Why teens drop out — and come back

Abusive or absent parents, unsafe schools, gangs, homelessness and teen pregnancy make school a low priority for some high school students, concludes a GradNation report, Don’t Call Them Dropouts. Many of the “interrupted-enrollment students” interviewed in 16 cities said “nobody cared” if they stayed in school.

A “caring connection” with an adult who can help with problem solving could keep many of these teens on track, the report said. It also recommended “fewer exit ramps” from school and easier re-entry.

Onion: Serial killers didn’t get toy on store trip


Most serial killers were denied a toy in childhood when visiting a store with their parents, reports The Onion. Even one toy denial may trigger violent impulses, said forensic psychologist Edgar Pruitt. “John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer—these were all people who did not get the toys or games they wanted. So as a parent, you have to ask yourself if the $15 you save by not purchasing Legos or a Spider-Man figurine is worth the potentially dozens of innocent lives your child might one day brutally take.”

Young girls who were told they had to eat their dinner before they could have dessert all went on to become mothers who drowned their own children in the bathtub.

Behavior explains discipline disparity


Angel Rojas, shot to death on a New York City bus, is mourned by his wife and children. A Dominican immigrant, Rojas worked two jobs to support his family. — New York Daily News

Kahton Anderson, 14, charged with opening fire on a Brooklyn bus and killing a 39-year-old man, shows what’s wrong with the racism meme, writes Heather Mac Donald in National Review.

The day before Anderson shot at a rival “crew” member and killed a passenger, the Obama department released data showing that black students are suspended at three times the rate of white students. “The civil-rights industry predictably greeted this information as yet more proof that schools are biased against black students,” writes Mac Donald.

But “behavioral differences, not racism, drive the disparity between black and white student suspensions,” she argues.

Anderson was “frequently in trouble” in school, reports the New York Times.

Sometimes it was for violating the school’s uniform code or disrespectful chatter in class. . . . Sometimes it was worse: He had a sealed arrest from 2011, and often, high-school-age members of a crew students knew as “R&B” or “RB’z” — the initials stand for “Rich Boys” — loitered outside the school, waiting to fight him.

About three weeks after he got into a fight near school last year, he was transferred to Elijah Stroud Middle School in Crown Heights. . . .

But he seemed to do no better at Elijah Stroud, where he had been suspended from the early fall until very recently.

“The lack of impulse control that results in such mindless violence on the streets unavoidably shows up in the classroom as well,” writes Mac Donald. “It defies common sense that a group with such high rates of lawlessness outside school would display model behavior inside school.”

The Obama administration’s anti-suspension campaign will undermine school safety, argues Hans Bader, a former attorney in the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. He cites a study by University of Cincinnati criminologist John Paul Wright, which found racial disparities in suspensions and discipline are caused by disparities in student behavior.

Last Chance High

Last Chance High, an eight-part VICE News series, is a sad, scary look at Chicago’s school for violent and emotionally disturbed youth,  the Moses Montefiore Academy.

Crystal, 14, broke her teacher’s arm at her old school. At Montefi, she gets in trouble for stabbing annoying boys with a pencil. Her explanation: When she gets mad, she can’t control what she does. Well, she could, maybe, but she doesn’t.

Her classmate Cortez, who also attacked his teacher at his old school, has a father serving life in prison for murder. He “likes to fight,”  he says. 

The documentary shows a teacher trying to teach math while an aide yells at a boy for not taking off his jacket.

A ‘culture of chaos’

Two weeks after a 17-year-old fractured the skull of Bartram High’s “conflict resolution specialist,” Philadelphia school officials sent a team to assess the troubled school, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Violence is “the new normal,” said a teacher.

A brawl erupted in the school cafeteria, students set off firecrackers and the 17-year-old who assaulted the staffer was seen at school for two days.

Administrators don’t remove problem students, say teachers. That’s created a “culture of chaos and disregard for authority.”

The cafeteria melee was captured by a cellphone camera and posted on social media.

. . . dozens gathered, with several students exchanging punches. A male school police officer attempts to separate the combatants as the room fills with screams.

In short order, a larger brawl erupts, mostly between female students. A female police officer attempts to break up one skirmish, then others. At one point in the video, that officer appears to fall to the floor.

“We have to go beyond police officers,” said Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get these young people to care for others.”

“The administration has begun attempting to crack down on students who come late to school, and those who ditch class or use cellphones, but many students, accustomed to having wide latitude in the building, aren’t taking the adults seriously,” reports the Inquirer

I’m sure many students at Bartram High would prefer a safe, orderly school where they can learn. But nobody can learn — or teach — in a “culture of chaos.”

Students at high-poverty high schools receive “an average of half an hour less instruction per day than their higher-income peers” due to disruptions and “poverty-related challenges,” according to a new study, reports Education Week.

Boy trouble

School shooters usually are sons of divorced — or absent — parents, writes W. Bradford Wilcox. Boys raised by a single mother are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father,” he writes.

“Fathers . . . are important for maintaining authority and discipline,” writes sociologist David Popenoe. “And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”

Family breakdown is tougher on boys than girls, writes Kay Hymowitz in City Journal. When parents divorce, girls tend to “internalize” their unhappiness, become depressed, while boys act out, becoming more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Girls get better after a few years. Boys don’t.

Boys are slower to mature, writes Hymowitz. They need more “civilizing.”

Lone parents tend to have a tougher time providing the predictability and order that help boys become capable students and workers. Poverty undoubtedly worsens the problem: in general, low-income children have poorer “executive function,” such as self-control and cognitive flexibility, than do middle-income children, according to a 2011 study by a group of Berkeley neuropsychologists. But poor children in single-parent families still came out worse in the study than kids with poor married parents. This is probably because unmarried parents tend to break up more frequently, go on to new relationships, sometimes serially, and bring stepparents and half- and step-siblings into their children’s lives.

Low-income single mothers often live in neighborhoods where “gangs have replaced fathers, the threat of violence looms, and schools are filled with apathetic or hostile males.” Economic mobility tracks marriage, concludes a study by the Equality of Opportunity Project:  “Areas with high proportions of single-parent families have less mobility—including for kids whose parents are married. . . .  areas with a high proportion of married-couple families improve the lot of all children, including those from single-parent homes.”

Schools can provide structure, time for boys to play rough-and-tumble games and better literacy programs, writes Hymowitz. But it’s not clear what will work for boys growing up without fathers — in places where “fathers — and men more generally — appear superfluous.”

Let boys be boys

Schools should help boys succeed instead of treating them as “defective girls,” writes Christina Hoff Sommers in Time.

Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068.

“The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life,” she writes. Boys need help to learn these skills.

Sommers suggests more unstructured play time. Children in Japan get 10 minutes of play every hour. More recess could mean less Ritalin.

To turn boys into readers, teachers should know what boys like. She suggests Guysread.com for “lists of books that have proved irresistible to boys.”

Finally, “work with the young male imagination.”

In his delightful Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, celebrated author and writing instructor Ralph Fletcher advises teachers to consider their assignments from the point of view of boys. Too many writing teachers, he says, take the “confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure are prized; stories describing video games, skateboard competitions or a monster devouring a city are not.

. . . Along with personal “reflection journals,” Fletcher suggests teachers permit fantasy, horror, spoofs, humor, war, conflict and, yes, even lurid sword fights.

“If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms, they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind,” Sommers concludes.
Soldier drawn by 8-year-old.
As a perfect illustration of her point, an Arizona school threatened to expel an 8-year-old boy who drew pictures of an armed soldier, ninja and Star Wars character as possible Halloween costumes. His parents withdrew him from Scottsdale Country Day School.

The headmaster told the father the third grader’s art was “highly disturbing.” The headmaster had highlighted words in the boy’s journal he found violent and unacceptable, the father told CBS5.

For example, the boy had written about escaping a killer zombie at a haunted school:

“I’d open the window, but, stand back quickly. Booby-trapped. Shoot the gadget – a rope gun – I’d swing across without getting hit.”

Many of the third-grader’s other journal entries were about saving the earth and protecting humanity.

In one passage, he wrote he’d like the ability to stop an atom bomb and stop bullets.

The headmaster told the father his son was a threat to the safety of the other children.

As Instapundit puts it: When they make you a school principal do they at least pay for the lobotomy?

District monitors students’ social media posts

In hopes of preventing violence, drug abuse, bullying and suicide, a suburban Los Angeles school district is monitoring middle and high school students’ social media posts, reports CNN.

Glendale is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening to track middle and high school students’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

When the idea was piloted last spring, monitoring identified a suicidal student. “We were able to save a life,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan.

Recently, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, but turned out to be fake, Sheehan said.

“We had to educate the student on the dangers” of posting such photos, Sheehan said. “He was a good kid. … It had a good ending.”

Geo Listening sends a daily report to principals on which students’ comments could be causes for concern.

A 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide after months of bullying on social media, her mother says.

‘Jones Jail’ gives peace a chance

Known for violence and disorder, Philadelphia’s John Paul Jones Middle School was dubbed “Jones Jail,” writes Jeff Deeney in The Atlantic. Last year, when a charter took over the failing school, American Paradigm Schools didn’t beef up security. They removed the metal detectors, stripped metal grating from the windows and replaced security guards with coaches trained in conflict resolution by the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).

The number of serious incidents fell by 90 percent at what’s now called Memphis Street Academy.

AVP, which started in violent prisons and spread to violent schools, “emphasizes student empowerment, relationship building and anger management over institutional control and surveillance,” writes Deeney. “Engagement coaches  . . . provide support, encouragement, and a sense of safety.”

Carolyn Schodt, a registered nurse at Alternatives to Violence who also runs AVP inside Graterford State Prison, says, “We did this with the same students, same parents, same poverty. In one school year serious incidents – drug sales, weapons, assaults, rapes – went from 138 to 15.

The school’s students walk past prostitutes and drug dealers on their way to and from school. As Jones Jail, “street violence from the surrounding neighborhood occasionally spilled onto school property.” Yet neighbors feared the Jones students.

“Every day ,” says CEO of American Paradigm Schools Stacey Cruise, “they would set up a perimeter of police officers on the blocks around the school, and those police were there to protect neighbors from the children, not to protect the children from the neighborhood.” Before school let out the block would clear, neighbors coming in off their porches and fearfully shutting their doors. Nearby bodegas would temporarily close shop. When the bell rung, 800 rambunctious children would stream out the building’s front doors, climbing over vehicles parked in front of the school in the rush to get away.

School police officers patrolled the building at John Paul Jones, and children were routinely submitted to scans with metal detecting wands. All the windows were covered in metal grating and one room that held computers even had thick iron prison bars on its exterior.

Engagement coaches were recruited from Troops to Teachers. I assume that means they’re male role models in a community where few kids are growing up with responsible fathers.

Dr. Christine Borelli, Memphis Street Academy’s CEO, grew up in the neighborhood, which makes it easier to build relationships with neighbors and parents. “I don’t just fit in here, I’m from here. I’m proud to be from here. When I go out to look for a student who’s not coming to school I run into people I know. Parents appreciate that you’re not fearful of the community.”

In anonymous questionnaires, 73 percent of students said they now felt safe at school, 100 percent said they feel there’s an adult at school who cares about them and 95 percent said they hope to graduate from college one day, writes Deeney.  “Nearby bodegas have stopped locking their doors when school lets out.”

Calgary school: ‘We don’t condone heroics’

Seventh-grader Briar MacLean pushed a knife-wielding bully away from his victim — and was reprimanded for “playing the hero,” reports the National Post (Canada).  The Calgary, Alberta school “does not condone heroics,” the principal told MacLean’s mother.

Briar, 13, saw the bully poke and prod his victim, then put him in a headlock. He heard a flick and heard classmates “say there was a knife.” Briar shoved the bully into a wall, stopping the fight.

The teacher, who was at the other end of the room, noticed and called the principal. The boy with the knife was suspended. Several periods later, Briar was called to the office and kept there for the rest of the day. The police searched his locker. The vice-principal called Briar’s mother, Leah O’Donnell, to say he’d done the wrong thing by not waiting for the teacher.

“I asked: ‘In the time it would have taken him to go get a teacher, could that kid’s throat have been slit?’ She said yes, but that’s beside the point. That we ‘don’t condone heroics in this school.’ ”

O’Donnell says “she understands the school’s desire to keep students from getting hurt, but fears it is teaching the wrong lesson,” reports the Post. Students should learn to stand up to bullies and help each other, she believes.

Running away, tattling usually just make things worse. . . . Most of the time bullies back down when confronted, she added.

“What are we going to do if there are no heroes in the world? There would be no police, no fire, no armed forces. If a guy gets mugged on the street, everyone is going to run away and be scared or cower in the corner. It’s not right.”

“What are we teaching these children?” asked Briar’s mother in a letter to the Calgary Sun “When did we decide as a society to allow our children to grow up without spines? Without a decent sense of the difference between right and wrong?”

Update: An 11-year-old Maryland boy on a school bus said, “I wish I had a gun to protect everyone at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was suspended for 10 days. His son “wanted to be the hero,” said Bruce Henkelman.

The boy was questioned by the principal and a sheriff’s deputy, who wanted to search the family home for firearms, Henkelman said. He refused. The suspension later was reduced to one day.