Suspended learning

Reformers should support the Obama administration’s effort to “reduce the overuse of suspensions and expulsions,” argues RiShawn Biddle in a Dropout Nation podcast. Harsh discipline pushes troubled kids out of school, he argues. And it doesn’t work.

Setting racial quotas for discipline will have a “disparate impact” on disruptive students’ classmates, writes Hans Bader. Their classroom safety and learning time will be sacrificed. 

Like crime rates, student misconduct rates aren’t the same across racial categories, Bader writes.

 The Supreme Court ruled many years ago that such racial disparities don’t prove racism or unconstitutional discrimination. But in guidance released last week by the Education and Justice Departments, the Obama administration signaled that it will hold school districts liable for such racial disparities under federal Title VI regulations. In the long run, the only practical way for school districts to comply with this guidance is to tacitly adopt unconstitutional racial quotas in school discipline.

Schools can be held liable for “racially disparate impact” for non-racist policies that unintentionally lead to more minority suspensions, writes Bader.

Many schools adopted zero-common-sense policies to avoid charges of racial bias. The new policy opposes zero-tolerance policies that mandate suspension or expulsion. It also discourages calling the police for school misbehavior, a growing trend.

The feds have no authority to set school discipline policies — unless they’re protecting minority or disabled students from discrimination. Of course, they could recommend more sensible and flexible discipline policies without bringing race into it, but they want to do more.

Los Angeles Unified is relaxing its zero-tolerance discipline policy, reports NPR. The district won’t issue “school police citations and court appearances for minor offenses such as fighting, loitering, underage drinking, and defacing desks and walls.” Instead, schools will try “restorative justice.”

Hero teacher disarms shooter

A 12-year-old boy shot two classmates with a shotgun at his New Mexico middle school. A teacher persuaded the shooter to give up his shotgun. John Masterson, an eighth-grade social studies teacher is the hero of Berrendo Middle School in Roswell.
John Masterson

At a vigil this evening at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, Gov. Susana Martinez said, “Mr. Masterson … was a hero …who stood there and allowed a gun to be pointed right at him. and to talk down that young boy to drop the gun so that there would be no more young kids hurt.”

One of the wounded students is in critical condition.

Mason Campbell, a seventh grader, has been identified as the shooter.

If kids can tell fantasy from reality …

Preschoolers are good at distinguishing fantasy from reality, according to a new study, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Children understand the difference. They know that their beloved imaginary friend isn’t actually real and that the terrifying monster in their closet doesn’t actually exist (though that makes them no less beloved or scary). But children do spend more time than we do thinking about the world of imagination. They don’t actually confuse the fantasy world with the real one; they just prefer to hang out there.

If little kids can tell what’s real and what’s pretend, why can’t school administrators and teachers distinguish between fantasy and reality, asks Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit, in a USA Today column.

At South Eastern Middle School in Fawn Grove, Pa., for example, 10-year-old Johnny Jones was suspended for using an imaginary bow and arrow. That’s right – - not a real bow and arrow, but an imaginary bow and arrow. A female classmate saw this infraction, tattled to a teacher, and the principal gave Jones a one-day suspension for making a “threat” in class.

A 7-year-old Maryland boy was suspended for gnawing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun. An 8-year-old Arizona boy was threatened with expulsion for his drawings of ninjas and Star Wars characters and interest in zombies. A six-year-old boy was charged with “sexual harassment” for kissing a girl. “So much for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher,” writes Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor.

The “education industry” purports to teach “critical thinking” to children, writes Reynolds. But, apparently, not by example.

Araphahoe victim: Claire Davis dies

Claire Davis, the 17-year-old who was shot in the head during the Dec. 13 shooting at Arapahoe High School, died Saturday afternoon with her family at her side,” reports the Denver Post.

Claire Davis

Claire Davis (Provided by Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office)

The high school senior’s family posted a statement on Facebook:

“Although we have lost our precious daughter,” the family said, “we will always be grateful for the indelible journey she took us on over the last 17 years — we were truly blessed to be Claire’s parents. The grace, laughter and light she brought to this world will not be extinguished by her death; to the contrary, it will only get stronger.”

The family thanked the first-responders, school, sheriff’s office and others for their “extraordinary work” on Claire’s behalf.

Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”

Less dangerous but still ‘on the edge’

One of  Philadelphia’s most dangerous schools for six years, Strawberry Mansion High School escaped closure and made it off the “persistently dangerous” list, reports ABC News. But the school — with less than 500 students — remains “close to the edge.” Budget cuts have meant fewer guards and police — and fewer teachers.

Let boys be boys

Schools should help boys succeed instead of treating them as “defective girls,” writes Christina Hoff Sommers in Time.

Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068.

“The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life,” she writes. Boys need help to learn these skills.

Sommers suggests more unstructured play time. Children in Japan get 10 minutes of play every hour. More recess could mean less Ritalin.

To turn boys into readers, teachers should know what boys like. She suggests Guysread.com for “lists of books that have proved irresistible to boys.”

Finally, “work with the young male imagination.”

In his delightful Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, celebrated author and writing instructor Ralph Fletcher advises teachers to consider their assignments from the point of view of boys. Too many writing teachers, he says, take the “confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure are prized; stories describing video games, skateboard competitions or a monster devouring a city are not.

. . . Along with personal “reflection journals,” Fletcher suggests teachers permit fantasy, horror, spoofs, humor, war, conflict and, yes, even lurid sword fights.

“If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms, they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind,” Sommers concludes.
Soldier drawn by 8-year-old.
As a perfect illustration of her point, an Arizona school threatened to expel an 8-year-old boy who drew pictures of an armed soldier, ninja and Star Wars character as possible Halloween costumes. His parents withdrew him from Scottsdale Country Day School.

The headmaster told the father the third grader’s art was “highly disturbing.” The headmaster had highlighted words in the boy’s journal he found violent and unacceptable, the father told CBS5.

For example, the boy had written about escaping a killer zombie at a haunted school:

“I’d open the window, but, stand back quickly. Booby-trapped. Shoot the gadget – a rope gun – I’d swing across without getting hit.”

Many of the third-grader’s other journal entries were about saving the earth and protecting humanity.

In one passage, he wrote he’d like the ability to stop an atom bomb and stop bullets.

The headmaster told the father his son was a threat to the safety of the other children.

As Instapundit puts it: When they make you a school principal do they at least pay for the lobotomy?

Anti-bullying videos linked to suicides

Anti-bullying videos shown in school have been linked to two recent student suicides, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Brad Lewis’ son Jordan, 15, a sophomore at Carterville High School in Illinois, killed himself Oct. 17 by shooting himself in the chest. He left a note that ended, “Bullying has caused me to do this. Those of you know who you are.”

Lewis criticized investigators for not pursuing the bullies more aggressively, but also turned some of his questions toward his son’s school, which showed an anti-bullying video to students the day before Jordan killed himself.

“All I know is they were discussing the bullying, and showing kids bullying, and at the end of the show they showed pictures of kids that took their lives,” Lewis said. “When a child or a person is at the end of their rope, and they don’t think there’s anywhere to go, and they don’t think anyone’s doing anything about it, and they see something on video, and they relate.”

The video showed suicide as an easy way out, Lewis charged.

A week later in Sparks, Nev., 12-year-old Jose Reyes brought a gun to school, shot two classmates and killed a teacher before killing himself. Jose had been harassed in school, classmates said.

On Oct. 11, the documentary “Bully” reportedly had been shown to all Sparks Middle School students during their sixth-period class. The film, according to students, depicted two stories in which bullying drove one student to commit suicide by hanging and another to bring a gun on a school bus.

A new study suggests that anti-bullying programs may be backfiring.

Did anti-bullying video lead to shooting?

An anti-bullying video that showed a girl bringing a gun to school may have influenced the 12-year-old shooter at Sparks Middle School, reports KRNV-TV in Reno.

Amaya Newton, an eighth grader, said the video was shown on Oct. 11, the last school day before the shootings.

“It was an anti-bullying movie but it could have gotten into his head about the girl scaring the bullies with the gun. She brought a gun on the bus to scare them and threatened to kill them,” Amaya told News 4.

Asked about the video’s message, she said, “That maybe it’s easier to scare your bullies than just to tell a teacher.”

The shooter was harassed by classmates, Amaya said. “Like tripping him in the hallways, bugging him for money . . . ” He never spoke up.

Teacher dies protecting students

A Marine veteran, Michael Landsberry survived two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada Air National Guard. The Sparks (Nevada) middle school math teacher died trying to disarm a student yesterday. The 12-year-old shooter also wounded two boys, who are in stable condition, before killing himself.

“Mr. Landsberry’s heroic actions, by stepping toward the shooter, allowed time for other students in the playground area to flee,” said Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras.

Before opening fire, the boy said, “Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me?,” according to student Michelle Hernandez.

The boy used a Ruger 9 mm semiautomatic handgun that belonged to his parents, police said.

“The relentless, inflexible and unyielding focus on ‘test-taking’ and school rankings and scores” is to blame, writes Debra Feemster, a former Sparks principal, on Diane Ravitch’s blog. “If one teacher, counselor or administrator had had a few extra minutes to look into this student’s eyes and possibly connected with him in a meaningful way, maybe this catastrophe could have been averted.”

“Think of the children whose social and emotional needs are ignored in pursuit of test scores,” Ravitch writes.

Feemster and Ravitch are accusing Sparks Middle School staffers of ignoring students’ “social and emotional needs” and failing to prevent the shooting.

Let’s honor Mr. Landsberry’s courage and decency. Let’s not politicize a tragedy.