Palestinian honoree teaches through play

A Palestinian teacher’s play-based methods have won her a $1 million global education prize, reports Diaa Hadid in the New York Times.  The Varkey Foundation chose Hanan Hroub for developing educational games for children traumatized by violence.

When a reporter visited her West Bank classroom, “second-grade students were not focusing on their assigned task of scrawling math problems on balloons,” writes Hadid. “They were popping those balloons.”

The teacher put four marks underneath a frowning yellow face.

“No, Miss! No! We will concentrate, we promise!” piped up a girl named Shurouq. Ms. Hroub and her charges discussed why they felt distracted, and promised to do better.

Not all is fun and games, reports Hadid. “Some Israelis have denounced her as part of a Palestinian education system they see as inciting violence, and noted with dismay that her husband assisted in the killing of six Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1980.”

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.

Disruptive kids lower classmates’ future earnings

Exposure to a disruptive classmate in elementary school reduces earnings at age 26 by 3 to 4 percent, according to a working paper, The Long-Run Effects of Disruptive Peers

One disruptive student in a class of 25 also lowers high school test scores, college attendance and degree attainment, researchers concluded.

Coming from a violent family was used as a proxy for disruptive behavior, because research shows “children exposed to domestic violence are associated with a number of emotional and behavioral problems including aggressive behavior, bullying, depression, animal cruelty, diminished academic performance, and violence in adulthood,” researchers wrote.

FAU seeks to fire Sandy Hook truther prof

Florida Atlantic University is taking steps to fire a tenured communications professor who claims the Sandy Hook massacre and other mass shootings are hoaxes, reports the Sun-Sentinel. James Tracy received a termination letter last week, but has the right to appeal.

James Tracy

James Tracy

In 2013, Tracy wrote on his blog that the Sandy Hook massacre probably was staged. University officials said he had a free-speech right to assert his views on a blog not affiliated with the university.

Tracy went on to claim that “almost every mass shooting or attack in the United States has been a hoax, including ones at the Boston Marathon, the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and the recent shooting in San Bernadino, Calif.,” reports the Sun-Sentinel.

Noah Pozner

Noah Pozner

Earlier this month, Veronique and Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, died at Sandy Hook, accused Tracy of harassment for resisting conspiracy theorists.

Tracy sent them a certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived, that they were his parents and owned the rights to his photo, the parents wrote in the Sun-Sentinel.

“Once Tracy realized we would not respond, he subjected us to ridicule and contempt on his blog, boasting to his readers that the ‘unfulfilled request’ was ‘noteworthy’ because we had used copyright claims to ‘thwart continued research of the Sandy Hook massacre event.’

On a “Sandy Hook Hoax” Facebook page, Tracy responded:

“The local conspirators in Newtown, such as the alleged parents of the murdered children, including Lenny and Veronique Pozner, have made out very well financially, soliciting contributions from generous yet misinformed Americans, where the families have averaged more than $1 million apiece.”

Tracy claims Noah’s death certificate is “a fabrication.”

Can a university fire a tenured professor for being crazy?

“Tenure is not immunity,” Jeffrey S. Morton, a tenured FAU professor of International Law, told the Sun-Sentinel.  Tracy’s “harassment of the parents of murdered children was vulgar, repulsive and an insult to the academic profession. While there are real reasons to protect tenure for academic research, Tracy’s ‘scholarship’ makes a mockery of what academics do.”

A kiss is just — an assault

13-year-old boy faces second-degree assault charges for kissing a 14-year-old girl on a dare.

Both are 8th graders at a Pikesville, Maryland school.

Via Reason.

Many years ago, when my daughter was in first grade, a friend dared her to kiss a boy, Alex P. She kissed him. He hit her. She seemed to think that was fair.

I did nothing. Well, I smiled.

They are now Facebook friends.

School says ‘no’ to superheroes

Wonder Woman is banned at school as a “violent character” because superheroes “solve problems using violence,” a school informed parents whose little girl brought a lunchbox to school featuring the character twirling her lasso of truth.

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Teaching kids there’s no difference between superheroes, who use their powers to “uphold the good,” and supervillians, who use their power for evil, is “the very opposite of moral education,” responds Jonah Goldberg in National Review.

It’s idiotic.

What if the little girl had brought a lunchbox with a picture of George Washington? Goldberg asks. What about “Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and every other U.S. president, including Barack Obama. (He solved the problem of Osama bin Laden with SEAL Team Six.)”

Two weeks ago, three Americans — an Air Force medic, a National Guardsman and a student — tackled a terrorist on a train to Paris. They took away his rifle and beat him over the head with it, using violence to solve the problem. Are they unworthy to appear on a child’s lunchbox?

Darren Goforth, the murdered Texas sheriff’s deputy, planned with his son to wear matching Captain America shirts when they got the chance. His little boy wore his shirt to the funeral yesterday, knowing his father was wearing his Captain America shirt under his uniform. Perhaps in Texas, Goforth’s son will be allowed to wear the shirt to school.

Darren Goforth

Schools sued for not being ‘trauma sensitive’

Beaten and sexually abused by his addict mother’s boyfriends, Peter P. did poorly in school. When he was kicked out of a foster home, the 11th grader slept on the roof of his high school till he was discovered — and suspended.

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide "trauma-sensitive services."

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide “trauma-sensitive services.”

Peter P., four other students and three teachers have filed a lawsuit against Compton Unified, which serves a low-income, high-crime city near Los Angeles. Students who’ve experienced violence, abuse, homelessness, foster care and other “adverse childhood experiences” need “trauma-sensitive services” in school, the suit argues. It calls for “complex trauma” to be considered a learning disability.

“The lawsuit is seeking training for staff to recognize trauma, mental health support for students to cope with their condition and a shift from punitive disciplinary practices to those based on reconciliation and healing,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Traumatized students are kicked out of school rather than helped, according to the suit.

Another student at age 8 first witnessed someone being shot and killed and has seen more than 20 other shootings since then — one of them resulting in the death of a close friend, according to the lawsuit.

Another student, Kimberly Cervantes, 18, a senior at Cesar Chavez Continuation School, said she stopped attending school for weeks at a time after multiple traumas, including being told by teachers at a different school that her bisexuality was “wrong.”

Los Angeles Unified provides counseling for traumatized students. One Guatemalan boy had witnessed rebel soldiers killing villagers, then saw gang violence in Los Angeles, said Marleen Wong, a USC social work professor who designed the program.

. . . Martin learned about trauma, how to calm himself and how to apply the relaxation techniques in his daily life, she said. Techniques included walking to school with others so as not to be alone and seeking teachers to support him.

. . . “He was able to go back to school, calmed down, had fewer fights and better attendance.”

There’s no question that some students have been through hell — and that it may affect their ability to behave and learn. But do we want to consider them disabled?

Family stress is their students’ greatest barrier to school success, say state Teachers of the Year in a new survey. Next came poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

Out of Sandtown


A CVS Pharmacy burned in Baltimore when rioters cut the firefighters’ hose.

Derrell Bradford grew up in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood that’s exploded in anger at the death of Freddy Gray in police custody. School choice got him out of Sandtown, Bradford writes on The Catalyst.

That corner where the CVS was burned and looted? That’s where he caught buses to better schools in other parts of town. It’s why he now runs the New York Campaign for Achievement Now.

. . . it’s exactly because you grow up in Sandtown that you know the value of an excellent school which you get to attend regardless of who your parents are, how much money they make, or where you live. While watching students of Frederick Douglass High School throw rocks at police across the Gwynns Falls Parkway, all I could remember was my first trip to that school. I arrived as a visitor and an athlete—not a student—at what would have been my zoned public school. There was glass in the grass of the end zone; I was the only one of my classmates who knew to look for it.

. . . but for the right school, and the shining fingertip of providence, you are Freddie Gray.

“Choice is the most powerful way to create new worlds of possible for kids who are destined to have so little possible for themselves,” Bradford concludes.

New discipline rules make schools less safe

“Progressive” discipline policies such as “restorative justice” are reducing suspensions — and making schools less safe, argues Paul Sperry in the New York Post.

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

. . . everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Chicago teachers say they’re “struggling to deal with unruly students” under a new policy that minimizes suspension, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” said Megan Shaunnessy, a special education teacher at De Diego Community Academy.

De Diego teachers said the school lacks a dedicated “peace room” where students can cool off if they’ve been removed from a class. They say the school does not have a behavioral specialist on staff to intervene with students, nor does it have resources to train teachers on discipline practices that address a student’s underlying needs.

 “You have to have consequences,” fifth-grade teacher John Engels said of the revised conduct code. “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit, when you got on the Edens Expressway you’d go 100 miles an hour.”

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a "talking circle."

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a “talking circle.”

All over the country, teachers are complaining that student behavior has worsened under lenient policies, writes Sperry.

It has created a “systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive student behaviors” that “put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible,” wrote Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern in a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Los Angeles Unified also is seeing problems, writes Sperry.

“I was terrified and bullied by a fourth-grade student,” a teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District school recently noted on the Los Angeles Times website. “The black student told me to ‘Back off, b—h.’ I told him to go to the office and he said, ‘No, b—h, and no one can make me.’ ”

Oakland Unified is considered a national model for using restorative justice programs to cut suspensions in half.  “Even repeat offenders can negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involve paper-writing and ‘dialogue sessions’,” writes Sperry.

There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

. . . White teachers are taught to check their “unconscious racial bias” when dealing with black students who act out. They’re told to open their eyes to “white privilege” and white cultural “dominance,” and have more empathy for black kids who may be lashing out in frustration. They are trained to identify “root causes” of black anger, such as America’s legacy of racism.

Conflicts can take days or weeks to resolve. Teachers must use class time for “circles” rather than academic instruction.

“RJ (restorative justice) can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions,” warns science teacher Paul Bruno, who participated in talking circles while teaching middle school in Oakland and South Central Los Angeles.

Most schools still follow zero-tolerance rules. An 11-year-old boy was kicked out of school for a year when a leaf that looked like marijuana, but wasn’t, was found in his backpack, reports the Roanoke Times. The gifted student now suffers from depression and panic attacks.

Honor students say they’re targets

Tracy Peoples

Tracy Peoples

Honor students aren’t safe at their St. Louis high school, charge parents. Fifteen to 20 students attacked a 16-year-old last week at  McKinley Classical Leadership Academy last week.  She was badly beaten.

Tracy Peoples, whose sophomore daughter was on the “attack list,” said she’d given the principal a list of the bullies the morning before the fight. Now students are threatening the daughter and the mother, says Peoples.