The Education Hostage Crisis

A recent report by one of my favorite local NPR-affiliate reporters, Kavitha Cardoza, made me want to scream. She was reporting on a report about suspension and expulsion rates in Washington DC traditional and public charter schools.

The gist of it is that 1) students in poor neighborhoods get suspended and expelled more than students in wealthier neighborhoods; and 2) charter schools suspend and expel students at a higher rate than traditional public schools.

Other snippets:  Across both systems 13% of the student body was suspended at least once in 2011-12; some middle schools suspended over 50% of their student bodies; most suspensions were not for offenses involving weapons, drugs or injury. (Soon, I suppose, the bar will be lowered to assault with a weapon, Schedule I drugs or serious injury.)

The grand conclusion is that suspension and expulsion are overused in the city.I’m calling bullshit. This report implicitly blames everything on mean, lazy teachers while implicitly accepting as normal and healthy the neighborhood culture that produces and tolerates disruptive student behavior on a mass scale.  (There is no mention of the possibility that kids in poor neighborhoods are more likely to act like jackasses.)

This is a hostage situation, pure and simple. The only reason the report gives for not expelling and suspending students is that they will be more likely to drop out and/or become a part of the receiving end of the justice system. Too bad. Learn how to control yourself and follow the rules; then you can stay. This is a school; not a delinquent prevention/surrogate parent program.

Too much of “urban” public schooling is based on this implied threat: Just imagine how much more destructive, obnoxious and costly they will be if they aren’t in school. 

If this is what we’re doing, could we at least be honest about it and stop pretending that we are getting everybody ready for college? Pleeeeeeze?

My son’s public charter school expelled two students this year for stealing a bunch of stuff. That’s accountability…which we blather on about incessantly, but find almost impossible to practice. That school is a better, safer place without thieves. I’m glad they’re gone.

Compare that to another charter school I taught at. This was the Cesar Chavez PCS in Capitol Hill. During the week of teacher indoctrination before students arrived, some students were there anyway. One student, a 23-year old senior who, if memory serves had been in jail, stole credit cards and a phone out of a new teacher’s purse. Within an hour or two he had been caught on camera using her card at a nearby store and was arrested. The administration pressured this teacher into not pressing charges and letting him come back to school. She obliged. He then wasted everybody’s time for a few months and dropped out again. WTF?

We’ve come a long way in our collective efforts to change school so that it is more accommodating to lazy, disruptive, borderline-criminal and criminal students. (That this is a detriment to students who do what they’re supposed to do is of no concern.) How much further should we go? How much more time and money should these kids be allowed to ingest only to expel it as toxic waste? Since when did we start just changing the rules because some people don’t want to follow them?

But the report did have some helpful suggestions for alternatives to suspension and expulsion. It recommends positive reinforcement, mediation, and mentoring. So, try those.


Mr. Teachbad

ps – As of this moment, Friday, June 21st 2013 at 4:01 pm est, Mr. Teachbad has 997 ‘likes’ on Facebook. What do you say? How ’bout helping to put me over the top? If it’s already at 1000 when you get there, feel free to keep jacking it up. Let’s make it a movement.

And it’s the first day of summer. Make yourself a cool drink first, then sit down and do it.


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