February 28, 2007

Personal connection vs. personal responsibility

Posted in School policy, School safety in other places, Student violence at 7:48 am by madisonparent

The school where I [now] work has a particularly humanistic philosophy. The teachers are asked to make a personal connection with each student. But at the same time, the school is suffering from massive absenteeism, lateness, extreme intellectual torpor in the classes. [….] For me, when I hear a student curse or speak aggressively or crudely, I can’t help but say something. My skin crawls. Apparently not everyone has this reaction. But when does the personal connection get taken advantage of? When does the humanistic approach become permissive to the point of abrogation of responsibility?

From I, Who Can’t, (warning: linked post contains profanity–not from the writer, but from the 9th grader quoted in the post), the blog of the Bronx high school teacher whose writing on school issues has also been featured in The New York Times and Slate magazine.


February 27, 2007

School safety – whose priority?

Posted in School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence at 2:35 pm by madisonparent

…we cannot seriously address student achievement until we address school culture. The frequent assaults, and the even more frequent incidents of low-level aggression and incivility – threats, belligerence, verbal harassment – wear teachers down and disrupt student focus. Incivility is the backdrop against which all teachers teach, new or experienced, weak or strong, in “good” schools, or in “bad.”

from Teacher Voices, via School Information System. Sadly, it appears that school safety can fall off the list of priorities of educational administrators even when school safety planning is mandated by state law (see previous post).

February 20, 2007

School safety plans?

Posted in School policy, School safety in other places, Student safety at 9:13 am by madisonparent

The state of New York’s “Safe Schools against Violence in Education” (“SAVE”) law requires each of its school districts to develop and implement a district-wide safety plan, and each individual school to have a building-level emergency response plan. District-wide and school-wide school safety teams that include school and district personnel, board of education members, and members of teacher, student and parent organizations, are charged with developing the plans and reviewing and updating them annually. (School-wide school safety teams also include members of law enforcement and community groups.) There’s a mandatory period of public comment before safety plans are adopted, and community and parent involvement is encouraged. The “ProjectSAVE Guidance Document for School Safety Plans” provides a detailed framework of best practices and processes for school safety planning, which could serve as a valuable resource for any school district in any state.

New York State’s ProjectSAVE has been in effect since 2000, but here in Wisconsin, it seems that we’re far from the leading edge. School safety plans got a mention in Governor Doyle’s campaign blog a few months ago (“Everyone must make an effort to dust off and review school safety plans that may not have been practiced or updated since they were developed after the 1999 Columbine shooting, Doyle said.”), but searches on the web sites for the state Department of Public Instruction and the Madison Metropolitan School District don’t give the impression that we’ve approached school safety planning either with rigor or broad-based involvement. What do the school safety plans for our district and our children’s schools look like today?

February 13, 2007

Students against bullying

Posted in Bullying, School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence at 9:24 am by madisonparent

Principals say they can’t help students who are victims of bullying if the victims won’t finger their bullies. Students say they won’t finger their bullies when they expect to be met with an ineffective response by school authorities, followed by retaliation by the bully. Is there a “third way”?

Anti-bullying efforts may be more likely to succeed when student bystanders stand up to the bully and support the victim, as University of South Australia researchers Ken Rigby and Bruce Johnson describe in their article “Playground Heroes” in Greater Good Magazine (via Joanne Jacobs):

Why have anti-bullying programs met with so little success? We suggest two important reasons[:]


The first is that educators have concentrated on encouraging teachers and counselors to watch what is happening and take strong disciplinary action when bullying has occurred. Unfortunately, school authorities are commonly unaware of what is going on.


The second reason why anti-bullying programs often fail is because they are not effectively supported by children. One of the startling facts to emerge from the research into children’s behavior in recent years has been the almost ubiquitous presence of other children when bullying takes place in schools.


Once we recognize that the most effective influence on children’s bystander behavior is what they think their friends expect of them (not what their teacher or parents think), we can begin to devise ways in which positive peer influence can make itself felt.

Locally, students at Cherokee Middle School appeared before the School Board’s Community Partnerships Committee last night to describe the public service skits they have filmed, working with the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools, to educate their fellow middle schoolers on bullying and ways they can stop being passive bystanders and turn into active allies of bullied victims.

In Connecticut high schools, the “Names” anti-bullying program has been in place for over a decade under the guidance of the Connecticut Office of the Anti-Defamation League, as recently described in this recent article from the New York Times (registration required/short-term link). The program includes efforts to encourage bystanders to become allies.

In Arizona, the Arizona Bullying Prevention Partnership has launched a statewide initiative to implement Olweus bullying prevention training in elementary, middle and junior high schools.

What can we parents do?

There’s a vast array of ideas and resources available online, including:

But the first step is to stop being mere bystanders ourselves.

February 12, 2007

Gannett’s news site on school safety

Posted in School safety in other places, Student safety, Student violence at 9:38 am by madisonparent

Gannett News Service has developed the news site “Safe at School? A National Forum for Ideas and Discussion” to focus on its reporting on school safety issues (including the recent feature from its partner USA Today on the inconsistent standards for identifying “persistently dangerous” schools under No Child Left Behind). The site’s “community conversation” section includes forums where readers can post their experiences with and suggested solutions to address school violence, which are well worth reading.

February 7, 2007

This Week’s Carnival

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:44 pm by madisonparent

This Week in Education is hosting this week’s Carnival of Education. Lots of good entries on all things educational — check it out!

February 4, 2007

Twenty questions about “restorative justice”

Posted in Discipline code, School policy, Student safety at 10:36 pm by madisonparent

Here in Madison, Wisconsin, we’ve got school board elections coming up this spring and an overhaul of the discipline code in the works. A buzzphrase we’re hearing more and more of these days is “restorative justice”:

From the district’s “Department of General Administration: Division Information – Office of the Superintendent” (p. 232)

One of the major challenges for the 2006-07 school year is implementing a change in the philosophy and approach to creating positive student behavior. We are moving from a punitive system of student behavior management to a district wide positive approach to changing student behavior through education, dialogue and restorative justice principles.

A recent response by the current school board president (Johnny Winston, Jr.) to questions on school safety posed to school board candidates by Isthmus:

First, our board is currently analyzing and updating our student code of conduct to change from a punitive approach to a preventative and restorative justice methodology. Students will learn from their mistakes by involving their parents, taking ownership of their wrongdoing, getting professional help (e.g. a serious fight would result in anger management counseling) and then making restitution to the victim and school.

From the minutes from the school board’s Board of Education – Common Council Liaison Committee meeting of November 15, 2006:

In the middle of a major change to the way the district is approaching behavior. Approach to changing behavior was punishment. Now changing to teaching good behavior. Moving toward restorative justice model so child can get back in good graces in the community. No value in suspension for anyone. Have to narrow suspensions down to cases of safety for student and the school. Behavior system will look the same at all schools.

The current year’s SIP (School Improvement Plan) for one of our middle schools includes an item for restorative justice training for “all staff” with a timeline of December 2006 (albeit with the note “Progress – on hold/district funding?”) and the SIP for another of our middle schools includes the item “refresher staff development opportunity [to] review Restorative Justice model of interventions”

The superintendent, school board president and other school board candidates are already talking as if this were a done deal. But what is “restorative justice,” and what will it mean to have student misconduct addressed with a “restorative justice” approach? A layperson’s online search leads to academic papers in the criminal and juvenile justice area from fields ranging from sociology, social work, philosophy and theology, but not much specific research or data on whether or how “restorative justice” has been found to work as an approach to addressing misconduct in schools. The decision to move away from a discipline-based approach to a “restorative justice” approach will have an immediate, on-the-ground, daily impact on the school climate and educational experience encountered by the students and teachers in our schools, and parents of children in the public schools here may very well have the following questions:

1. What does “restorative justice” look like as experienced by the non-offender student community and teachers?

2. How many schools with comparable school settings (i.e. urban schools with comparable size and demographics) have implemented “restorative justice”?

3. What evidence from comparable school settings supports the conclusion that school-based “restorative justice” is an effective way to prevent or reduce the number and severity of incidents of misconduct?

4. What evidence from comparable school settings supports the conclusion that “restorative justice” reduces recidivism by repeat offenders?

5. What evidence from comparable school settings supports the conclusion that school-based “restorative justice” can overcome the psychological and socialization issues of offenders whose behavior demonstrates poor impulse control and a lack of understanding of abstract consequences, or who do not share the community’s values of respect, empathy and personal responsibility?

6. Based on the experience of schools where the implementation of “restorative justice” has failed to meet desired results, what steps will our school district take to avoid similar failures?

7. Compared to a discipline-based approach, what is the effectiveness of the “restorative justice” approach in communicating to the school community that there are clear consequences for misconduct which are fairly and consistently administered?

8. What is the feedback from teachers and students (from other schools with comparable school settings) who have experienced the transition from a disciplinary to “restorative justice” approach?

9. What would be the steps taken to implement the transition to “restorative justice” in our school district, and how will this be experienced by students and teachers?

10. What disciplinary measures and school safety plans would be in effect during the transition period?

11. Under a “restorative justice” approach, what specific steps would be taken with a student who engages in insubordinate, disruptive and disrespectful behavior (for example, talking over or talking back to the teacher in class)?

12. Under a “restorative justice” approach, what specific steps would be taken with a student who engages in threatening, intimidating or bullying behavior?

13. Under a “restorative justice” approach, what specific steps would be taken with a student who commits an assault or other physical violence?

14. When there is a conflict between student safety and the desire to respond to a particular instance of misconduct in a “non-punitive” way, which choice does the “restorative justice” approach require?

15. How much classroom instruction time will be diverted to administering “restorative justice” interventions to misconduct?

16. How will teachers, staff and administrators without training in social work, psychology or counseling be trained to acquire a satisfactory level of competence in administering “restorative justice”?

17. How will the effectiveness of the implementation of “restorative justice” be monitored, and what steps will be taken to modify or discontinue it if it is unsuccessful?

18. What will be the short-term “restorative justice” training and implementation costs for our school district?

19. What will be the structural costs for our school district of permanent psychologist/social worker/counseling staff to administer “restorative justice” on a continuing basis?

20. What will be the long-term costs and consequences if an unsuccessful implementation of “restorative justice” results in a deterioration in school safety and security?