Saturday, May 10, 2014

Discipline, Cheating, Deteriorating Morale. . . The Real Threats to the EBR School System

The paper containing the Teacher Bill of Rights is "mostly useful in the bathroom". That's the conclusion of a demoralized teacher in EBR who was questioned by a reporter about enforcement of state discipline laws. My conclusion after reviewing the reports by Crazy Crawfish and the WAFB Channel 9 report called Classrooms of Fear, is that the biggest threat to the future of the EBR school system is an internal one based on incompetent and uncaring management. The Crazy Crawfish blog is titled EBR Teachers are Under Seige and Need our Help!

The EBR school system has been preoccupied with fighting off takeover efforts by the LDOE and by citizens in the Southeast wanting to form their own breakaway school district. But the biggest enemy of the EBR system is its own management. This is new management that was brought in by a new school board with a majority elected with the help of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce. The goals of this new management has been to raise school performance scores at all costs, to prevent additional school takeovers, and to get the LDOE off its back for supposedly excessive student suspensions. In my opinion, that new management has ignored some of the most basic principles of school management and is presiding over the deterioration and eventual collapse of the school system.

Crazy Crawfish recently published a post detailing the collapse of discipline in many classrooms and the pressure by administrators to cut down on suspensions, and to graduate as many students as possible with little regard to actual student achievement.

More recently WAFB television aired an investigative series titled Classrooms of Fear, also containing the testimony of several teachers who are being driven to resign from their teaching jobs in EBR because of intolerable student disruptions and even threats of physical harm. Several of the teachers testified in both reports that they had personally suffered physical and verbal abuse by students. These teachers are actually powerless to correct misbehaving students and are expected by the school administrators to keep disruptive students in the classroom and give them passing grades even if they fail test after test and never do assignments.

As I explained in my email to all EBR school board members over a week ago, there are some excellent, well run schools in EBR but the appallingly poor management of some EBR schools is threatening the future of the entire system. Superintendent Taylor has either encouraged or allowed a management system that tolerates rampant disobedience of teachers by some students and even physical threats to teachers. School administrators are so concerned about preventing high student suspension rates and maintaining a high graduation rate that they are apparently willing to sacrifice the physical well being of teachers and students and to promote various forms of grade inflation to promote and graduate students. This poisonous atmosphere is sure to drive away the best and most conscientious teachers and do irreparable damage to the system. This ironically will just speed the takeover and privatization of more schools in EBR. I doubt that the Chamber, the breakaway supporters and the privatizers planned it this way, but it looks like the EBR administration is playing right into their hands.

Teachers interviewed on condition of anonymity by WAFB produced the following story:

More than a dozen teachers are ready to call it quits at just one local public school in East Baton Rouge Parish. Educators are saying the main reasons they're throwing in the towel are a lack of discipline and increasing violence inside the classrooms.

"It makes me wonder why I even got into this profession, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else," said a teacher we will call "Jane."

"If I see something better along the way, in the near future, I will be out of there," said another teacher we'll refer to as "Bob."

They're veteran teachers at their wits end with some of them simply dealing with the conditions trying to make it to retirement and in one case, literally counting the days until the end of the current school year so he can quit.

"I'm willing to risk going unemployed in order to leave this system," said a third teacher "Joe."

"Joe" is a rookie educator simply living out a dream to teach, but he has already had more than enough with the East Baton Rouge Public Schools.

Kiran: How long have you been with the school system?
Joe: This is my first year.
Kiran: ...and you're already ready to quit?
Joe: Absolutely. I turned in my letter.
Kiran: Why?
Joe: Because I am being asked to give grades that are not earned. I am afraid for my safety.

All three sat down with the I-team on the condition of concealing their identities, saying they fear retaliation. When asked if the teachers had ever been verbally abused by a student in their classroom, all three answered, "Yes." All three also said they had been physically assaulted by a student in their class.

"Joe" is calling it quits saying instead of him grading students on how they should be graded, administrators are dictating what grades he needs to hand out.

"Told me it was my fault that he has a failing grade, and that I should give him a "C," said Joe. "I was told that I had too many failing and not to fail their seniors."

When asked why, Joe said, "It looks bad on the school, and it goes against our school score."

Another teacher said those school performance scores take top priority and trump everything else.

"Well, when you talk about administrators, I think it's important to note that it comes from the top. It doesn't always come from our principals at our schools. They're handcuffed. They're puppets to Dr. Taylor, Dr. Ramos and Dr. Haggen," said Jane.

When the I-team asked Superintendent Dr. Bernard Taylor whether school statistics were more important than student performance, he walked off without answering the question.

Meanwhile, Jane said Dr. Taylor and his staff are giving the direction.

"They're the ones that call the shots, put the pressure on the principals, threaten their jobs and then we have faculty meetings that dictate to us what we have to do," said Jane.

Several teachers said they're told to try to keep students in the classrooms and reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions because that can affect the school's performance score.

Kiran: The teachers bill of rights, do you feel those mean anything for you?
Jane: You can take it to the bathroom with you.

This lack of discipline enforcement is in violation of state law and of the teacher bill of rights.  Unfortunately the state law carries no penalty for a school system that fails to enforce the discipline law or the teacher bill of rights. So teachers have little recourse. If they file a grievance against administrators for failure to enforce discipline, they put themselves in danger of being fired. Jindal has done away with most teacher job protections.

Along with the breakdown of discipline there is also a demoralizing breakdown of teacher authority. Some students know that they will be promoted and graduated even if they refuse to do assignments and fail most of their tests. They are allowed to insult or even to curse the teacher without repercussions.

Is this what teaching in some classrooms has become? Teachers are forced to teach to the state tests every day, they are cursed at by students who are noisy and unruly and who fail every test, and then they are expected to "give" passing grades to students who do not deserve them.

How long would you last in the classroom under those conditions?


Anonymous said...

I can honestly tell you that all of this is true. I teach in EBR and we have been told to change grades, and just deal with the bad students. " we write too many referrals and should only write one in extreme circumstances" is what was said a several staff meetings. We have also been told not to talk amongst ourselves or to others because they would fire us for being too outspoken. I love my job but this is not worth it..

Anonymous said...

I taught in EBR for 7 years...that was 13 years ago. We were told back then that if our expulsion rate of black students was too high, our school would not expel them anymore. However, a White student could do the same action and end up expelled if the race ratio worked out. I had a situation on duty where I witnessed three black kids beating a white kid (broke his leg) and a hearing officer from the school board came out and pressured me to recant what I saw because I was White and the victim was White...and zero tolerance required the black perps get expelled. Seeing the writing on the wall, I evacuated the system ASAP....we had a transfer teacher just this year from a middle school in EBR...her reason for abandoning EBR was the prevalence of student fights (2-3 per day) and the perps coming back after multiple occurrences. I praise God I work in a system where 4 suspensions (even for minor offenses, dress codes/being tardy/etc.) is an automatic expulsion. Parents complain we are expelling their child for having long hair and forgetting to wear a belt...but it is usually MUCH more involved than that (chronic pattern of rule breaking), but our district holds the line. When the kids get up against that wall and see action for breaking the rules, their behavior changes for the better...and school scores tend to go up. Teachers are also knocking down the doors to get into our schools!!!

Anonymous said...

Good work, Mike. Thanks for keeping us updated.

Anonymous said...

It's all true. Teachers are physically threatened and mentally abused daily by students with no fear of discipline. The EBR school system is run by bastards.