Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

School Climate & Safety Opinion

Empowering Teachers and Parents to Speak Up on School Safety

By Rick Hess — March 22, 2021 3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

As millions of students return to school this spring and fall after many months of isolation, angst, and disruption, it’s a good bet there’ll be plenty of issues relating to behavior, discipline, and safety. For me, this raises the question of what, if anything, policymakers should do to ensure that the raft of well-meaning reforms intended to help schools tackle these challenges are indeed keeping students and staff safe. On that count, I’d like to flag a couple intriguing proposals posed by Max Eden, the author of the USA Today bestseller Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endanger America’s Students (full disclosure, Max just recently joined AEI as a research fellow).

Readers should know that Eden is a skeptic when it comes to the bundle of programs and approaches generally characterized as “restorative justice.” He argues that policymakers, because they have come to fear that discipline is inequitable and harmful for students, “have tied teachers’ hands and undermined their authority in the classroom” by mandating restorative-justice practices. This is so, Eden says, even though “study after study after study has documented harm to learning, and school survey after survey after survey has suggested” that teachers have concerns about what disciplinary reforms mean for school climate and safety.

These disconcerting facts have gotten short shrift, Eden argues, due to the emergence of a culture where teachers are less likely to report disciplinary problems. Eden writes that “the pressures to underreport have been baked in” as a result of the U.S. Department of Education threatening districts with “invasive investigations” and lost “federal funding” if it has concerns about their discipline tallies. He explains, “Teachers who complained could be subject to retaliation from their principals, because their principals could be subject to demotion from their superintendents, because their superintendents could be subject to investigations and negative press coverage.” Moreover, he argues, “With teachers too intimidated to speak out and with school board members’ tendency to defer to their superintendents, the parental/democratic feedback loop has been severed.”

For those who share his concerns, Eden asks: How might that loop be repaired? He has a few suggestions on that count for state legislators.

First, he calls for them to establish a “nonprofit organization” to conduct annual audits “of school safety and climate through anonymous, open-ended teacher surveys.” He suggests that such surveys will provide a valuable tool for getting reliable data on what’s happening, enabling teachers to feel heard when it comes to school safety and helping ensure that local news coverage offers more than “puff pieces” rooted in superintendent claims about reduced suspensions.

Eden also urges that state legislatures require every school district to “establish a parental advisory committee on school safety,” with a dedicated agenda line at every school board meeting to raise problems and concerns. He argues that this would give parents a forum to readily raise concerns and teachers an “anonymous avenue” to have their concerns be heard by the board through the parental advisory committee. Eden suggests this mechanism might surface concerns that otherwise go unaired and prompt some board members “to recalibrate” their assumptions.

At the end of the day, whether or not one agrees with Eden’s concerns about restorative justice, it seems to me that giving parents and teachers more confidential avenues for raising concerns about school safety is a proposition all of us could get behind. After all, policies that reward and celebrate school leaders for reducing disciplinary actions may result in less misbehavior—or simply in misbehavior being met with less discipline, potentially compromising the safety and well-being of students and staff. Distinguishing the one from the other requires credible data points and honest talk. We should all want to know how safe schools really are and whether well-meaning practices are actually making them safer—and Eden has offered a couple practical suggestions that’ll help with just that.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Pave the Path to Excellence in Math
Empower your students' math journey with Sue O'Connell, author of “Math in Practice” and “Navigating Numeracy.”
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Combatting Teacher Shortages: Strategies for Classroom Balance and Learning Success
Learn from leaders in education as they share insights and strategies to support teachers and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Let's Talk About When Cars Need to Stop for School Buses
A refresher course on the rules of the road involving stopped school buses.
1 min read
Collage of school bus, cars, stop sign and a neighborhood map.
Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva
School Climate & Safety Opinion School Police Officers Should Do More Than Just Surveil and Control. Here’s How
SROs should be integrated into schools as a means to support students and create a safe, humanizing environment.
H. Richard Milner IV
5 min read
opinion sro school police 80377388 01
Dynamic Graphics/Getty
School Climate & Safety 4 Tips to Keep Students' Misbehavior From Sapping Up Class Time
Students' misbehavior has become one of educators' top concerns. Schools need a more deliberate approach to handle it, an expert says.
6 min read
Image of young students in a classroom
Parker Davis and Alina Lopez, right, talk about words and acts that cause happiness during morning circle in teacher Susannah Young's 2nd grade class at Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, May 4, 2017. Social-emotional learning has been found in research to have a positive effect on students' behavior, but it's not a quick fix for misbehavior.
Ramin Rahimian for Education Week-File
School Climate & Safety Is Virtual Learning a New Form of Exclusionary Discipline?
Some districts are assigning students to virtual learning as a punishment for misbehavior.
5 min read
High school student working on computer at home.
Getty