Youth Organizers from Black and Latina/o communities from across the country have been leading the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Attending schools in which they are over policed, criminalized, and push out of school through suspensions, expulsions, and arrests, they have made significant progress to redress policies and practices that disproportionately impact Black, Latina/o, and LGBT students. There continues to be a concerted effort in the conservative media to push back against policy changes that will keep us in school. They are using race based fear mongering to portray Black children as ready to run wild in schools that are moving towards using Restorative Justice. The latest is this opinion piece by Success Academy Charter School CEO, Eva Moskowitz. We are not going to let these thinly veiled racist messages undermine our work to create safe and supportive school environments for all students. Today we are pushing back at 3pm in an Emergency Twitter Rally because they #neverlovedus. We are tweeting @MoskowitzEva using the hashtag #suspendeva. Please join us!
TURNING SCHOOLS INTO FIGHT CLUBS
BY EVA MOSKOWITZ
Eighth-graders in a Queens, N.Y., public elementary school recently organized a “fight club” for first-graders, beating up those who wouldn’t participate. This disgraceful episode comes at a time when many across the country are engaging in a misguided campaign to diminish the school discipline needed to ensure a nurturing and productive learning environment.
Leading the pack is New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed a disciplinary code due to take effect this month in the city’s district schools. The code is full of edu-babble. For example, the code promotes “restorative circles.” What is that? It’s a “community process for supporting those in conflict [that] brings together the three parties to a conflict—those who have acted, those directly impacted and the wider community—within an intentional systemic context, to dialogue as equals.”
This is nonsense. If student A “impacts” student B with a fist, they shouldn’t “dialogue as equals.” Student A should be disciplined.
“Collaborative problem solving” is another strategy. Teachers “articulate the adults’ concerns about the behavior and engage the student in a collaborative process,” the code explains, to “decide upon a plan of action” that is “mutually acceptable to both.”ENLARGE
You read that correctly. Teachers’ views on proper conduct are mere “concerns” that must be explained, and students get to decide what resolution is “acceptable” to them.
The new disciplinary code also undermines principals. Under the old code, they could give out-of-school suspensions of up to five days; only a superintendent could impose longer suspensions. Under the new code, a principal can only impose a pretend suspension in which the student receives “alternative instruction” at school. Previously such instruction would be provided at an alternative location, which is preferable.
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.
This is a real concern. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 4% of New York City high-school students carry a weapon to school; 2% carry a gun. Thus, in a high school of 3,000 students, 60 may carry weapons, posing an enormous risk to their classmates.
Last year at Success Academy Charter Schools, which I founded in New York City in 2006, we suspended 11% of the 7,000 students in our 22 schools, a rate higher than the 4% average for the city’s district schools. Yet strict discipline has not dissuaded parents. This year there were more than 20,000 student applications for 2,688 spots. Most of the students’ families are from disadvantaged communities where district schools are often chaotic and children do not learn.
Some critics of discipline associate it with a regimented and joyless school. But at Success Academy schools we have found that when rules are clearly established and are fairly and consistently enforced, the learning environment is purposeful and joyful. That is very important to parents—far more so than the possibility that their own child may miss a few days of school for misbehaving.
Some people find the idea of suspending young children particularly problematic. But armchair critics often have very naive ideas about some of the behavior of young children. We’ve had third-graders offer to perform sexual acts on their teachers and fellow students using language that you’d be shocked to hear on HBO. Try explaining to the churchgoing mother of a young girl why the child who propositioned her daughter in graphic language is back at school the very next day.
Discipline also helps prepare students for the real world. In that world, when you assault your co-worker or curse out your boss, you don’t get a “restorative circle,” you get fired.
Mayor de Blasio’s proposed disciplinary code is a step in the wrong direction. Lax discipline won’t strike a blow for civil rights. Instead it will perpetuate the real civil-rights violation—the woeful failure to educate the vast majority of the city’s minority children and prepare them for life’s challenges. In New York City, 143,000 children, 96% of them minorities, are trapped in failing schools where less than one in 10 students passes state exams. Anyone who wants students to succeed in life should focus on better education, not on more lax discipline.
Ms. Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools.