Teaching good behavior

Behavior Is One of the Basics at a Charleston middle school, reports Education Week. Every Haut Gap student spends 40 minutes a day for nine weeks learning how to “own up to mistakes, accept feedback, and apologize appropriately.” Those who don’t catch on take the class for 18 weeks.

The school’s approach, called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, is supposed to save time in academic classes. It’s also cut out-of-school suspensions significantly.

PBIS . . . emphasizes creating a common set of expectations for students’ behavior, no matter where they are on campus. The underlying premise: Schools must become predictable, consistent, positive, and safe environments for students.

“Creating that common set of expectations is really what creates a learning community. Culture makes a huge impact on the effectiveness of the school,” said Robert Horner, a co-director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and a special education professor at the University of Oregon, in Eugene.

PBIS is seen as a way to cut suspensions and expulsions, which are more common for African-American students, Latinos, boys, and students with disabilities.

However, a Johns Hopkins study found PBIS helped elementary students with “behavior problems, concentration problems, and social-emotional functioning.”  Not surprisingly, the younger it starts the better it works.

School is tough? Take a pill

Some doctors are prescribing medication for Attention Deficit Disorder to low-performing children, even if they don’t fit the diagnosis, reports the New York Times. Well, at least one doctor is.

CANTON, Ga. — When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

“It is not yet clear whether Dr. Anderson is representative of a widening trend,” reports the Times. That means they could find only one doctor willing to admit he’s handing out ADHD pills as a performance enhancer. However, there’s some evidence that affluent students “abuse stimulants to raise already-good grades in colleges and high schools.”

Are there side effects to these medications? Yes, there are.

Learning from high-performing charters

High expectations for student behavior and intensive teacher coaching are the keys to success for high-performing charter networks, concludes a new report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica.

Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep  use “positive reinforcements and clear consequences, zero tolerance policies for potentially dangerous behaviors, and consistent schoolwide enforcement of the student behavior systems.”

  By conveying consistent and clear expectations to students, these CMOs try to create a safe, focused environment where effective learning can take place.

At high-performing CMOs, administrators and master teachers observe and coach teachers. “Teachers receive intensive preparation on classroom management.”

French parenting? Non!

French children behave well in public, because parents and teachers have crushed their spirits, writes Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Atlantic.

Now that I have a child, my almost monomaniacal obsession is how to protect her from French parenting and French education, which is why we are considering Montessori schools and homeschooling/unschooling rather than put her in French schools. (Let me rephrase that: I am considering setting myself on fire rather than put her in French schools.)

The way French education works, and I don’t know if I could put it in a more charitable way, is that it seeks to mercilessly beat any shred of nonconformity out of children (the beating is now done mostly psychologically) so that they may be slotted into a society that, itself, treats nonconformity the way the immune system treats foreign elements.

American parenting and education “leaves more room for children to express their individuality,”  Gobry writes.  French parenting turns out well-behaved children, but “I wouldn’t recommend it if you want healthy, happy adults.”

KIPP = Nazi Germany?

In musing about democracy on Bridging Differences, Deborah Meier equates KIPP and other “no excuses” schools with Nazi Germany‘s schools.

What troubles me most about the KIPPs of the world are not issues of pedagogy or the public/private issue, but their “no excuses” ideology implemented by a code that rests on humiliating those less powerful than oneself and reinforcing a moral code that suggests that there’s a one-to-one connection between being good and not getting caught. It tries to create certainties in a field where it does not belong. . . . Life is never so simple that we can award points for “badness” on a fixed numerical scale of bad-to-good. As we once reminded colleagues, Nazi Germany had a successful school system—so what? I’d be fascinated to interview some KIPP graduates to learn how its work plays out in their lives.

KIPP schools don’t suspend students for misbehavior or send them out of class. Instead, they sit in a separate area with the school polo shirt inside out until they’ve apologized to their teacher and classmates and the apology has been accepted. I assume that’s what Meier means by humiliation.

The moral code that equates “being good and not getting caught” baffles me. What is she talking about?

Life is not simple, but surely it’s possible for teachers to award merit or demerit points to students for good or bad classroom behavior without turning into Nazis.

After all, very few schools try to operate as democracies.

60% of Texas students suspended at least once

Nearly 60 percent of Texas students were suspended or expelled from at least one class in middle and high school during a six-year study. Blacks and emotionally disabled students were more likely to be disciplined, concludes Breaking School Rules, a study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Research Institute of Texas A&M University.

Schools with similar students in terms of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status had very different suspension and expulsion rates.

The study didn’t examine whether schools that suspend fewer students have alternative ways of dealing with disruption, nor did it try to evaluate school safety.

Not surprisingly, students who were disciplined were less likely to graduate and more likely to be arrested. Thirty-one percent of students disciplined one or more times repeated their grade at least once.

 

 

I never expected

Looking back at his start in teaching, the Reflective Educator writes:  I Never Expected.

I never expected that teaching in many schools means waging two very difficult battles: one against student apathy, behavioral problems, and knowledge/skills gaps; and the other against incompetent/misguided administrators/policies. . . .

I never expected that excellent teaching involved much more than owning a dynamic personality. I used to think that excellent classroom management, creativity, and lots of energy were the sole essential ingredients to great teaching. I was very wrong. More on that here and here.

I never expected that a school, of all places, could create an Orwellian atmosphere. . . . More on that in these posts documenting a typical day on my job in DC, and also here.

I never expected that I could work with so many dedicated people. And I never expected working with a population of all English language learners would teach me so much about the world, myself, and excellent teaching.

One thing I did expect: I would love teaching. And I do. I love this job. I love this job. I love this job.

There’s more on An Urban Teacher’s Education, which I’ve added to the blogroll.

Schools are rethinking zero tolerance

More schools are rethinking zero tolerance policies, reports the Washington Post.

In Delaware, for example, zero-tolerance cases were a repeated issue in the Christina School District, where a 6-year-old with a camping utensil that included a knife was suspended in 2009. Discipline procedures were revamped last year, giving administrators the discretion to consider a student’s intent and grade, as well as the risk of harm. Out-of-school suspensions in the state’s largest school system fell by one-third in a year.

Researchers have found no evidence that zero-tolerance policies keep schools safer, according to a 2008 article in the American Psychological Association journal.

Discretion! What a radical idea! Maybe that 12-year girl with a couple of Advil isn’t a drug dealer in the making.

As Instapundit puts it: About freaking time.

Teen pays $637 fine for cursing in class

A suburban Dallas teenager was fined $637 for cursing in class and failing to show up for a hearing.

Court records show that teacher Michelle Lene heard Victoria Mullins say “you trying to start (expletive)” loudly in class one day last October. She was sent to the principal’s office and given lunch detention. The next day, the school resource officer presented the North Mesquite High School student a ticket.

The teacher complained Mullins’ language was a breach of the peace.

Mullins acknowledges she was wrong, but said a classmate was getting on her nerves.

The girl got a waitressing job to pay the fine.

Steering strong teachers to weak schools

Reformers are trying to steer strong teachers to weak schools, but so far it’s not working, writes Alan Borsuk in part four of the Building a Better Teacher series by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Hechinger Report.

A study released Nov. 18 by The Education Trust, a respected Washington-based education advocacy group, showed that students from low-income homes continue to have teachers who are working outside their field of expertise or who have little experience at rates much higher than higher-income students. The report called progress in changing that “disappointingly slow.”

In the suburbs, hundreds of teachers may apply for every opening. Few teachers want to work at West Side Academy, a K-8 school in a tough Milwaukee neighborhood, says the principal, James Sonnenberg. Three of his most promising teachers were laid off last spring because they lacked seniority, then recalled but assigned to other schools. Sonnenberg was sent “experienced teachers whom he had not sought, nor had they sought him.”

It’s hard to change the system without weakening seniority rights, paying some teachers more for taking on harder jobs and figuring out how to identify good teachers.

Denver, which has performance pay, rewards teachers for working in low-performing schools, Borsuk writes, but it’s not clear that it’s helping.

Wisconsin pays a $2,500 bonus to any teacher who earns certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, plus an additional $2,500 to board-certified teachers who work in low-performing schools. But there aren’t enough board-certified teachers to make a difference.

Milwaukee Public Schools hope to develop incentives to improve teaching in low-performing schools, but the focus is on rewarding all teachers in a school instead of singling out exceptional teachers.

The district’s main focus is on improving the teachers it’s already got through “effective on-the-job training, mentoring and coaching,” writes Borsuk.

Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, says Chicago, Boston and New York improved the quality of teachers by looking farther afield for good teachers, avoiding the worst teacher-training programs.

“They recruit top talent,” he said, and put them in high-needs schools.

Odden also said programs such as Teach for America have tapped into a strong desire by top-flight college graduates to spend at least two years helping the country by teaching in demanding situations.

Fire the weakest teachers — the bottom 6 percent — suggests Eric Hanushek, a Stanford University economist.

Sonnenberg wants to require teachers to go where their skills are most needed, regardless of seniority. “Why can’t the employer determine what is best for the organization?” asked Sonnenberg.

But there is almost no talk of forcing teachers with seniority to take such assignments. And, ultimately, it is tough to make people take jobs they don’t want.

Making schools better places to work is the best way to attract good teachers, says The New Teacher Project.

Mike Langyel, president of the Milwaukee teachers union, listed things that would attract teachers: “A competent and fair principal is key not only in getting teachers there but in keeping them. . . . We’re also looking at schools that are safe.”

A few teachers are so brilliant they can teach well in any environment; some are so bad they’ll teach poorly anywhere. Most teachers will teach effectively in a well-organized school with an academic focus; they’ll teach poorly in a chaotic school.

Strict rules for behavior, longer school days, greater intensity around academic work — these are parts of the formula that some schools are using with success.

Joshua Beggs, who heads the small high school operation of Eastbrook Academy, a religious school on the north side, said: “Many high quality teachers want to spend their lives helping underserved students succeed. Give them a classroom full of students who want an education and they’ll work in the poorest neighborhoods and may even accept below-average pay. Place them in a school full of unruly, undisciplined, unmotivated kids and they’ll give it their best shot — but ultimately they’ll quit if they can’t achieve success.”

There isn’t enough money in the world — certainly not in school district budgets — to get talented people to bang their heads against a brick wall every day.