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.

How parents choose schools

Georgia parents don’t choose private schools for their test scores, concludes More Than Scores, a study of the the state’s tax-credit scholarship program by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Parents who chose to use the scholarships at private schools cared most about disciplinary policies, learning climate, class sizes, safety and individual attention for their children.

Since 2008, Georgia students have been able to receive scholarships to private schools through nonprofits, which are funded by individual and corporate contributions. Donors get an offsetting state income tax credit.

Only 10.2 percent rated “higher standardized test scores” as one of their top five reasons for choosing a private school. Parents were most concerned about finding a safe, orderly school.

Most popular among respondents were:

“better student discipline” (50.9 percent),

“better learning environment” (50.8 percent),

“smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent),

“improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and

“more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).

Low-income parents give top priority to graduation rates and college acceptance rates in deciding on a school.

Gay-unfriendly student wins speech case

In a teacher-initiated discussion on anti-gay bullying, a Michigan high school student said he “couldn’t accept gays” because of his Catholic faith. The economics teacher equated the statement to saying he “couldn’t accept blacks” and kicked him out of class, writing up a referral for “unacceptable behavior.”

In a June 19 ruling in Glowacki v. Howell Public School District, a federal district judge ruled that the teacher violated the student’s right to free expression, reports Ed Week.

U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan of Detroit awarded damages of $1 to Daniel Glowacki, who was a junior at Howell High School in the fall of 2010.  Howell Public School District, which took no action against the student and reprimanded the teacher, was not liable, the judge ruled.

“Public schools must strive to provide a safe atmosphere conducive to learning for all students while fostering an environment that tolerates the expression of different viewpoints, even if unpopular, so as to equip students with the tools necessary for participation in a democratic society,” Judge Duggan said.

Glowacki did not disrupt the class, the judge ruled. McDowell engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

When asked about the move by the remaining students, McDowell said a student could not voice an opinion that “creates an uncomfortable learning environment for another student,” according to court papers.

Imagine how lively class discussion would be if no student was allowed to make another student feel uncomfortable.

Glowacki transferred to another economics class.

Why I teach stuff

Jessica Lahey teaches stuff, she writes on Coming of Age in the Middle, which I’ve added to the blogroll. One of her Twitter “followers” has posted what purports to be a quote from Albert Einstein: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Lahey disagrees.

I can see how this sentiment would be attractive to teachers, because it implies that all we have to provide is an inviting atmosphere, a bubble of trust and creativity with comfy chairs to cradle students’ tushies, and the rest will magically happen.

Creating a supportive atmosphere for learning is just square one, writes Lahey, who teaches at a Core Knowledge school dedicated to teaching content.

My youngest son, Finengan, is in third grade, at my Core Knowledge school. Three times a week, he leaves the comfort of his classroom and attends a bona fide history class. Not “social studies,” but capitol-H History class. Content. History. Facts.

This month, he’s learning about the Vikings and Rome, Leif Erickson and Julius Caesar. When he gets to fifth grade and Dr. Freeberg’s reading of The Odyssey, he will have a context for the journey of the hero, lust for power, and land, and exploration. This might evolve in to discussions of Napoleon, colonialism, and slavery. In sixth grade, when I finally get my pedagogical talons in him, his web will be sticky enough to hold on to Julius Caesar, the geography of the Roman Empire, the literal and figurative meaning of “alea iacta est” and the controversy surrounding the quote “Et tu, Brute?”

“America’s educational system contains enough empty platitudes and kitten posters,” Lahey concludes. Students need to learn “real content” to create connections that will enable new learning to “stick.”  (I’d bet boys enjoy learning about Viking explorers and Roman conquerors.) Her analogy is weaving strands of knowledge into a sticky web that catches new facts and ideas. I like to think of knowledge as Velcro, which is made of many small loops and hooks. The more Velcro, the easier it is to learn more.

Study: Parents matter more than schools

Parents who value education have more impact on student’s achievement than attending a school that’s a “positive learning environment,” concludes a new study, Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School? 

“The effort that parents are putting in at home in terms of checking homework, reinforcing the importance of school, and stressing the importance of academic achievement is ultimately very important to their children’s academic achievement,” Dr. Toby Parcel, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. and a co-author of the study, told Education Week.

Measures of family social capital included:

• Does the parent check the student’s homework?
• Does the parent attend school meetings?
• Does the parent attend school events?
• How much trust does the parent have in the child?
• How often do students report discussing school programs, activities, and classes with parents?

To measure school social capital, defined as a school’s ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, the researchers evaluated:

• Student participation in extracurricular activities;
• Whether the school contacted parents;
• The level of teacher morale;
• The level of conflict between teachers and administrators;
• Whether teachers responded to individual student needs; and
• An overall measure of school environment that tapped delinquency, absenteeism, and violence.

This is not surprising.