Monday, March 11, 2013

Student Behaviors Exclude Students

A front-page news article in the Seattle Times yesterday introduced an African-American high school student who was disciplined for using a laser pen, in order to personalize the U.S. Department of Education’s study of “whether the more frequent discipline of African-American students in Seattle public schools constitutes discrimination” (“Seeking An Even Hand at Discipline,” 3/10/13 Seattle Times).  If what was reported is true—that a good student who is black with a spotless discipline record was being suspended for playing with a toy, while other white students committing similar offenses were not being similarly punished—then, yes, this seems quite disturbing and in need of remedy.  However, reporters often don’t have or want the whole story, and frequently those profiled in media have an agenda.  The news article casually and repeatedly stated—as if it is proven fact—that teachers do not respect students of color and that racism is a factor in the discipline and academic achievement gap. 

Concurrently, the Senate is considering a bill to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions while requiring schools to design better student behavior management systems.

Both the federal probe and the legislative initiative assume that classroom teachers are at fault when students misbehave to the point of being excluded from the classroom setting.  What’s needed, it is argued, is better training in cultural differences and dealing with diverse students--basically, even more accountability in the schools.

I believe what’s needed instead is clear expectations and consistent consequences for all students.  For those who repeatedly disrupt the classroom, they need to be excluded so that they do not prevent the vast majority of other students who behave from learning and the teacher from exercising his or her craft.  If either SB 5244 or the Education Department’s scrutiny succeeds in pushing discipline problems back to the classroom, both teachers and well-behaving students will suffer as learning time is hijacked by poorly-behaving students, their parents, and their misguided advocates.

The move to limit or eliminate student exclusion again places unreasonable expectations and working conditions on teachers while absolving students themselves for their own behaviors, parents, and those in society who believe that teachers ought to be society’s repairmen.  

This is another reason why teachers should not be evaluated on the basis of their students’ success or lack thereof, why TPEP is a very bad idea, since we have little—and apparently will have even less—control of the major factors which are necessary for success—good behavior being fundamental.

(The attached op-ed piece is by a Seattle school teacher whose point of view is right on target on the crucial need to exclude misbehaving students).

Op-ed: For the good of a class, student suspensions are needed

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