New discipline rules make schools less safe

“Progressive” discipline policies such as “restorative justice” are reducing suspensions — and making schools less safe, argues Paul Sperry in the New York Post.

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

. . . everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Chicago teachers say they’re “struggling to deal with unruly students” under a new policy that minimizes suspension, reports the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s just basically been a totally lawless few months,” said Megan Shaunnessy, a special education teacher at De Diego Community Academy.

De Diego teachers said the school lacks a dedicated “peace room” where students can cool off if they’ve been removed from a class. They say the school does not have a behavioral specialist on staff to intervene with students, nor does it have resources to train teachers on discipline practices that address a student’s underlying needs.

 “You have to have consequences,” fifth-grade teacher John Engels said of the revised conduct code. “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit, when you got on the Edens Expressway you’d go 100 miles an hour.”

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a "talking circle."

Oakland students discuss behavior issues in a “talking circle.”

All over the country, teachers are complaining that student behavior has worsened under lenient policies, writes Sperry.

It has created a “systemic inability to administer and enforce consistent consequences for violent and highly disruptive student behaviors” that “put students and staff at risk and make quality instruction impossible,” wrote Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern in a letter to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

Los Angeles Unified also is seeing problems, writes Sperry.

“I was terrified and bullied by a fourth-grade student,” a teacher at a Los Angeles Unified School District school recently noted on the Los Angeles Times website. “The black student told me to ‘Back off, b—h.’ I told him to go to the office and he said, ‘No, b—h, and no one can make me.’ ”

Oakland Unified is considered a national model for using restorative justice programs to cut suspensions in half.  “Even repeat offenders can negotiate the consequences for their bad behavior, which usually involve paper-writing and ‘dialogue sessions’,” writes Sperry.

There have been serious threats against teachers,” Oakland High School science teacher Nancy Caruso told the Christian Science Monitor, and yet the students weren’t expelled. She notes a student who set another student’s hair on fire received a “restorative” talk in lieu of suspension.

. . . White teachers are taught to check their “unconscious racial bias” when dealing with black students who act out. They’re told to open their eyes to “white privilege” and white cultural “dominance,” and have more empathy for black kids who may be lashing out in frustration. They are trained to identify “root causes” of black anger, such as America’s legacy of racism.

Conflicts can take days or weeks to resolve. Teachers must use class time for “circles” rather than academic instruction.

“RJ (restorative justice) can encourage misbehavior by lavishing attention on students for committing infractions,” warns science teacher Paul Bruno, who participated in talking circles while teaching middle school in Oakland and South Central Los Angeles.

Most schools still follow zero-tolerance rules. An 11-year-old boy was kicked out of school for a year when a leaf that looked like marijuana, but wasn’t, was found in his backpack, reports the Roanoke Times. The gifted student now suffers from depression and panic attacks.

LA gives up on ‘computers for all’

Los Angeles Unified won’t try to give every student a computer, said Superintendent Ramon Cortines on Friday. It’s too expensive, he said. Besides, he told reporters, “education shouldn’t become the gimmick of the year.”

FBI seizes LAUSD records related to troubled iPad program

John Deasy, his predecessor, was forced out after his $1.3-billion iPads-for-all plan crashed on rollout, notes the Los Angeles Times. 

Cortines requested a federal review, which found “lack of resources and inadequate planning for how the devices would be used in classrooms and, later, how they would be evaluated, reports the Times.

Los Angeles requires ethnic studies

Ethnic studies will be a graduation requirement in Los Angeles Unified by 2019, reports KPCC.

District officials estimate the new requirement will cost $3.9 million.

Several ethnic studies courses, such as Chicano Literature, African American History and Asian Studies, are offered at 19 district high schools. Only 700 students out of 152,000 high school students districtwide take an ethnic studies course, according to Ethnic Studies Now. Ninety percent of Los Angeles Unified students are non-white.

“There is a saying: ‘The real story of the hunter will be told when the lion and the buffalo get to write,'” said LAUSD board member George McKenna, co-sponsor of the resolution who represents South Los Angeles.

San Francisco should require ethnic studies, says Sandra Fewer, the school board president. “Yes, it will mean that something else will have to go,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. Her first priority is expanding the course to all high schools.

In David Ko’s ethnic studies class at Washington High School, students learn to “talk about their experiences in a way that is less about the individual and more of the cultural norms or systems of oppression,” reports the Chronicle. Many of the students “were placed in the class because there wasn’t room in their elective of choice.”

It appears that few students are choosing ethnic studies over other electives, such as music, art, drama, journalism or an AP course. Why not let them decide?

Klein gets to say ‘I told you so’

Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, has a book coming out today, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools.

His timing is great, writes Rick Hess. Two new “gold-standard” studies on Klein’s reforms show promising results.

Klein closed large, low-performing high schools and opened small schools that are more likely to graduate their students and more likely to see them enroll in college, according to MDRC.

The Equity Project, “one of the many boundary-pushing charter schools that opened on Klein’s watch,” is raising achievement for its low-income students, according to a rigorous Mathematica evaluation.

It takes time to see what works, writes Hess. Klein didn’t get everything right, “but he led with courage and conviction, was constantly eager to inquire and learn, showed astonishing fortitude in the face of exhaustive personal attacks, and left New York’s kids a helluva lot better off than when he started.”

Improving teacher quality is the key to improving schools, Klein told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.

Firing a teacher “took an average of almost two and a half years and cost the city over $300,000,” when he started as chancellor, Klein writes. Due to union contracts, it was “virtually impossible to remove a teacher charged with incompetence.”

Klein wants schools of education to raise their selection criteria and update their curriculum, he told Bruni.

Klein urged “a rational incentive system” that doesn’t currently exist in most districts. He’d like to see teachers paid more for working in schools with “high-needs” students and for tackling subjects that require additional expertise. “If you have to pay science and physical education teachers the same, you’re going to end up with more physical education teachers,” he said. “The pay structure is irrational.”

In an ideal revision of it, he added, there would be “some kind of pay for performance, rewarding success.” Salaries wouldn’t be based primarily on seniority.

In Los Angeles, John Deasy “is the fourth California superintendent in the last two years to be driven from a job that has the shelf life of homogenized milk,” writes Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. The new superintendent, as yet unknown, may be “a Deasy-type provocateur, burning out after a short time or, more likely, we will be treated to a make-nice type who will not rock the LAUSD boat.”

LA Superintendent Deasy resigns

Under fire from all sides, John Deasy has resigned as superintendent of Los Angeles Unified. “Needless to say this has been hard work, in fact exhausting work,” Deasy wrote in his resignation letter. “I am proud and honored, but it is time for a transition.”

deasy2He’ll stay on for the rest of the school year as a consultant, while Ramon Cortines — the veteran reliever for urban school districts — will be interim superintendent.

Deasy’s three and half years were “mired in controversy over technology missteps like the rollout of a $1.3 billion iPad program and a court case that struck down teacher tenure laws in California,” notes the Hechinger Report.

However, test scores and graduation rates are up, while suspension rates “have dropped dramatically.”

Deasy testified for the prosecution in the Vergara trial, which overturned state laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal. He never discussed the case with the school board, trustee Steve Zimmer told the Hechinger Report.

Zimmer was particularly disturbed that Deasy seemed to enjoy taking down laws that were put in place to protect the 28,000 teachers he leads.

“You take something that needs a scalpel and careful instrumentation and instead you take out the sledgehammer,” says Zimmer. “Deasy wasn’t careful enough to avoid the perception that he enjoyed using the sledgehammer. He fought for things he really believed in, which is fine, but he wasn’t careful about how it would be perceived by the people who have to teach our kids everyday.”

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., isn’t a big fan of the Vergara lawsuit, yet he admires that Deasy stuck to his principles. “For a superintendent to make it clear that he hopes his own district will lose a lawsuit in order to effect change takes a little bit of chutzpah,” says Hess.

Deasy was hired to shake up the system, says David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor at Pomona.

Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brought Deasy into the district with backing from billionaire Eli Broad, with the hope of growing the charter school system, confronting the teachers union, and changing the terms of teacher employment in Los Angeles.

“Unless you think the status quo is just hunky-dory, you can sit back and do the same old, same old because it makes it easier or congenial,” says Joel Klein, former schools chancellor in New York City. “If you’re not willing to do things that are controversial, then in my view you’re not going to change things for kids, and if you’re not going to change things for kids, then why be a superintendent?”

School police will return grenade launchers

Los Angeles school police will return three grenade launchers provided by the military, but intends to keep 61 M-16 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The rifles, modified to semi-automatic, are “essential life-saving items,” according to district officials.

The Oakland School Police Department received a “tactical utility truck,” which is used a “rolling public relations vehicle,” at school events and parades, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt said.

Protected vehicle

LA teachers don’t use iPad curriculum

“In the first formal evaluation of the troubled iPads-for-all project in Los Angeles schools, only one teacher out of 245 classrooms visited was using the costly online curriculum,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

District staff focused on distributing devices, rather than helping teachers figure out how to use them effectively, the analysis concluded.

Teachers used technology to display documents, replacing an overhead projector or whiteboard.  In a few cases, researchers saw students using the iPads to do Internet research, take notes or create PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.

However, teachers said it was difficult to log in to the curriculum and no high school math curriculum was provided. Four out of five high schools reported that they rarely used the tablets.

Los Angeles dumps iPad contract

Tiannah Dizadare smiles as she and a school mate explore the possibilities with their new LAUSD provided IPads.

Los Angeles Unified won’t buy iPads for every student after all. Superintendent John Deasy has suspended the district’s contract with Apple “amid mounting scrutiny of the $1-billion-plus effort,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The suspension comes days after disclosures that the superintendent and his top deputy had especially close ties to executives of Apple, maker of the iPad, and Pearson, the company that is providing the curriculum on the devices.

. . . Last week, a draft report of a district technology committee, obtained by The Times, was strongly critical of the bidding process.

Among the findings was that the initial rules for winning the contract appeared to be tailored to the products of the eventual winners — Apple and Pearson — rather than to demonstrated district needs. The report found that key changes to the bidding rules were made after most of the competition had been eliminated under the original specifications.

LA paid more than other districts for the iPads, a school board member says.

Of course, the key problem is that they bought expensive technology before figuring out how  it would be used to help students learn.

Most schools trying blended learning are buying Chromebooks, which are cheaper and come with a keyboard, rather than iPads.

Paying poor kids to go to school

Can You Fight Poverty by Paying Kids to Go to School? asks Glenn Thrush on Politico.

A Memphis experiment is paying low-income parents and their teens for working full-time, getting medical check-ups, going to school, taking a college entrance exam and the like.

A student who compiles an acceptable school attendance record gets $40 a month, showing up for an annual dental or medical check-up means a $100 check, grades are monetized ($30 for an A, $20 for B, $10 for a C) and taking a college entrance exam like the ACT gets you a $50 check. Parents are also rewarded: Adults get a $150 monthly bonus, up to $1,800 a year, simply for working full-time.

Even supporters admit they’re a bit dubious, as when the caseworkers administering the program in Memphis pointedly asked me why they couldn’t get a little extra cash for being responsible grown-ups. “No joke. I could use an extra $150 a month for showing up at work,” one of them told me. “Do you really think our clients are that much worse off than we are?”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid millions of dollars of his own money to fund an experiment in cash transfers in 2007. Despite meager results, Memphis is trying the idea, funded by the city, federal grants and Bloomberg’s philanthropy.

New York City’s experiment offered “large, intermittent payouts for big achievements instead of more frequent rewards for smaller achievements that would give families a greater sense of forward progress,” writes Thrush.

Students could earn $300 to $350—big money for a family earning $25,000 a year—for passing their standardized assessment tests in the fourth and eighth grades, or a whopping $600 for annual subject-based high school tests known as Regents Exams. But as incentives go, they were too big, too delayed. . . . Other mistakes seem obvious in retrospect; offering a kid $50 for obtaining a library card doesn’t mean they’ll use it take out a book—especially if they are already reading below grade level.

. . . education incentives “had few effects” on the academic performance of school-age children who received the cash, according to MDRC’s 2013 report.

The program “worked best as a boost for students already moving in the right direction, rather than a lever for digging the poorest of the poor out of their deep hole,” writes Thrush.

In Memphis, it was hard to recruit families, says Coasy Hale, who works for Memphis HOPE, one of two organizations picked to counsel clients and deliver program materials. People thought it was a scam. “They were like ‘Who is really going to pay us to do stuff we should already be doing anyway?”

Once enrolled, parents split into two distinct groups: “One segment of parents was highly motivated to earn rewards and pushed their kids in school, and an equally large group tuned in and out, and did just the bare minimum to get a few checks.”

. . . most poor people have parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents who received some form of government assistance and they tended to view the new rewards system as just another entitlement that would come and go. “People don’t really have to worry about food or housing. They go from crisis to crisis but they basically can survive,” says Gwen Price, whose staff at Porter-Leath oversees the other 300 Memphis families in the program. “They figure my mother got by, and I’ll get by, so why change?”

Counselors try to help the lowest-income families improve their planning and time management skills. But “it’s been a slog,” writes Thrush.

Cash transfers may help the “hardest-working poor” stabilize their lives, but do little for people who wouldn’t get their kids to school without a bribe.

I reported on welfare reform when I worked at the San Jose Mercury News. I met poor people whose lives could be transformed if someone gave them a reliable car.  (I gave a bicycle — with a lock and helmet — to a poor Vietnamese family who were thrilled. One of my daughter’s high school friends had abandoned the bike at our house when he got his driver’s license.) And there are poor people who need a lot more than money.

Los Angeles may bribe people to vote in municipal elections.  The Ethics Commission has voted to recommend a study of offering cash — perhaps as a lottery prize worth up to $50,000 — to boost turnout. 

Kids won’t eat healthy school lunches

Making School Lunches Healthier Doesn’t Mean Kids Will Eat Them, writes Olga Khazan in The Atlantic.

Los Angeles Unified has been fighting childhood obesity for years: It ” outlawed sodas in schools in 2004, banned selling junk food on campus, and swapped the bulk of its canned and frozen produce for fresh,” writes Khazan. Still,  42 percent of students are overweight or obese.

In 2011, the district went after school lunches.

. .  .the new menus were the most austere measure yet, cutting kid-friendly favorites like chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and nachos. Instead, little Jayden and Mia would dine would dine on vegetarian curries, tostada salad, and fresh pears.

A student rebellion ensued—kids brought Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to school rather than much on quinoa salad—and L.A. Unified was forced to settle for a middle ground between Alice Waters and Ronald McDonald.

Under the new new menu, “Hamburgers will be offered daily,” the L.A. Times reported. “Some of the more exotic dishes are out, including the beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. And the Caribbean meatball sauce will be changed to the more familiar teriyaki flavor.”

But students are still “beelining toward carbs and meat and avoiding fruits and vegetables,” according to a study in the April issue of Preventative Medicine. Examining middle schoolers lunch trays, researchers found that “32 percent of students did not take the fruit from the line, and almost 40 percent did not take the vegetables. Among those who did take a fruit or vegetable, 22 percent threw away the fruit and 31 percent tossed the vegetables without eating a single bite.”

 So in essence, just over half the students both took and ate some fruit, and about 42 percent both took and ate a vegetable.

Salads were the most common vegetable to be left untouched, while whole fruits, like apples and oranges, were far less popular than fruit cups or juices.

Food waste totals at least $100,000 a day, estimates the Times.

School districts are losing their paying lunchers because of new federal regulations, reports Reason. Congressional Republicans may give money-losing districts a one-year waiver of federal regulations, reports Reason.

Michelle Obama adamantly opposes any changes, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Other proposed changes include “scrapping a requirement that foods be 100% whole-grain by July 2014 and sticking with the current 50% target; holding to the newly enacted standard for sodium rather than a lower target scheduled to go into effect in a few years; and eliminating the requirement that students take a fruit or vegetable, regardless of whether they plan to eat it.”

One of my stepdaughter is a nutritionist who designs school lunches. The insanely complex guidelines must be met every day, she says. It’s not possible to go a little under in one category on Monday and make it up on Tuesday.