Education Opinion

Students Thrive Differently

By Walt Gardner — February 12, 2014 1 min read

I’ve never been to New Orleans, and so it’s impossible for me to know if the charter schools there are doing as well as they claim since the Recovery School District came into existence (“The Student-Led Backlash Against New Orleans’s Charter Schools,” The Atlantic, Feb. 5). But what is undeniable is that the kind of school that works for some students doesn’t necessarily work for others.

I’m not talking now strictly about standardized test scores. They can be extremely misleading. Instead I’m talking about the overall atmosphere of a school. In the case of Collegiate Academies, whose Sci Academy posted the best test scores of any open-enrollment high school in New Orleans, the issue centers on the Draconian suspension rate that led to student protests. (The number of students actually participating is in dispute.)

I’ve always believed that discipline is necessary for learning because if students know they can hold their classmates hostage by their misbehavior, schools soon become chaotic. The question is how misbehavior is handled. Zero-tolerance policies are totally counterproductive. But at the same time, students need to know that actions have consequences. We do them a terrible disservice by severing the link between the two.

When I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District, there was a strong movement underway to make learning “relevant.” In response, a group of teachers established the Innovative Program School. It operated by its own set of rules on everything from curriculum to conduct. Although some students seemed to thrive, others dropped out of the program when it became too unfocused. It was obvious that some students needed structure and rules.

I think we have to be careful in our assumptions about the needs and interests of young people. Students who blossom in a military school would be at sea in Summerhill.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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