More learning leads to less violence

Philadelphia schools cut teachers and counselors, but not security guards. Photo: Matt Rourke, AP

Raising test scores may be the best way to prevent school violence, according to a new California study, reports Hechinger’s Jill Barshay. Safety doesn’t come first, the study found.

Schools that reduced violence and improved school climate tended not to produce academic gains afterwards. Instead, the researchers found, schools that first raised academic performance usually got large reductions in school violence. School climate indicators, such as whether students feel safe, also improved in schools that first increased test scores.

Surveys of students in middle and high school were compared with school test scores over a six-year period. Researchers were surprised to see that “academic gains preceded school safety and climate improvements,” writes Barshay.

“The best violence prevention is a school that works very hard to improve academics,” said Ron Avi Astor, a USC professor and co-author. “The school climate and school bullying researchers should continue their work, but, for intervention strategies, if they tie in with the school reform movement on academics, they will get a bigger bang for their buck.”

Obama: Open restroom doors to trans kids

Transgender students have a civil right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex, the Obama administration declared today in a “guidance” to schools.

Earlier this week, the Department of Justice sued North Carolina over its “bathroom law” requiring people to use the public bathroom that “corresponds to the sex on their birth certificates,” notes NPR.

Under federal law, Title IX, schools that receive federal funding are not allowed to discriminate against students on the basis of sex. The guidance going out to school districts on Friday makes it clear that as far as the departments of Justice and Education are concerned, that word “sex” includes gender identity.

The administration is threatening to deny federal funds to school districts that don’t comply.

This is bureaucratic overreach, writes Hans Bader, who worked in the Education Department’s Civil Rights Office years ago. “Title IX does not mandate national central planning for bathrooms.”

Telling transgender students to use a private restroom, instead of the one that matches their gender identity, is not OK, according to the guidelines.  If there’s a “girls’ room” — or a “girls’ locker room — then students who see themselves as girls have a civil right to use it, the Education Department says.

Letting transgender students use girls’ restrooms, which have private stalls, is not the real problem, I think. (I’ll let males comment on letting a transgender male use the boys’ room.)

Transgender Boy

It’s locker rooms. I just can’t see requiring girls to undress and shower with a biological male. I took four years of P.E. in high school (by Illinois state law): I remember how embarrassed girls were to get naked in front of other girls. Don’t non-transgender students have privacy rights? Justice Ruth Ginsberg thinks they do.

While I don’t fear transgender students will molest classmates, I do worry that creepy “cis” guys will see an opportunity to invade locker rooms.

In college dorms, transgender students would have a right “to access housing consistent with their gender identity.” So, your daughter could share a room with a biological male who identifies as female, while your son could be undressing in front of a biological female who identifies as male.

I think many middle-of-the-road voters will share those qualms, question whether shared locker rooms and dorm rooms are a civil right and resent being called bigots.

Donald Trump said states should decide and pointed out, accurately, that transgender people are a “tiny, tiny” percentage of the population.

I haven’t seen a comment from Hillary Clinton yet today on the new guidelines. If I were her, I’d be nervous.

College for ‘justice-involved’ (criminal) students

Don’t ask college applicants if they have a criminal record, advises the U.S. Department of Education in Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals.

“We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a speech at UCLA, which doesn’t screen applicants for a criminal record. “The college admissions process . . . should serve as a gateway to unlocking untapped potential of students,” he said. That includes “those involved with the criminal justice system.”

Applicants for federal jobs aren’t asked about a criminal record in the initial screening and the Obama administration is pressuring employers to “ban the box.”


“There are better ways to ensure campus safety than stigmatizing those who are trying to better their lives through higher education,” University of California President Janet Napolitano said.

“Campus safety is absolutely paramount in this process,” declares a Department of Education press release. Campuses that screen for criminal justice history don’t seem to be any safer than those that don’t, according to the DoE, but there’s little research on the issue.

When college applicants have to admit and explain their criminal record, many just give up, according to Beyond the Box.  A study found 62.5 percent of State University of New York applicants who checked the box for a prior felony conviction never completed their applications, compared with 21 percent of applicants with no criminal history.

The report recommends “delaying the request for – or consideration of – criminal justice involvement until after an admission decision has been made to avoid a chilling effect on potential applicants whose backgrounds may ultimately be deemed irrelevant.”

In addition, the report calls for offering counseling, peer mentors, college coaches, jobs and support groups for “justice-involved students.”

Last July, the Education Department announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program to test new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue a postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around. In November, the Department also announced up to $8 million in Adult Reentry Education Grants to support educational attainment and reentry success for individuals who have been incarcerated.

The Common App, used by more than 600 colleges, asks about misdemeanor or felony convictions, but no longer will ask about other crimes.

“Ban the box” campaigners cite racial disparities in arrest rates and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” writes Juleyka Lantigua-Williams in The Atlantic.

“Students of color are the most likely to be harmed by putting these questions on the application,” said Natalie Sokoloff, professor emerita of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Most students with criminal records go to community colleges and other open-admissions public schools, she found.

I doubt that would change significantly if applications to selective universities were more welcoming. Most “justice-involved youth” are not on the honor roll. Adults coming out of prison, who may pose a danger to classmates, aren’t likely to be qualified for selective universities.

Feds: Schools are safer

Schools are getting safer according to a new federal report. Violence, bullying and sexual harassment has declined, the survey found.

About 3 percent of students ages 12 to 18 said they were victims of crimes at school in 2014.schoolviolencephoto

“On college campuses, the number of sexual attacks more than doubled from 2001 to 2013,” reports CBS News. “There’s really no way to say whether those increases reflect an increase in actual forcible sex crimes or just that more people are coming forward and reporting them,” said Lauren Musu-Gillette, an author of the report.

I’d guess it’s an increase in reporting and a much broader definition of sexual assault.

Ken Trump of the National School Safety and Security Services thinks the numbers are fuzzy. “Federal and state stats underestimate the extent of school crime, public perception tends to overstate it and reality is somewhere in between,” he said in a presentation to the Education Writers Association national conference in Boston.

Big districts hire more cops than counselors

School security officers outnumber counselors in some of the nation’s largest school districts, including New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County and Houston, reports Matt Barnum for The 74.

Some cities, such as New York City, hire high numbers of both security staff and counselors, the analysis found.

Others, such as  Houston and Los Angeles, don’t have many guards or counselors. Both school districts have their own police force.

Most school security officers have little training in dealing with troubled and special-needs students, reports The 74.

St. Paul seeks equity, finds chaos

Brawls broke out at two St. Paul high schools in October. Photo: KSTP News

Some St. Paul public schools are unsafe for students and teachers, writes Katherine Kersten, a senior policy fellow at the Center for the American Experiment, in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

A Central High teacher was “choked and body-slammed by a student and hospitalized with a traumatic brain injury,” while another teacher was knocked down and suffered a concussion while trying to stop a fight between fifth-grade girls. There have been six high school riots or brawls this school year.

Hoping to close the racial suspension gap, the district has spent millions of dollars on “white privilege” and “cultural competency” training for teachers and “positive behavior” training, an anti-suspension behavior modification program, writes Kersten.

Aaron Benner

Student behavior is getting worse, says teacher Aaron Benner.

When that didn’t work, “they lowered behavior standards and, in many cases, essentially abandoned meaningful penalties,” she writes. Students can’t be suspended for “continual willful disobedience” any more. Often, students “chat briefly with a ‘behavior specialist’ or are simply moved to another classroom or school where they are likely to misbehave again.”

Behavior has gotten worse, wrote Aaron Benner, a veteran elementary teacher, in the Pioneer Press. “On a daily basis, I saw students cussing at their teachers, running out of class, yelling and screaming in the halls, and fighting.”

Teachers say they’re afraid, writes Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario. He quotes a letter from an anonymous teacher, who says teacher are told there are no alternative placements for violent or disruptive K-8 students.

(Teachers) have no way to discipline. If a child is running around screaming, we let them run around and scream. If a student throws a chair at the Smart Board we remove the other students and call for help. If a student shouts obscenities, we simply use kind words to remind them to use kind words themselves. I am not kidding.

. . . The only consequence at the elementary level is taking away recess or sending the offending student to a ‘buddy classroom’ for a few minutes.

At this teacher’s high-poverty, highly diverse school, “I have many students in my class who are very respectful, work hard and care about doing well in school,” the teacher writes. “The disruptive, violent children are ruining the education of these fantastic, deserving children.”

Theo Olson, a special education teacher, was put on leave after complaining about the discipline policy.

Theo Olson, a special education teacher, was put on leave after complaining about the discipline policy.

On March 9, a veteran high school teacher was suspended for social media posts complaining about the discipline policy, when Black Lives Matter activists charged him with racism.

Theo Olson, a special education teacher at Como Park High, wrote that teachers “now have no backup, no functional location to send kids who won’t quit gaming, setting up fights, selling drugs, whoring trains, or cyber bullying, we’re screwed, just designing our own classroom rules.”

He did not mention race.

Black Lives Matter had threatened a “shut-down action” at the school if Olson was not fired.

The same day Olson was put on leave, another Como Park teacher was attacked by two students, suffering a concussion. “The two entered the classroom to assault another student over a marijuana transaction gone bad,” an associate principal told the Star-Tribune.  Two 16-year-olds face felony assault charges.

For the kid with a BB gun, expulsion or mercy?

When a student brought a BB gun to school in a tough Chicago neighborhood, his principal expelled him. A few years later, Nancy Hanks encountered him in an elevator, she recalled in a speech last month in Washington at the 25th anniversary summit for Teach for America.

She was afraid: Had she put him in the school-to-prison pipeline?

That meeting changed Hanks’ approach to discipline, reports Emma Brown in the Washington Post.

Nancy Hanks

Nancy Hanks

Now an administrator in Madison, Wisconsin, she’s “played a key role in revamping district-wide discipline policies, replacing the old zero-tolerance approach with an approach built on the conviction that suspension and expulsion don’t solve problems at the root of student misbehavior.”

“You and I, intelligent, well-intentioned warriors of equity — we contribute to the pipeline,” Hanks said in her speech.

She didn’t expel the boy with the BB gun because she thought he’d use it, she said.

BB guns don't look like toys.

BB guns look like guns.

“I was angry because I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school.”

As it turned out, her former student said he was earning good grades at Phoenix Military Academy, a public high school, and seeking help to prepare for the ACT.

“I was selfishly relieved that despite my lack of compassion and understanding, or patience or mercy, that he seemed to be thriving — and that, by the grace of God, he hadn’t wound up in the juvenile justice system,” Hanks said. “I prayed for forgiveness for that time and any other time I betrayed the privilege given to me to be a steward and protector over the children I serve.”

If you check out the comments, most people think being a steward and protector includes looking out for the kids who want to attend a safe, BB gun-free school.

How to create safe, welcoming schools

Creating safe, supportive schools is the theme of the new American Educator, the American Federation of Teachers’ magazine.

American Educator Winter 2015-2016

Russell J. Skiba and Daniel J. Losen write about the failure of zero-tolerance policies and “research-based alternatives focused on social-emotional learning.”

In New Haven, Conn., educators are being trained in restorative practices to improve school climates and avoid suspension.

Other stories offer advise on how educators can head off disruptive behavior and build relationships with difficult students.

Terror threat closes all Los Angeles schools

Los Angeles Unified closed all its schools today after receiving a threat. The second largest school district in the United States has told 643,000 students to stay home to allow time for a full search of more than 1,200 schools.

I predict nothing will be found. And there will be more threats. What superintendent wants to gamble on students’ safety?

New York schools received a similar threat — apparently from overseas — and dismissed it as a hoax. Which it was. But the San Bernardino shootings have made people nervous in southern California.


Louisville teachers quit, citing disruption

Disruptive students and unsupportive administrators are driving Louisville teachers to quit, reports Toni Konz of WDRB News.

It’s even a problem at elementary schools, according to a survey by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Since the start of the 2015-16 school year, 72 Jefferson County Public Schools teachers have quit.

Lucretia Gue, a first-grade teacher at Frayser Elementary, was in her fourth year as a full-time teacher. She’d worked as a substitute for 15 years before that. She resigned on Nov. 3.

“I have kids who are verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing other students, teachers and staff on a daily basis,” she said. “I am being prevented from doing my job as a teacher more often than not by students engaging in disruptive behavior, and I am not getting any support.”

Each school has a Student Response Team (SRT) that is supposed to help teachers deal with serious student misbehavior, reports Konz. Teachers are discouraged from removing disruptive students. “Instead they are to call the SRT, which is comprised of  administrators, a case manager, counselors, security, psychologist and others designated by the principal.”

On several occasions, said Gue, she’d called “six numbers to get the student response team and no one has answered.”

A teacher at Rutherford Elementary said no one came when she called for help to break up a fight. “That was the day I decided no more,” she told Konz. She resigned.

Several teachers told WDRB they were trained in discipline techniques that are ineffective.

“There are no consequences for some of these kids,” said a Byck Elementary School teacher, who did not want to be identified. “I have rewards set up for them, the ones who behave love it, and the ones who don’t behave don’t care. They are not afraid of anything. And they know that if they leave my room, they will come right back.”

“Planned ignoring” is one of the strategies, said Gue.

“I say a code word and my students, except for the disruptive student, all put their heads on their tables and we all ignore the student while they walk around room, rip papers off the bulletin boards, knock crayons on the floor and does whatever else they want,” she said. “One time, we sat for about 15 minutes. And that was after I called for help.”

Superintendent Donna Hargens said the district has spent $243 million over the past three years to hire assistant principals at the elementary level, mental health counselors and goal clarity coaches at all schools.

Hargens said the district has reduced class sizes at Frayser and has added “a security guard, nurse, a readiness coach, a success coach, a goal clarity coach and provides additional time for its teachers to meet and collaborate.”