Study: Behavior game really works

Teachers have used the “Good Behavior Game” for 40 years, writes Holly Yettick in Ed Week. Now there’s evidence the old-fashioned game really does improve classroom behavior — significantly.

The class is divided into two teams of even size. Teams get debits for breaking the classroom rules and credits for behaving well. At the end of the week or day, the group with the best behavior and/or fewest infractions gets some type of reward.

The game “allows teachers to engage in several behavior management strategies including acknowledging appropriate behavior, teaching classroom rules, providing feedback about inappropriate behavior, verbal praise, and providing rewards as reinforcement,” writes Andrea Flower, an assistant professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin and her co-authors in a journal article.

. . . the Good Behavior Game had  “a moderate to large effect” on reducing a wide range of challenging classroom behaviors, including aggression, talking out of turn and straying from the task at hand. . . . The game was equally effective in elementary and secondary schools, with behavior immediately improving and remaining better than it had been.

It works best when students choose their own rewards.

A ‘culture of chaos’

Two weeks after a 17-year-old fractured the skull of Bartram High’s “conflict resolution specialist,” Philadelphia school officials sent a team to assess the troubled school, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Violence is “the new normal,” said a teacher.

A brawl erupted in the school cafeteria, students set off firecrackers and the 17-year-old who assaulted the staffer was seen at school for two days.

Administrators don’t remove problem students, say teachers. That’s created a “culture of chaos and disregard for authority.”

The cafeteria melee was captured by a cellphone camera and posted on social media.

. . . dozens gathered, with several students exchanging punches. A male school police officer attempts to separate the combatants as the room fills with screams.

In short order, a larger brawl erupts, mostly between female students. A female police officer attempts to break up one skirmish, then others. At one point in the video, that officer appears to fall to the floor.

“We have to go beyond police officers,” said Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get these young people to care for others.”

“The administration has begun attempting to crack down on students who come late to school, and those who ditch class or use cellphones, but many students, accustomed to having wide latitude in the building, aren’t taking the adults seriously,” reports the Inquirer

I’m sure many students at Bartram High would prefer a safe, orderly school where they can learn. But nobody can learn — or teach — in a “culture of chaos.”

Students at high-poverty high schools receive “an average of half an hour less instruction per day than their higher-income peers” due to disruptions and “poverty-related challenges,” according to a new study, reports Education Week.

Do bad apples spoil the learning?

 African Americans and students with disabilities are suspended at “hugely disproportionate rates,” according to a report by a group called the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative. 

Higher rates of misbehavior don’t explain higher suspension rates, said Russell J. Skiba, a professor at Indiana University and director of the collaborative. He pointed to other factors such as classroom management, diversity of teaching staff, administrative processes, characteristics of student enrollment and school climate.

Suspending disruptive students doesn’t help their classmates, the report argues.

One oft-repeated justification for frequent suspensions is that schools must be able to remove the “bad” students so that “good” students can learn. . . .  when schools serving similar populations were compared across the state of Indiana, and poverty was controlled for, those schools with relatively low suspension rates had higher, not lower test scores

Troubled kids  hurt the whole class responds Education Next, citing two recent studies.

Domino Effect found children from “troubled families, as measured by family domestic violence,” are much more likely misbehave and be suspended.

We find also that an increase in the number of children from troubled families reduces peer student math and reading test scores and increases peer disciplinary infractions and suspensions… in many cases, a single disruptive student can indeed influence the academic progress made by an entire classroom of students.

Philadelphia study by Penn researchers found that “in schools with a high concentration of children with ‘risk factors,’ the academic performance of all children – not just those with disadvantages – was negatively affected.”

The collaborative would respond that suspension isn’t the only way to prevent troubled kids from disrupting their classes.  Researchers recommend “some restorative justice programs and prevention programs that call for more student-teacher engagement.”

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is “very nervous” about making it harder to discipline students.  “This push to make it harder to suspend students is going to have a chilling effect on teaching and learning.”

Disciplining the undisciplined

Federal “guidance” on school discipline could “have a chilling effect . . . potentially leading to unruly and unsafe classrooms,” warned senior House Republicans in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The letter was too polite, writes Checker Finn in Disciplining the undisciplined. It will be harder to create “safe, serious, and effective learning environments” for students who want to learn.

A 23-page “Dear Colleague” letter warns against disciplinary practices that have a “disparate impact” on various groups of kids. University of Colorado political scientist Josh Dunn explains:

. . .  if students in one racial group are punished more than their percentage of the student population a school can expect the feds to come knocking at their door. In that investigation, federal bureaucrats will ask if a discipline policy had an “adverse” (disproportionate) impact on a particular race, if the policy is necessary to meet important educational goals, and if other effective policies could be substituted without the “adverse” effect. The guidelines are unsurprisingly short on what could count as an important educational goal and what policies might be suitable alternatives. If evenhandedly designed and implemented policies could fall afoul of their bureaucratic eye, then any policy could.

“The consequences for schools and particularly for minority students, will be nothing short of disastrous if actually implemented,” Dunn concludes.

Teen back in school — in NRA shirt

A West Virginia 14-year-old is back in middle school — wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt — after being suspended and arrested for refusing to take it off last week. On Monday, Jared Marcum and about 100 other Logan County students wore shirts with gun rights themes provided by the Sons of the Second Amendment, a gun rights group.

Jared, an eighth grader at Logan Middle School, attended his morning classes wearing a shirt with an NRA logo, a picture of a hunting rifle and the slogan, “Protect your right.” He was standing in a cafeteria line when a teacher told him to turn his shirt inside out. He refused. He was sent to the office, where he again refused to remove the shirt, and arrested on charges of disrupting the educational process and obstructing an officer. He was released to his mother and suspended for a day.

Jared’s attorney, Ben White, said video evidence shows the cafeteria was orderly until the teacher raised his voice while confronting Jared. “I think the disruption came from the teacher,” he said, predicting all charges will be dropped.

The student believes the Second Amendment is being threatened and wore the shirt as an “expression of political speech,” White said.

“What the video shows is that students did step up on the benches to the tables in the lunchroom when they were escorting Jared out of building. Kids jumped up, clapping. Teachers said to get off and be quiet, and they did.”

Logan County schools’ dress code bans clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexual language, along with ads for alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

Jared is an honor roll student who plans a career in the military, his attorney said. The 14-year-old certainly understands his legal rights.

A veteran Chicago teacher is suing to reverse a four-day suspension for bringing a pocket knife to school. Douglas Bartlett showed second graders the knife, a box cutter, various wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers “as part of a curriculum-mandated ‘tool discussion’,” his lawsuit states.

Can school ban ‘boobies’ wristband?

“A full federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether school districts may bar students from wearing the popular “I (heart) Boobies” wristbands promoting cancer awareness,” reports Ed Week.

“Boobies” is vulgar and potentially disruptive, argued administrators at Easton Area Middle School in Pennsylvania. Two students suspended for defying the ban said they had a free-speech right to wear the wristbands.

“The case prompted a provocative hour-long argument” on “boobies,” reports Ed Week. 

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.

Too much cheering = no diploma

Darren isn’t the only one annoyed by yahoo-ing family members at graduation ceremonies.

In Cincinnati, a graduate was denied his diploma because of too much cheering by family and friends. He’ll have to perform 20 hours of community service — or get family members to do it — before the school will release his diploma.

A South Carolina mother was arrested for disorderly conduct when she cheered for her daughter. School officials had warned before the ceremony that people cheering or screaming would be booted. At least the penalty — a $225 fine — will be borne by the offender, not the student.

When school reform gets personal

After two years as a teacher and nearly 20 as a policy wonk, Scott Joftus saw his ideas tested when his two daughters started school, he writes in When Education Reform Gets Personal in Education Next. His “daughters are ready learners who attend a high-functioning school.” But . . . 

As a policy wonk, I believe that student learning flourishes in classrooms that include students with a wide range of abilities and backgrounds. As a father, I want my daughters to appreciate diversity of all types. But I also want them to be surrounded by children who come to school ready and eager to learn. These goals come into conflict when some students are constantly disruptive; the policy wonk must preach patience to the father who wants the class disrupter out.

My daughter’s kindergarten class included a troubled boy who was going through the foster-care placement process. He is exactly the type of child that can benefit most from an excellent education, but he regularly disrupted class. One day, when I was in the classroom, the teacher—talented, but inexperienced—spent more than half of her time trying to keep this boy on task.

The boy’s “disruptions reduced learning time for my daughter, and seemed to steal some of her innocence and excitement about school,” Joftus writes.

The tension between my understanding of good education policy — driven by a deep commitment to equity and the belief that an outstanding education can transform lives, and this country — and what is right for my daughters makes me both a better policy wonk and a better father. The tension also illustrates why school reform is so difficult.

Read it all — and be sure to read the comments.

Third-grade troublemakers

Five third-grade troublemakers haunt Miss Brave’s life.

. . . my principal made good on his longtime threat to send one of our notorious troublemakers Back to First Grade … a move that appeared to have backfired once he shrugged it off and observed, “It’s just like third grade, only easier and I get to be the cool older kid.”

One of the notorious five is moving out of state.  Miss Brave couldn’t help suggesting a cake to celebrate the move.