Soft discipline is bigotry of low expectations
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be gearing up to rescind Obama-era discipline policies.
A 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter warned that discipline policies could constitute “unlawful discrimination” if they had “a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race,” notes The 74. Obama’s Education Department also pushed restorative justice to reduce suspensions and expulsions.
At an Education Department listening session on school discipline, John Ekblad, a former St. Paul teacher, testified. Ekblad suffered a brain injury that left him disabled when he was attacked by a student while trying to break up a cafeteria fight.
Softening expectations for student behavior harms students and teachers, argues Simon Whitehead, who ended his 37-year teaching career due to disorder at his Minneapolis high school.
Over the past four to five years, teachers have been “told that too many students of color were being suspended and this looked bad, especially in the case of African-American boys,” said Whitehead.
However well-intended, this policy actually disrespects a whole class of students by lowering the expectations for their behavior, their work ethic, and inevitably their academic progress.
Teachers are “walking on eggshells,” he said.
(Teachers) inflate grades, ignore dress codes violations, don’t give deadlines for handing work in, and put up with bad behavior that would previously had prompted disciplinary action. . . . if there’s a student exhibiting significantly bad behavior, many teachers feel helpless because they know that a behavior referral will be fruitless; assistant principals will return that student to the same classroom that day or the next day. Order in the classroom deteriorates, and learning suffers.
This month, DeVos hired attorney Hans Bader, who has accused the Obama administration of creating “racial quotas” in school discipline.
Even elementary teachers are quitting due to student violence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, reports AP. First-grade teacher Amanda Sheaffer told the school board she’s been hit and kicked by her students.
Rescinding the discipline guidance is the wrong call, argues Caprice Young, who runs a Los Angeles charter network. “The federal government has a legitimate role in ending institutional racism when states, districts, and schools fail to act.”
Tracy Dell’Angela hopes for a middle ground between zero tolerance and “zero-discipline policies.”