Tag Archives: Assault on Learning

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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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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Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ Mission is Admirable but Misguided

by Christopher Paslay

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ primary focus should be on character building and traditional core values. 

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools (CNS) is a youth-led coalition dedicated to ending school violence and improving school climate.  According to their Facebook page:

The Campaign is building a nonviolent student movement across neighborhoods, schools and organizations, engaging hundreds of youth in exploring the roots of violence in their own lives and developing a personal commitment to nonviolence.

Prison-like school environments, a lack of resources, high staff turn-over rates, and suppression of youth leadership are examples of conditions that enhance feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness that young people may already be struggling with. These conditions help to create school environments which are a breeding ground for physical and emotional violence directed at other students and staff members.

CNS’s goal of ending violence in schools is admirable and its members should be acknowledged for their involvement.  However, CNS’s mode of operation is predictable and disappointing, and its members still are not thinking outside the box: they, like most progressive grassroots movements, preach that students are victims of a broken system, and that change doesn’t begin with character building or proper conduct, but with the airing of the same tired grievances.           

Comparing schools to prisons is irresponsible, as is the notion that our city’s public education system is a “pipeline to prison.”  This so called “pipeline” exists not in the school where a system of educational and behavioral supports is in place to help children grow and succeed (teachers, therapists, counselors, coaches, nurses, mentors . . . all providing free books, equipment, individualized education plans, food, medical resources, etc.), but rather, in the surrounding neighborhoods feeding into the schools.         

In other words, the schools themselves aren’t violent; the students coming in from broken and dysfunctional homes and communities environments are.            

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning” gave us a small glimpse of just how dysfunctional students coming into the system can be:

  • There were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer investigation, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.
  • In the last five years, there were more than 30,000 violent incidents reported—from assaults to robberies to rapes.
  • In the 2009-10 school year, 690 teachers were assaulted.  In the last five years, 4,000 were. 
  • In the 2007-08 school year, 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.”
  • From 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

These statistics reveal two things: one—a violent and unruly minority of students are violating the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hard working public school children and robbing them of their educations; and two—not enough is being done to protect the rights of these children.   

Instead of CNS siding with the majority of their peers who are tired of being short-changed in school—instead of calling for the violent and unruly minority to shape up or ship out—CNS calls for discipline policies that prevent the proper removal and alternative placement of the incorrigible few. 

In particular, CNS opposes the use of more punitive forms of punishment, like suspensions and expulsions:         

We demand a smart school discipline policy that uses restorative practices and/ or other preventative discipline measures that focus on addressing root causes of issues rather than merely doling out punishment.

Positive behavior supports, restorative practices, and peer mediation are all well and good, but groups like CNS never adequately explain what should be done with the scores of students who are still behavior problems after these interventions are provided (and after they’ve taken valuable resources away from the students who want to learn).  Tragically, these students are too often kept in the classroom where they continue to rob their peers of an education. 

CNS has yet to speak out against this horrible injustice, just as they’ve yet to adequately hold their peers accountable for their own behavior.  If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.

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Congratulations to the Inquirer for Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service

by Christopher Paslay

The subject of violence in Philadelphia public schools is back in the national news, but this time in a good way.  Earlier today it was officially announced that the Philadelphia Inquirer won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its “Assault on Learning” series, which documented the underreported violence in the Philadelphia School District.  Congratulations to Inquirer reporters John Sullivan, Susan Snyder, Kristen A. Graham, Dylan Purcell, and Jeff Gammage who worked on the story, among other editors and photographers.    

Mike Armstrong covered the win in his story “Inquirer wins Pulitzer Prize for school violence series”:

The Inquirer’s investigation of the climate of pervasive violence in Philadelphia’s public schools Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, the profession’s most prestigious honor.

The award is the 19th Pulitzer Prize for the 183-year-old newspaper and its first since 1997.

The seven-part series, “Assault on Learning,” revealed that violence in city schools was widespread and underreported, with 30,000 serious incidents over the last five school years. Those findings were later corroborated by a Philadelphia School District blue-ribbon panel on safety, spurred an overhaul of incident reporting in the district, and prompted the hiring of a state-funded safe-schools advocate.

Shortly after 3 p.m., journalists in the newsroom erupted into applause, hugs and whoops when the announcement came that The Inquirer had won.

In its announcement, the Pulitzer committee said the series used “powerful print narratives and videos to illuminate crimes committed by children against children and to stir reforms to improve safety for teachers and students.”

Read the full story by clicking here.

Again, congrats to the Inquirer and all those involved in winning this very prestigious award.

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Public School Notebook Advocates Compromising Rights of Many for Rights of Few

by Christopher Paslay

The Notebook continues to lobby to keep violent and unruly students in classrooms, suggesting that America’s discipline policies are racist and culturally insensitive.  

Despite recent accolades from the New York Times and the Philadelphia City Paper for their investigative reporting, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook remains committed to its roots: lobbying for the disenfranchised on the fringes of the educational system.  As a result, they often compromise the rights of the many to stand up for the rights of the few.         

This was the case when the Notebook supported the conclusions drawn by Youth United for Change’s two controversial reports—“Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia” and “Pushed Out”—both of which rely heavily on the testimonies of disgruntled youth to paint dropouts and chronic rule breakers as victims of an intolerant and racist school system.  Both lobby for keeping incorrigible students in classrooms where they consistently rob other children of their right to learn; the Notebook’s Winter 2009 article “A growing expulsion pipeline” did much of the same.       

Most recently, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, the Notebook ran the story “Expulsion epidemic draws national attention,” which also lobbies to keep problem students in schools, calling for alternative forms of remediation that are often unrealistic or achieve limited success.  The story, like the YUC reports, portrays students expelled from schools across the country as victims caught in an oppressive and racist system, despite the findings of reports such as the Inquirer’sAssault on Learning,” which reveals how disruptive student behavior in Philadelphia schools negatively impacts achievement and learning. 

To protect the rights of the hardworking 90 percent of America’s children struggling to learn in environments tainted by the violent and unruly, I wrote a comment on the Notebook’s website trying to shed some light on the issue:   

“Expulsions in America’s public schools do not happen willy-nilly.  Students are given due process and granted a hearing before they are removed from the system.  In addition, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) protects students with anger management issues and the emotionally disturbed (many minorities are diagnosed as such) from being removed from a school, and the “Stay-Put Provision” law allows such students to remain in school even during the actual hearings.  In Philadelphia from 2002 – 2008, not a single student was expelled from the District.  Not that the District is free from violence, or those who perpetrate violence against other students; just read the Inquirer’s “Assault on Learning” series and look at the numbers.  It is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to expel a student from a district (in Philadelphia, even the “permanently expelled” can reapply for admission after their punishment is served), and this is in light of the fact that many serious discipline incidents go unreported.    

[Your article] bills expulsion as an unfair “epidemic” gaining “national attention,” but it ignores the everyday offenses of troubled youth and focuses on the outliers.  The real victims in this situation are the 85-90 percent of America’s public school children who are being held hostage by the violent and unruly few.  Yet somehow the Notebook consistently fails to address THIS issue.  They campaign against a discipline system that is already lacking real teeth, which is counterproductive to establishing a culture of learning in all schools.  If we want to save the education of the masses, we should advocate for better parenting, call for a return of traditional values in our schools and communities, and demand that ALL children respect each other, as well as their teachers, parents, and other authority figures. . . .”

Paul Socolar, the Notebook’s editor, responded to my post by writing the following:

“Some quick comments from the editor to explain the Notebook’s continued interest in this topic of high rates of expulsion as an issue of educational quality and equity.

Philadelphians ought to be considering what approaches to discipline and to curtailing school violence are effective. We know that what many schools are doing now is not effective. There is a growing body of evidence in support of less punitive approaches to school discipline such as restorative justice. We are open to other topics for our reporting. We haven’t seen a similar body of evidence that more systematic implementation of the traditional approach of suspensions and transfers to disciplinary schools advocated here by commenters is effective.

In a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world (that hasn’t alleviated high crime rates), the issue of whether harsh school disciplinary policies not only mirror our ineffective criminal justice policies but also create a school-to-prison pipeline is a real concern to many in Philadelphia.

Study after study provides evidence that harsh disciplinary actions are not meted out in a color-blind fashion. This article points to the finding from North Carolina that Black students were more than twice as likely to be suspended for a first-time cell phone offense compared to White students. . . .”

I followed-up Socolar’s comments with the following post on the Notebook (Socolar never did address the fact that the Notebook compromises the rights of the many for the rights of the few):

“. . . Schools must do what they can to address and remediate the behavioral and psychological problems of their students, but there will come a time when a line must be drawn.  There IS a protocol that public schools follow, and by law, a series of interventions in most cases DOES take place before an expulsion.  But when these interventions meet with limited success (including Positive Behavior Supports and Restorative Justice, both of which can only be done effectively in small, one-on-one situations), there will need to be a policy in place to keep the learning environment safe and organized, a policy that allows the majority of hard working students to get an education, and that policy is expulsion. 

As for The Notebook’s obsession with race and their need to keep reminding everyone that expulsions “are not meted out in a color-blind fashion,” I’d like to ask what they are insinuating by this?  It seems clear that they are suggesting that teachers and administrators in public schools are either racist, or culturally ignorant or insensitive.  As an urban schoolteacher of 15 years, as a coach, as a mentor, and as a citizen of Philadelphia, I would have to beg to differ.  Although this may have been the case 30 years ago (or in very limited situations today), I think the disparity in disciplinary measures by race has more to do with environmental factors such as poverty, education and employment; it’s documented that a higher number of minorities are impoverished, have a higher incidence of out-of-wedlock births, have poor nutrition, etc.  These factors all impact a student’s behavior.  Likewise, these factors impact a student’s ATTITUDE when responding to authority, which may explain why a cooperative student, who surrenders his cellphone with little resistance, may not get suspended for the infraction, while another student, who has a difficult home life and has not learned to deal with authority in a positive manner, might get hit with a suspension for a simple cellphone violation. 

The hardworking motivated students should have a right to learn.  Generally speaking, expulsions are the only reasonable way to accomplish this, in light of the tragic condition of American families, poor parenting, society’s attitude of entitlement, and the overall decline in respect for authority.”

This comment was not rebutted by the editor.

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Filed under Alternative Schools, Cell Phones, Drop-Out Rates, Eye on The Notebook, Holistic Education

Philadelphia schools don’t have to be violent

“Compulsory education laws make it extremely difficult for administrators to address the startling level of violence in Philadelphia’s school system. The law says that all students have a right to an education, and that right extends even to the most troubled and unruly children. Simply throwing chronic rule-breakers out of classrooms and onto the streets is not an option.

Violence in schools, however, is not totally unmanageable. Here are 10 ways district officials could help improve safety and foster a better learning environment in the city’s public schools: . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Philadelphia school don’t have to be violent.”  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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