Focus less on type of school, more on student needs

This is a follow-up to this last post: Don’t leave school discipline up to Mr. Petrilli

Just to be fair to both sides, I will also be addressing the inaccuracies in this post, a counter to both of Petrilli’s articles: Writing off “Those Kids.”

Sarah Blaine:

Michael Petrilli is flat out wrong. I’m a friend of the ed reform movement, but also a licensed school counselor, and very familiar with student discipline & counseling (or lack thereof). However, there are some points I disagree with you on as well.

Is it really okay to openly advocate for charter school discipline policies that weed out a significant portion of the student body (without, in most cases, replacing those expelled or “counseled out” students, of course)?

Public Charter schools do not cherry pick, or exclude, or “weed out.” I don’t know what could be more fair than a lottery, which I believe most have. Also, it makes sense to have some geographic boundaries (just like traditional public schools do). Public charters aren’t excluding, parents are choosing to apply. Please stop confusing “choosing” and “excluding.” Often public charters may not have the resources or skillset to appropriately provide services to special needs students. By law, a variety of accommodations, testing, etc…need to be provided. If one can’t provide it in good faith, it’s best not to. Public charters seem to not be able to win on this one – because if public charters were improperly educating special education students there would still be an uproar. They are making a decision based on capacity, the right one and you still can’t win.

Just would love to point out a public charter school here in DeKalb county, GA specifically for students on the autism spectrum, Tapestry Public Charter School. Are you going to try to say that they are excluding traditional public school students?

Is it really okay to say that our public schools are places of compromises that please no one?

Unfortunately traditional public schools have a variety of constituents and when there is a weak administration, and/or administrator, it can be easy to see the path of least resistance taken. I wouldn’t say all, but I would say plenty. We need stronger folks willing to stand of up kids and make the right choices.

Is it really okay to imply that public schools truly are the schools of last resort, that their highest and best purpose is to serve as dumping grounds for those students who are not good enough (or malleable enough, or terrified enough, or controllable enough) to succeed in charters?

Take a look at this post: When the only option is a failing school

Are they often the last resort for parents? Sure

Their highest and best purpose is not to serve as a dumping ground for students who are not good enough for a public charter. But until every school board/committee/administrator/district admin/superintendents/teachers are willing and able to do whats best for all kids, instead of serving their self interest – then this is going to a reality in some cases.

In other words, we’re supposed to warehouse “those kids” in faux-schools until they drop out or end up in prison, but there’s no point in trying to motivate them, reach them, or educate them.

Of course this isn’t true….but as I mentioned above is too often the case when schools, districts and administrators are too involved with their self interest than their kids.

And how do we distinguish kids worth educating from kids who should be warehoused in alternative environments?  Are we weeding out the rebels?  The creative thinkers?  Those who question authority?  Are we rewarding malleability, conformity, and keeping your head down?

These are valid points – but my point is it doesn’t matter whether public charter or traditional public, these things ARE happening everyday in both cases. We need to focus less on what type of school it is and focus on what each school needs to do to best serve the interests of it’s students.

You can’t blame public charters when your own traditional public school are doing many of the same unreasonable things you’ve mentioned.



Don’t leave school discipline up to Mr. Petrilli

Found this article by Michael Petrilli: School discipline: Too important to leave to liberals which initially irked me because while I tend to align pretty moderate, I would, in some circles still consider myself a liberal and I have some very important ideas and experiences around school discipline.

Apparently it is an extension of this original article: Charters can do whats best for students who care.

Mr. Petrilli, How much time have you spent in classrooms? Your bio does not indicate any educator experience, but are you qualified to perform much research?! While you are correct about the chaos our schools are in, you are incorrect that not all students “care.” They care but have little or no direction from family or school about how to go about it. You are right that we need:

NY article 1

The kids who need the most guidance and counseling are the kids you describe as trouble makers. And of course you don’t let them “take over the classroom” but you need to sit and listen to them, show them compassion and how they can make a positive impact on the world. Kids generally feel helpless, with no control over their lives (especially the negative circumstances) and they need our love, support, caring and counseling.

Do you disagree that a student who is a “behavioral disturbance” needs a school discipline and climate that you mentioned above? Are you simply stating that not enough traditional public schools don’t have the school discipline systems and climate to effectively influence these students? That, perhaps is an argument to make, and you can go on to talk about all the charters (we know some don’t) that have great school discipline and culture. But do not blame the lack of school resources on the kids and their behavior. I generally appreciate your work and your efforts, but this has clearly, crossed a line. And I am on the side of education reform.

Next, I’d like to see your evidence supporting this statement:

But declaring, as some districts have, that they are going to eliminate suspensions and expulsions entirely is a totally different matter. It’s the educational equivalent of giving up on assertive policing and letting windows stay broken. Most problematically, it elevates the rights of the disruptive students above the needs of their peers. The well-behaved kids—the serious learners—are the ones who will pay the costs.

First, your statement about behaviorally challenged kids is the “educational equivalent” of giving up on kids that you don’t know, or don’t understand, or don’t want to understand. You apparently have not found a way to value all kids and I am very sad about that. I hope those who use your research to implement policy, or whatever it is that we all do with research, understand where you are truly coming from and take your words with a grain of salt.

Second, the only google-able evidence I found of eliminating suspensions completely, were in Southern Indiana.  “In Clark and Floyd counties, Greater Clark County Schools is the only district to completely eliminate expulsions, which occurred in 2010…” They also make use of alternative schools and alternative adult supervised “out-of-school suspension.”

These are other districts who have moved towards policies that reserve suspension for only the most critical cases:

Portland, OR; Boston, MA; State of Maryland; Denver, CO (and here); Los Angeles, CA; Paterson, NJ

In all cases they are moving towards alternative solutions – that actually value students and don’t essentially “throw them away” by suspension. I would very carefully adjust your position on this as it does not line up.

Feel free to advocate that traditional & charter public schools need to have comprehensive school discipline reform but don’t discount the efforts of those who are doing just that.

Also recommend reading a bit about how we can help kids in our schools in this blog post: What do you think about when you sit down to work?

Here is the next post regarding Sarah Blaine’s response to Michael Petrilli – and my opinion of her inaccuracies Focus less on type of school, more on student needs