Charters close special-ed gap

Charters are closing the special-education gap with district schools and are more likely to mainstream special-ed students, according to an analysis by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

District schools classify 12.55 percent of students as needing special education, compared to 10.42 percent in charter schools. That gap is shrinking.

Charter students with disabilities are far more likely to spend their school day in maisntream classrooms.

Charters may not serve as many severely disabled students who require a separate class, said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of NCSECS. Inclusion also is more practical for small schools.

“If you’re in a huge district, you might pool resources and put all the kids with disability A in this school, but if you’re a single charter school operating as its own district, you can’t do that,” said Morando Rhim. “So you’re going to figure out how to integrate them in their program versus creating a distinct program.”

Charter and district schools suspend and expel students with disabilities at about the same rate, according to the report. In both sectors, students with disabilities are much more likely to be suspended or expelled than other students.

The report also identified 115 charters that focus on serving disabled students.

LA teachers: Suspension ban leads to chaos

Officer Henry Anderson patrols Robert E. Peary Middle School in Gardena. Credit: Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times

“In a South Los Angeles classroom, a boy hassles a girl,” write Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times.  “The teacher moves him to the back of the room, where he scowls, makes a paper airplane and repeatedly throws it against the wall.

“Two other boys wander around the class and then nearly come to blows. ‘Don’t you talk about my sister,’ one says to the other. The teacher steps between them.

“When she tries to regain order, another boy tells her: ‘Screw you’.”

It’s another day of disruption in Los Angeles Unified, write Watanabe and Blume. The nation’s second-largest district was  “hailed by the White House and others” when it banned suspensions for “defiance” and announced plans to use “restorative justice” strategies to resolve conflicts.

Suspensions are way down. But, say teachers, classroom discipline problems are way up.

Only a third of school staffs have been trained in restorative justice strategies, such as “talking circles.” Few counselors have been hired to deal with disruptive students.

Sylvester Wiley, an L.A. Unified police officer for 32 years, said schools are increasingly calling police to handle disruptive students. “Now that they can’t suspend, schools want to have officers handle things, but we constantly tell them we can’t do this,” he said. “Willful defiance is not a crime.”

At Los Angeles Academy Middle School in South L.A., teachers have asked for an after-school detention program, but one has not yet been established. They say they are overwhelmed by what they consider ineffective responses to students who push, threaten and curse them. The stress over discipline prompted two teachers to take leaves of absence in the last two months.

 “Where is the justice for the students who want to learn?” asked Michael Lam, an eighth-grade math teacher, at a recent forum.

Ramon Cortines, the interim superintendent, said poor execution has undercut the new discipline policies, which were pushed through by the Board of Education and former Superintendent John Deasy.

Is Success Academy too strict?

New York City’s Success Academy charters have very high test scores and very strict discipline policies, writes Vox’s Libby Nelson.

One principal drew up a “Got to Go” list with the names of 16 disruptive students, reports the New York Times. Nine left the school, in part due to frequent suspensions.

A different Success Academy school suspended kindergartners and first-graders 44 times in one year, with one child suspended 12 times, reports PBS’s NewsHour.

Students at a Success Academy school in Harlem work on a writing exercise. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times

Students at a Success Academy school in Harlem work on a writing exercise. Credit: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times

One parent complained of her son’s suspensions on camera. Eva Moskowitz, the charter network’s founder and CEO, published the student’s disciplinary record, which included punching and choking teachers and throwing a classmate into a wall.

Success Academy runs 34 New York City schools with 11,000 students, most of them black or Hispanic and poor, writes Nelson. “This year, 93 percent of Success Academy students tested as proficient in math in 2015, compared with just 35 percent of kids in New York as a whole; 68 percent tested as proficient in reading, compared with 30 percent citywide.”

Admirers point to a strong curriculum and intense teacher training.

Critics argue that the schools are narrowly focused on test preparation, including rewards for students who score well on practice tests and a combination of detention and study hall for those who do not.

Research suggests that pushing out low performers doesn’t explain Success Academy’s incredible success, writes Nelson. The scores are too high.

Strict discipline does matter. Suspending disruptive students allows Success to maintain safe, orderly classrooms. That’s a big draw for many parents and a huge “educational advantage” over district-run schools.

In affluent suburban schools, bright students “almost never share a classroom with challenging, high-needs kids,” writes Robert Pondiscio. Public school administrators “marginalize and punish kids who act out – even for infractions that are beneath notice at chaotic inner-city schools.”

Disorder hurts low-income strivers

Pushed by the U.S. Education Department, many cities have vowed to reduce school suspensions in the name of equity, writes Mike Petrilli on Bloomberg View.

But letting a few students disrupt class isn’t fair to the kids who want to learn, he writes. “Low-income strivers” deserve safe, orderly, academically challenging schools.

When district-run schools don’t prioritize the needs of strivers, urban parents can turn to charter schools, Petrilli writes. But high-performing charter schools in New York CityChicago and Washington, D.C. have come under attack for high suspension and expulsion rates. Disruptions aren’t tolerated.

The casual observer might wonder: What’s wrong with that approach? Why not ensure that schools are safe places to be? If the Success Academies and schools like it didn’t exist, many of those hard-working, high-achieving students would be in chaotic, low-performing public schools. Why don’t their needs count?

Specialized alternative schools may be the best way to help disruptive students, who often come from very troubled families, Petrilli writes. However, “poor children who are ready to learn, follow the rules, and work hard deserve resources and opportunities to flourish.”

Petrilli supports “universal screening” tests to identify gifted students in the early grades and middle-school tracking to put low-income strivers “on a trajectory for success in Advanced Placement classes in high school and at more selective colleges.”

Support slips for Core, other reforms

The 2015 Education Next poll shows slipping support for a variety of reforms from Common Core standards to school choice, merit pay and tenure reform.

Public support for annual testing remains high, while teachers split on the issue.

Two-thirds of parents — and the public as a whole — support the federal requirement for annual testing, while teachers are split on continuing the policy.

Since 2012, there are more supporters and opponents of testing with fewer people choosing the neutral position.

Only a third of parents and teachers and a quarter of the public support letting parents opt their children out of testing. ednext_XVI_1_poll_fig07-small

The federal push for “no-disparate-impact” disciplinary policies — linking suspension and expulsion rates to race and ethnicity — is unpopular with the public and teachers, the poll found.

Among whites, only 14 percent favor the federal policies, while 57 percent oppose them. A plurality (41 percent) of blacks favor the policies with 23 percent opposed and 36 percent neutral. Forty-four percent of Hispanics support the policy and 31 percent oppose it.

In 21 states and the District of Columbia, teachers’ unions can charge an “agency fee” to non-members to cover collective bargaining costs.

Surprisingly, half of teachers — and a plurality of the public — “requiring teachers to pay a fee for collective bargaining services even if they do not join a union.”

Only 52 percent of union teachers and 25 percent of non-union teachers support the agency fee.

However, 57 percent of teachers surveyed say unions have had a positive effect on schools.

‘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.”

Two strikes and black kids are out

Teachers are more likely to see students as troublemakers headed for suspension if they think they’re black, according to a new Stanford study, Two Strikes: Race and the Disciplining of Young Students.

Amontre Ross was suspended frequently from Milwaukee schools. Photo: Gary Porter

Amontre Ross was suspended frequently from Milwaukee schools for disrupting class. Photo: Gary Porter

Primary and secondary school teachers were given descriptions of two incidents of misbehavior by students with names suggesting they were black (DeShawn or Darnell) or white (Greg or Jake). After reading about each incident, they “were asked about their perception of its severity, about how irritated they would feel by the student’s misbehavior, about how severely the student should be punished, and about whether they viewed the student as a troublemaker.”

Racial stereotypes didn’t kick on for the first infraction. But, after a second offense, teachers were more likely to label the “black” students as chronic troublemakers and see themselves suspending DeShawn or Darnell in the future.

Softening discipline is hard on teachers

In Classroom Discipline, a Soft Approach Is Harder Than It Looks, writes Ruben Brosbe on Bright. A third-grade teacher in New York City, Brosbe doesn’t want to contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” But what should he do when a student hits a classmate with a chair, claiming it’s an accident?

I needed to send a message to John (not his real name) that this behavior was not acceptable. I also needed to let his classmate know that I would stand up for his safety. Finally, I wanted to let John know that I cared about him and trusted him (even though he’s very “accident prone”).

I suggested John take a break in our classroom’s “relaxing area,” a message to calm down so we could resolve the issue. This made John feel punished and under attack, so he gave me the middle finger and walked out the door.

A repeat offender, John could have been suspended for one to three days, but Brosbe thought it would “do more harm than good.”

Other approaches — “giving him extra attention and creating an individualized behavior plan”  — hadn’t worked.

Teachers are supposed to implement “restorative justice” approaches, Brosbe writes.

A group — likely comprising John, me, some of John’s classmates, and a facilitator (which my school does not have) — would come together to talk through John’s actions. Together with John, we would create a plan to repair the harm.

With behavior like bullying or fighting, this may still result in a suspension. The difference, however, would be an intentional effort to discuss the root cause of John’s behavior and develop a shared plan to reduce future incidents. For example, if John’s behavior flared up during reading lessons, I would be responsible for planning specific supports to deal with his frustrations with this subject.

Brosbe likes the idea. But teachers haven’t been given the training or the support they need to make restorative justice work, he writes. His small school lacks a full-time counselor.

Here’s more from Brosbe’s blog.

‘Trauma-sensitive’ approach cuts suspensions

“Trauma-sensitive” schools are suspending less and graduating more, writes Hechinger’s Meredith Kolodner in the Washington Monthly.

When a sophomore screamed and swore at his English teacher at New Haven’s Metropolitan Business Academy,  Principal Judith Puglisi asked,“What do you need?”

After she quietly repeated her question close to a dozen times, he turned to her and said, “I need to come to your office.” There, Puglisi and the assistant principal listened to him shout until he began to cry, telling them that his stepfather had beaten him since he was 7. “I am sick of people calling me a loser,” he said.

The student met with a drama therapist trained in trauma at Metropolitan the next day, then apologized to the teacher and returned to class.

Metropolitan and a dozen other schools in Connecticut work with Animated Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience (ALIVE), which provides drama therapists to “identify trauma, prevent problems from escalating and respond effectively when students do act out,” writes Kolodner.

Metropolitan’s team now includes a school social worker, six social work interns and three part-time drama therapists from ALIVE.

Over the past three years, the school’s suspension rate has dropped by two-thirds to 3 percent. Fights are way down.  The graduation rate rose to 90 percent in 2014 and 70 percent of graduates enroll in college.

All ninth-graders take a course that deals with issues such as homelessness, gun violence and drug addiction.

One freshman class on a snowy March afternoon began with a happy celebration of a student’s birthday, but then took a darker turn. The group of 20 usually boisterous freshmen sat silently for 15 minutes as the birthday girl, encouraged by her teacher, related why she almost didn’t come to school that morning. “My mom told me she never wanted me,” the girl said, looking at the floor, determined not to cry. “She said what she always says. That I’m kinda worthless. A waste of space.”

Just cutting suspensions and expulsions isn’t enough, says Susan F. Colege, who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Schools must “create a place where students feel safe enough to learn.”

Study: Chicago cuts suspensions, not safety

At the same time Chicago schools cut out-of-school suspension rates, students and teachers report feeling safer, according to a new study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

In the 2013-14 school year, 16 percent of CPS high school students received an out-of-school suspension (OSS), down from 23 percent in 2008-9. Still, 24 percent of high school students with an identified disability and 27 percent of high school students in the bottom quartile of achievement received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-14. Suspension rates for African American boys in high school remain particularly high, with one-third receiving at least one out-of-school suspension.

At the high school level, about 60 percent of out-of-school suspensions and almost all in-school suspensions result from defiance of school staff, disruptive behaviors, and school rule violations.

The in-school suspension rate has gone up sharply, the study found.