Education

Toddlers Gone Wild, Peaceful Persuasion, and the $100,000 Club

By Rich Shea — May 20, 2005 3 min read
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Let the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing begin: Word is out that preK students are getting themselves into serious trouble—at three times the rate of their K-12 counterparts. At least that’s the conclusion Yale researchers, surveying 3,898 schools in 40 states, have drawn. It appears that the expulsion rate is seven for every 1,000 preK students, although it varies from state to state. Kentucky, for example, reported zero expulsions, whereas New Mexico reported 21 per 1,000. While the study doesn’t go into detail about why kids are expelled, it hints that well-resourced preK programs are less likely to have problems. A Kentucky spokeswoman says her state has set up five regional preK training centers and has high schoolers help toddlers with behavior issues. “Expulsion is not an option,” she adds, “so we make sure we have professional development for teachers.”

It’s unfortunate that the same week the Yale study was released, one 5-year-old arrived at school carrying a handgun. Just outside the cafeteria at Blanton Elementary in Austin, Texas, the preK student showed some of his classmates the loaded weapon. Luckily, a conscientious 5th grader, knowing the gun was real, turned it over to the principal. Police and school officials concluded that the 5-year-old meant no harm and “was not really aware how serious his actions were,” says a district spokeswoman. The gun’s owner, however, could be in trouble: Allowing a minor access to a firearm is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Some 6th graders in Maple Grove, Minnesota, are hoping they can help fellow classmates avoid punishment altogether by alerting them to the negative influence of television. As part of a project called “1st Piece of the Peace Puzzle” in teacher Doug Greener’s class, they’ve tallied the number of verbal, physical, and sexual violence incidents in their favorite programs. The results: 68 per episode on The Powerpuff Girls, 62 on Fear Factor, and 85 on Power Rangers. This was a surprise to many of Greener’s students, who concluded that, thanks to television, they’ve become “desensitized” to violence. Results of their study are available in a booklet that’s meant to be kept near every TV set. And the booklet itself, through sponsor donations, has raised roughly $3,500 for a local shelter for battered women and children. It has also encouraged some of the Rush Creek Elementary students to keep going: This summer, they plan to put together a second booklet that includes reviews of video games.

Another peacekeeping effort is under way at Garfield High School in Seattle. The school’s parent-teacher-student association recently voted 25 to 5 in favor of a resolution stating that “public schools are not a place for military recruiters.” NCLB demands that schools receiving federal funds release student names to recruiters—unless parents specifically request otherwise. So even though the resolution doesn’t have much teeth (and also raises the question of whether keeping recruiters away from schools is an infringement of free speech), the PTSA sees it as something of a health issue. The organization’s mission, says Amy Hagopian, mother of a Garfield senior, “is to protect and defend kids.” And maybe the school’s budget, too: The feds, she adds, are “spending $4 billion a month in Iraq, but we have to cut our race relations class, which costs $12,500. That’s an important class for our kids.”

Money-minded citizens in the suburbs of New York City are singing a different tune. Because it’s budget-voting time, some taxpayers are complaining about the thousands of public school teachers—one in 12 across five counties—making more than $100,000 per year. Throw in increases in medical costs and pensions based on those salaries, and you get a comment like this from Richard Graham, member of a group campaigning against a proposed 8.8 percent tax increase in East Islip, on Long Island: “The people who couldn’t do engineering, and anything else that required some brain power, became teachers, and they now have $100,000 salaries.” But educators in the region, where the cost of living is often extremely high, argue otherwise. Patricia Daniello, who has 30 years’ experience as well as a master’s degree and 90 hours of additional credit, says, “Do I think my [$116,772] salary is high based on what I do for children and the amount of education I have in my background? No, I do not.”

Considering the worries about the behavior of future K-12 students and the money the feds are willing to spend on non-education-related items, perhaps Daniello has a point.

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