” is in the Constitution…) such limitations are going to have a hard go of it.

    Alternatively, the states could scrap their property rights entirely and that would effectively be the end of it because, as of right now, there is no federal right to education, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Not even in Texas or Idaho.

    And even if states DID do that, I can more or less guarantee that the federal judiciary would find a federal right to education somewhere. Probably in the treaties clause somewhere, linking to the UN Declaration of Rights or somesuch.

  49. Richard Aubrey says:

    Susan Riley.
    As to my family supporting public education: My granddaughter and her five cousins are all going to some kind–varies by age–of Christian school.

  50. Susan–you still don’t get it. I don’t believe you when you say that you taught the same type of kids that are at Dunbar and with tough love and strict standards won them over. It’s not that I don’t think other teachers aren’t like you, or that you aren’t a perfectly adequate or better teacher. I’m saying that you could not have controlled kids like those at Dunbar simply by the methods you describe.

    But the most likely reason for this dispute is that you’re simply ignorant of what the difference is between your kids and those at Dunbar, so you delude yourself into thinking that you had those kind of kids.

    Every bit of your post is besides that point, so not worth responding to.

    As to Momof4’s solution, anyone seriously want a bunch of 14 year olds on the street?

  51. So, Cal, I guess my question to you is – do you or have you taught at Dunbar? Or in DCPS? What makes you the expert on knowing who these kids “are”? Please – tell us about your experience with these types students that you so strongly feel I have not had the pleasure to teach. I would love to learn.

  52. Roger,

    In review Plyler, it would appear your analysis is correct, but like all things, the states and districts have taken it to such extreme levels that it is now impossible to deny education (unless said student is expelled or incarcerated).

    However, like many things, this is ripe for abuse as well. The Buckley Amendment (also known as FERPA) has been so convoluted as to protect the right of privacy, even when a student has been arrested for violent criminal act (and according to the author, this was not what the amendment was designed to do), it was designed to protect the academic records (grades) of enrolled students, not put a privacy block around disciplinary actions taken against a student.

  53. What makes you the expert on knowing who these kids “are”?

    No one has to be an expert to know that kids in a school where other kids are roaming the halls , are violent, are completely out of control, aren’t going to come back under control just because the teacher did the (totally normal) things you did.

    You probably had tough kids. As do I. So what? Your story of how your years worked (and you a new teacher, no less) makes it clear that you are either lying, or the kids weren’t terribly tough. Your story certainly has nothing to do with the type of kids at Dunbar.

  54. Roger Sweeny says:

    1. Some state constitutions have provisions like, “All children shall have the right to a free and equal education.” Judges may then interpret these statements in ways that are counter-productive. Most state constitutions are considerably easier to amend than the federal Constitution.

    2. The Buckley Amendment is just a law. It can be changed by a majority in the House and Senate and signature by the president. If the Republicans want to show they are serious about education, they could push for legislation to change it. Ditto the Democrats and the president.

  55. Ah, Cal. So you don’t teach at Dunbar or DCPS, you won’t describe your own experiences and merely blovate based upon opinions which are not validated with any true facts. To be clear, I am not a new teacher – I simply was a new teacher when I worked with those kids. The story is true and has given me a real perspective when working with challenging students in any district (of which I’ve worked in 3). You are obviously just interested in yelling an opinion which has no backing and attacking people who are sharing that something positive can occur. I make no pretense that I ever worked at Dunbar, but I have worked with students that are in that district and in a school with similar problems. Choose to believe what you will, but please don’t attack my integrity with unsubstantiated opines.

  56. Cal,

    The only thing I have to add here is that your attacks on Susan Riley based on nothing more than a set of unproven assumptions is dishonorable and disgusting. You owe her an apology.

  57. Michael: Sure – my blog is http://www.educationcloset.com Cal: Obviously, you misunderstand my original post. I don’t expect every teacher to be like me. Certainly, we want teachers far better than me with these kids. I do expect, though, that every teacher puts forth an effort into every child regardless of circumstance. I expect that every teacher walk into a classroom at Dunbar or any other school with the initial thought of making a difference in a positive way every single day. Are you going to be disappointed and frustrated and feel like you’re banging your head against the wall? Sure. But you get up again and come back to it with the understanding that you’re there to be the positive change and example. Michael Fullen’s article “Why Teachers Must be the Change Agents” does a great job of addressing that. I don’t expect one teacher to be the answer to these kids’ problems – there are too many other factors at play. But I do believe, wholeheartedly, that a teacher can set the tone and provide the intrinsic desire to succeed and achieve that these kids so desperately need.

  58. Oh, good lord. I wasn’t “attacking” her. Disbelief isn’t an attack. I challenged her credibility. I am unconcerned with her comfort or her feelings–and yours, not at all.


    Like it or not, you’re just pixels on a screen. When you come on and say that you taught kids just like those at Dunbar as a new teacher and were wildly successful merely by being firm, you are posting unsupported assertions, and the only basis for belief is the credibility of said assertions and the general quality of your post. You failed on all points, in my view. I said so. If you don’t like how that feels, become more credible.

    By the way, it’s “bloviate”. And “opines” is not an erudite substute for “opinion”. It’s a verb. Find a dictionary.

    As for your integrity, you want to learn that that no one owes you either belief or respect. If this makes you unhappy, perhaps you should stick to your blog, where you can delete any challenges to your opining (gerund, correct usage).

  59. Anyone else want to bring back apprenticeships?

  60. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Umm… Cal? Look – I’m on your side here. I don’t believe her, either.

    But if you’re going to nitpick someone’s grammar, you have to proofread. She might “want of learning”, and it might be the case that she “ought to learn”, but it’s presumptuous in the extreme to tell her what she “wants to learn,” and I doubt that’s what you wanted to tell her anyway.

  61. You are so full of it, Cal. You attacked Susan’s credibility based on nothing but your own petty and unsubstantiated disbelief. Then, when called on it, you lash out in a condescending and incoherent new series of attacks. You asked her to become more credible about what she has done in her career. How? You want her to have her ex-students write on this message board? Have her principal write in support? You wanted to be a tough guy, Cal, and then you got called on it by several people, and apparently you weren’t not brought up to apologize when in the wrong. Grow up.

  62. You are right about one thing, Cal. Nobody automatically just gets respect. You have to earn it. You have definitely failed to earn mine based just upon your writing here. Is this how you conduct yourself in face to face encounters? Goodness, I hope not.

  63. Michael E. Lopez says:

    In Cal’s defense, Swede, you’re grossly misrepresenting what she said. She said that the content of Susan’s assertions alone were reason enough to doubt Susan’s credibility, and that absent some sort of assertion that the types of students taught by Susan were reasonable proxies for the type of students at Dunbar, it would be difficult to take Susan’s assertions at face value. Indeed, even if Susan were to make such an assertion, it would be difficult to believe.

    It’s as if I posted something about having seen a unicorn or a fairy once. The fact that I have a doctorate in unicornology would probably not persuade you all that I had, in fact, seen a unicorn. It just doesn’t seem realistic on its face.

    Could Cal have been more diplomatic? Well, sure. But it’s an internet discussion board. Heat and kitchens and all that. Susan’s a smart, articulate person with a blog of her own. She knows how it goes.

  64. Michael,

    i just don’t like how the de facto position is one of disbelief. Why would susan lie? What is the win for her? Just calling somebody out for no reason makes no sense and is poor manners, no matter where you are. That needs to be called more and more if we want to keep a civil society.

  65. Swede, I appreciate your sticking up for civility here. However, I decided after my last post that no matter how much you try, you’ll never convince some people. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs and if they choose not to believe my story that’s fine. I know what happened, how my students’ lives were impacted and how it effected my teaching. That’s all that truly matters. Time to let this one go.

  66. Michael E. Lopez says:


    I think you mean to say “default” instead of “de facto”, so I’m going to respond as if that’s what you meant.

    And I’m not sure it really is a default position. If you’ve the stomach for a very very very long post, let’s take another look at what SR said, the post that started the ball rolling on this, as it were, and let me see if I can explain why I think the way I do about what’s been going on in this discussion thread:

    Susan Riley saith:
    I taught in DC public schools my first two years out of college and I can tell you that I rarely had a discipline problem and my students came out at the top of their classes. I was tough, no-nonsense and respected them while expecting them at all times to do the same. If they didn’t, the consequences from me would be much worse than the administration or their parents would give. A healthy dose of fear and respect can’t hurt when teaching students. Nothing brutal – just a shared and EARNED respect. Acknowledging their situation and then telling them “so what? You’re better than the cards you’re dealt” works wonders.

    This was later elaborated upon to make it clear that no physical force was used, but only a mixture of trust and respect tinged with a healthy dollop of guilt.

    The question that appears to be under discussion to mine eyes (and part of the problem may be that we’re all talking past each other) is whether Susan Riley’s proclaimed methods — apparently striking the perfect balance of… well, just about everything — would work in an environment such as the one described in the article about Dunbar. “D.C. Public schools” can mean a lot of things, after all, and I’d be a fool if I thought that there was one teaching method to rule them all, one teaching method to find them, one teaching method to learn them all and in the classroom bind them. You have to adjust to your audience.

    Now Susan’s methods sound to me like methods that I have seen work REALLY well with unmotivated students distracted by out of school issues. You focus their attention and let them know that they have to be the ones to invest themselves in their education. It’s a good way to do things and I generally approve. It even works with spoiled rich kids who *think* that they’re in a terrible spot.

    The question raised by Cal is whether the approach would work with defiant, dangerous students: students that are, to quote the post title, “Out of Control.” Here’s Susan’s response to Cal’s disbelief:

    The story is, in fact, true – what would be the purpose of lying here? Sorry that you feel it is a “joke”, but the kids I taught were kids from poverty, single-family homes and much more.

    Now, that’s a rather vague response, and a far cry from saying that she took battle-hardened gangsters and turned them into poets, which given the context is a reasonable way of interpreting her first post. LOTS of kids are from low-income single-family (let’s assume that she meant single-parent) homes, and it’s silly to say that those are all the worst of the worst. I have no idea what “much more” means.

    In subsequent discussion, Susan continued to dodge the issue that Cal was raising directly: the sorts of students that she won over with her perfect methods and the applicability of those methods to a population like Dunbar’s.

    When we talk about disbelief being the default position, we need to keep our eye on what’s being disbelieved here. What’s being disbelieved by Cal and I is the implication in Susan’s first post: that trust and respect will win the day at a warzone like Dunbar, or the implication that she taught at a warzone like Dunbar and prevailed with her methods.

    Interestingly, Susan since seems to have pulled off that position: she later said that teachers can make a difference and that they need to show up and be wonderful and all that. Change agents, blah blah blah. But that’s pretty vanilla stuff, and it’s not at all what seemed to be implied in the first post.

    Additionally, while she’s said that Cal misunderstood her first post, Susan hasn’t really explained how we are supposed to interpret it. Admittedly, she sort of hinted at it when she said:

    I expect that every teacher walk into a classroom at Dunbar or any other school with the initial thought of making a difference in a positive way every single day. Are you going to be disappointed and frustrated and feel like you’re banging your head against the wall? Sure. But you get up again and come back to it with the understanding that you’re there to be the positive change and example.

    But that’s a strange way of reading an anecdote that is primarily about the trust, respect, and guilt school of tough educational love prevailing against the odds. And again, it’s pretty vanilla.

    Here’s what I think happened: Susan overgeneralized from her own experiences because she doesn’t really understand what a warzone a school like Dunbar can really be; Cal caught her on it and was a little rude; Susan backtracked into platitudes about making a difference, and Cal wouldn’t take her non-surrender-surrender as a valid cease-fire, and things just escalated from there.

    Susan could clear all this up by simply saying “Yes, the students in my school were as bad as the students at Dunbar” in which case Cal and I would probably still have some nagging doubts or “No, they weren’t, but I maintain hope that the general approach informing my teaching methodology has universal application” in which case Cal and I would be correct in having disbelieved. But she hasn’t done that. She’s evaded the factual issue that Cal was focusing on and has allowed her original implication to stand unretracted.

    Now it could also be that we’re just inferring from her original post, and that she doesn’t even realize how it came across, but I think the inference is perfectly justified and reasonable: she sounds like she thinks she knows best what to do about the Dunbar situation, and it frankly comes across more or less like Cal said it does, though she (Cal) could have been a lot nicer about it. She (Susan) even later said “I don’t expect every teacher to be like me” — which was one of the most arrogant-sounding things I’ve read on this blog in a long time (and I read all my own comments so that’s saying something). Maybe Susan really is clueless how her postings sound to people; I’ve not spent enough time at her blog to get a feeling for her writing yet.

    Anyway, this is why I choose to disbelieve, at least for now. It’s not a default position; it’s my careful consideration of the contents of this discussion and my judgment thereon. SO Swede, I hope that even if you don’t agree, you at least understand why I think what I think in this instance.

    I also want to say that while Susan seems to have taken this discussion badly (see her recent post on her blog) I think this is a perfectly wonderful way to have a conversation. The problem isn’t a lack of civility, I think, so much as a lack of clarity. I like both Susan and Cal’s posts, even the parts I disagree with, and I hope that this little dust-up doesn’t spoil things around here.

    Of course, it’s Joanne’s blog so she’ll be the ultimate arbiter of what’s appropriate and not, and what spoileth what she hath wrought here.

    PS – I knew a Suzie Riley once, so I found myself calling Susan “Suzie” throughout this post. I think I fixed them all, but if I accidentally used the diminutive, I apologize to Susan wholeheartedly.


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