More follow-up on my review of David Whitman's new book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism:
I've written I don't know how many times about the discipline problems that my school faced and that I've seen and heard about in other schools. Whitman argues that eliminating discipline problems may be the key to success in the schools he describes, writing that "the most distinctive feature of new paternalistic schools is that they are fixated on curbing disorder" (p. 37).
From what he describes, and from what I've heard, about these schools it seems like they've found a way to create an orderly environment where so many others have failed. So here's the key question: can their strategies be replicated by others? The biggest red flag that I, and others, have raised is that these schools may be able to use strategies that traditional public schools cannot.
Below are some excerpts from the book regarding the schools' discipline policies.
"Merely fraternizing with gang members can lead to expulsion." (p. 38)
"If a student even draws gang graffiti on a notebook or piece of paper, we deal with it. They might be suspended for a day the first time. The second time it happened -- well, that would be your last day here." (p. 137)
American Indian Public Charter School:
"has never expelled a student" (p. 82)
"I've added Sunday school as well [for disciplinary infractions]. Sunday school is at [the principal's] house. The kids come by and do yard work." (p. 93)
"Over eight years, Amistad has expelled only two students" (p. 114)
"are expected to keep student attrition to less than 5 percent a year (not counting youngsters who move out of the district)" (p. 119-120)
"students learn the rubric of SLANT in class (Sit up straight, Listen, Answer and ask questions, Nod your head if you understand, and Track the speaker)" (p. 156)
"has two fulltime social workers who meet with the most at-risk students on a dialy basis and with all KIPP students regularly." (p. 170)
"hardly ever expels a student" (p. 176)
"unapologetically expels more students than day schools: 5.6% of its pupils each year, on average, compared to 1.8 percent at other charter schools" (p. 205-206)
"on average, about 30 percent fail to move on to ninth grade during their first attempt and must repeat eighth grade as a 'growth year.'" (p. 213)
"In its ten years to date, just one student has dropped out of UPCS" (p. 226)
A student "recalls that the "other teachers said to me 'we know you're a good kid, but you can't act like that and stay here'" (p. 232)
Overall, the picture looks mixed. Some of these schools certainly rely on expulsion, or at least the threat of expulsion, to keep students in line. Beyond expulsion, some schools clearly rely on convincing students to leave -- particularly by holding back students if they choose to remain. Whitman writes "Studnets who flunk grades and face repeating a year, and those intimidated by the academic demands of rigorous schools, exit to neighborhood schools that practice social promotio" (p. 255). On the other hand, some of the schools cited have exceedingly low attrition rates. It's possible that a school can use expulsion as merely a threat and not actually implement it, but the picture is unclear on how much that happens.
Lastly, principals in particular at some of these schools use techniques that would be explicitly prohibited in many schools. The principal at AIPCS makes students do yard work at his house on Sundays as punishment. That is, plain and clear, corporal punishment -- a big no-no in NYC and many other areas. Furthermore, it's hard for me to imagine that many schools are allowed to mandate that students do anything on weekends much less show up for detention. Whether he's able to do this because he's running a charter school or because he simply doesn't care about the consequences if somebody finds out he's doing this is unclear.
I don't know whether or not these discipline systems can be successfully replicated in traditional public schools, but some red flags certainly exist. Let's just assume for a minute that they cannot in the current system. The question then would whether we should: create more charter schools; give traditional public schools more power (e.g. allowing expulsion); or look to other sources to create discipline systems.