On Corbett Bashing and the Common Core

by Christopher Paslay

Common Core texts indoctrinate young children and teach them to manipulate facts for social advocacy.  Sound familiar, Philadelphia? 

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

This is the philosophy I use when I teach students in my high school English classes how to write.  There is no substitute for the right word—no true synonym—and until a writer figures this out, he won’t be able to fully articulate his thoughts.  This is the case whether you are writing a narrative, informational, or persuasive essay (the Common Core’s preferred term for “persuasive” is now “argumentative”).

Good writing, especially in today’s culture of limited attention spans, is focused, clear, and accurate.  Good writers can say more in less space—and they can back their writing with examples, details, and evidence.

This philosophy has worked well with my own students at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.  On the 2012 PSSA Writing Test, 74% of my 11th graders scored proficient or advanced—a whopping 28.1% percent higher than the Philadelphia School District average, which was only 45.9%.

Unfortunately, some English Language Arts texts being promoted by the Common Core are no longer focused on teaching students succinct, accurate writing that avoids the use of flimsy persuasive techniques (such as red herrings, overgeneralizing, circular arguments, name calling, etc.), but on writing that actually encourages the use of emotionally charged propaganda for social advocacy.  In short, some ELA texts supported by the Common Core are not making young children free thinkers, but politically indoctrinating them (type the phrase “Common Core indoctrination” on YouTube and see the results).

One interesting case of indoctrinating students and promoting the use of propagandistic writing for social advocacy is the state of Utah’s first grade ELA primer Voices: Writing and Literature, recommended by, and aligned with, the Common Core.  On the surface it appears the text is about literature and writing, but a closer look reveals a major theme is social justice and social advocacy.  This, amazingly, is being introduced not to college undergraduates in Community Organizing 101, but to first graders!

One section in Voices: Writing and Literature teaches young children how to play fast and loose with facts by using emotionally charged propagandistic words to elicit emotions and bring about liberal social change.  It doesn’t teach children to use the right word, as Twain would have advocated (as well as any respectable writing teacher), but to use a word that will get folks stirred-up for social justice, whether or not that word is true, evidence-based, or accurate.

Click on the below YouTube video to see for yourself:

Because the Philadelphia School District is flat broke and has no money to invest in a new set of textbooks, such a primer may not be made available to our city’s school children.  However, the political indoctrination of School District students—and the teaching of how to play fast and loose with facts—is well underway.  Groups like Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union, who often partner with politically motivated adult organization such as the Education Law Center, are well schooled on the use of propaganda in writing.

All three of these groups frequently use “correlation to prove causation”—a logical fallacy and standard propaganda technique—to imply that Philadelphia public schoolteachers are discriminating against minority students because black students are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers (and these groups continue to claim this despite the fact that no documented cases of racial discrimination by a Philadelphia teacher against a students exists . . . except, of course, the discrimination against Sam Pawlucy by a black geometry teacher for wearing a Romney T-shirt in class).

The newly founded “Fund Philly Schools Now” does much of the same in terms of their blatant use of propaganda.  Launched to help raise money for struggling city schools, an admirable goal, their website states:

Since Gov. Corbett took office, it has become clear that when he must make the choice between tax breaks for corporations and much-needed investments in our children, he chooses corporations and wealthy donors every time. The crisis in Philadelphia public schools has been manufactured by Gov. Corbett. He is starving the city of resources and then using teachers as scapegoats and Philadelphia families as pawns.

Propagandistic?  No question.  With Federal stimulus money gone, Governor Corbett has been forced to make due with less, and this has no doubt adversely impacted Philadelphia public schools (as well as most public schools in PA).  But the crisis in city schools was not “manufactured by Gov. Corbett.”

During the Ackerman years, from July of 2008 to July of 2011, the School District blew through nearly $10 billion, spending so reckless it prompted the IRS to open a detailed audit of their financial practices.  The rapid expansion of charter schools—nearly 100 of them in 10 years—also greatly contributed to the School District’s financial crisis.  There is also the matter of Philadelphia residents owing over $500 million in delinquent property taxes.  And the fact that the School District loses millions of dollars in unreturned textbooks and stolen computer equipment each year.  And the reality that recently retired baby-boomers are overwhelming the pension system.  And all the cronyism/nepotism over the past five years from the usual suspects . . . Ackerman, Archie, Evans, Gamble, Fattah Jr., etc.

All Corbett?  Please.

Does the School District badly need money?  Absolutely.  Do I want to see our city’s children get the resources they need?  Most definitely.  But the theatrics and use of propaganda to get money is getting old.  People are growing tired of it.  Attacking public officials is becoming counterproductive (just ask Mayor Nutter).  Why does the rest of the state hate Philadelphia, think we are a cesspool?  Perhaps they are tired of Victimology 101.  It’s like with affirmative action: If groups in need simply took responsibility for their problems and said, I’m having some trouble keeping up, can you please lend a hand?, people would bend over backwards to help out.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Affirmative action in 21st century America goes more like this:  It’s YOUR fault I have problems, so give me what you owe me, now!

Not the best way to get the help you need, or to get at the true root of problems.

Neither is using propaganda to bring about reform (or to teach our students English Language Arts).

According to the mission statement of the Common Core:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Dr. Carole Hornsby Haynes, a noted curriculum specialist and former public school teacher, disagrees with the Common Core’s mission statement and feels they have an ulterior agenda.  She writes in a recent article:

Common Core is not about “core knowledge” but rather is the foundation for left-wing student indoctrination to create activists for the social justice agenda. Education is being nationalized, just like our healthcare, to eliminate local control over education, imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down curriculum that will also affect private schools and homeschoolers.

I don’t know if Dr. Hornsby Haynes is totally correct about the Common Core, but I know this: ELA teachers should teach students how to make strong, factual arguments, not how to play loose with the facts to support their own political agendas.

No Biggie–The Student Brutally Beaten by Three Black Teens on School Bus was White

by Christopher Paslay

A white sixth grader is brutally beaten by three black teens on a Florida school bus and the country is business as usual.
 
Photos of the three suspects — Joshua Reddin, Julian McKnight, and Lloyd Khemradj  as reported by WFLA TV News
Photos of the three suspects — Joshua Reddin, Julian McKnight, and Lloyd Khemradj as reported by WFLA TV News

  From CNN:

The windmilling fists and stomping feet rain down blows on the 13-year-old boy.

Trapped on the floor between the bus seats, he cries out as he receives fierce punch after vicious kick from the three bigger, older youths.

As the relentless assault unfolds, the driver of the Florida school bus alerts the dispatcher, pleading for aid.

But he doesn’t physically step in to help.

The bus driver, at least according to his school’s policy, did nothing wrong.

Click on the video below to watch the beating (warning: graphic content):

The interesting part of the way this incident was reported by CNN, as well as most of the American media, is that race was conveniently kept out of the picture.  This is curious because for over 18 months, CNN, as well as ABC and NBC, did all they could do to inject race and racism into the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case:

Consider the following:

  • NBC fired a producer because they edited Zimmerman’s 911 call to make him sound racist (click here to read the article).
  • CNN backtracked after reporting that Zimmerman used a racial slur on his 911 call, which was later proved to be a mistake: Zimmerman said “cold” and not “coon” (click here to read).
  • ABC News revised their story that initially reported that Zimmerman had no visible injuries on his head, which he did (click here to read).

But when a white sixth grade boy is beaten by three older and much bigger black teens on a school bus, somehow race disappears from the narrative—mum is the word on race, racism, and “hate crimes”.

According to examiner.com:

But there is something conspicuously absent from the report — the fact that the victim was white and his attackers were black. Is this detail relevant? That remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that if a trio of older white teens had assaulted a younger black teen, race would not only have received prominent mention but would have been proffered as a likely motive.

Even more amazing, the narrative surrounding this incident isn’t about the horrendous behavior of those three bigger boys ganging up and beating the smaller boy, but about the actions of the 65-year-old bus driver.  That’s the controversy: whether or not the bus driver could have intervened on behalf of the boy (shhhh, he was white) who was being beaten by three teens (shhhh, they were black).

I’m sure President Obama will make an impromptu speech from the White House—being the neutral arbitrator and “great racial unifier” that he is—insisting that if he had a son, he would look like this 13-year old boy being beaten by three bigger aggressors; remember: President Obama is half white, although he’s never embraced his Caucasian heritage, and consistently throws the roots of his lighter side under the bus.

I’m sure all those folks who call for racial harmony—the thousands who marched for Trayvon Martin and an end to profiling—will be out in force over the next week or so.

Not.

To publicly call attention to race in a situation where the victim is white and the perpetrators are black is not only politically incorrect, but would be considered by some to be “criminalizing” black teens who are basically just victims of an unjust system.

These three bigger, older, black teens beating the mess out of a smaller white student might be written-off by some activists groups in Philadelphia as “kids being kids.”

Consider the statement of Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old woman who had a lengthy conversation on the phone with Trayvon Martin moments before he was killed, on the Piers Morgan show:

MORGAN: Five white women on the jury and one Hispanic lady.

JEANTEL: Yes. I had a feeling it was going to be not guilty so.

MORGAN: Because of the make-up of the jury? Do you think it was just wrong that you had no black people on the jury at all?

JEANTEL: No, not that. They don’t understand, they understand — he was just bashed or he was killed. When somebody bashes like blood people, trust me, the area I live, that’s not bashing. That’s just called whoop ass. You do that (INAUDIBLE). That’s what it is.

Translation: Rachel Jeantel is saying that Trayvon Martin was giving Zimmerman a simple ass-whooping when Martin attacked the neighborhood watch captain and pounded his head on the cement, or, in her words, what is called a “whoop ass”.  Click on the video below to hear the clip for yourself:

Yes, a “whoop ass”.  No biggie.  Just kids being kids.

Kind of like what those three bigger black boys were doing to that smaller white kid on the buss: just a simple “whoop ass”.  No need to get up in arms about it.  After all, this whoop ass only left the kid with two black eyes and a broken arm.

Just a good old fashioned whoop ass.

Good thing for those three bullies beating that defenseless child that George Zimmerman wasn’t driving that bus.

Trayvon Martin and Violence in Urban Schools

Martin Photo 1

by Christopher Paslay

Ignoring the dysfunctional behavior of troubled youth perpetuates chaos in American public schools and robs children of their right to learn.     

As “Justice for Trayvon” rallies pop-up in cities across America over the acquittal of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, a relevant fact central to the outcome of the trial has been universally ignored: that Trayvon Martin assaulted Zimmerman, striking, straddling, and then beating the Hispanic man to the point where Zimmerman feared for his life.  One juror has stated publicly that she had “no doubt that George feared for his life,” and that “his heart was in the right place.”

These statements—and the jury’s verdict (a verdict that former President Jimmy Carter agrees with)—were made after six women jurors considered all the evidence in the three-week long trial, including testimonies from over 50 witnesses, analysis of the bullet wound in Martin’s chest that showed that he was on top of Zimmerman, pictures of Zimmerman’s broken nose and lacerations to his scalp, 911 calls from panicked neighbors, and Zimmerman’s own video account of the incident, among many other things.  Yet somehow these facts and all the trial evidence gets pushed aside by the “Justice for Trayvon” folk.  The propagandistic narrative of an innocent young African American boy coming home from a 7-Eleven with Skittles and an iced tea who was stalked and murdered in cold blood through no fault of his own continues to be put forward.

The gaping difference between the trial evidence and the narrative of Martin supporters—which now officially includes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice—is quite alarming.  When young people commit criminal acts—such as assault, robbery, drug possession, and weapons infractions—it is difficult for some people to hold them accountable.  This is especially the case when these teens are African Americans, because doing so is politically incorrect and somehow unjustly blaming “the victims” for their problems.

Take the Philadelphia student activist group Youth United for Change, for example.  In January of 2011, YUC published the report “Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison,” which argued that the Philadelphia School District’s harsh discipline policies were turning innocent youth into criminals, especially minorities.  In a nutshell, the study absolved chronic rule-breakers of basic responsibility for their own behavior and portrayed violent and unruly students as powerless victims caught in an oppressive disciplinary system; one of the more controversial claims was that the presence of police officers and metal detectors in schools was causing minority students to act out.

The euphemism “kids will be kids” was used in defense of the report’s findings by a number of members of the Philadelphia public school community.

But the violence facing Philadelphia public schools at the time was a little bit more than simply “kids being kids.”  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.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Inquirer won a Pulitzer Prize for bringing this information to light in a series called “Assault on Learning.”  Amazingly, several months after the series won the Pulitzer, Philadelphia School District officials, bowing to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, actually decided to ease the Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct.  The reason?  The DOE published a report claiming that minority students were being disproportionally suspended and expelled from school because of racism of both the conscious and unconscious variety (although the report didn’t include a single documented case of discrimination against a student by a teacher).

Fast forward to Trayvon Martin.  Just as groups like YUC try to portray violent and unruly youth as victims of an unjust system, so do the “Justice for Trayvon” folk portray Martin as an innocent young boy who was murdered through no fault of his own.  Many people believe that the tragedy—or the crime—was that Zimmerman profiled Martin as a criminal, which is what Martin supporters insist eventually led to the boy’s death.  But legally speaking, this was not the case, which is why Zimmerman was acquitted.  According to the law, it is not illegal to watch someone from your car, or to get out and follow them; if it were, news reporters, paparazzi, private investigators, and single men interested in courting attractive women would all be behind bars.

According to the law (and the jury’s verdict), Zimmerman following Martin was not reckless or irresponsible enough to set in motion the events that eventually led to Martin’s death, which is why Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter.  The act that led to Martin’s eventual death was when Martin decided to strike and attack Zimmerman, pound his head on the cement, and to put the Hispanic neighborhood watch captain in a position where he feared for his life.  Remember, when Zimmerman approached Martin, Martin could have done any one of the following: walked or ran away; went into his house; or kept a safe distance and tried to communicate.  According to the evidence and the verdict of the jury, he did none of them.  He chose to attack Zimmerman, an act that directly led to his own death.

But it is easier for Martin supporters to absolve Martin of all responsibility for his death.  Like YUC’s report “Zero Tolerance,” which absolves violent Philadelphia school students of responsibility for their behavior in classrooms, Martin was simply a “kid being a kid.”  A kid, mind you, who allegedly called Zimmerman a racist name (creepy-ass-cracker); a kid who was suspended from school not once but three times; a kid who was caught with a marijuana pipe and a baggie with drug residue; a kid who was kicked out of school for graffiti after he was caught with a “burglary tool” and a bag full of women’s jewelry; a kid who had texts on his Twitter account describing an attack on a bus driver; a kid who had a video on his cellphone of two homeless men fighting over a bicycle; a kid who had pictures of underage nude females on his cellphone, as well as pictures of marijuana plants and a hand holding a semi-automatic pistol; a kid who was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house because he’d been kicked out of his mother’s house for getting into trouble; and a kid who, according to the verdict of the jury, chose to attack and beat a Hispanic man mixed-martial-arts-style instead of simply walking away and going into his house which was not even 70 yards away.

This is the kid whom President Obama has made his surrogate son, and the kid whose memory Obama has stated we need to “honor.”

Is Trayvon Martin’s death a tragedy?  Absolutely.  Did George Zimmerman make mistakes and bad decisions?  No doubt.  But so did Trayvon Martin.

Which leads back to the question of violence in society and our education system:  Why are America’s public schools so dysfunctional and violent?  Why, according to the FBI, are 91 percent of black victim homicides committed by black offenders, and 14 percent of white victim homicides committed by black offenders (twice as many as the other way around)?

Maybe because society continues to absolve people like Trayvon Martin of all responsibility for their actions, and categorizes dysfunctional youth behavior as simply “kids being kids.”

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

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.

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.

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.

Why Renaming a ‘Dropout’ a ‘Pushout’ Will Save No One

by Christopher Paslay

Recently, there has been a grassroots movement by progressives in education to rename a school “dropout” a “pushout.”  Groups such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, and most recently the blog Voice of Philadelphia, have all been throwing around the term “pushout” with the clear purpose of hoping it will catch hold and grow roots in the world of education as well as the popular culture; tragically, it appears the term has started to take root, as is evidenced by its frequent mention in the media and on the internet (google the term “pushout” and you can see for yourself).

A closer look at the two terms reveals that although their denotation is the same—they both define children who leave school and fail to graduate—their connotations are quite different.  A dropout connotes an individual who knowingly quits school of his own freewill and accord.  A pushout, on the other hand, defines someone who is forced out of school by forces beyond their control.  More simply put, dropouts are drivers while pushouts are passengers; the latter is active, the former is passive.          

There are several reasons why progressives are fighting to rename a dropout a pushout.  The most obvious is to bring about school reform—to blame poor graduation rates on schools in an effort to improve them.  This indeed has merit.  In the 21st century, no student can afford to be left behind without a solid education. 

To quote Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, in his 2006 report, Educating School Teachers, “The fact that all students are expected to achieve these outcomes means that drop-outs, once viewed as the cost of doing business in schools, can no longer be tolerated. The low skilled jobs once available to them have moved abroad. So teachers must now be able to educate every child in the class to achieve the same learning outcomes at a time in which the student body has changed economically, racially, geographically, linguistically, and academically.”

In addition to reforming schools, however, progressives have other reasons for renaming dropouts pushouts.  At the heart of the movement is the notion of victimhood and the liberal left’s obsession with it.  Put another way, coining a dropout a pushout fits their classic mode of operandi: the existence of oppressors and oppressed.  It is within this structure that social responsibility can be promoted over personal responsibility, that children can be programmed to be lifelong passengers who are always acted upon rather than drivers who do the acting; this in turn translates to their reliance on social programs as opposed to private enterprise.

This is a great philosophy if you believe in socialism and government regulation over capitalism and competition.  The only problem is, of course, is that teaching children that they are victims is doing nothing to empower them to take control of their educations; the fact that a large graduation gap between urban and suburban students exists is proof that preaching victimhood is not the answer.

Instead of teaching students to blame their failures on the system, education advocates should be encouraging children to make intrinsic paradigm shifts that will help them live principle-centered lives that will keep them on the path to graduation; they must be taught change starts from within.

The lessons taught in Bill Cosby’s 2007 book, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors would be a great place to start.  In it Cosby and his longtime friend Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint discuss ways families and children can turn around their lives and make the most of their educations. 

With subchapters named “Acknowledge the problem,” “Face the Facts,” “Tone Down the Culture,” “Give Fatherhood a Second Chance,” “Reject Victimhood,” “Replace Victimhood with Neighborhood,” “Talk to the Police,” “Turn Off the TV,” “Back Off the Rap,” “Respect Our Elders,” “Overcome the Past,” “Lose the Guns and the Rage,” “Get All the School You Can Get,” “Help the Poor Help Themselves,” “Take Care of Our Own,” and “Break the Chains,” among many others, the book replaces excuses with traditional values that urban youth can use to stay in school and remain on the path to achieving a better quality of life.        

Renaming a dropout a pushout will save no one.  In the end, the only viable way for a student to get an education is for him or her to actively pursue one.     

Pushing School Reforms That Have Failed Us Before

“Youth United for Change, an organization of young adults advocating for better public education in Philadelphia, recently released a report titled “Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Dropout Crisis in Philadelphia.” It argued that many city students don’t voluntarily quit school, but rather are forced out by boring teachers, an irrelevant curriculum, and a prison-like school environment.

To keep kids on the path to graduation, the group argues, education must be made more interesting, engaging, fun, and hands-on. Group collaboration, project-based learning, problem-solving, and creativity should be favored over traditional lectures and teacher-led instruction. Students should play a bigger role in choosing their courses and shaping the curriculum, with electives that address topics relevant to the lives of young people.

While some of the ideas in the report have merit, school leaders should not fall into the trap of emphasizing entertainment over instruction. Progressive education reformers have made that mistake before.”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Pushing school reforms that have failed us before”.  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

The Zero Tolerance Debate Continued

by Christopher Paslay

 

On January 31st, Ron Whitehorne, a former city schoolteacher and current Philadelphia Public School Notebook blogger, wrote a response to my recent Inquirer commentary “Less than ‘zero tolerance’.”  

 

Whitehorne pointed out the fact that my op-ed piece, which argued that the Philadelphia School District’s discipline polices are quite tolerant and permissive, didn’t adequately address data presented in Youth United for Change’s report, “Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia.” 

 

“Significantly, Paslay does not deal with the data the report assembles that paint a picture of a school system that, more than in the past, and more than any other district in the state, relies on police and beefed up school security, out of school suspension, and placements in disciplinary schools to maintain order.”

 

With that said, I’d like to deal with this issue now.  Why does the Philadelphia School District rely on beefed up school security, out of school suspensions, and placements in disciplinary schools to maintain order?  Because city schools, more than the rest of the state, deal with the most serious and extreme discipline issues. 

 

In the 2007-08 school year, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Philadelphia 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.  Interestingly, these offenses weren’t part of the typical “low-level” youth behaviors highlighted in YUC’s neatly packaged “report.”          

 

Sadly, such behavior is quite common.  In June of 2009 the Inquirer obtained a folder of reports detailing discipline incidents that occurred in Philadelphia city schools from June 1-5.  In an editorial headlined “Can’t learn in bad schools,” the Inquirer wrote: “The incidents range from students bringing knives and guns to school, masturbating in class, going to school drunk, pulling down other students’ pants, making death threats, punching a teacher in the face, stealing thousands of dollars worth of equipment, throwing an eraser at a teacher’s head, and stuffing feces in bathroom sinks.”

           

The Inquirer editorial also mentioned an incident where a teacher asked a student to stop eating food in class.  When the student refused, the teacher tried to take the food and was then smacked in the face by the student.  In another part of the city during that same week, the editorial noted, an elementary student grabbed a fire extinguisher from a hallway and began spraying a teacher in the face.

 

Is this just “typical behavior “of children and youth?

 

Tragically, such data is actually underreported in the district; from 2005 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the district.  In fact, the district was violating state laws by not expelling the scores of students who were caught bringing a gun to school. 

 

As I wrote in my Inquirer piece, district officials must decide how they want to view the city’s schools: as institutions of learning or shelters for chronic rule-breakers.  Of course, Ron Whitehorne insists this choice need not exist:   

 

“Paslay’s article presents us with a false choice – shelters for troubled children or schools for the hardworking and well behaved. . . . We do not have two distinct populations: one “troubled”, the other, hard working and well behaved. Instead, there is an enormously diverse population of learners, almost all of whom, given the right circumstances, supports, and constraints, can be productive and successful. The democratic function of public education is to make sure that opportunity is there for all.”

 

Unfortunately, outside of the home and community, outside of the influence of caring parents and neighborhood role models, the right “circumstances, supports, and constraints” Whitehorne speaks of are limited; it’s both unfair and irresponsible to expect overwhelmed and understaffed city schools to be mothers, fathers, counselors, behavior therapists, instructors, and the provider of a dozen other social services.   

 

The Philadelphia School District is fulfilling its democratic function and giving all students an equal opportunity to learn.  The problem is that too many students and their parents are throwing this opportunity away.  Resources are limited.  Schools and teachers can only spend so much time dealing with the incorrigible and unruly.  Behavior remediations are I place, but sooner or later the rights of the hard-working majority must come first; these students are the real victims in the system. 

 

There is one foolproof solution to the district’s zero tolerance policy that Ron Whitehorne and Youth United for Change have failed to consider, of course: simply following school rules. 

 

This might be an area YUC might want to explore more deeply.