Teachers protest discipline reform

Image result for blackboard jungleMaintaining order in the classroom was an issue in 1955, when Glenn Ford starred as a novice New York City teacher in Blackboard Jungle

Under pressure to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, schools are turning to “restorative justice” programs that encourage offenders to discuss their actions and make amends.

Earlier this year, Indianapolis and New York City teachers complained about poorly implemented “restorative justice” programs, reported Emmanuel Felton in Ed Week. Now, teachers in Fresno and Des Moines are saying new discipline policies are making it harder to teach.

“As Fresno Unified officials were praising McLane High School’s restorative justice program” at a conference, “teachers at the school were circulating a petition that says those same strategies have led to an unsafe campus plagued with fights and disruptions,” reports the Fresno Bee.

At least 70 of the 85 teachers at McLane High have signed a petition demanding a stricter and more consistent student discipline policy, as well as more say in how students are punished for their actions.

The teachers paint McLane as a place where there are constant disruptions and numerous on-campus fights and where teachers are verbally assaulted.

. . . While suspensions and expulsions at Fresno Unified have dramatically decreased since then, some teachers say the pressure to curb disciplinary action has led to zero consequences for students, and out-of-control classrooms.

“Students are returned to class without consequence after assaulting teachers, both verbally and physically,” the petition declares.

There are problems in Des Moines too. “Students scream, threaten, shove and hit teachers or other students, with little consequence, students, parents and union leaders told the Register.”

Why bad teachers rarely get fired

In 25 diverse districts across the country, it’s very, very hard to fire a bad teacher concludes Undue Process, a new Fordham report by David Griffith and Victoria McDouglald.

“Across the country, most districts and states continue to confer lifetime tenure on teachers, weak teachers still take years to dismiss if they achieve tenured status, and any attempt to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher remains vulnerable to costly challenges at every stage in the process—from evaluation, to remediation,” they conclude.

“Across the country, most districts and states continue to confer lifetime tenure on teachers, weak teachers still take years to dismiss if they achieve tenured status, and any attempt to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher remains vulnerable to costly challenges at every stage in the process—from evaluation, to remediation,” they conclude.

In nearly half of the districts studied, “dismissing a veteran teacher for poor performance takes a minimum of two years, and in Los Angeles and San Francisco it takes at least five years,” the study found.

New York City is one of the hardest places to fire a low-performing teacher, reports Chalkbeat.

An Bronx elementary teacher got her job back after being caught helping students cheat on a state exam, reports the New York Post.

Ericka Bolt had told students to change incorrect answers, a panel of state judges ruled. But four of five judges said that firing her for a “one-time mistake . . . shocks our sense of fairness.”

Open houses, closed doors


Ruby Bromberg’s parents paid for a service that tells students how to get into open houses required for admission to high-performing public schools. Photo: Monica Disare/Chalkbeat

Applying to some highly regarded New York City public schools, requires insider knowledge, writes Monica Disare on Chalkbeat. Scoring a seat at the open house isn’t easy. Many schools give admissions preferences to students who came to an open house or information session.

One day last fall, Ruby Bromberg rushed to her computer and frantically began refreshing the page to see when Bard High School Early College — a high-performing public school in Manhattan — would post its open house registration. When the site went live, she clicked through as fast as she could and snagged a coveted seat.

Slots filled up in less than 15 minutes, the principal told open-house attendees.

Ruby knew to be at her computer to sign up at precisely the right time because her family paid $150 for a service called High School 411. The service sends email updates with information and reminders about coveted open house slots. Without it, the website says, “families are left in the dark and on their own.”

In theory, students can show interest — essential for admission — by signing up at a high school fair, but not all schools participate, writes Disare, “and there is no way to track whether those sign-ups count.”

Yahayra Colon, a top student at her Washington Heights middle school, didn’t visit any potential high schools. She disliked her first high school, transferred to another that was “scary,” tried Catholic school (her mother took a second job to pay for it), then tried a fourth and a fifth public school. She’s starting at SUNY Oneonta this fall.

By contrast, savvy parents begin visiting potential high schools when their children are in seventh grade, writes Disare.

NYC: Are schools really safer?

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City has made it much harder for principals to suspend students for defiance and disobedience, writes Stephen Eide in a look at the progressive mayor’s education policies.

Believers in the “school-to-prison pipeline,” progressives nationwide are trying to limit suspensions, he writes in Education Next.

“While below-proficient students are believed to benefit the most from a lower suspension rate, those who have the most to lose are the above-proficient, low-income strivers,” writes Eide.

The De Blasio administration claims school crime has fallen by 29 percent over four years. However, Families for Excellent Schools cites state data showing rising levels of violent incidents.

There are only four “persistently dangerous” schools in the city, down by 85 percent, the administration claimed last month. The school-safety agents union head pointed out that not a single high school had made the list, notes Eide.

In May 2016, the New York Post reported that school-safety agents and police officers had confiscated 26 percent more weapons from students during this past school year than over the same span in 2014–15.

In a recent teachers’ union survey, “more than 80 percent of the respondents said students in their schools lost learning time as a result of other disruptive students.”

De Blasio is trying to close the achievement gap through “turnarounds instead of closures, heavy emphasis on addressing the ‘root causes’ of K–12 underperformance through pre-kindergarten education and social services, less antagonistic relations with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), and more-relaxed school-discipline policies,” writes Eide. “The results have been something less than revolutionary. “

Circling vs. suspension: It’s ‘exhausting’

Replacing suspension with “restorative justice” circles is “effective but exhausting,” concludes Susan Dominus in the New York Times Magazine.

Students and teachers “strengthen connections and heal rifts” by discussing their reaction to an incident, she writes. In Denver and Oakland, schools have lowered suspension rates, improved graduation rates and improved the school atmosphere, she writes.

Two of Leadership and Public Service High School’s student mediators, Tuson Irvin and Annika James. Photo: Melissa Bunni Elian /New York Times

Tuson Irvin and Annika James are student mediators at their New York City high school. Photo: Melissa Bunni Elian/New York Times

New York City’s Leadership and Public Service High School started experimenting with restorative practices five years ago.

Principal Phil Santos is committed to the approach, but calls it “exhausting” and “messy.”

He recruited a new dean, Erin Dunlevy, who’d trained in restorative practices. She trained student leaders, but was “rattled when, within the first month of school, one girl from that group brawled with another girl,” throwing a fire extinguisher that broke the dean’s toe, writes Dominus.

Dunlevy has trained students and other deans in how to get each party in a conflict to take responsibility and make amends.” For example, “a student who had left a classroom in disarray might help the teacher clean it.”

She also coached teachers on how to use language that set a welcoming rather than punitive tone. “As opposed to, ‘You’re late, sign this late log,’ it’s, ‘Hey, this class is not complete without you — I need you to be here,’?” Dunlevy says.

Suspensions are way down at the school, but absenteeism is high and college-readiness rates are below the district average, writes Dominus. In fact, students and teachers are somewhat less likely to say the school has a “safe and respectful environment.”

Charters work for black students

Image result for howard fuller
Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of Milwaukee schools, helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The NAACP’s call for a national moratorium on new charter schools will harm black families, argues Howard Fuller in an Education Week commentary. Low-income and working-class parents are “in desperate need of the types of educational opportunities that are being provided by charter schools,” writes Fuller, who’s now a Marquette education professor and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning.

Twenty-seven percent of charter students are black, nearly double their enrollment in traditional public schools, writes Fuller. “Many of the 1 million names on waiting lists to get into a charter school are black children.”

Black parents continue to vote with their feet to enroll their children in charter schools for good reason—they work. According to Stanford University’s CREDO 2015 Urban Charter Schools Report on students in 41 urban regions across the country, low-income black students attending public charter schools gained 33 percent more learning in math and 24 percent more learning in reading each year as compared to their traditional public school peers.

In early August, New York City released achievement results for its public schools, showing that black and Hispanic charter school students were twice as likely to be on grade level in math as their peers in traditional public schools, and 50 percent more likely to be on grade level in English.

The NAACP claims that charter schools increase segregation. “Why are charter schools being criticized for bringing good schools into communities that have been underserved and neglected for years?” asks Fuller.

51% in NYC prefer charters

Only one in four New Yorkers said they were satisfied with their child’s education, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Fifty-one percent said they’d prefer a charter school for their own child: In the Bronx, two-thirds said they’d choose a charter school.

Charter students are outpacing district students in the city, reports the Wall Street Journal.

According to new state testing data, citywide student proficiency increased this year on average by 7.6 percentage points in English and 1.2 percentage points in math to 38% and 36.4%, respectively.

. . . proficiency at charter schools this year jumped 13.7 percentage points in English and 4.5 percentage points in math to 43% and 47%, respectively. In other words, charter students have improved by two to four times as much as the citywide average.

Black and Hispanic charter students — who make up nearly 90 percent of enrollment —  “scored 73% higher than their counterparts at district-run schools,” according to an analysis by Families for Excellent Schools.

Teachers study how to teach fractions


Teachers observe lessons at New York City Math Lab. Photo: Elizabeth Green/Chalkbeat

How do you get students fired up about fractions? asks Elizabeth Green on Chalkbeat. She looks at a New York City’s program that teaches teachers how to “reinvent” math lessons.

The Math Lab stresses “learning math by talking and thinking about it,” writes Green. Students preparing for fifth grade agree to “add onto each other’s thinking” and “analyze and observe each other’s work.”

(Math Lab co-founder Kim) Van Duzer led an activity called “convincing a skeptic,” where students were asked to fold pieces of green paper into squares one quarter the size of the original and then convince their partner that the new shape was, in fact, one-fourth of the original.

Some students struggled to articulate why the squares they folded where one fourth of the whole piece of paper. “Sometimes my partner asked questions I didn’t understand,” one student admitted. But encouraging students to challenge each other’s ideas paid off later that morning.

After introducing the idea of representing fractions on a number line, co-founder Peter Cipparone asked students whether eight-sixths is greater than one.

One student declared that eight-sixths is less than one, only to be told by someone sitting nearby that he had the numerator and denominator confused. The ensuing debate ended when the first student admitted his mistake and leapt at the chance to offer a correct answer in his own words.

Many of the teacher observers said they’d never been able to “watch another educator teach consecutive lessons,” reports Green.

Is this really revolutionary?

NYC school closures helped students

Closing low-performing New York City high schools raised graduation rates, writes James Kemple of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools in Education Next. Incoming ninth graders were more likely to attend a higher-performing high school and substantially improved their likelihood of earning a Regents diploma.

Despite the improved outcomes, only 56 percent of displaced students earned a diploma in four years, Kemple concludes. “This highlights deeply entrenched inequalities in New York City schools, where poor students of color lag far behind their more-privileged peers on a wide range of measures.”

Choosing segregation for a black child

Nikole Hannah-Jones’ black working-class parents sent her to the best — and whitest — school in town, thanks to an integration plan. Her husband, an Army brat, got an integrated education in military schools.

As educated and middle-class parents in a black but gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, they struggled with choosing a school in a segregated city, writes Hannah-Jones in New York Times Magazine.

Najya??? Hannah-Jones

Najya Hannah-Jones Photo: Henry Leutwyler/New York Times

An education writer, she wanted to send her daughter to public school. All the local schools serve low-income black and Latino kids and have low test scores.

“I didn’t know any of our middle-class neighbors, black or white, who sent their children to one of these schools,” she writes. “They had managed to secure seats in the more diverse and economically advantaged magnet schools or gifted-and-talented programs outside our area, or opted to pay hefty tuition to progressive but largely white private institutions.”

Not wanting her daughter to be one of a handful of black students at a predominantly white school, she rolled the dice on a segregated school, P.S. 307, with a great principal and strong funding. Most students come from the housing project across the street.

But she worries the school will gentrify. Neighboring P.S. 8, serving well-to-do whites, is overcrowded while P.S. 307 has plenty of room. If the boundaries are shifted — over vociferous objections from P.S. 8 parents — will their daughter’s school become dominated by affluent white families?

Alexander Russo wonders how many other people in “educationland” have chosen a heavily minority public school for their own kids. So far, he’s got Ben Speicher and Eva Moskowitz, both charter school leaders.

Family Sport Night at Community Roots School in Brooklyn. Photo: Beth Fertig

A Brooklyn charter school works at integrating students and parents, reports Beth Fertig on WNYC’s SchoolBook.

Community Roots Charter School is 39 percent white, 33 percent black, 20 percent combined Hispanic and Asian, and 8 percent “other,” much like its district.

To encourage socializing, the school “stays open late for regular get-togethers like family sports or arts nights, cooking classes for parents, teacher-arranged ‘play dates’ for kids who don’t know each other well,” writes Fertig.

More than 700 students applied for 50 kindergarten seats this year, but “only 25 percent of its students qualify for free lunch, far less than in the surrounding public schools.” To create a socioeconomic mix, the school now requires that 40 percent of students must come from nearby housing projects.