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.”

Teaching Ferguson

Ferguson firefighter surveys the damage at a strip mall that was set on fire after a grand jury declined to indict the Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown

Teachers are using #FergusonSyllabus to share ideas for how to discuss  the shooting of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests, reports PBS NewsHour.

Marcia Chatelain, a history professor at Georgetown, started the Twitter tag. Teachers in all subjects are planning lessons, she says. “Some science teachers talked about tear gas and the health impacts of using tear gas on citizens.  . . .  I heard from music teachers who said, we’re going to spend time looking at the elements of protest music and protest songs for different movements.”

 Liz Collins, who teaches English at a Washington, D.C. charter school, is “focusing primarily on text, on media, on facts and interpretation and how can we discuss these things and determine what the truth is, whatever the truth — if that’s possible to determine, and the different perspectives.  How do the protesters feel? How do the police feel?”

Teachers share lesson ideas in the New York Times and the Huffington Post.

Minneapolis will close ‘suspension gap’

Minneapolis public schools will try to eliminate the “suspension gap” by reviewing discipline of black, Latino and Native American students. The move is part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which has ben investigating high suspension rates for black students. 

“MPS must aggressively reduce the disproportionality between black and brown students and their white peers every year for the next four years,” the agreement states. “This will begin with a 25 percent reduction in disproportionality by the end of this school year; 50 percent by 2016; 75 percent by 2017; and 100 percent by 2018.”

This year, the district has cut suspensions by more than half by using alternatives for non-violent behavior, such as talking back to a teacher. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said teachers are being trained to handle student behavior in the classroom, reports Minnesota Public Radio.

But Johnson says a stubborn gap remains between the number of suspensions of white students and students of color. This fall, African-American students comprised 76 percent of students suspended while they make up just over a third of students enrolled in the district.

. . . “I and all of my staff will start to review all non-violent suspensions of students of color, especially black boys, to understand why they’re being suspended so we can help intervene with teachers, student leaders and help give them the targeted support they need for these students,” she said.

Principals will retain the authority to suspend white and Asian-American students without review.

Race-based discipline quotas are unconstitutional, responds attorney Hans Bader, who worked in the Office of Civil Rights. He writes more here on disparate impact and school discipline.

“Blatantly racist and likely unconstitutional,” writes Walter Hudson on PJ Media. Also “ridiculous policy.”

Why not seek alternatives to out-of-school suspension for all students?

The new segregation is socioeconomic

The New Segregation is a matter of social class, not race, argue Richard Kahlenberg and Carl Chancellor in the Washington Monthly.

Starting in 2000, Montgomery County, Maryland schools have spent an extra $2,000 per pupil in high-poverty schools. The money funds all-day kindergarten, smaller classes and teacher development.

In addition, zoning policies have placed some public housing in affluent areas.

Lower-income students in low-spending, low-poverty schools far outperformed similar students in high-spending, high-poverty schools, concluded a 2010 study by Heather Schwartz

. . .  public housing students attending low-poverty schools began to catch up with their well-to-do classmates—cutting in half the initial achievement gap in mathematics, for example. . . . Schwartz found that roughly two-thirds of the positive effect was attributable to attending a lower-poverty school, and one-third to living in a lower-poverty neighborhood.

We should put “money and energy into economic integration in schooling and housing,” they argue.

Inequality has destroyed a once-great black high school, writes Chancellor after a visit to his old school, Kennedy High, in Cleveland’s Lee-Miles neighborhood. “Four decades ago, Eagles were the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, small-business owners, and white-collar professionals, factory workers, civil servants, and skilled craftsmen.”

Graduation rates were high and a majority of graduates went to four-year colleges and universities. “In the school’s first decade, the Eagles won several statewide competitions in science, math, and music — along with a state track championship and two city football titles.”

Over time, middle-class blacks moved to the suburbs. The community declined. Kennedy now serves “economically disadvantaged” children; many are raised by single mothers. On the state report card, the high school earns straight F’s.

. . . at least 75 percent of students can’t pass the state test at the minimum level in any area: mathematics, reading, science, social studies, and writing. Equally dismal was the school’s four-year graduation rate of 50.2 percent—though that was a significant improvement over the rate in 2010, 38.9 percent.

A $3 million foundation grant is paying to divide Kennedy into three themed high schools. Chancellor is dubious. “Unless they find a way to change the school’s economic mix—by putting poor kids in classrooms with more-affluent students—I am afraid this latest reform experiment will also fail to meet expectations.”

Once middle-class families have abandoned a community or a school, what can be done?

New York City is losing upper-middle-class blacks and gaining upper-class white singles and low-income Latinos, according to a new report.

Learning and rebuilding in Ferguson

The fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer — and the protests that followed — are now the subject of lessons at colleges near the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.

Celebrating girls — or stereotypes?

“Empowering” girls can look a lot like enforcing gender stereotypes, writes Scott Richardson on Pacific Standard.

His daughter participates in Girls on the Run, a 5K run (or walk) for girls — no boys allowed — in third through eighth grade.
(Photo: Girls on the Run)Volunteer coaches lead their team through a pre-packaged curriculum designed to “encourage positive emotional, social, mental and physical development.” Girls discuss self-esteem, confidence, teamwork, healthy relationships, and “challenges girls face.”

Though boys are banned, older male relatives and friends run with girls as “sponsors.”

Men, women and girls are encouraged to “girl it up” with “skirts, tutus, big bows, bold patterned knee-high socks, tiaras, etc.), apply make-up or face paint, and spray color their hair,” writes Richardson.

There’s nothing for girls who might want to “butch it up.”

Richardson also questions “bombarding girls with ‘positive’ messages about themselves meant to counteract negative ones.” The program implies “that girls aren’t considered equal to boys.”

“What messages are girls really getting when special programs are aimed at trying to make them feel good about themselves as girls?” he asks.