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.

‘Disturbing school’ law faces challenge

“Disturbing a school” or acting “in an obnoxious manner” is a crime in South Carolina, but the law is unconstitutionally vague, charges the ACLU. Thousands of students — disproportionately African-American — have faced charges, says the civil rights group.

Niya Kenny didn't return to high school after her arrest for "disturbing a school."

After her arrest for “disturbing a school,” Niya Kenny dropped out and earned her GED.

The ACLU is challenging the law on behalf of Niya Kenny, who was arrested last fall after a school police officer violently removed a classmate who’d refused the teacher’s order to put away her phone.

Kenny stood up and cursed the officer, but didn’t interfere with the arrest, she told the New York Times.

Kenny was calling attention to police abuse, according to the ACLU’s account:

Fields picked the girl up, flipped her in her desk, and then grabbed an arm and a leg to throw her across the room. Niya stood up and called out, she recalled later. “Isn’t anyone going to help her?” she asked. “Ya’ll cannot do this!”

Niya was arrested, handcuffed, charged as an adult, and taken to jail.

Afraid to return to school, Kenny dropped out, missing her senior year, and earned a GED. She’s set to appear in court on “disturbing” charges in September.

The ACLU is also challenging another law, which makes it a crime for students to conduct themselves in a “disorderly or boisterous” fashion.

Let’s concede that teachers need to enforce order in the classroom. Does it make sense to criminalize disruptive,  “obnoxious” and “boisterous” behavior? How many of us would have escaped a criminal record if we’d been held liable in court for being obnoxious?

Increasingly, school police officers are equipped with Tasers.

Suspension: Is there a better way?

Credit: Seth Tobocman

The case against suspensions is unproven, argues Max Eden, a senior fellow of education policy at the Manhattan Institute, who’s guest-blogging for Rick Hess.

The attack on suspensions, writes Eden, rests on three assertions: “Disparate impact of school suspensions is evidence that they are racially motivated; (2) Suspensions do significant harm to students; (3) “Restorative justice” is a viable and more humane alternative, so we can reduce suspensions safely.

Blacks are suspended far more than Latinos, whites or Asians.

 The University of Pennsylvania’s Shaun Harper conducted a major study of suspensions in southern states that showed some disparities far too striking to be explicable without racial bias. Another study showed that white teachers tend to view black student behavior more negatively than black teachers.

But policy changes that assume “racial bias is solely responsible for the disparity” may go too far, breeding “rampant disorder,” writes Eden.

He also questions the “oft-heard claim is that school suspensions place students in the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’.”

You would rather expect long-term differences between a troublemaker and a well-behaved student of a similar background; you wouldn’t necessarily conclude that the suspension caused the differences.

The most dubious claim, writes Eden, is that there are safe alternatives to suspension.

While there “are case studies of schools that have successfully adopted a ‘restorative justice’ model,  “much of the reliable evidence on the effects of rapid, large-scale school discipline reform in major urban districts is pretty grim,” he writes.

In Chicago, where a thorough study of the effects of shortening suspension length found a significant worsening of student-reported peer-relations, and teacher-reported crime and disorder. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has also undertaken a major suspension-reduction initiative. In de Blasio’s first year, according to the NY State Education Department, the number of violent incidents in schools increased from 12,978 to 15,934, the steepest increase on record.

In St. Paul, Superintendent Valeria Silva ordered “racial equity” reforms to narrow the discipline gap. Rising disorder is one of the issues that led to her firing (with a $787,500 exit package).

In an incisive postmortem, the Center for the American Experiment’s Katherine Kersten quotes St. Paul Police spokesman Steve Linders saying that fights that “might have been between two individuals … [now become] melees involving 40 or 50 people.” Kersten also relates the story of a teacher who, after being crushed into a shelf by a student, asks her students to use a secret knock before she’ll open the door to her classroom.

Denise Rodriguez, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, demanded, “Do students and staff deserve to come to work every day and not expect to be assaulted?”