Teen back in school — in NRA shirt

A West Virginia 14-year-old is back in middle school — wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt — after being suspended and arrested for refusing to take it off last week. On Monday, Jared Marcum and about 100 other Logan County students wore shirts with gun rights themes provided by the Sons of the Second Amendment, a gun rights group.

Jared, an eighth grader at Logan Middle School, attended his morning classes wearing a shirt with an NRA logo, a picture of a hunting rifle and the slogan, “Protect your right.” He was standing in a cafeteria line when a teacher told him to turn his shirt inside out. He refused. He was sent to the office, where he again refused to remove the shirt, and arrested on charges of disrupting the educational process and obstructing an officer. He was released to his mother and suspended for a day.

Jared’s attorney, Ben White, said video evidence shows the cafeteria was orderly until the teacher raised his voice while confronting Jared. “I think the disruption came from the teacher,” he said, predicting all charges will be dropped.

The student believes the Second Amendment is being threatened and wore the shirt as an “expression of political speech,” White said.

“What the video shows is that students did step up on the benches to the tables in the lunchroom when they were escorting Jared out of building. Kids jumped up, clapping. Teachers said to get off and be quiet, and they did.”

Logan County schools’ dress code bans clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexual language, along with ads for alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

Jared is an honor roll student who plans a career in the military, his attorney said. The 14-year-old certainly understands his legal rights.

A veteran Chicago teacher is suing to reverse a four-day suspension for bringing a pocket knife to school. Douglas Bartlett showed second graders the knife, a box cutter, various wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers “as part of a curriculum-mandated ‘tool discussion’,” his lawsuit states.

‘Restorative justice’ vs. suspension

Instead of suspending misbehaving students, schools are trying “restorative justice” programs, reports the New York Times. At Oakland’s Ralph Bunche High School, an alternative school for students who’ve been in trouble,  coordinator Eric Butler tries to teach students to defuse conflict, “come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing” and develop empathy with others.

Even before her father’s arrest on a charge of shooting at a car, Mercedes was prone to anger. “When I get angry, I blank out,” she said. She listed some reasons on a white board — the names of friends and classmates who lost their lives to Oakland’s escalating violence. Among them was Kiante Campbell, a senior shot and killed during a downtown arts festival in February. His photocopied image was plastered around Mr. Butler’s room, along with white roses left from a restorative “grief circle.”

. . . “A lot of these young people don’t have adults to cry to,” said Be-Naiah Williams, an after-school coordinator at Bunche whose 21-year-old brother was gunned down two years ago in a nightclub. “So whatever emotion they feel, they go do.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office is investigating Oakland’s high suspension and expulsion rates. African-American boys make up 17 percent of the district’s enrollment but 42 percent of all suspensions. (It would be more useful to look at their percentage of male enrollment vs. male suspensions.) Many disciplinary actions were for “defiance,” such as cursing at a teacher, rather than violence, notes the Times.

Even advocates of restorative justice admit it doesn’t work for all students. Programs vary across the country. Some schools are reducing suspensions by putting students on “administrative leave,” reports the Times. ”
Restorative justice can mean formal mediation and reparation or more spontaneous discussions.

A recent circle at Bunche for Jeffrey, who was on the verge of expulsion for habitual vandalism, included an Oakland police officer, and the conversation turned to the probability that Jeffrey would wind up incarcerated or on the streets. The student had told Mr. Butler that he was being pressured to join a gang.

“Cat, you got five people right now invested in your well-being,” Mr. Butler told him. “This is a matter of life or death.” Jeffrey agreed to go to Mr. Butler’s classroom every day at third period to do his schoolwork.

Butler’s sister was murdered by her boyfriend, he told Bunche students. When the boyfriend’s mother knocked on his door to ask forgiveness, “The want for revenge in my stomach lifted.”

Sending disruptive, defiant and violent students to an alternative school that focuses on teaching them to get along with others and build self-control sounds like a good idea to me. I’m sure it helps their former teachers and classmates. I hope it helps them.

In New York City, schools are sending students to the emergency room for behavioral outbursts, charges public advocate Bill de Blasio, who’s suing the city for data on 911 calls.

Maryland eyes ‘Pastry Gun Freedom Act’

To prevent the criminalization of boyhood, a Maryland legislator has proposed the “Toaster Pastry Gun Freedom Act” banning schools from punishing children for having something that might look like a gun but isn’t,  reports The Daily Caller. (Really, it’s called the Reasonable School Discipline Act.)

The bill also includes a section mandating counseling for school officials who fail to distinguish between guns and things that resemble guns. School officials who fail to make such a distinction more than once would face discipline themselves.

Sen. J. B. Jennings, a Republican, worries that suspensions will go on children’s “permanent records,” he told the Star Democrat.

Recently, a second-grade boy at a Baltimore school was suspended for two days because his teacher thought he’d nibbled a strawberry  toaster pastry into the shape of a gun. School officials sent a letter to parents — for real — offering counseling to students traumatized by the incident, reports Reason’s Hit&Run, which notes it’s not clear whether students were expected to be troubled by the snack or the suspension.

In the last few months, six-year-old boys at two Maryland elementary schools were suspended for pointing fingers and saying “pow” while playing.

Of course, not-gun hysteria is a nationwide phenomenon.

In Colorado, a second grader was suspended for pretending to throw a grenade at “evil forces” in order to “save the world.”  The school has a zero tolerance policy for real or pretend fighting. His mom thinks a child shouldn’t be suspended for trying to save the world — and maybe it’s not realistic to ban little boys from playing at soldiers.

7-year-old suspended for pastry pistol

At a Maryland elementary school, a 7-year-old boy was suspended for two days for nibbling a pastry into the shape of a gun at snack time. Joshua claims he was trying to make a mountain. The teacher disagreed.

No one was threatened or harmed by the pastry, the boy’s father said. I guess that means he didn’t point his Pop-Tart and say “bang.”

A Google image search for “poptart gun” turned up this image, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run. Apparently, Joshua isn’t the only boy with a taste for weaponry. Or mountains.

 

Learning irresponsibility

Managing classroom misbehavior takes up way too much time, writes Ilana Garon, who teaches English in a Bronx high school. Students know they can get away with talking in class, hitting each other, walking around the classroom and then talking back to the teacher.

. . . these kids are 16, not six. At some point, no matter how difficult their upbringing, how uninvolved their parents, or how dry the material . . . high school students have to be held accountable for their own behavior. . . .  many times the kids can’t be engaged by even the most fascinating lesson–and, with virtually no consequences for non-violent infractions, teachers’ hands are tied.

New York City’s new discipline code will make it harder to suspend students for “disorderly behavior,” such as swearing and lying to teachers. Instead, principals will use reprimands, parent conferences and lunchtime detentions.

Calling home sometimes helps, but not for long, Garon writes. The school can’t afford supervised detention. Suspension “is often treated as a vacation by the kids.”

Immigrants from Jamaica and Ghana are “often appalled at the behaviors of American-born kids,” who take  education for granted. High school is free in the U.S., so it’s not valued, a Jamaican told her.

Garon dreams of “hard detention” (cleaning the school), suspension and “the threat of expulsion for the toughest repeat offenders.” If there are no consequences, students are taught that “even in their teenage years, they are not responsible for their own behavior.” That’s a dangerous message that will undermine their academic future and their employment prospects, Garon writes.

Teaching students to control their impulses and take responsibility for their actions should start in elementary school.

Teaching math to 11th and 12th graders who’ve failed the seventh-grade-level graduation exam, Michele Kerr has to manage “vortex” and “driftwood” students.

The quintessential disruptive vortex, Deon could single-handledly destroy half the class’s productivity if left undisturbed; his absence or isolation always left most of my “driftwood” students open to the idea of getting some work done.

(Yet) Deon was a math-solving machine who worked fiendishly once I isolated him from all other entertainment.

“Good” kids and “bad” kids “aren’t useful distinctions,” she writes on Larry Cuban’s blog.

Charter discipline: Too strict?

Charter schools in some cities are being pushed to relax strict discipline policies, reports Ed Week.

Charters expel students at the same rate as traditional public schools and have lower suspension rates, according to an Ed Week analysis of 2009-10 federal data. “But in a few urban districts where high discipline rates at charter schools have drawn scrutiny, school officials have recently taken steps aimed at ensuring that students in both charter and other public schools are treated fairly,” reports Ed Week. 

New Orleans’ Recovery School District centralized admissions, transfer and expulsion for its charter and non-charter schools last year.

“Many parents choose charters because they offer safe havens” from violence and disorder, say charter supporters.

In A Tale of Two Students, Ed Week looks at the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which runs 12 schools in Chicago.

. . . its mission is to “prepare low-income students with the scholarship, discipline, and honor necessary to succeed in college and lead exemplary lives, and serve as a catalyst for education reform in Chicago.”

Its academic record is impressive: Noble students’ average ACT score, 20.7, is more than 3 points higher than the average score for Chicago’s regular public schools.

Discipline is strict. Ronda Coleman, whose daughter Janell, 17, is a Noble senior, says “the rules create a safe environment, and that parents and students are well aware of what they’re signing up for.”

Michael Milkie, the superintendent and a co-founder of the Noble charter school system, said he and his wife were inspired to create a school with a stricter code of conduct after teaching in the Chicago school system.

“One of the things we looked to implement right away was a structured, strong discipline code that teaches students proper behavior and allows teachers to teach and students to learn,” Mr. Milkie said. At Noble, students receive demerits for certain offenses, including dress-code violations or possessing a permanent marker. Racking up four demerits means serving detention for three hours on Friday and paying a $5 fee.

“Students get an average of 12 detentions freshman year, and only two by senior year,” said Milkie.

Donna Moore thinks discipline is too rigid. Her son, Joshua, 17, spent two years as a freshman at Gary Comer High School, a Noble charter school, drawing hundreds of detentions and dozens of suspensions. He now attends an alternative high school.

How charters get motivated students

Some charter schools screen students for motivation by requiring lengthy applications, essays or interview, writes Stephanie Simon on Reuters.

Five states – Florida, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas – let some charter schools screen applicants by academic performance, Simon writes. Alaska, Delaware and North Carolina let charter schools give admissions preference to students who demonstrate interest in the school’s educational focus, such as technology or performing arts. Most are required to admit students by lottery. But first students have to apply.

Roseland Accelerated Middle School, a charter school in Santa Rosa, California, won’t even enter applicants into the lottery until they have proved their mettle by writing a five-page autobiography (with no errors in grammar or spelling, the form warns), as well as a long essay and six short essays. Applicants also must provide recommendations, report cards and statements from their parents or guardians and submit a medical history, including a list of all medications they take.

Gail Ahlas, superintendent of the public school district that oversees the charter, says the process isn’t meant to exclude anyone, but to “set the tone” for the school as a rigorous college-prep environment.

Many charters specialize in serving low-income and minority children, Reuters concedes. These use simple application forms. Most for-profit charter school chains also make it easy to apply. But some charters ask for more.

No

rthland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona requires parents to attend one of three information sessions to pick up an application form. “It’s kind of like a time share (pitch),” said Bob Lombardi, the superintendent. “You have to come and listen.” (The arts middle school — a district-run magnet — in Portland, Oregon has the same policy.)

Some charter principals told Reuters they use the application to ensure students really want to be at their school.

Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, a top-rated charter school outside of Los Angeles, uses a multistep application that requires assessment exams in math and English and a family interview.

Principal Esau Berumen said he does not screen prospective students for academic ability. But, he said, the process is demanding enough that about 10 percent drop out before the lottery – leaving him with a pool of kids he knows are motivated to embrace the rigors of his curriculum.

“If there’s any skimming off the top, it’s on effort and drive,” Berumen said.

Heather Davis-Jones tells Reuters it was a challenge to enroll her eight-year-old daughter, Shakia, in a charter school in Philadelphia. ”But I felt like I needed to do whatever it took to get her into a better school. If they want me to stand on my hands for 10 days, I’ll do it.” Her daughter got into one of the charter schools and loves it.

The Preuss School at the University of California, San Diego serves only low-income students who parents aren’t college graduates. But Preuss wants low-income, first-generation students with “aptitude, drive and parental support,” writes Simon.

The 23-page application requires students to hand-write a long essay and several short-answer questions. They must submit a graded writing sample from their old school, and then explain what they learned from the assignment and how they could have done better. They must provide three recommendations.

And their parents must respond to a page of questions, including: “Describe what type of service you will contribute to this school. Please be specific.” If they don’t speak English, parents are asked to secure help from a translator.

Principal Scott Barton said students’ writing skill doesn’t matter. The application is designed to screen out students who lack “the motivation and the potential to succeed.”

Even when charters use simple applications, they’re enrolling students whose parents care enough to find an alternative to the neighborhood school, says Mike Petrilli of Fordham, a charter advocate.

That’s true. Parents who choose a school — charter, magnet or whatever — are showing extra motivation that may be passed on to their children. If their children’s classmates also have parents who care about education, even better. I wish school districts would create more of their own schools of choice to give parents more chances to find a “right fit” with similarly inclined classmates.

Nationwide, charter schools “enroll a greater percentage of low-income students than traditional public schools (46 percent versus 41 percent), black and Latino students (27 percent versus 15 percent and 26 percent versus 22 percent, respectively), and students who perform lower on standardized tests before transferring to public charter schools,” responds the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Charters aren’t creaming the best students, responds the Center for Education Reform, which charges the story distorted its school lunch data. While 40 percent of charters don’t participate in the federal lunch program — the rules are too burdensome — most “feed all of their students,” CER data reports. The story also mischaracterizes state policy on charter admissions, CER charges.

Nationwide, suspension and expulsion rates are lower for charter schools than for traditional public schools, according to federal data published in Ed Week. However, the rates vary in different cities and the data is not complete. Charters in New Orleans are standardizing discipline policies. All expelled students in the city are sent to the same alternative charter school.

Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.

Baltimore: Cut suspensions, get a bonus

The “Baltimore school system is paying bonuses to teachers and administrators at struggling schools that reduce suspensions for non-violent offenses, drawing criticism from union leaders who say the program could provide a financial incentive to ignore problems and jeopardize school safety,” reports the Baltimore Sun. Teachers also can earn more if their schools reduce truancy and absenteeism.

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she fears that the bonuses could exacerbate the problem of educators feeling pressure to keep suspension numbers down, sometimes at the expense of maintaining order in the classroom.

“I’m worried about the safety of our teachers,” English said. “When you offer a bonus for something like that, you are putting a price on what’s going to happen around safety in a school.”

So far, 72 teachers and assistant principals have been given bonuses of $5,000 to $9,500; two principals received  $3,000 each. Teachers must have satisfactory evaluations and attendance rates to qualify for a bonus.

Baltimore is using $695,000 in federal Race to the Top funds to pay for the program.

Mediating peace

When fights broke out between girls at a Maryland alternative school, Howard Community College’s conflict resolution counselors mediated the dispute and trained school staff in “restorative” strategies to keep the peace.  The fighting stopped and suspensions, behavior referrals and unexcused absences went down.