Schools won’t tell colleges about suspensions

Syracuse schools will not share student discipline records with colleges, under a new policy proposed by Superintendent Sharon Contreras.

Remember the threat? It will go on your permanent record.

Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras visited Hughes Elementary School on the first day of class. Credit: John Berry

Syracuse Superintendent Sharon Contreras visited Hughes Elementary School on the first day of class. Credit: John Berry

Seventy-three percent of colleges and universities ask if applicants have been suspended or expelled, according to the Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse. Half of high school disclose the information. In the rest, it’s up to guidance counselors to decide what to reveal.

Syracuse schools are trying to reduce the high rate of suspensions of black students. Revealing discipline records could hurt students of color, Contreras said at a school board meeting. “You make a mistake when you’re a ninth grader and it hurts you when you are applying to college? That’s just not fair.”

Louisville teachers quit, citing disruption

Disruptive students and unsupportive administrators are driving Louisville teachers to quit, reports Toni Konz of WDRB News.

It’s even a problem at elementary schools, according to a survey by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

Since the start of the 2015-16 school year, 72 Jefferson County Public Schools teachers have quit.

Lucretia Gue, a first-grade teacher at Frayser Elementary, was in her fourth year as a full-time teacher. She’d worked as a substitute for 15 years before that. She resigned on Nov. 3.

“I have kids who are verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing other students, teachers and staff on a daily basis,” she said. “I am being prevented from doing my job as a teacher more often than not by students engaging in disruptive behavior, and I am not getting any support.”

Each school has a Student Response Team (SRT) that is supposed to help teachers deal with serious student misbehavior, reports Konz. Teachers are discouraged from removing disruptive students. “Instead they are to call the SRT, which is comprised of  administrators, a case manager, counselors, security, psychologist and others designated by the principal.”

On several occasions, said Gue, she’d called “six numbers to get the student response team and no one has answered.”

A teacher at Rutherford Elementary said no one came when she called for help to break up a fight. “That was the day I decided no more,” she told Konz. She resigned.

Several teachers told WDRB they were trained in discipline techniques that are ineffective.

“There are no consequences for some of these kids,” said a Byck Elementary School teacher, who did not want to be identified. “I have rewards set up for them, the ones who behave love it, and the ones who don’t behave don’t care. They are not afraid of anything. And they know that if they leave my room, they will come right back.”

“Planned ignoring” is one of the strategies, said Gue.

“I say a code word and my students, except for the disruptive student, all put their heads on their tables and we all ignore the student while they walk around room, rip papers off the bulletin boards, knock crayons on the floor and does whatever else they want,” she said. “One time, we sat for about 15 minutes. And that was after I called for help.”

Superintendent Donna Hargens said the district has spent $243 million over the past three years to hire assistant principals at the elementary level, mental health counselors and goal clarity coaches at all schools.

Hargens said the district has reduced class sizes at Frayser and has added “a security guard, nurse, a readiness coach, a success coach, a goal clarity coach and provides additional time for its teachers to meet and collaborate.”

Cop fired for assaulting student

The South Carolina deputy who grabbed and threw a student has been fired. The girl had refused to give the teacher her cell phone.

Other students in the Spring Valley High math class videotaped the incident. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Ben Fields, a school resource officer, violated police regulations when he threw the girl.

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.

Support slips for Core, other reforms

The 2015 Education Next poll shows slipping support for a variety of reforms from Common Core standards to school choice, merit pay and tenure reform.

Public support for annual testing remains high, while teachers split on the issue.

Two-thirds of parents — and the public as a whole — support the federal requirement for annual testing, while teachers are split on continuing the policy.

Since 2012, there are more supporters and opponents of testing with fewer people choosing the neutral position.

Only a third of parents and teachers and a quarter of the public support letting parents opt their children out of testing. ednext_XVI_1_poll_fig07-small

The federal push for “no-disparate-impact” disciplinary policies — linking suspension and expulsion rates to race and ethnicity — is unpopular with the public and teachers, the poll found.

Among whites, only 14 percent favor the federal policies, while 57 percent oppose them. A plurality (41 percent) of blacks favor the policies with 23 percent opposed and 36 percent neutral. Forty-four percent of Hispanics support the policy and 31 percent oppose it.

In 21 states and the District of Columbia, teachers’ unions can charge an “agency fee” to non-members to cover collective bargaining costs.

Surprisingly, half of teachers — and a plurality of the public — “requiring teachers to pay a fee for collective bargaining services even if they do not join a union.”

Only 52 percent of union teachers and 25 percent of non-union teachers support the agency fee.

However, 57 percent of teachers surveyed say unions have had a positive effect on schools.

‘Equity’ leads to chaos, say St. Paul teachers

In the name of racial equity, St. Paul schools have turned to counseling — a 20-minute “time out” with a behavioral coach — rather than suspension for disruptive students, reports Susan Du in City Pages.

Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva (Pioneer Press file: John Autey)

Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva (Pioneer Press file: John Autey)

At the same time, students with “behavioral issues and cognitive disabilities were mainstreamed into general classes, along with all the kids who spoke English as a second language.”

Teachers are complaining of distrust, disorder and “chaos,” reports Du.

Under Superintendent Valeria Silva, St. Paul spent more than $1 million — EAG News estimates as much as $3 million — on consultants from Pacific Educational Group, which promises to create “racially conscious and socially just” schools.

Pacific offered racial equity training for teachers and staff, where they practiced talking about race. Teachers were asked to explore their biases, to preface their opinions with “As a white man, I believe…” or “As a black woman, I think….”

“The work begins with people looking at themselves and their own beliefs and implicit biases,” says Michelle Bierman, the district’s director of racial equity. If teachers could recognize their subconscious racism, everyone would work together to bridge the gap.

Teachers who say the discipline policy isn’t working are accused of opposing racial equity, says Roy Magnuson, who teaches at Como Park High.

At Harding High, Becky McQueen has been manhandled, injured and threatened — and seen her students attacked — by youths running into her classroom in what teachers call “classroom invasions.”

Now, to know who to let in, she tells her students to use a secret knock at the door.

“There are those that believe that by suspending kids we are building a pipeline to prison. I think that by not, we are,” McQueen says. “I think we’re telling these kids you don’t have to be on time for anything, we’re just going to talk to you. You can assault somebody and we’re gonna let you come back here.”

At one middle school, nine teachers quit before the end of the school year.

At a board meeting in May, teachers’ concerns about lax discipline were “drowned out” by parents and minority leaders who praised the drop in suspensions, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

. . . Aaron Benner, a fourth-grade teacher at John A. Johnson Elementary who is black, said that the district was doing a disservice to the children by not holding them to the same standard as students from other ethnic groups.

“Refusing to work is not black culture,” he said. “Assaulting your teacher is not black culture.”

A teachers’ group is working to replace four school board members in the fall election, reports Du. “They blame the board for backing Silva’s changes despite teacher outcry.”

Hmong students, who make up the district’s largest minority group, are leaving district schools, reports Du. They perform well below district averages. Yet, “all we hear is the academic disparity between the whites and the blacks,” says history teacher Khoa Yang. “This racial equity policy, it’s not equitable to all races.”

Virginia lets cops arrest ‘disorderly’ kids

Kayleb Moon-Robinson was 11 years old last fall when he was charged with disorderly conduct for kicking a trash can at his Virginia middle school. A few weeks later, the autistic sixth-grader tried to leave class with fellow students instead of waiting, as ordered. The same police officer grabbed the boy, who struggled to get away.

Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Kayleb Moon-Robinson

Kayleb was handcuffed and taken to juvenile court, where he was charged with a second disorderly conduct misdemeanor and felony assault on a police officer.

Virginia students are arrested in school at three times the national average, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The report ranks all the states on law-enforcement referrals. 

Many of those arrested are middle-school students 11 to 14 charged with disorderly conduct.

. . .  a 12-year-old girl was charged earlier this year with four misdemeanors — including obstruction of justice — or “clenching her fist” at a school cop who intervened in a school fight.

In Green County, Virginia, last October, a school cop handcuffed a 4-year-old who was throwing blocks and kicking at teachers and drove him to a sheriff’s department.

Stacey Doss, Kayleb’s mother and the daughter of a police officer herself,  said her son “doesn’t fully understand how to differentiate the roles of certain people.”

She refused a plea deal reducing the felony to a misdemeanor because it required the 11-year-old to serve time in a detention center. Kayleb was found guilty of all charges this month. He’ll return to court in June for sentencing.

Doss said the judge had a deputy show him a cell, and told him if he gets into trouble again he could go straight to youth detention.

“He said that Kayleb had been handled with kid gloves. And that he understood that Kayleb had special needs, but that he needed to ‘man up,’ that he needed to behave better,” Doss said. “And that he needed to start controlling himself or that eventually they would start controlling him.”

Kayleb now attends an alternative school that’s sensitive to the autistic boy’s difficulty with sudden changes in routine, Doss said.

Softening discipline is hard on teachers

In Classroom Discipline, a Soft Approach Is Harder Than It Looks, writes Ruben Brosbe on Bright. A third-grade teacher in New York City, Brosbe doesn’t want to contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” But what should he do when a student hits a classmate with a chair, claiming it’s an accident?

I needed to send a message to John (not his real name) that this behavior was not acceptable. I also needed to let his classmate know that I would stand up for his safety. Finally, I wanted to let John know that I cared about him and trusted him (even though he’s very “accident prone”).

I suggested John take a break in our classroom’s “relaxing area,” a message to calm down so we could resolve the issue. This made John feel punished and under attack, so he gave me the middle finger and walked out the door.

A repeat offender, John could have been suspended for one to three days, but Brosbe thought it would “do more harm than good.”

Other approaches — “giving him extra attention and creating an individualized behavior plan”  — hadn’t worked.

Teachers are supposed to implement “restorative justice” approaches, Brosbe writes.

A group — likely comprising John, me, some of John’s classmates, and a facilitator (which my school does not have) — would come together to talk through John’s actions. Together with John, we would create a plan to repair the harm.

With behavior like bullying or fighting, this may still result in a suspension. The difference, however, would be an intentional effort to discuss the root cause of John’s behavior and develop a shared plan to reduce future incidents. For example, if John’s behavior flared up during reading lessons, I would be responsible for planning specific supports to deal with his frustrations with this subject.

Brosbe likes the idea. But teachers haven’t been given the training or the support they need to make restorative justice work, he writes. His small school lacks a full-time counselor.

Here’s more from Brosbe’s blog.

Privacy in the classroom?

Via Instapundit, I am treated to the story of a student who was suspended for recording a teacher’s behavior in the classroom.

A Samuel Gaines Academy student was suspended this week after she says she was trying to defend a classmate.

Brianna Cooper, 11, says she took an audio recording in class of what she says depicted her teacher bullying a student.

Instead of receiving praise, Cooper says she was suspended for five days when the school said her video was illegal.

In legal terms… well, I’m not licensed to practice law in Florida, so I’ll leave this one up to the local police:

Law enforcement officers say recording someone without their knowledge can be legal so long as there is not an expectation of privacy.

So the questions to be asked here, it seems to me, are two:

First, does it matter at all whether the child’s recording was illegal or not? And second, if it does matter, is there an expectation of privacy in a classroom?

The first question seems fairly straightforward. In general, I think that most people would agree that behavior doesn’t need to be illegal to warrant suspension. Students get suspended all the time for doing things that are not in violation of any criminal (or even civil) statute. It’s not illegal, after all, to throw one’s book at the chalkboard in frustration, or to call one’s teacher a worthless sack of ignorance fit only for target practice. Yet these things will surely lead to suspension. So it doesn’t seem to me that it’s absolutely NECESSARY that the behavior be illegal in order for it to lead to a suspension. It may, however, be sufficient. I don’t think it’s crazy to say that a student who breaks the law at school is liable to be punished to some *lesser* extent by the school, through disciplinary procedures.

Now, the school appears to have stated that the reason for the suspension was that the behavior was illegal. But one could reasonably interpret that claim as arguing, essentially, “The student is being suspended for the behavior, and by the way this is entirely reasonable because the behavior in question is so bad that it’s illegal.”

Let’s give the school the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and assume that the behavior is not, and need not be illegal at all. Can the school punish this student anyway?

I don’t think so. Even in the rights-impoverished climate that is the American public school, students have First Amendment rights. Is the exercise of those rights significantly curtailed by case law supporting the school’s ability to keep order and look after the student body’s welfare? Sure. But the rights still exist. I’m not a First Amendment lawyer of any stripe, but it strikes me that where the photographing or recording is being used for communicative purposes, or to gather information about what public officials are doing on public property, the First Amendment is squarely implicated. This certainly seems to be such a case.

That means, if I remember my Educational Con Law correctly, that in order to ban this behavior — even if it’s not illegal — that a school needs to show that there’s a reasonable concern that there will be a “substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities” — the Tinker standard. There are a few other exceptions, but I don’t think they are relevant here.

So now let’s give me the benefit of the doubt, and say that I’m right and that the school does need the behavior to be illegal in order for the suspension to be righteous. Then the question becomes one of whether there is an “expectation of privacy” in the classroom. There’s a reasonable, albeit somewhat politically motivated discussion, of the relevant statutes here, discussing the recording of Mitt Romney’s remarks in Florida in 2012. The gist seems to be, with respect to the Florida statute anyway, that there are a lot of factors that can go into establishing or destroying an expectation of privacy:

One Florida appellate court has held that it did not violate the Florida wiretap act for a subordinate law enforcement officer to record his supervisors’ statements in a disciplinary interview; the court held that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy because of the number of persons present (five, the subordinate and four senior officers), the location of the interview (in a sergeant’s office at a police station), and the nature of the interview (a disciplinary matter). Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Servs. v. Edwards, 654 So. 2d 628, 632-33 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995); contrast Horning-Keating at 447 (legitimate expectation of privacy in communications between clients and attorney in attorney’s office).

Here, it’s a classroom. It’s a public building — one with restricted access for safety reasons, but a public building nonetheless. The teacher is a public employee carrying out her duties, in front of twenty or thirty other people who are sitting there watching.

Additionally, it does not strike me that the classroom is really a place of privacy: observers constantly come into classrooms to, well, you know… observe. Principals worth their salt regularly do walkarounds. Teachers themselves record their teaching when they are trying to get nationally certified, or sometimes for performance reviews. Certainly the students don’t have an expectation of privacy at a school that could easily be covered by CCTV cameras and teachers watching their every move. And from the student’s point of view, the classroom is not much different from the rest of the school. I don’t see why a teacher should have an expectation of privacy in a situation in which a student would not.

So my tentative conclusions are (1) that it probably does matter that the student’s behavior was illegal (assuming that the statute is Constitutionally sound), and (2) that there probably isn’t a reasonable expectation of privacy in a classroom. And frankly, I’ve long thought that I’d *want* cameras recording everything that happened in my classroom if I were a public school teacher, both for my own edification and my legal protection. I can see why parents would want to be able to see what is happening in their child’s classroom, to verify or dispel the child’s complaints about school and about teachers. I think it’s not crazy to believe that principals should be able to flip a switch in their office and see what’s happening in their school’s classrooms.

So even if there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a public school classroom — and I am skeptical of that claim — there probably shouldn’t be.

Private schools, on the other hand… are a different beast. Let them set themselves up however they want, and if parents like the monitored school, they can choose it. If teachers want a monitored classroom, they can take the job at the monitored school. And if they don’t, they can pick a school with a more reverent approach to classroom privacy.

Can good teaching prevent disruption?

Worried about high suspension rates for black students, San Francisco public schools no longer suspend students for “willful defiance.”

Mission High School is trying to avoid trips to the principal’s office, writes Dani McClain on Slate. The school, which is devoted to “equity, inclusion, and Anti-Racist Teaching,” hopes to improve student behavior by changing teacher behavior.

When one of Henry Arguedas’ students got upset and slammed a book on the floor last year, the teacher followed what has become standard protocol in schools across the country: He sent the teenager out of class to an administrator who would decide his fate.

. . . A veteran teacher and a dean followed up and gently encouraged Arguedas to think carefully about why he had sent the student, who is black, to the office for glaring and slamming the book. As Arguedas reflected with his colleagues, he realized to his dismay that he had misinterpreted the teenager’s emotional problems and inability to express himself for aggressive anger—possibly because the student was black and male.

In October, a fourth-year teacher named David Gardner asked Mission High’s “instructional reform facilitator,” Pirette McKamey, to observe one of his ninth-grade geometry classes.

. . .  the lesson focused on logic and structuring proofs. Some students worked in groups to configure blocks of various colors and shapes into hexagons or triangles and puzzled over how best to describe what they’d done. Later, McKamey estimated that only about a quarter of the class was on task at any given time. Others took slow, meandering trips to the pencil sharpener or acted out in subtle ways. Two students, for instance, disobeyed school rules and kept their cellphones out while another listened to earphones. One boy stood his skateboard on end and spun it round and round. Two others playfully jousted with rulers.

. . . a black boy named John (not his real name) . . . popped between tables during group work, sang loudly as Gardner gave the class instructions, and at one point left the room without permission. But John’s hand was also the first one up when Gardner asked what the groups had accomplished with their proofs, and his answer was precise and on target.

When McKamey met with Gardner a few days later to debrief, she told him “the pacing was off.” If Gardner improved his instruction and kept more of the students engaged, McKamey assured him most discipline problems would disappear.

McKamey also suggested that Gardner might, unknowingly, be telepathing a dislike for John, which triggered the student’s unhappiness and frustration. “Think of him as someone you like and who you’re going to take care of,” she said. When John causes a disruption that demands a response, McKamey suggested using humor rather than a punitive tone to defuse the situation publicly, and then talking to John in greater depth about the incident privately.

Improving instruction is always good, but . . . really?

Teachers need to be trained in “warm demandingness,” advises Russell Skiba, director of the Equity Project at Indiana University.

As one example, he described watching a teacher coax a student who had his head on his desk to sit up. She kept urging him to lift his head higher and higher, but when he was finally upright, the teacher showed empathy. Specifically, she walked by him, put a hand on his shoulder, and said, “Get some more sleep tonight’’ in a friendly, supportive way, Skiba recalled. “It’s possible to show kids that you are not going to let up on them until they reach your expectation, but within that to be establishing a friendship.”

High school teachers usually have 30+ students in a class. Is it possible to teach an academic subject while providing individual coaxing, private talks and demanding friendship for each student? It sounds time consuming.

Larry Ferlazzo’s readers offer their advice for good classroom management.