Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Middle Ground in the Discipline Debate

A new report being released today apparently finds that 60% of students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between 7th and 12th grades. As the NY Times reports, that's a huge number (though I don't quite understand why only 31% were suspended out of school -- apparently half of the kids received in-school suspensions instead (supposedly that's less severe, but does that seem like a worse punishment to anybody else?)).  Everyone interviewed in the article seems outraged at the number, and rightly so -- there's simply no way that 60% of students really cause serious problems in schools.

That said, simply reducing such punishments is no answer either. My school, for example, was under a good deal of pressure to reduce suspensions (word on the street was that our first principal resigned under pressure largely because the rate was deemed too high).  The result was that a few students got away with ludicrous behaviors, significantly reducing what the vast majority of students learned while simultaneously frustrating teachers in a building that already had a serious attrition problem.

So, I empathize with all those who are outraged by the sky-high numbers in this report.  We should certainly try to spend less time punishing, and more time teaching, our students.  But I also empathize with all those students and teachers whose learning and teaching are unnecessarily inhibited on a daily basis by a few students acting out.  I completely agree that we need to reduce the number of punishments meted out, but that can't be the only goal -- we simply cannot sacrifice student learning in the pursuit of less distressing numbers.


Attorney DC said...

I found discipline to be the #1 most important issue when teaching in low-income schools. In my opinion, the best solution is for the school administration to back up the teachers 100% in enforcing basic school rules and appropriate behavior. The school as a whole must firmly take a stand against any inappropriate behavior by its students. Students will then learn from example that actions such as cursing at fellow students or teachers, hitting, throwing objects, refusing to take one's seat, yelling and screaming, etc. are NOT going to be tolerated.

If the administration waffles on any of these basic items, or takes the student's side over the teacher, all hell will break loose in the school, and it will be very hard for any learning to be done by even the most dedicated students, because they will be disrupted by their peers.

Side note: I saw the reference to Charles Murray's book Real Education in a comment posted on your linked post dated August 21, 2009 and am looking forward to reading it.

Yurtdisi Egitim said...

Thanks for the post ! I think the key is discipline !

Anonymous said...

Based on teaching at my school, I can believe the numbers, actually. :) We have a number of serious educational problems in this country. One is that many of our students do not value the education they are given. If these kids don't want to learn and do want to cause problems, I suggest expelling them until they do. Teaching and trying to learn has become a headache because of these students. Visit my new blog at www.educritics.com.

Anonymous said...

Oops...I meant to say "If these kids don't want to learn and do want to cause problems, I suggest expelling them until they want to learn."

Anonymous said...

I agree with Attorney DC...my district had a perfectly good code of conduct and dress code yet failed at all levels to enforce either...can you guess who ran the schools?

Attorney DC said...

To Anonymous @ 11:18: My guess would be that the students ran the schools...correct?

It's simply impossible for teachers to teach if the school administration does not permit reasonable standards for student behavior with appropriate, dependable consequences for non-compliance. I'm not talking about an authoritative regime here, simply a school where kids are expected to show up to class on time, follow basic class instructions, and behave like reasonably civilized human beings.