Saturday, September 24, 2016

School Disciplinary Authority is Being Seriously Eroded

This article in Education Week magazine describes a growing national trend to reduce educator authority to suspend students for disciplinary infractions. A major substitute for out-of-school suspension is a program called restorative justice. In this scheme, teachers are expected to refrain from removing disruptive students from the classroom and instead implement various interventions. As the article explains, denying teachers the authority to remove extremely disruptive students often infringes on the rights of other students to receive productive instruction.

This is how the writer explains the issue:

Why can't Johnny read? Or, assuming he can, why isn't Johnny closing the achievement gap?
It's politically fashionable to blame his tenure-protected teacher. But might it have more to do with the pathologically disruptive classmate who, given infinite "second chances" by detached policymakers and feckless administrators, never gets removed from Johnny's classroom?

Thanks, in part, to an increasingly popular behavior-management approach known as "restorative justice," soft discipline is on the rise in public schools at the same time that education reformers are demanding higher standards and teacher accountability.
Restorative justice emphasizes correction and counseling over punishment, and seeks to replace strict zero-tolerance discipline policies with collaborative opportunities for restitution. Its primary goal is to keep students in school rather than suspending or expelling them.
Generally proponents of alternatives to suspensions are not the professionals who must deal with disruptive behavior in the classroom on a daily basis. It is relatively easy to be a "Monday morning quarterback" and insist that there must be a way to correct student misbehavior without the need to resort to removal of a student from the learning environment. Often the "experts" on such alternatives are persons who never have to actually implement these "miracle cures" in a real classroom setting. You see it is much easier to advocate for these alternatives to suspension than to actually implement them!

In Louisiana our State Department of Education has for several years recommended a program called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports known as PBIS.  Many Louisiana school systems require schools to implement PBIS as a way of reducing suspensions.  But the problem is that many teachers complain that PBIS greatly reduces the teacher's ability to take immediate action to stop disruptive, dangerous or disrespectful behavior by removing a student from the classroom. Such behavior often interferes with orderly and effective instruction of the great majority of students whose instruction is put on hold while the teacher fills out paperwork and then attempts to accommodate disruptive or disrespectful students using this alternative strategy.

Right now state law in Louisiana gives each teacher the right to remove extremely disruptive or disrespectful or dangerous students from the classroom by simply filling out a discipline referral form and sending the student to the appropriate disciplinary administrator. That is currently the law and the teacher should have the right to use the law to insure that she/he can effectively conduct class without interruption. But some school systems and some administrators have instructed teachers that they may not remove a student unless the teacher has implemented various steps of the PBIS procedure such as documenting several disruptive incidents and sometimes even telephoning or conferencing with the parent. But such alternatives for the one disruptive student can take away from time the teacher could be instructing the class. Is is right to deny or delay instruction of cooperative students to deal with one student who refuses to comply with the teacher's directives? I believe that school systems that deny a teacher the right to implement immediate removal of extremely disruptive or disrespectful students are in violation of state law. But there are current attempts to change state law to take away the teacher's right to remove such students.

During the 2016 legislative session, the legislature debated a bill (HB 833) by Representative Leger that in its original form would have forced schools with 150% of the average number of student suspensions to implement a plan to curtail suspensions by the use of alternatives to suspensions such as Restorative Justice or PBIS. Many administrators and teachers contacted their legislators and explained that such mandatory restrictions would tie the hands of principals and teachers in schools that faced greater than average challenges to maintain a productive classroom environment. Does it surprise you to learn that some schools face greater challenges to maintain discipline than others because of the communities they serve? It turns out those are the same communities with high crime rates and a high incidence of juvenile delinquency.  Fortunately this bill was defeated, but another bill by Senator Claitor which passed and became Act 522 mandates the establishment of an Advisory Council on Student Behavior and Discipline which will study various discipline statistics and make recommendations to BESE and the Legislature.

The Discipline advisory committee set up by Act 522 is heavily stacked with advocates for alternative disciplinary methods and very lean on actual practitioners who deal with discipline problems on a daily basis. Their recommendations to BESE could end up being the same harebrained schemes rejected by the legislature. Only this time they will be presented as "evidence based" programs. We have already seen what happens when public school policies are dictated by persons who are not education professionals but whose policy mandates are derived more from ideological assumptions than by practical considerations. That's why we have been saddled with test-based merit pay and TFA corps members instead of real teachers.

The author of the article in Education week who has 27 years of teaching experience, goes on to explain the following:

Alas, in a profession where ideologically motivated reforms abound, restorative justice in many districts has recklessly morphed into de facto "no student removal" policies that are every bit as flawed as the inflexible zero-tolerance policies they were designed to replace.
"Just how many times should the student who spews obscenities be sent back to class with no reprisals?"
The process by which this happens is all too familiar to teachers.
Far removed from the pedagogical trenches, federal and state education departments craft behavior-management guidelines designed to vastly reduce suspensions and expulsions, and keep even the most dangerous and defiant students in the least-restrictive educational environment possible.
In Louisiana, as part of the debate on HB 833, a recent report to the legislature was referred to that classifies "disrespect of the teacher" as a minor offense that should be dealt with without the need to remove a student to the classroom. Tell that to a young teacher who has just been viscously cursed using the most profane and foul language by a student twice her size who by his very demeanor appears to be on the verge of attacking her physically! This is the type of detached diagnosis of real serious disciplinary issues that we often get from folks who never have to manage a classroom.

For years now, our legislature and our LDOE have been mischaracterizing "failing schools" as schools where test scores are lower than average. Those who really understand schooling know that a failing school is not determined by student test scores. That's because low scores are much more influenced by the poverty of the student body than by ineffective teaching. Educators know that the real problems are with schools that are failing to deal decisively with classroom disruption and disrespect of teachers and other students. The parents who are appropriately dissatisfied with their schools are those responsible parents whose children attend a school where their children are subjected to disruption of classroom instruction and who fear physical harm to their children by individuals who often cannot be effectively disciplined because of the restrictions placed on school professionals. Those are the real "failing schools".


Anonymous said...

This is one of your best posts yet, and probably because it is so timely. PBIS was not a bad idea just implemented in a stupid way. We have many students who PBIS works for. But NO WHERE IN PBIS DOES IT HANDLE THE HABITUALLY DISRUPTIVE, DISRESPECTFUL AND DISRUPTIVE STUDENTS. It is football season and we have some athletes who are real role models. But the majority are players, smart mouthed and given free reign because they make the school look good on the field. It is that way with basketball too. Then we have kids who transfer in who were kicked out of their other school. But there is no where to get them into a highly structured learning environment they need to be limited to JUST learning because we closed our alternative school. Our great students and struggling students suffer with being constantly interrupted and distracted by the behavior of a few. A known few. Who have disrupted for years.Why? Why do they have to be written up 3 times under PBIS and all the behavior documented and parents called repeatedly and conferences held and STILL nothing happens??? They just return to class with even worse behavior because now they know nothing is going to happen. Middle school students are BIG sometimes. They can throw chairs, get into fights and threaten teachers and what happens? They are counseled, the teacher is asked why they didn't prevent it or what did they do to set them off. Many Administrators try all sorts of tricks and smoke and mirrors to make it look like they are "handling" it, like they have our backs and will stick up for us! Ha!!! When it comes down to really taking care of a disruptive student or throwing a teacher under the bus it is a no brainer. Parents come in and blame teachers for everything. More and more kids are 504 and SPED and we have half the number of paras we should to help us accommodate these kids. We want to! We want them to succeed! But more and more have so many accommodations we just honestly can't meet them all. We are having every single SPED child have "read all class materials orally" How?!? With 5- 7 with this in a class, sharing a Para between 2 and 3 teachers so we see them maybe for 5 mind a class if at all ( who would even want that job??? For 18,000 a year before taxes, getting pulled all over the school to give meds, cover for a sick teacher, go on a field trip to give meds and thousands of other tasks) and 20 other kids in there while trying to teach from a pacing guide we had better be following so that all the teachers across the parish are on the same lesson on the same day!!! There will soon be no teachers left! So many teachers left last year we had a 63% turnover in teachers! The year before it was 48%. Teachers know we aren't valued. We know that at any moment we can be fired for not controlling things we have no control over! Here in Caddo there was a fight at one of our best schools. Teachers ran there from their assigned duty stations. Two students going at it after school, on an open campus. In a spot they knew no teachers would be on duty...because we do not have enough to form a human chain around each school! So what does the local news station run a story about?? Not how dangerous a teachers job is. Not how we have duty and are supposed to handle adult size kids in fights. Nope, the news station wanted to ask why teachers weren't there to stop the fight!?! Any responsibility for the kids? Nope! Any parents saying that teachers shouldn't be expected to intervene between students in a fight? Nope! Teaching is killing the teachers!

Lee said...

I have to disagree w your analysis of restorative justice and PBIS. Like many otherwise effective policies, when misunderstood and therefore improperly implemented it can result in disastrous results. Admins and teachers and even parents MUST be properly trained and supported for either of these to work and it must also be recognized and admitted when neither works for a particular student. I am sorry to see these strategies presented in this either/or fashion because they are not. Students can and sometimes must be temporarily removed from a class but that cannot t be the end of the discipline. Where they are sent and how the behavior is addressed is crucial. I have not, in my teaching experience, seen any beneficial action taken when students are sent out of classroom. Sending students to a cavelike room for all day detention where he is sat with his face to the wall to do busy work in silence is worse than ineffective so I refused to do it. Granted, I had no out of control students in my career (some of which had to do w my response to behaviors with students knowing I was not a pushover and some to do w I had no renegades) but sometimes the more subtle seeming problems can be as significant n the life of a student and the conduct of a class as more physical confrontations. The key is proper training, buy-in and support. Things that are hard to come by in many schools or school systems. I can't sugarcoat that as much as I advocate for public education.

Shawn said...

Wow. What a shame. PBIS is effective - and originated with and is effective in addressing students with severe disabilities and SEVERE challenging behavior. It is a shame that your understanding is based on mis-applied principles. It is a shame all you offer is removing students instead of practices with evidence supporting them. You and I agree on most things - but your old school mentality on discipline and unwillingness to fully understand PBIS do not serve our state nor our students well.

Anonymous said...

After reading the last couple of posts, and notwithstanding all of the rebuke contained therein, I am surprised that the main weakness of PBIS was not mentioned. The idea that you “catch ‘em being good and reward ‘em” does indeed have merit and is effective. However, in all the readings and the training videos I watched there was only one, or at most two disruptive students in each scenario. Having been required to implement PBIS in several low SES schools, I never encountered one or two, but usually 6, 7, or 8. They would feed off and offer “moral” support to each other with the result that very little quality instruction could be given. Only on the Hallmark channel could PBIS perhaps be a cure-all for disciplinary issues, but it fails to address the fact the public education needs must be a volume enterprise. While I do not advocate an authoritarian approach, I am fairly certain that North Korea has few classroom discipline issues. I can honestly say that I do not have the first idea what the solution might be, but hyping any program and then sanctimoniously bashing teachers as inept because the process yields few results has grown very stale over the last decade. Were it possible to legislate the return of the notion that a public education is a privilege instead of an entitlement like “gummint cheese” the problem would be fixed.

Anonymous said...

Interesting relies. So now teachers are bashing other teachers? If a teacher writes and expresses frustration and concerns that a few kids are preventing all the other kids from learning, you brag that you never had renegades? Someone commented that the problem isn't 1 or 2 it's 4 or 6 students who have disrupted classrooms for years. That teacher knows what it like in a classroom with 30 kids and 7 who steal so much class time you can not teach! There are many many teachers stuck in a school where it is being applied completely wrong and that teacher has no power to change it. Whoever wrote, "You and I agree on most things - but your old school mentality on discipline and unwillingness to fully understand PBIS do not serve our state nor our students well." What prompted this? If you have been agreeing with most of his posts then shame on you for saying he is unwilling to understand and not serving the students of our state! How condescending and rude! You should apologize.
Mike travels all over talking to teachers, attending meeting and tracking down what the state is trying to do to kill education and hurts our students. He spends hours researching the facts and checking on what is really happening at BESE! PBIS doesn't handle habitually disruptive kids and restorative justice is being incorrectly applied also. Jumping on a fellow teacher just because you do not see the problem only makes the problem worse and teachers afraid to say anything. Mike, you always wonder why teachers aren't more vocal. Some of the responses here are the reason. Teachers eat their young! Thank you for being strong enough to ask the tough questions and point out the problems and mistakes! If there are typos in here it is because I am grading work and didn't intend to spend time on a response, but I am glad I did.

Michael Deshotels said...

I appreciate and see value in all the comments above, but here is my main concern: While there is great value in the proper use of restorative justice and PBIS, the current trends that mandate specific actions by teachers in managing their classrooms demonstrate disrespect for the teaching profession. You don't see the legislature trying to tell doctors specifically how to do surgery because each case is unique. I contend that teaching and classroom management is even more nuanced than surgery, and yet everyone outside the profession wants to dictate a formula the teacher should use. I have great concern for the handicapped and troubled students, but the productive instruction of the rest of the class should not repeatedly be sacrificed to deal with one student's problems.I am also concerned about the welfare of the many dedicated teachers who are being driven out of the profession by lack of support of their authority to deal with extremely disruptive or disrespectful students.

Lee said...

Mike - Now you are addressing the problem from another angle with which I agree. Of course any strategy must be implemented properly and must be supported by administration, the parent and other teachers. No one is implying that the rest of the class should repeatedly be sacrificed to deal with one student's problems. If I am not mistaken, the legislation offered stated or implied that a disruptive student cannot be temporarily removed from a classroom. My problem is with students who are permanently removed from the classroom or repeatedly and the source of their behavior is not addressed appropriately. And to the commenter who accused me of "bashing teachers" or jumping on Mike, that is inaccurate. I am a teacher and I know Mike well.