Dr. Hite’s Plan is Light on School Safety

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. Hite cannot “reset” the School District until the problem of school violence is realistically addressed.   

Action Plan v1.0, the Philadelphia School District’s latest reform blueprint for “resetting” our city’s troubled school system, is exactly 33 pages in length.  There are two main “anchor” goals contained within the plan: to improve academic outcomes for students, and return financial stability to the School District.  Most of the fuss up to this point has been about the ways the District plans on balancing its finances.  Here’s a closer look the academic side of things.

Listed in the plan are five strategies to improve student learning.  Contained within these strategies are 45 “actions.”  Of these 45 actions, one targets safety and climate.  On the bottom half of page 15 the plan states:

A. Improve school safety and climate. Reduce violent incidents, enhance climates for learning, and establish a culture of acceptance and respect in all schools by strategically implementing and sustaining evidence-based school-wide climate and culture programs, and training school administrators on creating safe and constructive climates.

The way to achieve this is through “restorative practices.” The plan states:

Fortunately, we know that when holistic climate and culture programs are embraced by an entire school community and sustained year after year, these challenges can be overcome. The significant drop in violence and suspensions at West Philadelphia High School following implementation of restorative practices in 2008 is one compelling example of the impact of this type of approach.

The plan cites a 2009 study from the International Institute of Restorative Practices Graduate School to show that restorative practices are a cutting edge, data-driven way to deal with safety and climate issues.  At West Philadelphia High School, serious incidents were down 52% in 2007–2008 compared to 2006–2007, and there were only two fire-alarm pulls; according to the report, “two very small pieces of paper were set on fire.”

Serious incidents at West Philadelphia may have been cut in half because of restorative practices; or they may have been down simply because only half as many were actually reported.  Regardless, Dr. Hite’s reform plan and the success of restorative practices must be examined in a much broader context.

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 . . .”

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs understands that until safety and security needs are met, a “system of excellent schools” is but a pipedream.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hite and the School District recently revised its student code of conduct and have eased-up on discipline; under the guise of racial inequality, suspensions and expulsions of persistently unruly students are now frowned upon.

Loose translation: the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.

Until the fundamental issue of school safety and climate is legitimately addressed—not with feel good “restorative practices” and politically correct positive behavior supports, but with real alternative school placements—the goals outlined in Dr. Hite’s Action Plan v1.0 will never come to fruition.

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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.

Eye on The Notebook: Are Philadelphia School Teachers Really Bigots?

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

To help The Philadelphia Public School Notebook bring quality and equality to all public schools, I am posting a regular forum here on Chalk and Talk called Eye on The Notebook.  Its purpose is to provide The Notebook and its readers with constructive feedback from teachers who work day-to-day in real classrooms and experience the district’s problems firsthand.  Although The Notebook analyzes a wide variety of educational issues, too often their conclusions are limited in scope and perspective. 

 

Eye on The Notebook will attempt to bring a more grounded analysis of issues that face our city’s public schools.  I will dissect selected Notebook articles and add depth to their findings.  In tandem with The Notebook, this blog hopes to uncover the true root causes of problems concerning the Philadelphia School District and offer practical, realistic solutions.

 

***

 

In their recent article, “A national trend: Black and Latino boys predominate in emotional support classes,” the Notebook explains that a disproportionate number of black and Latino boys are placed in special education.  Although they effectively shine a light on this issue, they oversimplify the problem by blaming it primarily on racism. 

 

“Many say racial biases among those who refer and evaluate students for special education are a factor,” the Notebook writes.  They also suggest there is an “unconscious racial discrimination by school authorities.”

 

As an experienced, hard-working teacher in the Philadelphia School District, I find this reasoning off-base and offensive.  There may exist a cultural gap between students and teachers, but to insinuate that minority students predominate in emotional support classes because they are being discriminated against by racially prejudiced teachers and counselors, most of whom are white, is insulting and intentionally misleading.     

 

The Notebook is too far removed from the day-to-day reality of urban classrooms to accurately diagnose problems, and as a result, they offer generic solutions. 

 

There are two layers to the problem of minorities and special education.  First is the fact that black and Latino males are “acting out” too often in school.  Second is that teachers are sometimes misinterpreting this behavior.  The Notebook does a marvelous job of overlooking the former and highlighting the latter.  Even if we succeed in reducing the number of black and Latino boys in emotional support classes, their unruly behavior will still remain.  And where will we be then?   

 

In the end, the student’s behavior is everything.  No employer is going to put up with a young man who continues to act out.        

 

So how do we change a student’s behavior? 

 

One solution is providing students with Positive Behavior Supports.  According to a plan designed by the Institute for Human Development at Northern Arizona University, “Positive Behavior Support (PBS) is an approach to helping people improve their difficult behavior that is based on four things:

 

1.  An Understanding that people (even caregivers) do not control others, but seek to support others in their own behavior change process;

 

2.  A Belief that there is a reason behind most difficult behavior, that people with difficult behavior should be treated with compassion and respect, and that they are entitled to lives of quality as well as effective services;

 

3.  The Application of a large and growing body of knowledge about how to better understand people and make humane changes in their lives that can reduce the occurrence of difficult behavior; and

 

4.  A Conviction to continually move away from coercion – the use of unpleasant events to manage behavior.     

 

PBS is effective because it treats the problems (poor communication and anger management skills)—not the symptoms (a false label).  If used correctly, it can literally change a student’s entire life. 

 

Instead of making sweeping generalizations and pulling the race card, The Notebook should focus its attention on a process that can rectify misbehaviors and give students back control of their educations.  Doing so might be more beneficial for students, and less offensive and insulting to teachers.