Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Can't Just Teach the Good Kids

I'll be writing more about Texas State Senator John Carona's Senate Bill SB1247 (crafted to regulate payday lending) later. There's another bill making it's way through the state legislature that deserves attention as well.

An editorial in yesterday's Dallas Morning News focuses on Senator Royce West's SB393.
"The bill would require schools to adopt a tiered system to address acting out and rules violations, starting with in-school behavior modification and work with parents and community-based programs. Serious criminal behavior would still end up in court."

There is a problem in Texas schools in general and Dallas ISD schools in particular, with an emphasis on discipline which takes students out of the classroom, and discipline which takes minorities - particularly black students - out of the classroom. 


"One sad irony of the avalanche of citations, according to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, is that there is no evidence that the huge expense in court costs has paid off with better-behaved students. Thus the justice system is left with clogged dockets, while schools absolve themselves of dealing with students whose “crimes” might be breaking the dress code or cutting up in class."
"The statistics on discipline in Texas schools are stunning. A study released in 2011 by the Council of State Governments and Texas A&M University tracked every seventh-grader in the state over three years. Almost 60 percent of them received at least one disciplinary action, with 15 percent expelled or suspended 11 times or more. Black students were disproportionately singled out, in a documented trend called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”"
I mentioned as much in my February column in the DMN...
"...Texas Appleseed’s latest update to its “School to Prison Pipeline” series. This report includes an analysis of the number of student citations and arrests in more than 40 school districts statewide, including DISD."
"Of DISD’s 156,000 students, citations were issued at a rate of 24.6 per thousand. Black students represent 25 percent of the district’s student population, but accounted for 56 percent of the students ticketed and 46 percent of the arrests in the district. Yet national studies, like the one by the National Education Policy Center, show black students more often singled out for such discipline for offenses that allow for discretion and judgment calls by teachers and administrators."
"The 2011 “Breaking Schools’ Rules” report, which looked at the disproportion in school discipline policy, followed more than 900,000 Texas students from the seventh to the 12th grade. Among its conclusions: Disciplinary actions that keep students out of the classroom can have long-term negative consequences. Ten percent of the students with disciplinary referrals dropped out, while 31 percent repeated at least one grade."
Many argue that the 'good students' deserve to learn in an atmosphere free of distractions. And of course that's true. But the fact of the matter is, all of life should be free of negative distractions. Every teacher should have a classroom of 'good students' eager to learn. But that's not real life. I served as pastor of a church for over two decades. I couldn't only serve 'the good members', the cooperative ones, the undemanding ones, the ones who never caused any trouble and always exhibited Christian behavior. I had to serve them all as best I could. 
Students who engage in actual criminal behavior, should meet with severe punishment and discipline - including expulsion and juvenile detention. But students who 'act up' need an education too. Teachers who don't know how to, must learn how to discipline these students as well. Of course it's not easy. But are we asking students to come to school already excised of behaviors and attitudes common to virtually every child or youth? Are we to only have classrooms full of 'good students' while we segregate and stigmatize 'the bad students' by placing them all in 'alternative schools'. 
Again, from my column..."Real education is more than subject mastery; it’s also self-mastery and socialization. Most students don’t arrive on campus programmed to grasp all three easily. The answer isn't  for those students to be forced out of the classroom or school."
School is not just where students learn math, history and science. School is where students learn how to respect others and themselves, how to work in groups, how to think and how to learn. Some say these are lessons they should learn at home. Teachers then have the opportunity to teach well behaved children who are only ready to receive knowledge. But for most of us who are honest, we received those lessons at home and church, and we still had to have them reinforced in the classroom. 
And what of those 'bad kids'? Think of the class clown in your school. How did he/she turn out? For many of us, some turned out better than we did. Some are great parents and spouses. A surprising number grew up to be great employees, business owners, soldiers or even politicians. And a great many of them owe their success to a teacher somewhere who believed in them - even when they deserved to be put out of the classroom. 
A teacher who taught them along with 'the good students'...What are we doing?


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