Thursday, November 5, 2015

Kids Are Not Alright

I read this editorial yesterday right after being in a classroom with a cohort of students who were so troubled I had security sit in the room with me for the remaining 30 minutes of a 90 minute class, the longest 90 minutes ever.

Schoolkids in Handcuffs

NOV. 4, 2015

The video that went viral last month showing a white sheriff’s deputy in a Columbia, S.C., classroom throwing and dragging an African-American student across the floor may well be indicative of a deeper problem with the security program in that school district.

In May, an office within the Justice Department that monitors federally funded programs opened an investigation to determine whether the school security program run by the Richland County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department was complying with federal civil rights law. Although the department has not made public any details, such investigations typically result from civil rights complaints or evidence suggesting discrimination in the way that suspension, expulsion and other disciplinary measures are being applied.

The violent video shows starkly a problem that has grown worse in the United States since the 1980s, when the country started to put more police officers in schools. In many places, the shift created repressive environments where educators stepped back from managing schools and allowed police officers to set the tone, even when that meant manhandling, handcuffing and arresting young people for minor misbehaviors that once would have been dealt with by the principal.

These police-driven policies have not made schools safer. But they do make children more likely to drop out and become entangled with the justice system. And they disproportionately affect minority and disabled children, who are more likely to be singled out for the harshest forms of discipline.

The Obama administration has made combating this problem a priority. It has increased civil rights investigations and required some school districts to rework their disciplinary policies. Last year the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights jointly issued detailed guidelines showing school districts how to reduce arrests and reform practices in which black students are disciplined more harshly than white students engaging in similar behavior as well as to curb the use of punishments — like mandatory expulsion, suspension or ticketing — that have a disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of one race.

Such police-driven discipline is even used against the very young. The Justice Department filed court papers last month in support of a civil rights lawsuit brought by the parents of two disabled children — one 8 years old, the other 9 — who attended public school in Kenton County, Ky. Both children have severe disabilities that make it difficult for them to follow instructions. In both cases, a deputy sheriff responded to misbehavior by handcuffing the children. Their arms were so tiny that the cuffs were applied at the biceps.

The 8-year-old had been found to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to court documents, a video of the incident shows the child writhing and crying in pain as the officer berates him, saying, “You can do what we ask you to or you can suffer the consequences.” As a result of the incident, the government maintains, the child continues to suffer emotional distress. The actions of the officer clearly violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to this kind of disciplinary abuse. Federal data show, for example, that they represent 12 percent of the student population but 25 percent of children who get one or more out-of-school suspensions and 23 percent who are subject to arrest for school-related misbehavior.

The Justice Department added its voice to the Kentucky case to make it clear that federal law requires districts to create disciplinary policies that do not have the effect of criminalizing and discriminating against children with disabilities. What’s really alarming is that this kind of illegal treatment is not uncommon in schools all over the country.

That was not the first and it may not be the last as I wind down substitute teaching, the last time was in a middle school. Now to add the kicker - these are both highly "acclaimed" schools with extensive academic, music and sports programs that the nice parents of our community call "good schools." What that really means is they are highly segregated - within the actual walls - as in two schools in one. That is how we manage separate but equal.

I have been to several trainings on how to de-escalate student behaviors, it is quite simple, just everyone step away.  That is it.  No suspensions, no long term repercussions, just have a place a student can go to study, talk to a counselor or someone  who can ask them what is going on in their lives that led to this and if it appears that is is more that the "sub" or some other blame the adult in the room then perhaps their can be real resolution.

The bullshit at this school and the middle school down the road that is its feeder school is just that bullshit. It is all smoke and mirrors and finally the current Superintendent is attempting to dismantle some of the supposed programs that have contributed to this, by eliminating self contained "highly" achieving students and integrating them into mainstream classes. They have been doing that in regards to "special" needs for years and they have done so in another high school and on Monday I saw again that in full blow reality when a students bizarre behavior led the SPED Teacher to remove him to another class, he "escaped" and returned to my class to finish whatever he was trying to start. As none of us actually could figure what that was no one responded, and thankfully before we could, Security arrived and discreetly removed him. I have had the frequent discreet removal by simply calling and say come up and I will be standing adjacent to the student so you will know who it is and please deal with it in as dignified manner as possible.

***To Teachers who do not have comprehensive seating charts with actual photos (which is possible) I am unclear why? You need to realize we have no way of knowing if that child who is sitting there is the actual child that should be.

Again, I remind myself that problems with subs begin early and are reinforced repeatedly by either ignoring it or actually supporting them in some direct/indirect manner by inquiring about subs and confirming the student's feedback. It is a sick twisted relationship of covering and in turn protecting one's job. The SPED Teacher on Monday asked me to support her version of events when the school did not believe her (yes they rarely do due to litigation and allegations of racism as many of these kids are black) and she wanted to validate her version of the events. Which thankfully I saw and very much was a part of. And this is what it has become "he/she said." Here is where cameras would be useful, simply for security matters and nothing more.

By the time many students reach high school it is simply too late. The class I was in yesterday was 10th graders and when I said the expression "a broken clock is right at least twice a day" they had never heard it not one of them, and did not understand the phrase at all. After a couple of failed attempts explaining it I wondered how bad would it get and yes it go worse. The behavior is often a reflection of the curriculum and when kids frankly don't understand it they use the sub as an opportunity to blow, the bathroom runs, the behavior and the sheer abuse (and yes abuse) that transpires demonstrates a damage that no one person can possibly remedy.

So as I read this I realized that Mr. Porter has no idea but I appreciate his support of the system that has too many variables in which to breakdown the formula to makes this equation a more simplistic one.

School vs. Society in America’s Failing Students
By Eduardo Porter
The New York Times
NOV. 3, 2015

Here’s the good news: American schools may not be as bad as we have been led to believe.

Ah, but here’s the bad news: The rest of American society is failing its disadvantaged citizens even more than we realize. The question is, Should educators be responsible for fixing this?

The perennial debate about the state of public education starts with a single, seemingly unassailable fact. American students sorely lag their peers in other rich nations and even measure up poorly compared with students in some less advanced countries.

Americans scored more than halfway down from the top in the last round of the so-called PISA standardized tests in math, administered in 2012 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to 15-year-olds in about 60 countries. They scored about a third of the way down in reading and almost halfway down in science.

The lackluster performance has reinforced a belief that American public education — the principals and teachers, the methods and procedures — is just not up to scratch. There must be something wrong when the system in the United States falls short where many others succeed.

But is the criticism fair? Are American schools failing because they are not good at their job? Perhaps their job is simply tougher.

In a report released last week, Martin Carnoy from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Emma GarcĂ­a from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and Tatiana Khavenson from the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, suggest that socioeconomic deficits impose a particularly heavy burden on American schools.

“Once we adjust for social status, we are doing much better than we think,” Professor Carnoy told me. “We underrate our progress.”

The researchers started by comparing test scores in the United States with those in France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Finland, South Korea, Poland and Ireland. On average, students in all those countries do better than American children.

Then the researchers divided students into groups depending on the number of books in their homes, a measure of the academic resources at families’ disposal. This adjustment significantly reduced the American deficit, especially among students on the bottom rungs of the resource ladder.

American students from families with the least educational resources, as it turned out, scored better on the PISA math test than similar children in France and about the same as Britons, Germans and Irish.

Encouragingly, disadvantaged American students have made more progress over recent years than those in even some of the highest-ranked countries. And some American states perform as well as the international darlings. Adjusting for families’ academic resources, 15-year-olds in Massachusetts scored roughly as high in the PISA math test as students in Canada, Finland and Poland.

Mr. Carnoy and his colleagues estimated that the score gap between American students and those in the highest-ranked countries — Finland, Canada and South Korea — shrinks by 25 percent in math and 40 percent in reading once proper adjustments for gender, age, mother’s education and books in the home are taken into account.

A similar pattern shows up within the United States: Adjusting for differences in demography and access to academic resources — including variables like language spoken at home, eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch and parental education — reduced performance gaps between states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress by 40 to 50 percent.

Awareness that America’s educational deficits are driven to a large degree by socioeconomic disadvantage might move the policy debate, today so firmly anchored in a “schools fail” mode. It offers up a new question: Is it reasonable to ask public schools to fix societal problems that start holding disadvantaged children back before they are conceived?

Jane Waldfogel from Columbia University and colleagues from Australia, Britain and Canada concluded that children from families of low socioeconomic status are already more than a year behind those of well-educated parents on the first day of kindergarten.

And it is becoming even harder for the American schools most children attend to overcome these differences. “The public school population is getting poorer,” Mr. Carnoy noted.

This line of thought may let American schools off the hook too easily. Equalizing opportunity is, in fact, one of the core purposes of education. And schools in countries poorer than the United States seem to do a better job.

“There is no way you can blame socioeconomic status for the performance of the United States,” said Andreas Schleicher, the O.E.C.D.’s top educational expert, who runs the organization’s PISA tests. “When you look at all dimensions of social background, the United States does not suffer a particular disadvantage.”

Mr. Schleicher criticized the analysis of the PISA data by Professor Carnoy and his colleagues for using a single indicator: books at home. And he pointed me to a statistic that underscores how the role of socioeconomic status can be overplayed.

As part of the PISA exercise, the O.E.C.D. collects information about parental education and occupation, household wealth, educational resources at home and other measures of social and economic status — and combines them into one index.

By that standard, fewer than 15 percent of American students come from the bottom rung of society. And yet, Mr. Schleicher found, 65 percent of principals in American schools say at least 30 percent of their students come from disadvantaged families, the most among nations participating in the PISA tests.

“I found this contrast between actual and perceived disadvantage so interesting that I intend to publish it shortly,” he told me.

Whatever the failings of the rest of society, it still seems clear American schools can do better.

While poor students start at a disadvantage, Professor Waldfogel and her colleagues found that the gap between the educational performance of rich and poor children widens further as they progress through the public school system.

Mr. Carnoy and Mr. Schleicher agree that parents should expect more.

Mr. Carnoy, however, argues that policy makers could learn more from successful American states, like Massachusetts, than from vastly different countries like Finland or South Korea.

Mr. Schleicher doesn’t quite agree. Comparing the United States with other countries, he notes, allows researchers to identify particularly egregious deficits of American education.

There’s the wide disparity in resources devoted to education, which flows naturally from a system of school finance based on local property taxes. There’s the informal tracking that happens when smart children are grouped separately in gifted and talented classes while the less able are held back a year.

Teachers are paid poorly, compared to those working in other occupations. And the best of them are not deployed to the most challenging schools.

In a country like the United States, with its lopsided distribution of opportunity and reward, social disadvantage will always pose a challenge. What’s frustrating, Mr. Schleicher said, is “the inability of the school system to moderate the disadvantage.”

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