SEL for all or just for disruptive students?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the newest edu-fad, writes Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. Believers say devoting time to SEL activities will raise academic achievement.

“Disruptive, distracting behavior imposes a tremendous drain on teaching/learning — for perpetrators and victims alike,” she writes. But, she wonders if SEL activities make sense for all students — or just those who are unable to behave properly in class.

Students participate in a SEL program run by the Holistic Life Foundation.

Students participate in a SEL program run by the Holistic Life Foundation.

She proposes splitting teaching and classroom management into two jobs with “highly qualified teachers up front, and highly qualified classroom managers in back.” Class sizes would be increased to pay for the extra adults.

In her scheme, the classroom manager would be able to remove disruptive students, temporarily or for the long term. The money that would have been spent on SEL instruction for the entire student body” would be spent to provide “special psychiatric and academic services for disruptive students.”

Can teachers develop students’ social-emotional strengths while teaching academics? Or will SEL inevitably be an add-on that competes with academics for time?

Teachers, what do you think?

Disruptive kids lower classmates’ future earnings

Exposure to a disruptive classmate in elementary school reduces earnings at age 26 by 3 to 4 percent, according to a working paper, The Long-Run Effects of Disruptive Peers

One disruptive student in a class of 25 also lowers high school test scores, college attendance and degree attainment, researchers concluded.

Coming from a violent family was used as a proxy for disruptive behavior, because research shows “children exposed to domestic violence are associated with a number of emotional and behavioral problems including aggressive behavior, bullying, depression, animal cruelty, diminished academic performance, and violence in adulthood,” researchers wrote.

Is it OK to push out disruptive kids?

“I have no problem at all with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school,” Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio tells Reason. “Are we saying that if you’re a poor black or brown kid, it’s a problem that you should have a disruption-free, studious, high-quality school? Why is that unfair?”

A group of parents have filed a a civil rights complaint accusing high-scoring Success Academy charters of pushing out students with disabilities.

One Success Academy principal issued a “Got-to-Go” list of unwanted students, reported the New York Times in October. Founder Eva Moskowitz called it a mistake.

In response to the complaint, she said Success schools only suspend students for violent behavior. The schools’ disabled students perform better in reading and math than non-disabled students in other city schools, she points out.

Success Academy students who behave well enough to stay are doing much, much better than similar students in district schools. Should Success be forced to adopt laxer discipline policies and keep disruptive students? Should district schools be allowed to adopt tougher discipline policies and get rid of disruptive students?

Milwaukee’s voucher program also was accused of discriminating against disabled students. After four years, the federal investigation has been closed “with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing,” reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

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.

Let parents, teachers choose orderly schools

Parents and teachers should be able to choose safe, orderly schools designed for “the vast majority of children . . . who come to school wanting to learn,” argues Mike Petrilli in the New York Times.

Disruptive students make schools “unpleasant, unsafe and unconducive to learning,” he writes.

For eons, excellent schools have found smart ways to create order that need not require large doses of punitive sanctions. (They create) . . . a climate of respect for students and teachers alike; setting clear behavioral expectations schoolwide and enforcing them consistently; and using a set of graduated consequences for misbehavior that work to correct problems before they get out of hand.

It’s no surprise, then, that both parents and educators flock to schools with strong, positive climates and a sense of order. Once upon a time that often meant urban Catholic schools, with their school uniforms and ample supply of tough love. Increasingly it means urban charter schools, many of which are secular forms of the Catholic schools of old.

It’s much easier for schools of choice to enforce order. “They can make their discipline codes clear to incoming families (and teachers),” writes Petrilli. “Those who find the approach too strict can go elsewhere.”

Traditional public schools don’t have that consensus on how strict is strict enough, he writes. They have to compromise.

Instead of forcing charters to tolerate more disruption in the classroom, why not encourage district schools to tolerate less?

Districts can create choice schools. How many low-income urban parents would choose a do-your-own-thing school over a school with clear rules enforced consistently? Some would prefer a “community school” with social workers and counselors, while others would want an academically focused school with after-school tutors.

Don’t blame schools for violence

“To end the killing” — 141 murders so far this year — a Baltimore Sun editorial called for  “effective police and prosecutors, ample drug treatment, better schools, and more economic opportunities.”

Don’t blame the schools, responded Dave Miceli, a veteran teacher, in a letter to the editor.

I have taught in the Baltimore public school system for the past two decades. What we need is better students. We have many excellent teachers. I cannot count the number of students who have physically destroyed property in the schools. They have trashed brand new computers, destroyed exit signs, set multiple fires, destroyed many, many lockers, stolen teachers’ school supplies, written their filth on the tops of classroom desks, defecated in bathrooms and stairwells, assaulted teachers (beyond constantly telling them to perform certain impossible acts upon themselves) and refused to do any homework or classwork.

Miceli blames the crime rate on “a total disregard for life” in Baltimore and other cities.

Who’s responsible for a culture of violence? I’d look to parents.

In Asian schools, boys behave

School boys in China, South Korea and Taiwan aren’t more disruptive than girls, while there’s a large gender gap in behavior in the U.S., according to a University of Pittsburgh study.  Yet U.S., Korean and Taiwanese teachers see girls as better behaved, notes Ed Week.

Los Angeles won’t suspend for ‘willful defiance’

Los Angeles Unified will not suspend students for “willful defiance,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The proposal would ban suspensions of students for “willful defiance,” an offense criticized as a subjective catch-all for such behavior as refusing to take off a hat, turn off a cellphone or failing to wear a school uniform. The offense accounted for 48% of 710,000 suspensions issued in California in 2011-12, prompting state and local efforts to restrict its use in disciplinary actions.

Disruptive students can be kicked out of class, but not out of school, the school board decided. Principals are supposed to develop alternatives, such as “positive behavior incentives” and “restorative justice” strategies.

Students still will be suspended for violence, drugs, fights and other behavior that threatens others, Superintendent John Deasy told the board. But he said students shouldn’t be pushed out of school for non-violent misbehavior. “We want to be part of graduating, not incarcerating,” students, he said.

Black students, who make up 9 percent of enrollment in Los Angeles, drew 26 percent of suspensions for defiance. What if they account for a disproportionate share of alternative discipline referrals?

Expulsion, transfer or … ?

D.C. Charter Schools Expel Students at Far Higher Rates than Traditional Public Schools, reported the Washington Post‘s Emma Brown. District-run schools rarely expel disruptive or dangerous students, instead using long-term suspensions, involuntary transfers and assignment to alternative schools.

The “culture of compliance” in district offices “has crippled their ability to maintain safe and orderly schools,” writes John Thompson on This Week In Education. It’s easier to transfer a belligerent student to a new school than to fill out reams of paperwork to document “students’ patterns of misbehavior” and “the resulting interventions.”

In D.C., a student cannot be suspended for more than ten days without the approval of an administrative law judge.  When everyone involved – principals, teachers, families and, above all, students – know that it is virtually impossible to follow through with longterm suspensions, then it is harder to draw the line regarding smaller infractions.  It becomes far more difficult to teach challenging kids how to become students.  Consequently, shuttling discipline problems to other schools becomes a rational response.

Troubled schools should focus on “improving learning climates” as the first step to improving learning, Thompson writes.

It’s not fair to charge that charters “push out” troubled students, he concludes. Charter educators sincerely believe they’re doing what’s best for their students by enforcing discipline.

As Brown reports, some charters with “zero tolerance” policies allow expulsion for repeated, minor nonviolent offenses, such as skipping class, or violating dress codes. I oppose those policies. . . . Having experience with the anarchy that often comes from the refusal of systems to enforce their codes of conduct, however, I can understand why some charters have gone too far the other way.

Some charter supporters have slandered educators in traditional schools. They should stop implying that it is “low expectations” that causes the disorder which undermines teaching and learning. But if we do unto them what has been done unto neighborhood school teachers, and charge charters with intentionally pushing out students, we will lose the opportunity to discuss better ways of building respectful learning climates. We will reinforce the impression that neighborhood schools will never become serious about raising behavioral standards, and hasten the day when traditional urban schools are merely the alternative schools for the students who could not make it in charters, magnets, or low-poverty schools.

By refusing to tolerate disruptive students, charters provide an opportunity for strivers, “high-potential low-income students . . . who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by supportive parents,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

. . .  the traditional system has been downright hostile to the needs of such striving children and families—as have been many charter critics. Magnet “exam schools,” such as those recently profiled by Checker Finn and Jessica Hockett, are viewed with suspicion; tracking or ability grouping is seen as elitist; any effort to provide special classes, environments, or challenges for motivated or high-achieving kids is cast as perpetuating inequality—even when all the kids are poor, and even though there’s a ton of evidence that high achievers do best around other high achievers.

And now these “social justice” types want to berate schools for asking disruptive students to leave.

For sure, there should be checks on pushing kids out willy-nilly. Thankfully, charter officials in D.C. are already on the case, publicizing discipline data and prodding the handful of schools with sky-high expulsion and suspension rates to find better approaches.

But let’s not forget about the needs (even rights) of the other kids to learn.

Parents like strict discipline policies, adds Eduwonk. That’s why 41 percent of D.C.’s public students now attend charter schools.

The problem is that too little attention is paid to what to do for students who need an alternative learning environment rather than a traditional school and there are too few learning environments like that – and too often alternative schools become the place where you put all the people who struggle in the regular system, adults and kids.

Washington D.C. charter schools are considering getting together to create an alternative school where disruptive students could be transferred instead of expelled. That could be great for troubled kids — or another dumping ground.

Rowdy kids disrupt classmates’ learning

Kids with poor self-control don’t learn as much in first grade — and neither do their classmates — concludes a study by Lori Skibbe and colleagues. It’s no surprise that disruptive students make it hard for teachers to teach and students to learn, writes Dan Willingham, but the effect is surprisingly large.