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Surprise! Another big city school district burned by misguided discipline mandates

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The news is making its way, albeit slowly, into the mainstream media about how disastrous progressives’ — including Barack Obama’s — ideas for school discipline were.

Obama’s education secretary flunky, Arne Duncan, was charged with reducing school suspensions for non-white children because a “disproportionate” number in that demographic were affected by the penalty — the ‘ol “disparate impact” argument, if you will.

The previous Department of Education’s 2014 guidelines claimed schools could be guilty of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act  (racial discrimination, basically) if they had “incorrect” racial numbers … even if they utilized race-neutral policies.

Suspensions were replaced by less punitive measures such as “restorative justice” to disastrous effect. One of the Democratic Party’s most loyal interest groups, teachers’ unions, hated the new rules. Schools from Minnesota to Los Angeles to New York City suffered as order broke down because chronic misbehavior resulted in a proverbial “slap on the wrist.” (And not even that, for if a teacher or administrator actually did slap a kid’s wrist today, she’d be brought up on assault charges.)

Word is out now on the repercussions of such fantasies in Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love’s discipline, er, “reforms” actually preceded by two years the Obama-era threats: It banned the use of suspensions for “non-violent classroom misbehavior” in the 2012-13 school year.

City Journal’s Max Eden reports the effects on students’ academic achievement and truancy were not good:

“[…] discipline reform reduced academic achievement by 3 percent in math and nearly 7 percent in reading by 2016,” Eden writes. “Truancy […] had been declining steadily before the reform, but then rose at an astonishing rate after, from about 25 percent to over 40 percent.

“Perhaps students were staying at home because they were scared to be at school. Suspensions for non-violent classroom misbehavior dropped after the ban, but suspensions for “serious incidents” rose substantially.”

From the article:

What in the world was going on inside these schools? Fortunately, Steinberg and Lacoe’s quantitative studies are complemented by qualitative research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education. The researchers’ findings are bleak: The district has taken away a disciplinary tool that teachers believe in, and made meager efforts at training them in an approach that they don’t find credible. Over 80 percent of Philadelphia teachers believe that suspensions work, but their administrators say they’re just wrong. …

There is evidence that PBIS [“Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports”] can work, if schools have extra funding, training, and deep teacher buy-in. But those conditions don’t hold in major urban school districts. In Philadelphia, three years after banning suspensions for bad behavior, only 30 schools had received extra funding from the district to implement PBIS. According to the consortium’s study, many teachers harbor doubts about policies they see as too soft; teachers at one school set up a “shadow” disciplinary system to circumvent the principal and do what they think works. Teachers report feeling unsupported by administrators, and were no more likely than teachers at non-PBIS schools to report that their principals handle discipline effectively. Even administrators dedicated to PBIS have their doubts; one said, “I feel it’s kind of like banging your head against the wall. So, all the things that I want to do are just not working.”

It should come as little surprise to any teacher that there’s a disconnect between those actually in the trenches (teachers!) and administrators — especially central office administrators.

Not to mention, natch, Department of Education bureaucrats.

MORE: DoE needs to scrap Obama-era school discipline guidelines

MORE: Discipline issues reach fever pitch as districts fear racial bean counters

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.