Is this working? asks a story on school discipline policies for NPR’s This American Life.
Reporter Chana Jaffe-Walt contrasts a “no excuses” charter school in Brooklyn, Achievement First Bushwick, with a nearby middle/high school, Lyons Community, which stresses “restorative justice.”
AFB students who misbehave gets demerits. Lyons students discuss their decision-making in student circles and and may go before a student justice court.
On Match Education’s blog, guest Ross T. critiques NPR’s story.
Educated in a “no excuses” school in Boston, Rousseau Mieze now teaches middle school at AFB. He’s ambivalent about his old high school’s strict discipline, she writes. She finds it “super confusing” when he gives a a demerit to a student for talking during a silent transition.
Mieze is motivated by fear, she concludes.
Fear for the well-being of their students, fear that they “won’t graduate, won’t get to college, will get suspended or arrested for horsing around or being rowdy in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
I can relate. I felt that fear, for my own part. What follows next, though, I disagree with.
Jaffe-Walt then says that while Mieze is trying to relinquish some control over his students, “his fear gets in the way.” The implication is that he knows that the discipline he enacts is wrongheaded, but a sort of hysteria of good intentions blinds his better judgment.
The vignette is framed by a discussion of the “Schools to Prison Pipeline,” a theory that strict discipline leads students — disproportionately minority — to see themselves as “bad kids,” writes Ross T. “The idea is that minority kids will get suspended (often unfairly), miss school, become frustrated and garner more suspensions by misbehaving out of frustration.” And then on to prison.
By contrast, the report on Lyons is glowing.
Jaffe-Walt is impressed with the commitment to dialogue, and introduces us to multiple students who have been “Lyonized,” or transformed into more reflective, socially adept community members.
She doesn’t discuss the schools’ academic results, notes Ross T. The Achievement First middle school earned straight As — based in part on students’ academic gains — on its 2012-13 DOE progress report, while Lyons’ middle school earned Ds and Cs. The Lyons high school had lower graduation rates than peer schools in its district.
In a few years, we’ll be able to see whether the “no excuses” model increases the number of low-income, minority students who become prison inmates — or college graduates.
As a teacher at a low-performing Memphis high school, Jessica Polner “saw dozens of suspensions and expulsions” for subjectively enforced and overly harsh rules. Carefully and consistently implemented restorative justice programs can be effective, she writes.