Teachers protest discipline reform

Image result for blackboard jungleMaintaining order in the classroom was an issue in 1955, when Glenn Ford starred as a novice New York City teacher in Blackboard Jungle

Under pressure to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, schools are turning to “restorative justice” programs that encourage offenders to discuss their actions and make amends.

Earlier this year, Indianapolis and New York City teachers complained about poorly implemented “restorative justice” programs, reported Emmanuel Felton in Ed Week. Now, teachers in Fresno and Des Moines are saying new discipline policies are making it harder to teach.

“As Fresno Unified officials were praising McLane High School’s restorative justice program” at a conference, “teachers at the school were circulating a petition that says those same strategies have led to an unsafe campus plagued with fights and disruptions,” reports the Fresno Bee.

At least 70 of the 85 teachers at McLane High have signed a petition demanding a stricter and more consistent student discipline policy, as well as more say in how students are punished for their actions.

The teachers paint McLane as a place where there are constant disruptions and numerous on-campus fights and where teachers are verbally assaulted.

. . . While suspensions and expulsions at Fresno Unified have dramatically decreased since then, some teachers say the pressure to curb disciplinary action has led to zero consequences for students, and out-of-control classrooms.

“Students are returned to class without consequence after assaulting teachers, both verbally and physically,” the petition declares.

There are problems in Des Moines too. “Students scream, threaten, shove and hit teachers or other students, with little consequence, students, parents and union leaders told the Register.”

Principal raises class size, adds counselors

School 27 is one of the Indianapolis schools given autonomy in a pilot program. Photo: Alan Petersime/Chalkbeat

Given power over her school budget by Indianapolis Public Schools, Principal Tihesha Guthrie decided to increase class sizes to fund counselors and add 30 minutes to the school day, reports Chalkbeat. By adding five students per class, the elementary school was able to hire a “discipline specialist, a math coach and a teacher who specialized in teaching social skills like relationship building and self-control,” reports Dylan Peers McCoy.

School 99 was one of just six schools that piloted the district’s new “autonomy” program this year in which principals were given a set amount of cash per student and allowed to spend the money in any way they thought made sense for their school.

The program will expand to all district schools next year, writes McCoy. “Principals will have full control over their main general education budgets,” while the district will pay for special-needs students.

Guthrie said fewer students are being sent to the principal’s office for discipline problems and attendance has improved significantly.

Trumpucation

Nobody really knows how a Trump presidency will affect education policy, but let’s speculate.

Education Week interviews Trump education advisor Gerard Robinson, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and former state chief in Florida and Virginia, who says Trump may curb the Education Department’s civil rights office, impacting school-discipline disparities.

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Chickens will come home to roost, writes Rick Hess. Ganders will get sauced.

President Obama, who “bragged about his intent to govern with his ‘pen-and-phone’,”  extended “the reach of Washington via ‘gainful employment,’ Title IX, the redefinition of gender, guidelines governing Title I spending, and much more,” writes Hess.

Trump can dump those pen-and-phone policies and replace them with his own edicts. “The door has been opened for enthusiastic Trump appointees to get creative about pressing states to adopt school voucher programs, abstinence-only sex education, biologically-aligned locker rooms, curbs on PC-speech-restrictive policies on college campuses, and whatever else they can dream up.”

With a Republican-controlled Congress, Trump could fulfill his pledge to fund “vouchers that would let students use federal money to attend the schools of their choice, be they charters, private or parochial schools, magnet programs, or traditional public schools,” writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

On the campaign trail, Trump called for the repeal of Common Core standards, but he also backed local control. He can’t order Core states to drop the standards if they wish to stick with them.

Has get-tough discipline gone too far? 

Schools are swinging from “zero tolerance” to softer let’s-try-to-reason-with-’em approaches,” reports the New York Times.

School safety did not improve” when zero tolerance led to more arrests, suspensions and expulsions, Steven C. Teske, a juvenile court judge in Georgia, told a Senate subcommittee in 2012. If anything, juvenile crime increased, the judge testified. “These kids lost one of the greatest protective buffers against delinquency — school connectedness.”

The “school to prison pipeline” is a problem, tweets Robert Pondiscio. “But who speaks for those who want safe & serious schools?”

It’s not clear how softer, talk-it-out discipline alternatives will affect “school safety and student outcomes,” write Matthew P. Steinberg and Johanna Lacoe. “A safe school climate is essential for student success.”

Recent evidence also shows that exposure to disruptive peers during elementary school worsens student achievement and later life outcomes, including high school performance, college enrollment, and earnings.

It’s important, they warn, to monitor “the effects of discipline reform on all students, not just those being punished.”

Do suspension alternatives work? We don’t know

Many schools are reducing out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, but it’s not clear how discipline alternatives affect school safety, according to a study reported in Education Next.

One of the only programs supported by strong research is Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, authors write. “The approach aims to change school culture by setting clear behavioral expectations, designing a continuum of consequences for infractions, and reinforcing positive behavior.” Students say their school is safer even as suspensions are less common.

Other strategies may be effective too, but so far the evidence is “thin.”

It’s easy to reduce suspension rates by lowering behavioral expectations. Creating a safe, orderly learning environment is much, much harder.

It’s also not clear that “exclusionary discipline” (suspension and expulsion) creates a school-to-prison pipeline, the authors write. Children who frequently get in trouble at school, whether suspended or not, may be much more likely to get in trouble as adults. Chicken, egg.

Black pre-K teachers are tough on black kids

Black preschoolers are far more likely to be suspended, according to federal data, mirroring the harsher discipline they’re likely to experience in K-12 schools.

A new Yale study concluded that white and black preschool teachers expect trouble from black boys, reports Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic. However, white teachers tended to go easy on black children, while black teachers were tougher on black students.

Asked to observe video clips of children to spot “challenging behaviors,” teachers more closely observed black boys, an eye-tracking system found.

Then teachers read bout behaviors such as “difficulties napping and following instructions to blurting out answers and taunting other children,” writes Anderson.

Each vignette contained a pre-selected, stereotypical black or white boy or girl name: DeShawn, Jake, Latoya, and Emily. The participants were then asked to rate the severity of the behavioral challenges—the only difference in each vignette was the perceived race and sex of the child—and the likelihood that they would recommend suspension or expulsion.

White teachers appeared to have lower expectations of black children, finding them as a group more prone to misbehavior, “so a vignette about a black child with challenging behaviors [was] not appraised as … unusual, severe, or out of the ordinary.”

Conversely, black teachers seemed to hold black preschoolers to a higher behavioral standard; pay notably more attention to the behaviors of black boys; and recommend harsher, more exclusionary discipline.

Black parents believe they need to be tough to prepare their children for “a harsh world,” says researcher Walter Gilliam, a Yale professor. “It seems possible that the black preschool teachers may be operating under similar beliefs … that black children require harsh assessment and discipline.”

Tracking black boys more doesn’t prove “implicit bias,” argues Kay Hymowitz of City Journal.  Nobody says teachers have “implicit bias” against boys, even though they track them much more than girls, she adds.

BTW, I first heard “implicit bias” from Hillary Clinton in the first debate. Since then, I’ve heard it multiple times a day. I miss plain old “bias.”

From zero tolerance to zero control

To replace inflexible zero-tolerance policies, schools are adopting inflexible “no student removal” policies, writes Richard Ullman a high school teacher in Allegany County, New York, in an Education Week commentary.

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Keeping “dangerous and defiant students” in the classroom makes it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn, he argues.

If Johnny can’t read very well, the teacher gets the blame, writes Ullman. “It have more to do with the pathologically disruptive classmate who, given infinite ‘second chances’ by detached policymakers and feckless administrators, never gets removed from Johnny’s classroom.”

“Restorative justice” programs, which stress counseling, try to keep students in school, he writes. “Higher suspension and expulsion figures for minority students” are blamed for what’s known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

However, while all educators must be mindful of biases and pushing out kids considered at risk, it bears emphasizing that the biggest victims of warehousing miscreants are the large numbers of nondisruptive, genuinely teachable students who tend to come from the same home environments as their poorly behaved classmates.

. . .  just how many times should the student who spews obscenities be sent back to class with no reprisals? Just how much instructional time has to be sacrificed to hold yet another assembly on why yet another schoolwide brawl occurred?

Administrators and “experts” are raising the academic bar while they’re lowering or eliminating discipline standards, writes Ullman. Teachers are left to do the heavy lifting.

NYC: Are schools really safer?

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City has made it much harder for principals to suspend students for defiance and disobedience, writes Stephen Eide in a look at the progressive mayor’s education policies.

Believers in the “school-to-prison pipeline,” progressives nationwide are trying to limit suspensions, he writes in Education Next.

“While below-proficient students are believed to benefit the most from a lower suspension rate, those who have the most to lose are the above-proficient, low-income strivers,” writes Eide.

The De Blasio administration claims school crime has fallen by 29 percent over four years. However, Families for Excellent Schools cites state data showing rising levels of violent incidents.

There are only four “persistently dangerous” schools in the city, down by 85 percent, the administration claimed last month. The school-safety agents union head pointed out that not a single high school had made the list, notes Eide.

In May 2016, the New York Post reported that school-safety agents and police officers had confiscated 26 percent more weapons from students during this past school year than over the same span in 2014–15.

In a recent teachers’ union survey, “more than 80 percent of the respondents said students in their schools lost learning time as a result of other disruptive students.”

De Blasio is trying to close the achievement gap through “turnarounds instead of closures, heavy emphasis on addressing the ‘root causes’ of K–12 underperformance through pre-kindergarten education and social services, less antagonistic relations with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and more-relaxed school-discipline policies,” writes Eide. “The results have been something less than revolutionary. “

Circling vs. suspension: It’s ‘exhausting’

Replacing suspension with “restorative justice” circles is “effective but exhausting,” concludes Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine.

Students and teachers “strengthen connections and heal rifts” by discussing their reaction to an incident, she writes. In Denver and Oakland, schools have lowered suspension rates, improved graduation rates and improved the school atmosphere, she writes.

Two of Leadership and Public Service High School’s student mediators, Tuson Irvin and Annika James. Photo: Melissa Bunni Elian /New York Times

Tuson Irvin and Annika James are student mediators at their New York City high school. Photo: Melissa Bunni Elian/New York Times

New York City’s Leadership and Public Service High School started experimenting with restorative practices five years ago.

Principal Phil Santos is committed to the approach, but calls it “exhausting” and “messy.”

He recruited a new dean, Erin Dunlevy, who’d trained in restorative practices. She trained student leaders, but was “rattled when, within the first month of school, one girl from that group brawled with another girl,” throwing a fire extinguisher that broke the dean’s toe, writes Dominus.

Dunlevy has trained students and other deans in how to get each party in a conflict to take responsibility and make amends.” For example, “a student who had left a classroom in disarray might help the teacher clean it.”

She also coached teachers on how to use language that set a welcoming rather than punitive tone. “As opposed to, ‘You’re late, sign this late log,’ it’s, ‘Hey, this class is not complete without you — I need you to be here,’?” Dunlevy says.

Suspensions are way down at the school, but absenteeism is high and college-readiness rates are below the district average, writes Dominus. In fact, students and teachers are somewhat less likely to say the school has a “safe and respectful environment.”

EdNext poll: Core support slides

“The demise of school reform has been greatly exaggerated,” concludes Education Next in reporting on its survey of 10-year trends in education opinion.

“Public support remains as high as ever for federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, and teacher tenure reform,” the survey found. “However, backing for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers fell to new lows in 2016.”

In 2016, 50% of all those taking a side say they support the use of the Common Core standards in their state, down from 58% in 2015 and from 83% in 2013. Republican backing has plummeted from 82% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The slip among Democrats is from 86% to 60% over this time period. Eighty-seven percent of teachers supported the initiative in 2013, but that fell to 54% in 2014 and to 44% in 2015, stabilizing at that level in 2016.

When “Common Core” is not mentioned, two-thirds back the use of the same standards.

Nearly four out of five respondents, about the same as in 2015, favor the federal requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from 3rd through 8th and at least once in high school. However, only half of teachers support the testing requirement.

A “federal policy that prevents schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students” is very unpopular, backed by only 28 percent of the general public and of teachers.  In 2016, 48 percent of black respondents express support for the idea, down from 65 percent in 2015. Thirty-nine percent of Hispanics express support, showing little change from last year.

Respondents rated local schools more favorably than in the past, but continued to give low marks to schools nationally.