Sunday, January 28, 2018

Justice Restored

I find it amusing that our own Criminal Justice system is flawed without any idea on how to repair and our schools have long been labeled as the school to prison pipeline so naturally the idea is to stave off that flow by offering a better plan in which to accomplish said goal.  That has fallen under the concept of "Restorative Justice."

As a City who is embracing said standard I sort of laugh that in this case the adage "Charity begins at home" might apply.  Right now we have a close friend and resource to our current Superintendent being charged with four counts of Perjury.  Whoops.    We had two recent resignations/retirements du to Sexual Harassment and one of the accused decided on the way out the door to lay down some allegations of his own with regards to the districts hiring policies.  Hell hath no fury y'all!

This week I went to a school that is using rewards and tickets for instilling quality behavior so every classroom has monetary incentives spelled out that kids can earn an in turn purchase many options from candy to no homework as ways to encourage and develop what is called "Positive Behavior" or the current acronym craze PBIS.

 That in my day was called Carrot and Stick and I recall when I discussed this very option at a School when I was interviewed for a job (in Seattle) I saw the exchange of glances between the two women and knew immediately that I would not be hired.  Well guess that might be because I did not use the appropriate language and in today's climate it is what words you use not the content of them.

Millennials are obsessed with words.  Shut up is upsetting where as shut the fuck up even worse! Sorry but saying to a kid you need to shut up is not the same but what.ever. Tone, manner, non verbal cues should all be a part of the discipline process and how many of you have observed those mixed messages yourself and isn't that all part of the current wave of confusion with regards to sexual abuse and harassment?

I have heard and personally experienced Teachers and Administrators bending over backwards to believe students when they accuse, excuse and justify their behavior often blaming the authority figures as the reason they are the problem.  Funny how that works out when the allegations are serious as in the case of sexual abuse with regards to Larry Nassar then it was hands off unless of course you were Larry Nassar who actually abused the girls in the presence of their parents/guardians. That is some type of arrogance and superiority that transcends reality.

So what we know here is that restorative justice is selective justice and mirrors the reality of the larger system it emulates.

I have never seen anything like the micro management and rules that dominate schools here. Lines painted in the halls which students must follow in class change times.  Times for water, locker and bathroom breaks.  Yelling and constant reprimanding and verbal discipline demanding quiet and accommodations that include quiet at lunch with organized and in turn scheduled play time.  Food that is literally slop and then selling kids at break times sweets and junk food to satiate hunger and raise money for the school.  It is a bizarre contradiction that fairly dominates the Southern mentality.

Money is the driver of this bus here. ** On a side note**  Irony again, as they had a Mass Transit meeting Saturday at Belmont University that of course fear and loathing drove the conversation about expanding a system that is 20 years behind the times.  I read a Tweet from an attendee that summarized the event as one full of misinformation and emotionally false claims that led to nothing being achieved or in other words a standard public pandering session. I used to go to all of them until I realized that the decisions are made and unless the race card is thrown down with validation (as in the case of Ft. Negley as they had Archaeologists claim there are human remains there - no actual digging took place it was just the confirmation of it by smart white people that was enough to stop that bullshit plan).  

The are much like going to a Nashville Public School.  I walk into classroom after classroom that some are almost cookie cutter like in the way materials are taught and rooms are administered.  And why? Because that way the data that emerges, from test scores to discipline issues are achieved to the benchmarks set by the Principals and their Administrators.  Imagine you are rated as a Parent when your child chooses to have a meltdown in public and the next day the Cops arrive and take your kids because you were "observed" failing to properly discipline and manage your child.  Or you are a CEO and your pay is linked to all of the staff of the entire company's annual performance evaluations and in turn they were averaged, examined by a metric set by arbitrary standards by someone whom you have never met nor worked in your industry, done your job and your employees are actually in China and don't speak English.   Sure that works!

That describes the state of education in America and Nashville is ground zero for some of its most crazy arbitrary standards from testing to teaching evaluations.  I laughed at school choice organized this week at the Fairgrounds. Yes the school choices here in Nashville are so large the same fairgrounds where the monthly flea market, tractor pulls and car races are also held.  There is an average of 80 schools for parents in which to choose.  And of course families who work evenings, have child care issues, don't speak English rarely attend, cannot understand the data and metrics presented and of course comparing apples to oranges always works out.  And the best here is that the testing data is this year is new and the tests from the prior year were not the same, neither of them scored properly or actually evaluated correctly but sure. Or the current literacy program that just began in the start of the school year and has massive problems in roll out.  Or the STEAM program that well had both heads leave the district, one of his own volition the other... well.   Then we have schools that have had immense Teacher and Administrator turnover so the same agents for testing were not there the last year, the school is under-enrolled or has a larger portion of language learners or special education students or in the case of charters that do not take said students so they can alter the data to reflect a more strident cohort.   But the nice thing is that the classrooms with immense discipline, uniform policies and testing emphasis is coming to a school near you.

I did mostly Special Education gigs this week and was in a  SPED room this week that I had been in earlier in the year and since then they are on Teacher number three, some of the students have been switched or left, but it is still largely an Autism room with three children who are utterly unable to speak and seem to have no ways to communicate to the staff; then we have two kids with varying other needs and one clearly a discipline issue but could be mainstreamed to a lower grade to at least get some academic focus.  But the reality is that once again I witnessed a child who I believed was molested.  But again this is a challenging dilemma. She masturbates constantly and seems to gravitate to the other boy who is like her only less violent and she tries to masturbate him.  These are 12 year olds and of course with special needs the issue of sex education is difficult but her sexualized behavior demonstrated some experience and knowledge beyond self exploration.  I mentioned in passing to the instructional assistant and she said the Mother doesn't know why she does that as she doesn't do it at home. Hmm really?  Is she a patient of Dr. Nassar?  But there are so many other problems with this child -  She is extremely aggressive, violent outbursts pulling hair and hitting, trying to leave the room.    Again, this is common but with clear well established plans this could be handled.   I suggested weighted blankets as the most useful.  But  I have seen this sad chaos and confusion in many SPED rooms and again tone of voice and hand gestures can often stop this.   Getting the child to break the grip she had on my scarf was a matter of easily pressing on the wrist that I was familiar with from acupressure and in turn is not physical abuse in the least as you cannot rationalize with children who are not intellectually at the same level as their peers.

I just feel bad daily but this day I just walked out and thought never again.  I can go back to the school but not for this room as it is too upsetting.  The other members of the team and the school are aware of the depth of the problems but again how aware they are about some of the behaviors I am not sure, I dropped the pearl and left it at that.  But we all know that is room is not funded sufficiently from staff to tools necessary to make it work on a daily basis.

But that is in every classroom, mainstream or other wise.  The needs and demands of the students transcend any I have seen or experienced in my years in a classroom.  I laugh at the people in Seattle as they have no clue what real poverty is and what it does to a community at large as it does here in Nashville.  I walk in classrooms and pretend to give a shit but in my heart I just know this a temporary stop in life and my bus will come soon enough.  Just not on a Nashville street as they are afraid of buses.  Again race and money dictate all the beliefs and policies of the South.

I am afraid in the schools. And why they are dangerous places and guns are only part of it. Want to restore justice. Figure out that it is outside the doors that are the real problem and until you solve those you will be largely unsuccessful within in them.

Is Discipline Reform Really Helping Decrease School Violence?

A lack of concrete information about student misconduct—and how to address it—may be hindering efforts to make campuses safer.

Thomas Mukoya / Reuters
Sascha Brodsky Jun 28, 2016 Education The Atlantic

The allegations sound like a parent’s nightmare. Roughly two dozen children at New York City schools were hit, kicked, and bullied by fellow students while administrators stood by, according to a recent class-action lawsuit.

“The data we have seen shows a clear and undeniable escalation of violence in New York City schools,” said Jim Walden, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the suit, which is being backed by the charter-school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools. The suit claims that the New York City Education Department isn’t doing enough to stop the violence.

The complaint details a litany of violent behavior. In one case, a 9-year-old boy in an East Harlem school was repeatedly bullied even when the teacher was in the classroom. The bully, according to the lawsuit, “repeatedly kicked him on his body, and verbally harassed him.” The boy’s mother tried to get the principal to intervene but was allegedly met with indifference.

The suit is among the signs of rising concern about violence in schools, partly driven by mass shootings like the one in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. In response to such fears, school administrators are instituting a wide range of tactics to boost safety, including by installing metal detectors and hiring security guards. Schools are also turning to social-reform programs such as those that embrace the restorative-justice model, an approach that emphasizes bringing together the perpetrators and victims of misconduct through meetings and discussions.

But a lack of hard data and conflicting views on safety measures make it difficult to assess whether school violence is in fact increasing—and whether those measures are actually effective. Some observers worry that the absence of concrete information and confusion over the amount of violence in schools are hindering efforts to reduce violence and bullying.

Despite the concerns expressed by parents like those in the lawsuit, many experts say that the incidence of school violence is dropping. New York City school officials contend that violence on campus is on the decline, a trend that experts say is mirrored across the country.

At the local level, statistics on school violence can vary depending on the source. Walden pointed to state statistics showing that the number of violent episodes in New York City schools rose 23 percent from the 2013-14 school year to the one that ended in June 2015. But the New York City school administration uses police data showing that crime in the city’s schools declined 29 percent from the 2011–12 school year to the 2014–15 year. Some observers have said that the state data does not make a distinction between minor disciplinary problems in schools and more serious acts of violence and bullying. Critics also emphasize that the state data isn’t verified.

Nationally, though, most experts say it’s clear that school violence is on the decline even if that’s not the public perception. “In general, schools are far safer now than they were 20 years ago,” said Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia. “Every major study in recent years has shown that schools are much safer than the communities around them. Students are much more likely to be injured in restaurants than on school grounds.”

Stephen Brock, a professor at California State University, Sacramento, who has studied school violence, said that the pervasive media coverage of school shootings and other violence has led to misperceptions about danger in schools. “So much of this kind of news coverage has led many people to conclude that schools are horribly flawed, violent institutions,” Brock said. “But if you take a step back, what you will find is that the overall rate of violence in schools is declining.”

The 2015 Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report, an annual study produced by the National Center for Education Statistics released in May of this year, found that between 1992 and 2014, the number of students who were victims of crimes at school declined 82 percent, from 181 incidents per 1,000 students in 1992 to 33 incidents per 1,000 students in 2014.

Still, critics of such studies say that many are flawed because school violence is often underreported. An audit last year by the New York’s Office of the State Comptroller reviewed incidents of violence in 10 public schools in New York City and found that nearly one-third of all incidents went unreported. According to the review, school officials failed to include over 400 reportable incidents on forms that are used to tally incidents of violence, and many of the incidents that were reported were not correctly categorized.

Walden said that many school principals don’t report school violence in order to make their schools seem safer. Anne Gregory, a professor at Rutgers University who studies school discipline, also cited anecdotal evidence suggesting administrators underreport such incidents, but added that there have been no scientific studies showing such underreporting.

While most experts seem to agree that violence in schools is decreasing, less serious offenses, such as the bullying mentioned in the lawsuit, may be on the rise. Sixteen percent of students nationwide reported student bullying that occurred at least once a week at school, and 5 percent reported student verbal abuse toward teachers at least once a week, according to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report.

Just as school-violence rates are contentious, though, data on bullying trends are also subject to dispute. Experts caution that measuring the incidence of bullying can be difficult because the definition is sometimes unclear. As awareness of bullying has grown, more students are reporting incidents, Cornell said. That’s important, he added, particularly because “when we intervene with bullying, we have the potential to prevent more serious acts of violence.”

Then there’s the question of whether new efforts to improve school climate are actually effective. Even if violence is indeed declining, schools still aren’t entirely safe: About 65 percent of public schools recorded at least one violent incident in the 2013–14 academic year. Among the approaches gaining popularity is restorative justice, which encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions and aims to help them avoid future offenses through mediation. How schools actually use restorative justice varies but a key component involves students and teachers sitting in a “restorative circle,” in which the student who has caused harm hears the views of peers.
“There is a lot of hard work to be done to make sure restorative justice works. You can’t just declare it’s the school policy.”

While many school districts are embracing restorative justice, there’s little hard data to show the approach is effective in reducing violence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that restorative justice can reduce violence in schools through exercises like group discussions that build empathy among students, Gregory said, but she and other education researchers are quick to say that there have been few carefully designed studies to back up these claims. By teaching problem-solving strategies as part of a restorative-justice program, schools can “head off fights that are brewing and other acts of violence,” she added.

In other countries that have established restorative-justice programs “there is a lot of evidence to show that when restorative-justice programs are implemented, suspension rates go down,” Gregory said. She pointed to New Zealand as an example. In 1989, the country redesigned its juvenile-justice system based on restorative-justice principles and has since“seen plummeting juvenile violence as well as arrest and incarceration rates,” Gregory added.

Chicago Public Schools have, unsurprisingly, seen a drop in suspensions since implementing restorative-justice practices; such tactics are often explicitly adopted as an alternative form of discipline. One report found that in the 2013–14 school year, 16 percent of high-school students received an out-of-school suspension, down from 23 percent in 2008–09. “There’s been enormous progress in reducing disciplinary problems in Chicago schools since we started practicing restorative justice,” said Nancy J. Michaels, the associate director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation in Chicago.

In Los Angeles, restorative-justice programs have been hailed as a success for shrinking suspension rates, too. A recent report found that restorative-justice programs and other disciplinary initiatives have led to a 92 percent decrease in the number of days lost to suspensions. The city plans to establish restorative-justice programs in all schools by 2020.

In classrooms, however, not everyone is on board with the restorative-justice approach. In both Chicago and Los Angeles, some teachers have criticized the method for reducing their ability to maintain discipline. Some teachers have also complained that there hasn’t been enough training and resources available to correctly implement the new approach.

Schools, according to Gregory, are most effective in implementing restorative-justice practices when teachers are given enough instruction on how to use the approach. “There is a lot of hard work to be done to make sure restorative justice works,” she said. “You can’t just declare it’s the school policy.”

As part of his vow to avoid overly punitive discipline, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is funding pilot programs in restorative justice. Brady Smith, the principal of the James Baldwin School in Manhattan, said that restorative-justice practices have contributed to a decrease in disciplinary actions against students. “We hardly have any suspensions,” Smith said. He pointed to restorative-justice circles as among the most powerful tools. “Children in our society are so rarely given a chance to speak up,” Brady said.

At Ebbets Field Middle School in Brooklyn, which adopted restorative justice this past school year thanks to a grant from the Brooklyn Community Foundation, suspensions have dropped by more than 30 percent compared with the year before, according to Michelle Patterson Murray, an assistant principal at the school.* In touting the approach’s effectiveness, she cited a recent incident in which a student stole an item. “Rather than call her parents or apply for a suspension, we sat in a circle and talked about how her action damaged the trust of the community,” Patterson said.

Still, as New York and other cities jump onto the restorative-justice bandwagon, education researchers say carefully-designed studies need to be done to prove the approach’s effectiveness. Catherine Bradshaw, an education professor at the University of Virginia, is conducting a randomized study on the effects of restorative-justice practices on school discipline. The three-year study, funded by a $13 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is looking at 40 schools in Maryland, 10 of which are using restorative justice. “There’s a lot of energy and buzz around” the practice, Bradshaw said. But, she added, “we can’t find effective ways to reduce violence without taking a systematic, scientific approach to understanding and evaluating the tools that we are using.”

Brock, of Cal State, said that it’s critical to educate the public and administrators on the level and type of violence occurring in schools. “Fear is not the answer. Facts are the answer,” he said. “Otherwise we are finding the wrong answers to the wrong problems.” Instilling a psychological sense of security in schools can be as important in ensuring school safety as physical measures like metal detectors, he continued. “If you create a place where kids feel that adults care about them as a person and want to connect with them, it increases the probability that if there is going to be act of violence, then adults will know about it and act to stop it.”

While many schools are trying to change the way they discipline students, others are spending millions on physical protection like security cameras and armed guards. But Brock warned that physical protection has its limits. He said that data from studies is inconclusive on whether such measures are effective in preventing violence.

“There is only so much you can do before a school becomes like a prison,” Brock said. “You have to make sure you aren’t inadvertently creating a space that is not conducive to learning.”

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