School Climate & Safety

The Absolute Best School Climate Blogging (This Week): Fight Over Discipline Edition

By Evie Blad — April 03, 2015 2 min read
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Happy Friday, Rules readers. I’d like to start my weekly links list by letting you in on a feud over school discipline that’s brewing on the Internet.

Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today that criticized changes to the New York City schools’ disciplinary code proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. (The two also famously squared off about charter school facilities at the beginning of this school year.)

At issue this time are de Blasio’s calls to further reduce the use of suspensions in school discipline. His proposal would raise the threshold for when out-of-school suspensions can be issued and who can issue them. The changes would also further the use of restorative practices and mediation to resolve conflicts in schools, a change that some other districts have also made.

But that approach is insufficient to address some problematic behaviors, Moskowitz wrote, citing as an example a “fight club” 8th graders organized with their younger peers in a Queens elementary school. From the piece:

Suspensions convey the critical message to students and parents that certain behavior is inconsistent with being a member of the school community. Pretend suspensions, in which a student is allowed to remain in the school community, do not convey that message. Many students actually feed off the attention they get for misbehaving. Keeping these students in school encourages that misbehavior. Proponents of lax discipline claim it would benefit minority students, who are suspended at higher rates than their white peers. But minority students are also the most likely to suffer the adverse consequences of lax discipline—that is, their education is disrupted by a chaotic school environment or by violence."

Student advocates, however, don’t think de Blasio’s plans go far enough. They want the city to end all suspensions for the offense of “defying authority.” Some researchers have said such broad disciplinary infractions are subjective and applied unfairly, contributing to disproportionately high discipline rates for students in some racial and ethnic groups. That has led many states and districts to rein in the use of such terms in school rules or to eliminate the ability to issue suspensions when students violate them.

Moskowitz shares concerns that have already been expressed by some critics of the Obama administration’s attempts to scale back zero tolerance policies by issuing new guidance about school discipline in 2014. They fear changes to school discipline will lead to chaotic or unsafe spaces for students, who are also being asked to master more rigorous content. Supporters of such changes counter those arguments by citing research, like a recent study that found that, as policy changes led to a drop in suspensions in Chicago schools, students also reported that they felt safer there.

Some groups, upset by Moskowitz’ critique, are planning to take to Twitter this afternoon to share their concerns.

What do you think? Do you side with Moskowitz? Or with the student advocates? Or maybe somewhere in the middle?

And now for some other good reads on supporting kids and nurturing a healthy school climate.

On mascots...

Faded yearbooks document a team name that has been in use for more than a century and has survived questions in recent decades about whether displaying 'Savages' on school uniforms and gym floors is offensive." —As Colorado considers a bill that would require tribal approval for the use of Native American figures as school mascots, the Denver Post visits a small town that could be affected by the change.

On bullies...

Without question we have an obligation to stop these bullies, but we also have an obligation to distinguish between the bully and the children simply learning to navigate the choppy waters of childhood. When we use bully as some sort of catchall, we effectively neuter our children and foster a culture of victimhood." —In this essay, a dad explores "who the real bullies are."

On discipline...

Some would say that punishment will extinguish bad behavior, but I would say the opposite." —PBS Newshour explores how one school deals with bad behavior from students who've experienced trauma.

More on discipline...

Taking away my ability to discipline students, white or black, is a disservice to them all. Children do not know what is best for them. By letting up on discipline, we are sacrificing academics." —This letter to the editor summarizes a view some teachers hold about changes to district discipline policies.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.