A modest proposal: Avoid satire

In A Modest Proposal, satirist Jonathan Swift proposed that poverty-stricken Irish peasants sell their children to be eaten by the rich. “A young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassée or a ragout,” he wrote. Satirically.

At a Maryland high school, students were assigned to write a Swiftian essay as part of a lesson on satire, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run blog. One diligent lad proposed solving U.S. racism by deporting blacks to the Sahara Desert.

I’d say that’s less offensive than urging the the buying, boiling and eating Irish children, but still offensive.

The district scheduled meetings “to allow students to express their opinions and say why they’re hurt, why they’re angered,” said Bob Mosier, Anne Arundel County Schools.

In a letter sent home to parents, North County High Principal Julie Cares wrote: “Just as one could argue that the content of [the original] piece was ill-advised and insensitive, such is the case with the content of the student’s piece.”

Betcha this is the last time a North County High teacher asks students to emulate Jonathan Swift.

College admissions: Why not a lottery?

Affirmative action is back in court — the U.S. Supreme Court — in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher is challenging racial preferences in admission to University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher is challenging racial preferences in admission to University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher, a white student rejected in 2008, claims her dream school used “holistic review” as a cover for racial discrimination. “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, and who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” Fisher said.

“Affirmative-action policies at selective colleges are very vulnerable,” writes Richard Kahlenberg in The Atlantic. Race is weighed “very heavily” in admissions decisions. That helps “fairly well-off African-American and Latino students.”

“By the 1990s, one study found that 86 percent of African American students on selective campuses were middle or upper class, and the white students were even richer,” he writes.

“Underrepresented minority students receive a 28-percentage-point increase in their chances of being admitted, according to one careful analysis,” he writes. ” Low-income students receive no boost whatsoever.”

University of Texas at Austin uses race as a factor in admission for up to 10 percent of students.

University of Texas at Austin admits the top 10 percent of students at each high school to ensure diversity; about 7 percent are admitted through “holistic review.”

Affirmative action based on economic disadvantage — help for low-income students of all races — could reproduce current levels of racial diversity at 193 selective colleges, a 2014 simulation concluded. “Socioeconomic diversity would rise substantially,” writes Kahlenberg.

Samuel Goldman, a poli sci prof at George Washington University, proposes a lottery open to all qualified applicants to replace the opaque, dishonest and expensive college admissions system.

The application would involve a checklist of more or less objective, externally verifiable criteria. These might include GPA above a certain cutoff, scores of 4 of 5 on a given number of AP tests, and so on. . . . there might be a box to be checked by applicants who played a varsity sport.  The application could even ask about socio-economic status, allowing applicants to indicate that their parents had not attended college or that they grew up in a high-poverty census tract.

Suppose the checklist contained ten criteria. Applicants who satisfied, say, six of them would be entered into a lottery for admission.

“Elite universities might lose a bit of their cachet,” he writes in The American Conservative. He’s OK with that.

A college-admissions lottery would reduce stress, writes Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore psychology professor.

Every selective school should establish criteria that students would have to meet to have a high likelihood of being successful. Then, the names of all applicants who meet these criteria would be put into a hat and the winners would be drawn at random.

Students wouldn’t have to be “best,” he writes. “Good enough” would be good enough.

To hell with the belle: UGA bans hoop skirts

Under pressure from University of Georgia administrators, fraternity and sorority leaders have banned hoop skirts for Kappa Alpha’s Old South Week and Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Magnolia Ball.

Victor Wilson, UGA’s vice president for student affairs, equated hoop skirts with Confederate uniforms, which KA dropped years ago.  “We’ve made a lot of progress,” Wilson said. “This is just one more step.”

It’s time to boot the Southern belle from campus, writes Elizabeth Boyd, who works at University of Maryland, in the Washington Post.

The Southern belle performances routinely staged on campuses across the South constitute choreography of exclusion. And most do not even require a hoop skirt. In campus productions — sorority rush, beauty revues and pageants, sporting traditions — young white women serve as signs of nostalgia for a bygone, segregated South and all its attendant privileges.

It sounds like universities would have to ban young white women. Or perhaps only the good-looking ones.

In response, one reader noted that the hoop skirt was worn by Northern abolitionists of all colors.

In another letter, Hans Bader brings up the First Amendment, noting a 1993 ruling that “even racist fraternity skits with offensive costumes are protected” as free speech. Banning hoop skirts “makes as little sense as banning powdered wigs or mint juleps,” he writes.

‘Equity’ leads to chaos, say St. Paul teachers

In the name of racial equity, St. Paul schools have turned to counseling — a 20-minute “time out” with a behavioral coach — rather than suspension for disruptive students, reports Susan Du in City Pages.

Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva (Pioneer Press file: John Autey)

Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva (Pioneer Press file: John Autey)

At the same time, students with “behavioral issues and cognitive disabilities were mainstreamed into general classes, along with all the kids who spoke English as a second language.”

Teachers are complaining of distrust, disorder and “chaos,” reports Du.

Under Superintendent Valeria Silva, St. Paul spent more than $1 million — EAG News estimates as much as $3 million — on consultants from Pacific Educational Group, which promises to create “racially conscious and socially just” schools.

Pacific offered racial equity training for teachers and staff, where they practiced talking about race. Teachers were asked to explore their biases, to preface their opinions with “As a white man, I believe…” or “As a black woman, I think….”

“The work begins with people looking at themselves and their own beliefs and implicit biases,” says Michelle Bierman, the district’s director of racial equity. If teachers could recognize their subconscious racism, everyone would work together to bridge the gap.

Teachers who say the discipline policy isn’t working are accused of opposing racial equity, says Roy Magnuson, who teaches at Como Park High.

At Harding High, Becky McQueen has been manhandled, injured and threatened — and seen her students attacked — by youths running into her classroom in what teachers call “classroom invasions.”

Now, to know who to let in, she tells her students to use a secret knock at the door.

“There are those that believe that by suspending kids we are building a pipeline to prison. I think that by not, we are,” McQueen says. “I think we’re telling these kids you don’t have to be on time for anything, we’re just going to talk to you. You can assault somebody and we’re gonna let you come back here.”

At one middle school, nine teachers quit before the end of the school year.

At a board meeting in May, teachers’ concerns about lax discipline were “drowned out” by parents and minority leaders who praised the drop in suspensions, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

. . . Aaron Benner, a fourth-grade teacher at John A. Johnson Elementary who is black, said that the district was doing a disservice to the children by not holding them to the same standard as students from other ethnic groups.

“Refusing to work is not black culture,” he said. “Assaulting your teacher is not black culture.”

A teachers’ group is working to replace four school board members in the fall election, reports Du. “They blame the board for backing Silva’s changes despite teacher outcry.”

Hmong students, who make up the district’s largest minority group, are leaving district schools, reports Du. They perform well below district averages. Yet, “all we hear is the academic disparity between the whites and the blacks,” says history teacher Khoa Yang. “This racial equity policy, it’s not equitable to all races.”

Angry — and resilient — in Baltimore

Eighth-graders at Green Street Academy share their concerns in light of Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore.

Eighth-grade boys at Baltimore’s Green Street Academy discuss Freddie Gray’s death.  Photo: Shereen Marisol Meraji/NPR

When Baltimore schools reopened after a day of protests and violence, NPR visited a West Baltimore middle/high school, Green Street Academy, that’s trying to help students “make sense of it all” — and stay calm.

William Richardson, a former teacher and dean of students who now works for Juvenile Services, talked to eighth-grade boys in the school cafeteria.

“Why have white people been killing us since slavery, and they’re still killing us?” one student asks.

“All these police officers are killing black dudes for no reason,” says a boy named Montrel.

“If a cop asks what we’re doing, and we’re not doing anything, do we have to answer?” another wonders.

Adults in the room tell the boys to protest peacefully, “write emails to politicians, encourage their parents to shop at black-owned businesses and to above all, be positive,” reports Shereen Marisol Meraji.

“Positive is not always the answer,” a student replies.

Get your education, a teacher says. Move up out of here. “The students don’t seem satisfied,” writes Meraji.

After lunch, Principal Crystal Harden-Lindsey visited an American Government class where a student, James Arrington, is talking about what he wants the government to do to help the kids of Baltimore.

James says young people need access to more activities, recreation centers and safe places to go after school. He wants more responsible adults in the community to count on; Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters to step in.

He says kids act out because they don’t have anyone to show them how to do better.

Harden-Lindsey asks whether bad choices are the responsibility of the kids who make them, or of adults who’ve let them down.

“I think it’s 50/50,” another student says, “’cause it’s the obstacles and the decisions you make on your own.”

Harden-Lindsey wants to focus on the “50” that’s within the control of the young people themselves.

“A lot of what you say, I can definitely understand in terms of being hopeless, of being angry,” Harden-Lindsey says.

“Yes, we have a lot of things that go against us,” says the principal, “but we’re also very resilient.”

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.

It helps (a little) to look like the teacher

Blacks and whites do slightly better in reading and math when taught by a teacher of the same race, concludes a new study that used Florida data. The benefit was stronger for lower-performing students.

Matching teachers to their students won’t work in integrated schools, of course.

Turnover is high for black, brown teachers

Alexandria Neason taught English language arts at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. She graduated from the same school in 2006. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

Alexandria Neason taught English at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa, Hawaii from 2011-2013 through Teach for America. (Photo: Annalise Miyashiro)

Most public school teachers 82 percent are white, even as the majority of their students are not. Where have all the black and brown teachers gone? asks Alexandria Neason on the Hechinger Report.

It’s not enough to recruit minority teachers, Neason writes. Turnover is high for blacks and Latinos. “Our schools are churning and burning teachers of color at unconscionably high rates.”

The number of non-white teachers entering the profession doubled in the 1980s in response to large-scale recruitment programs, says Richard Ingersoll, a Penn education professor. But minority teachers were 24 percent more likely to quit than their white colleagues from 1988 to 2008.

. . . minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools where turnover rates are higher among teachers of all races and backgrounds. Working conditions in these schools can be more difficult given the challenge of teaching large populations of high-needs students with insufficient resources and chronic staff turnover. And many federal and local policies over the last two decades have aggravated these tensions — pushing out teachers and principals at “failing” schools or closing them outright, for instance.

On top of that, teachers of color often feel isolated or stereotyped, particularly in schools where most of the other teachers are white or come from a different background.

A few programs now work on keeping minority teachers in the classroom, writes Neason.

Several studies in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, for instance, found that teachers of color can boost the self worth of their minority students, partly by exposing them to professionals who look like them.

Research has shown that students perform better academically, graduate at higher rates, and stay in school longer when they have teachers who come from the same backgrounds as they do.

High suspension rates for black students could be alleviated by keeping more teachers of color in the classroom, argues Esther Quintero, a senior policy fellow at the Albert Shanker Institute.

Learners have rights too

Charter schools with strict discipline policies provide learning opportunities for motivated students, wrote Mike Petrilli in a New York Times debate on school discipline. That’s why parents are choosing charters, he argued.

Accused of abandoning troubled students — and worse — he concedes that “pushing kids out of school and giving up on them too soon” is a problem.

There are too many schools with weak cultures, weaker leaders, ineffective discipline policies, and poorly trained staff that resort to punitive actions when other approaches would work better. And this has serious consequences for the kids who are suspended or expelled. Helping schools learn how to create positive school climates and develop alternative approaches is definitely worth doing.

But — you knew there’d be a but — eliminating suspensions and expulsions is “the educational equivalent of . . .  letting windows stay broken,”  argues Petrilli. “It elevates the rights of the disruptive students” above the needs of their classmates.

In high-poverty urban schools, the serious learners are low-income black or brown kids. Their parents can’t afford to move to the suburbs or pay private-school tuition.

Strong public schools have long had tools to deal with these moral dilemmas, including detentions, suspension, expulsion, and “alternative schools” for the most troubled students. Yet some on the left, including in Arne Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights, have been fighting to take these tools away.

“If you want traditional public schools to thrive, allow them to employ reasonable discipline policies that will create environments conducive to learning—including the responsible use of suspension, expulsion, and alternative schools,” writes Petrilli. Otherwise, competent parents will choose charter schools that are safe and orderly.

Critics say there are better ways to create safe, orderly schools, such as “restorative justice” approaches that try to mediate conflicts.

Here’s a video on a conflict-resolution program at an Oakland (California) middle school.

A new research paper from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative calls for educators to analyze discipline rates by race and ethnicity and look for alternatives to suspension. These include improving the “cultural responsiveness of instruction,” better classroom management, programs to build supportive relationships between teachers and students and high-quality instruction. “Efforts to increase academic rigor and to increase safe, predictable environments for young people” reduce conflict, the paper concludes.

That last bit seems chicken-and-eggish to me. If you create a safe, predictable environment, you’ll have a safer environment.

Onion: White girl will be tried as black adult

A photogenic white girl will be tried for murder as a 300-pound black man, ruled a judge in a 2011 Onion satire.

The accused killer’s father says: “This is America! Nobody deserves to be treated as a black man.”