Monthly Archives: August 2012

Children of the Night

by Rainiel Guzmán

These ‘advocates’ propose that teachers should curb both detentions and suspensions and rather inquire as to the whys ‘some’ students have boundary issues, poor study habits and exhibit ‘oppositional behavior’. They should share one of my commutes, which would answer many of their whys.”

As the school year approaches in the twilight of another violent summer in Philadelphia, we are greeted by recommendations which seek to address climate at our schools. Key among these recommendations is the cessation of detentions and suspensions for previous infractions such as tardiness, or the use of profanity and cell phones. Teachers know what will follow, chaos. Precious time will now be “mandated” to address non-instructional matters. It is clear that the proponents of these recommendations do not work or often visit many of our schools. In fact, I am certain that many “advocates” of children in our city must have very different commutes than mine. Their commutes must be through pastoral promenades or perhaps through singing hills. These “advocates” propose that teachers should curb both detentions and suspensions and rather inquire as to the whys “some” students have boundary issues, poor study habits and exhibit “oppositional behavior”. They should share one of my commutes, which would answer many of their whys. Allow me to share with you one of my commutes in particular.

I have been an adjunct at a local college for the past two years. The experience has been one of amazement and genuine satisfaction. The campus is located in a northern Philadelphia barrio. The student population is mostly comprised of working, single, Hispanic mothers. I declare my admiration for their tenacity and efforts. As you may expect a class comprised by mothers is regularly peppered with text-messages, emails and/or phone calls from children of all ages as well as by significant others. During our ten minute break, these mothers are on their cell phones restating orders, assessing chores and, yes, if need be refreshing threats. Once class resumes, the strains from a long day are visible, with the added responsibility of two additional hours of content remaining. At the end of our four hour class, generally concluding shy of ten o’clock p.m., everyone heads home. Likewise, I gather my materials and walk to the parking lot.

As you leave the building the grittiness of this barrio quickly takes over your senses. One detail stands out immediately–there isn’t a tree in sight. Meanwhile, competing songs from speeding cars race by and die out up and down the street. The sidewalks are poorly lit by the streetlights and a heightened self-awareness kicks in as a compensatory instinct. Yet, for the residents of el barrio, all is well. Old and young are out in the street holding congenial conversations and conducting all manner of affairs. As I pull out of the parking lot, I have developed the art of evading children. These children usually ride their bicycles in groups of three or four, down the middle of the street. By children, I mean on average boys ages eight to twelve. In case you are entertaining the idea that this must be a summer affair, unfortunately the answer is no. These children ride their bicycles in the middle of the streets year round, weather permitting.

I have raised the issue with my students and have asked for their opinions regarding these night boys. They generally are very candid. Perhaps, the most succinct opinion gravitates around a well worn phrase, those kids are raising themselves. Once that phrase is uttered out loud a shared silence follows. The silence is then broken by open affirmations  of violence directed to their own children, especially directed to the boys: ¡Yo lo mato! (I’ll kill him.) ¡Ay, si yo lo agarro montando bicicleta a estas horas! (Oh, if I find him riding a bike at this late hour!)Their “professed” anger quickly gives way to mother’s worry. As we proceed with the content, quick, under the table texts are sent. Corresponding mothers’ smiles confirm that all is well.

Once on the road I have become equally adept at turning corners. Night jaywalkers of all ages compete with the cycling muchachos de la noche in open disregard even contempt for cars and buses. This commute home is unlike any I have ever had. Still, other night children await my passage home.

My commute leads me through several northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods. As I follow my personal North Star, both girls and boys of all ages are out and about in small groups. By now it is well past ten o’clock. It is often impossible to discern any adults supervising them. Again, in case you are entertaining the idea that this must be a summer affair, unfortunately the answer is no. These children are on the corners and in the middle of the streets year round, weather permitting. As I near the last minutes of my commute into my well lit, verdant and night-childless streets, a string of Chinese corner restaurants attracts my attention. Indifferently of the day of the week or season, these restaurants are full with children and teenagers buying and eating late dinners. They often eat on the stairs, given that these restaurants do not offer seating. There are a few adults present, but my passing glances cannot confirm their relationship to the children. As I approach the unmarked “borders” of the barrios, hoods and neighborhoods, which weave our city, the smiles of these children challenge my thoughts.  I’m consumed by questions, and perplexed by their laughter.

I begin to indulge in self-righteous commentary to myself; Where are the parents of these kids? Why do we have a city wide curfew in the first place? Doesn’t anybody care? My morning commute to school is free of questions, jay-walkers, and young boys on bicycles. The Chinese restaurants are closed and the hectic morning rush of pedestrians do not allow for congenial conversations.

I truly wish that more “advocates” would commute at night. In doing so, they would have to answer not only the “whys” but to their current austerity machinations. Machinations, which seek to cynically redirect assured, non-instructional conflicts onto the charge of teachers. Please note that austerity in certain business circles is a code word for the stripping of assets, i.e. not having to pay for school nurses.

The hypocrisy spewed by these change agents is toxic. They are well aware of the conflicts which have and will continue to follow the gutting of nurses, counselors and behavioral scientists from many district schools. To their Machiavellian credit, they astutely enable some well intentioned but politically uninitiated “advocates” who instead of demanding the immediate reinstatement of non-teaching professionals, essential to any well run school, add their efforts to these cynical pursuits. I and many more resent the continued characterization of teachers as the enemies of our students and by association of responsible parents. Teachers are often, too often, the only constant adult presence in many of our students’ lives. I am not a psychologist, nor am charged to perform as one, thank God. Still, I will offer my very pedestrian diagnosis regarding the referred “whys”: children cannot parent themselves and teachers cannot be mandated to be surrogate parents or psychologists. God help us all, especially the children of the night.

Rainiel Guzman is a 2011 Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award winner.  He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University, and teaches art at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

 

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The Emotional Appeal for Blaming the Teachers

Despite challenges facing public education today, teachers are not solely to blame.

From the Daily Kos:

 I was disheartened to hear Chris Hayes on C-SPAN say that the educational “reform” movement is “winning the argument.” That’s not to say they’re winning on any factual level, Hayes meant that in terms of public debate, anything short of blaming the teachers means supporting the status quo.

It’s worth noting that this scapegoat has resonance for a reason, there’s an emotional appeal for blaming the teachers.

The Poverty Problem

The US education system isn’t broken, it’s being disrupted by poverty. As the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test shows the United States ranked in the low 20s but at the same time it has some of the highest child poverty in the industrialized world.

When the effects of child poverty are factored in, the US actually outperforms every other country in the world. That is, all things being equal, we still have the best education in the world: an area with 10% child poverty in the US will, on average, do better than an area with 10% child poverty in Finland.

While the struggle with being poor has an obvious effect on learning, it also has effects for funding. Schools that have a higher poverty rate will have lower funding for the schools because of a lower tax base.

Indeed, these problems have been expanded by education policy and increases in poverty following the recession.

Bad Teachers

This leaves a problem, if it’s objectively shown to be poverty then why is there an effort at demonizing teachers, or rather, why assume people would believe its the teachers that are the problem? It’s the dominant position, everyone from Fox News to Jonathan Alter thinks its the teachers fault. So, agendas aside, why even push the story?

The answer lies in the anecdotal and emotional experience of people. Lets face it, you’ve had a bad teacher in your life. The problem is that one bad teacher is out of dozens of good (or at least adequate) teachers. Thus it’s wrong to assume that someones personal experience accounts for a national epidemic.

Unfortunate the media does just that, it takes a personal experiences and turns it into a national problem. . . .

This is an excerpt from an article published Sunday on the Daily Kos headlined, “The Emotional Appeal for Blaming the Teachers.”  Click here to read the entire article.

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Obama Demands Race-Based School Discipline

In plain English, if different races have different incidences of disciplinary action, those of a favored race who act worse will be punished less, or those of a disfavored race who act better will be punished more, or both.

President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order hiring race-sensitive bureaucrats to hold meetings and mandate racial discipline quotas.

The order charges his new racial justice team, in part, with “promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.”  In plain English, that means that if different races have different incidences of disciplinary action, those of a favored race who act worse will be punished less, or those of a disfavored race who act better will be punished more, or both.

It’s true that a higher percentage of black students than white students receive school discipline such as suspensions or expulsion.  A recent, representative study of nearly half the country’s school districts found that 17.3 percent of black students were suspended in 2009-10, whereas 4.7 percent of whites and 7.3 percent of Latinos were.  Only 2.1 percent of Asians were suspended that year.  The black graduation rate is 64 percent.  For whites, it’s 82 percent, and for Asians, it’s 92 percent.

Given these and similar statistics on practically every measure of academic success and self-discipline, the president wants to require schools to punish equal proportions of white and black students, regardless of how individual students behave.  That will mean overlooking infractions by black students or punishing more white students for pettier infractions.

Punishing students differently based on skin color — that’s not racist? . . .

This is an excerpt from an article published today on American Thinker called “Obama Demands Race-Based School Discipline” by Joy Pullmann.  Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and a research fellow in education at The Heartland Institute.  To read the entire article, please click here.

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The injustice schools ignore

According to The Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Assault on Learning,” Philadelphia’s public schools have a bit of a violence problem.

From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents, including 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug- and alcohol-related violations, and 1,186 robberies. Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs. Teachers were assaulted more than 4,000 times.

So how has the School Reform Commission responded? By easing its student code of conduct and other disciplinary policies. In particular, the commission wants to cut down on out-of-school suspensions. . . .

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “The injustice schools ignore.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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Should Illegal Immigrants Get Tuition Breaks?

by Christopher Paslay

At Metropolitan State University of Denver, illegal immigrants will pay $8,000 less a year than what out-of-state students pay.

According to a story in The New York Times:

Monday is the first day of the school year for Metropolitan State University of Denver, a compact, urban campus in the heart of the city’s downtown.

It also signifies the dawn of a controversial new policy for this institution of 24,000. Among the crowd of students who will show up for class next week are dozens of illegal immigrants who, as part of a specially tailored tuition rate, can now qualify for a reduced fee if they live in Colorado.

The new rate, approved by the university’s board of trustees in June, has garnered praise from immigrant rights advocates here who have tried for years to get legislation passed that would allow state colleges to offer discounted tuition to local, illegal immigrant students.

What do you think?  Should illegals get tuition breaks at universities?  Take the poll below:

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The Day Discipline Died in Philadelphia Public Schools

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s revised code of conduct is evidence that officials have thrown in the towel when it comes to student discipline. 

Mark the date: 8/16/12.  That was the day discipline officially died in Philadelphia public schools.  Not that discipline was alive and well to begin with.  In many schools throughout the city it was hanging on by a thread, a brain dead body with a faint pulse connected to a life-support machine with a bunch of tubes running out of its arms.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

In fact, from 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

Over the last five years, discipline has been hanging on by a thread.  Not anymore.  Yesterday the School Reform Commission voted to officially pull the plug on the dying animal.  School leaders are being instructed to cut down on out-of-school suspensions, and loosen punishments as a response to discipline violations as a whole.  In particular, principals can no longer suspend a student for profanity, cellphone or uniform infractions.  So when an algebra teacher is in the middle of a lesson on the order of operations and a student is interrupting the class by talking loudly on his cellphone, and the teacher says, excuse me, put that away, and the student says, fuck you, I’m in the middle of a call here, and the teacher says, give me that cellphone now, and the student says, bitch, go fuck yourself, a suspension is not in order.  Not even when a student continues this behavior on a regular basis, and ruins everyone’s education in the process.

According to a story in today’s Inquirer:

The focus now is on in-school intervention.

“Though there can be no excuse for behavior that harms or disrupts, there may be reasons that caring adults in school need to understand. We educate the whole child,” the code declares. It lists a range of in-school intervention that should be employed, from “get a student’s attention by calling his/her name in a calm voice” and “address the student in private” to drawing up behavioral contracts.

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (trying to teach the class):  Put away that cellphone. 

Student: Man, I’m in the middle of a call, yo.  It’s my mom.  It’s an emergency.

Teacher (whispering calmly to the student): Darryl, you can’t use the phone in class.  Remember our behavior contract?  Can you see me in the hallway, please?

Student:  Bitch, get the fuck outta my face!

Greg Shannon, who is in charge of the school district’s disciplinary hearings and expulsions, said schools need to find ways to work with children and patiently figure out why they continue to break the rules: “We have to say, ‘Why are you coming to school out of uniform, and what can we do to support you? What can we do to get you in uniform, or get you a uniform?’”

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (being patient): Stacy, your skirt is too high and your shirt is too low cut.  We talked about this, remember?  Where is the uniform I gave you?  You haven’t worn it in three weeks?

Student: That golf shirt is corny.  I ain’t tryin’ to wear that uniform.

Teacher: But you are dressed inappropriately.  Is there a problem at home?  Do you need to talk about something?

Student:  Bitch, mind your business.  You ain’t my mom.

Lorene Cary, the head of the SRC’s safety committee, said, “The idea is that the best way to be safer is to change our culture to a safe culture.  We really have looked at prevention.”

Prevention?  Really?  What a novel idea (as if principals and teachers haven’t been trying prevention for decades).  What school district leaders have yet to answer is what should be done with students who continue to rob their hardworking classmates of an education even after preventative interventions such as restorative justice, positive behavioral supports, and peer mediation are used?  What do teachers and principals do then?

The answer: nothing.  Nothing is done.  Because of pressure from civil rights groups, because of pressure from toxic progressive organizations such as the Education Law Center, Youth United for Change, the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, and the Philadelphia Student Union, the rights of violent and unruly children supersede the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hardworking students trying to get an education.  Instead of suspending such children and placing them in alternative learning environments where they can get the remediation they need (and their classmates can finally have a chance to learn), these incorrigible youth are forced to coexist in classrooms with their peers where they ruin everyone’s education.

Now the SRC, as well as Superintendent William Hite, are on board with this mission: robbing our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  They are now bowing to the notion that the school district’s code of discipline is racist, is disenfranchising innocent children, and is not working; they are buying into Youth United for Change’s canard that the school district’s discipline policies are creating a “pipeline to prison.”

It is pathetic.  The code of conduct doesn’t work because the district doesn’t have the guts to enforce it.  Overall, policies have no teeth and teachers and principals get inadequate backing and support.  Parents and community leaders are absolved of all responsibility and the students themselves are no longer held accountable for their own behavior.  Why?  Because it’s too difficult a battle for the district to fight.  Like a parent who gives into his child because he doesn’t have the energy to enforce his own rules, the school district is taking the easy way out.

Yesterday’s decision to fundamentally revise the student code of conduct was the death blow to school discipline as we know it.  It appears that the SRC, as well as Superintendent Hite, have officially washed their hands of the whole mess.

God help the School District of Philadelphia, and the tens of thousands of hardworking children who will have their right to an education violated now more than ever.

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Three reasons why Philadelphia public schools fail (and what can be done about it)

by Christopher Paslay

Acknowledging three key problems—and providing solutions—can save the Philadelphia School District.

Thursday the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report detailing “key findings and recommendations” on how to improve the workings of the Philadelphia School District (PSD).  Titled “Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools,” the BCG was paid $4.4 million from private donors to produce it. 

Here are three “commonsense” findings and recommendations not included in BCG’s multimillion dollar report:  

 COMMONSENSE FINDINGS: WHY THE PSD CONTINUES TO FAIL

1.  The PSD remains unable to remove the violent and unruly 15 percent of students who cripple the entire school system and ruin the educations of the hardworking 85 percent. 

Despite “School Safety Advocates” and “zero tolerance policies,” the fact remains that Philadelphia public schools are rife with violence and inappropriate student behavior (see the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series Assault on Learning).  Unfortunately, in today’s politically correct environment where a suffocating brand of educational socialism is promoted, the rights of the incorrigible few supersede the rights of the admirable many.  In other words, it is near impossible to remove students from PSD schools (even “permanently expelled” students can file a right to return to their neighborhood schools after their “sentence” is served). 

One reason is that under PA’s Compulsory Education law, school districts are responsible for providing alternative placements to students they remove from schools, and this can be quite expensive; as a result, troublemakers are forced to coexist with their peers and negatively impact classroom learning environments.      

Another reason is that social justice lobby groups (such as the Education Law Center) and student activist groups (such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Student Union, and the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools) play the race card and fight to keep violent students in schools instead of putting their resources behind the educations of the majority of their hardworking peers struggling to learn.  (This is why charter schools are able to thrive in poor urban districts: instead of removing the bad to save the good, charters simply remove the good from the bad).        

2.  Too many PSD parents are “passengers” and not “drivers,” and feed off of the school system instead of fueling it. 

In the PSD, 81 percent of families are economically disadvantaged.  But this isn’t simply a financial issue; it is a cultural one as well.  In the suburbs, parents and communities drive the school system—they are the core that makes the schools run.  They parent their children and teach them that education is a priority.  They understand that being a stakeholder in their school means making an investment (chaperoning trips, helping with homework, attending teacher conferences, instilling core values in their children, etc.). 

Tragically, too many families in the PSD want to be a stakeholder without making any real investment; they suffer from an entitlement mentality, and believe that the district owes them despite the fact that they have only taken from the system and never carried their own weight and produced their fair share. 

The cycle of poverty in the PSD is tragic, but undeniable: out-of-wedlock teenage births; domestic violence; crime, drug addictions; etc.  This kind of environment is a drain on the PSD, not a force that fuels and propels the system.        

3.  Too many Philadelphia residents do not pay their property taxes.   

Why is the PSD suffering from money problems?  A major reason is because Philadelphia residents owe over $500 million (a half a billion dollars!) in property taxes.  What has the City done to address this problem?  Increase the property taxes of those residents who already pay their fair share!    

 COMMONSENSE RECOMMENDATIONS:

1.  Expedite the removal of the PSD’s violent and unruly 15 percent by building alternative schools that specialize in remediation and alternative curriculum instead of expanding charters. 

In short, remove and remediate the maladjusted and don’t let civil rights or social justice groups bully policy makers into keeping troubled students in classrooms and continuing to rob our hardworking children of a quality education. Do this by building alternative schools instead of pumping more money into charters (or require charters to service the alternative population).      

2.  Run a grassroots campaign to strengthen the culture of PSD families and communities.

The PSD should fight to instill traditional values into its students and their families.  Community leaders should preach that citizens are the captains of their own ship rather than fostering the idea that they are victims of an unjust system.

In addition, the PSD should: rail against teen pregnancy; promote the importance of two-parent families and call for men to father their children; promote personal responsibility and individual achievement; speak out against misogyny, violence and materialism; encourage students to cooperate with police and law enforcement officials; bring back the abstinence only message in sex education; reinforce speaking Standard American English; launch a campaign to cut down on TV watching, internet surfing and video game playing; promote exercise, good diet and proper nutrition; and make Bill Cosby’s book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors part of PSD required reading for 9th graders.    

3.  Collect the $500 million owed the PSD by seizing and auctioning-off the property of all Philadelphia residents who do not pay their property taxes.

Tax delinquents, whether rich or poor, should not be allowed to deprive the PSD of money and rob our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  If residents don’t pay their property tax, their homes or businesses should be confiscated by the city and sold at auction.   

Implementing these straightforward commonsense solutions will go a long way in reclaiming Philadelphia’s public schools.

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