Saturday, August 12, 2023

Missing out on education

I taught high school for thirty-six years, retiring in 2005. Most of the time when I dealt with a discipline problem in the classroom or in the halls I expected, and almost always received, support from administrators and parents. Learning isn't compatible with chaos. From "The School-Discipline Disaster":
.... Our schools always have had to and always will need to manage misbehavior, and some students will push any boundary you set for them. But in the past decade, there have been policy changes — decisions to tear down traditional disciplinary structures in schools across the country — that have caused a sharp rise in misbehavior.

The result has been a double blow to education quality: The retreat from discipline has directly degraded the learning atmosphere, sowing chaos and stunting students; and it has demoralized and depressed teachers, pushing them to leave the profession. As student behavior worsens, more teachers leave, the school struggles to pick up the slack, student behavior worsens yet more, and the cycle spirals downward. ....

Few teachers will face violence, and few students will get into serious fights. But a great many students grow impatient because they can’t hear their teacher over the classroom noise. School buildings are full of students who are missing out on an education. Debates about school choice and school funding often receive a lot of attention, but, as influential professor of education John Hattie has pointed out, the most consequential policies relate to in-school factors “such as the climate of the classroom, peer influences, and the lack of disruptive students” (emphasis mine). ....

The two most popular substitutes [for discipline] are “positive behavior interventions and supports,” an approach that emphasizes incentives over consequences, and “restorative justice,” which relies on conflict resolution and discussions with counselors in place of detentions or suspensions.

Undergirding both approaches is a progressive view of human nature. Misbehavior stems not from sin or human imperfection but from broken systems and “root causes.” Johnny doesn’t push Timmy because he’s selfish or still learning to control his anger, the argument runs. He does so because of cultural conflict, hunger, or insufficient emotional support. Kids might need a bag of chips or a hug, but certainly not detention. In each case, the cause of misbehavior is external to the student himself, and so we ought not hold him accountable for his actions.

This view is wrong, both in its theory and in its practical effect. The simple fact is that misbehavior is inherent to children and to humanity in general. We cannot eradicate wrongdoing; we can only disincentivize it and create systems that address it appropriately. Perhaps a student is struggling at home, but punitive discipline and exclusionary practices such as expulsions are still needed to protect and secure the learning of the other students.

Exclusive reliance on nonpunitive approaches communicates to the misbehaving student not high expectations and a belief in his ability to overcome poor circumstances but condescension and a belief that the adults expect nothing better. ....

What rigorous academic research we have on the alternatives to discipline finds them wanting. The RAND Corporation ran two randomized controlled trials on the implementation of restorative justice. On surveys, students reported a deterioration in classroom culture and an increase in bullying. What’s more, there were substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle schoolers and for black students in particular. Though restorative justice is billed as a means to fix the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, the way it fosters disorder and depresses academic achievement could, I believe, exacerbate that problem by making schools worse and thereby rendering them less able to steer students down a better course. .... (more)

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