Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bringing Discipline and Behavior to the Fore

Diane Ravitch:

Second, it is worth exploring why so many public schools in the big cities have been unable to establish a clear, fair, and functional discipline and behavior policy. Is it because of long-forgotten court orders? Have public schools become so wrapped up in procedural rights and processes that they can't provide an orderly environment for learning? Deborah, you recall as I do the claims made in the 1960s and 1970s that it was "white imperialism" to impose middle-class values on poor and minority children. Now there is a growing movement to do exactly that. My own view is that schools are by definition middle-class. If they are good schools, they teach the knowledge, skills, and behavior that one needs to function well in work, in higher education, and in life. So, there is a common-sense element to the "no excuses" mantra.

If we're going to engage with what's really going on in "no excuses" school reform, we must have this conversation. In my experience the vast majority of teachers, parents and administrators in urban middle schools would like to have consistent and fairly strict discipline and don't shy away from external motivation. They're not a bunch of hippies, but they clearly feel constrained in various ways. But I can't say exactly what the problems are, why charters apparently aren't bound by them, and what reasonable changes might be made to bring some of these benefits to neighborhood schools (which isn't to say that strict is the only way to run a school).


Bill Kerr said...

another great link

I think some clarity about the meaning of the term "middle class" might help

middle class does not sound so good to me when contrasted to working class but it does sound quite good when contrasted to lumpen or feral or illiterate

this is not made clear by either Brooks or Diane Ravitch (even though her analysis overall seems very good to me, I thought she lacked clarity in that respect)

A "no excuses", "whatever it takes" mindset is the required one at the *start* of turning around a culture that is a combination of entitlement mentality / lumpen behaviour

Bill Kerr said...

this comment might account for the ingredient you are looking for (and requires inspirational leadership from the Principal):

"...my favorite hunch about what is going on in Harlem Promise, or KIPP, or in a number of charters in Massachussetts that are outperforming similar schools in their districts, is that the adults have decided to accept responsibility for what goes on. There may or may not be something about the charter structure that allows for this (because certainly there are plenty of charters that are not performing miracles or anything close to miracles). Certainly the verbiage of "no excuses" says something..."

Tom Hoffman said...

There are a lot of factors at play, but in terms of discipline, I think that having everyone on board, teachers, students and parents, with the discipline policy before the choose to work at or attend the school is key.

Even if schools like HCZ aren't pushing students out the door, they do have more of an authority to say to parents, students and teachers "Look, this is what you signed up for. You chose a strict school."

In a neighborhood school, where many if not all of the teachers have been assigned based on seniority and whatever vacancy was open in the district, and where students were assigned based on where they live, you don't even have that angle.

Not that it is the only factor here.

I also think that charters don't so much cream the top as avoid the very bottom. I clearly remember standing in the hallway at the school we were implementing a turnaround in and wondering "What could we accomplish if we didn't have the 5% of kids here who have no intention of doing any work whatsoever?"