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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Tolerating misbehavior undercuts learning

A six-year-old boy shot and nearly killed his first-grade teacher at a Newport News, Virginia school last week. The teacher was “providing class instruction when the child displayed a firearm, pointed it at her and fired one round,” Chief Steve Drew said at a news conference. “There was no physical struggle or fight.”

The mother, who'd bought the gun legally, could be charged for not keeping the gun stored properly, a misdemeanor. The boy, far too young to be held criminally liable, is being assessed.

Schools must be safe, orderly places, writes teacher Daniel Buck in a National Affairs essay adapted from his book, What Is Wrong with Our Schools? Disciplinary reforms, such as "restorative justice," are making it harder for teachers to teach and students to learn, he argues.

In a RAND study, researchers found restorative policies decreased suspension rates, but "academics worsened while arrest rates remained the same," he writes. A second study "found that restorative-justice techniques had negligible effects but still placed a heavy burden on teachers."

Buck saw it happen in a school where he taught: Suspensions fell, but not because students were behaving. Teachers were overwhelmed.

An interim principal, facing "fights in the lunchroom, tanking reading scores, and chaotic classrooms," focused on getting students out of the hallways and into their classes, Buck writes. Quickly the school culture changed.

When teachers could begin classes in a timely fashion, their classrooms developed smoother routines. When the hallways outside classrooms were quiet, students were able to focus inside their classrooms. . . . Students who usually spent hours wandering the hallways attended class, rubbed shoulders with their more academically minded peers, and developed relationships with teachers.
. . . When the bell for class rang, administrators and monitors patrolled every hallway and sent every tardy student to our building's theater. There, the students checked in. If they had been tardy fewer than three times, they were sent back to class with a monitor. If they had amassed more than three tardies, they spent an hour spread out across our school's theater. . . . We had taken away what drew students to ditch classes: a chance to roam the halls while chatting and laughing with friends.

Students who show up in class on time, do the work and learn something are more likely to avoid the "school-to-prison pipeline" than those allowed to go through school without developing academic skills or work habits, Buck suggests. Even if punitive discipline doesn't help the offender get back on track, it helps his classmates stay on track.


Jan 14, 2023

Sorry, but when it comes to High School, I support the Gideon's Army approach: if you don't want to be here, go home. There's no sense in keeping a surly, lustful, defiant punk in any school. The ones who have no intention of doing any meaningful schoolwork should also be let loose to go get jobs. Those who just need to grow up a little could take a year off to do some catch-up with a tutor or mentor. But an enforced classroom experience for all? Dream on!

Jan 18, 2023
Replying to

That all sounds well and good, but hey then you just have more thugs on the streets, getting into even more criminal activity. I have made a similar suggestion to your "get jobs" quote. I would 1) Make it so much easier to drop out at 16, but you must have proof of a 40 hour a week job or similar (you're not just going to work the kiosk at the mall for your weed money) and 2) you get taxed like an adult. Mom and Dad can't deduct you!


Jan 11, 2023

This *should* be intuitively obvious to the casual observer. Sadly, it's not.


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