Saturday, May 03, 2008

School Discipline

As Mr. "RWorld" joyfully reminded us, George Bush has only 200 and some days left in his term. Unfortunately, that still leaves him as America's #1 problem, but we know he will go away (AFTER TOO LONG!). Problem #2 is America's education system, and it outranks the entitlement finance gap because America will not remain competitive in the world unless our children get smarter. At present, they're getting dumber, and that needs to change. But poor discipline stands in the way.

Here in Rochester, NY, the city school teachers are petitioning the superintendent to take action to improve their safety. Teachers are being threatened with bodily injury even at the middle school level. Classroom disruptors spoil the educational opportunities for the remainder of students, according to these teachers. Are the teachers "crybabies"?

One of my sons teaches eighth grade math in the "combat zone" of a large city. The great majority of his students are Hispanic, and the area leads the city in crime. But he loves to teach these kids, and they respond to him. His students score high (relatively) in standardized testing, and he is regarded as one of the better teachers in his district. He is no giant, but he is physically imposing, so no eighth grader is going to challenge him. But discipline is still a big problem in his classroom.

According to this fine teacher, one or two disruptive students in a class of 22-26 students can create enough chaos to seriously diminish educational opportunity for the rest. The teacher spends excessive time monitoring and correcting the disruptors, and they distract the other students continually. The process for removing these children is ineffective. This situation is absurd.

Doesn't common sense require that students who routinely disrupt classrooms be segregated into special, highly monitored learning environments? These students need activities that burn off their high energy and teachers who cannot be intimidated. They, and the students who are no longer disrupted, would greatly benefit from the self-selection that resulted in their being segregated.

The Rochester teachers have a legitimate complaint. No teacher should have to teach in a threatening environment, and no student should be forced to learn in a classroom ruled by violent children. Whatever the cost of implementing disciplinary classrooms at all grade levels and supervising the students assigned to them, it would be money well spent in terms of achieving good outcomes for all students.

The education system must be aligned with the capabilities and needs of the students. High performers should have maximum opportunity and flexibility. Low performers should get more attention from specially trained teachers. The mass of more average students should have interesting educational experiences, plenty of challenges to extend themselves, and a classroom free of routine disruption. Those children with sub-standard socialization should have educational experiences that focus on this problem first.

Does it really take someone with a Ph.D. to understand that "education" requires teachers who feel safe and students who are focused primarily on the teachers rather than on out-of-control students? I don't think so.


Sonja's Mom said...

One of the problems is that the teachers have no support from the parents. Some of these students have no discpline at home - have never been taught to follow any kind of rules. My sister is a teacher and complaines about this all the time. Some parents just don't care.

Ron Davison said...

My wife teaches in a "high-needs" school. And what you are saying about the one child who can disrupt the entire class is so entirely true. Teachers could very quickly create classrooms that would work - but it would involve segregating one or two OUT of the classroom. This is one of the many things that baffles me about the education system.