Classroom Discipline: Who Decides (and how)?

On the heels of the issue of disproportionality of discipline in SPS, comes this op-ed from SPS teacher, Dan Magill.

Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5244, approved by the Senate last week, would reduce the number of days students can be excluded from school due to discipline.

Do those in favor of the bill understand how damaging just one incorrigible student can be to a classroom? I’m not arguing against this bill necessarily, only providing an informed perspective lawmakers would be wise not to ignore. 

We must be careful about overemphasizing the needs of the few students who have already demonstrated their antipathy toward their own education. The other students have needs, too.
No one wants students to be suspended or expelled. No one wants people to go to jail, either. Sometimes, that’s the only option that remains. 

This is another instance of the school system being asked to solve a problem that is not ours to solve. Our attempts to solve it cost millions of dollars and countless hours.

He's right.  We continue in this country to expect education to solve everything at the schoolhouse door.  Poverty, single-parent challenges, immigrant challenges - all these influence our schools.  

He gives an example of one (anonymous) student who seems to have worn his patience thin.  You have to wonder about what the other students are thinking when this goes on.  As well, if teachers are responsible for outcomes in their classrooms and are stymied by a couple of students, you can imagine their worry.

He's very, very tough in his thinking:

What do schools do with students like this?

We have meetings with administration. Talks with other teachers and parents. Dialogues with special-education experts, nurses, counselors, mental-health specialists and tutors. We have full-time employees devoted just to them, the bottom 5 percent. 

At my school, we usually send work home during longer suspensions. In 12 years, I have never had a student do any of it.

We live in a country filled to the brim with resources for learning, both in and out of the school building. A time must come when the right to a free education is lost. We don’t owe them any more than we are wearing ourselves thin already giving them. 

Looking at the bill, I see a lot of effort that will need to be made by school districts.  Fine but where's the money for what is to needs to be done to meet these new requirements.

Also, it seems that no matter how often I read 1240, I miss/forget something.  This is one thing:

Nothing in this section prevents formation of a charter school whose mission is to offer a specialized learning environment and services for particular groups of students, such as at-risk students, students with disabilities, or students who pose such severe disciplinary problems that they warrant a specific educational program. Nothing in this section prevents formation of a charter school organized around a special emphasis, theme, or concept as stated in the school's application and charter contract.



Anonymous said…
Well, I hope this guy gets fired. Yes, of course schools can, and do remove and expel students ALL THE TIME. Since that happens and happens frequently, what's the problem? ??? Sounds like this guy doesn't even know that kids actually DO get suspended and expelled. There's a HUGE discrepancy in suspension rate at various secondary schools. Aki - a whopping 18% of students get suspended/excluded. McClure, 14%. And well, Nova - somewhere close to 0%. Sounds like a tolerance issue. Why should Nova students get off scot free for behavior that would get you kicked out of Aki? Ever been to Nova? The behavior would knock your socks off... yet they manage not to exclude students with the ineffective discipline of exclusion.

And then to this comment: Dialogues with special-education experts, nurses, counselors, mental-health specialists and tutors. We have full-time employees devoted just to them, the bottom 5 percent.

By what measure "the bottom 5%"? Is he saying the "bottom 5%", as measured by him, aren't worth it? Sounds like that to me. Sounds like he'd like the expelled before they even try. And why limit suspension to bad behavior? Why not suspend the bottom 5% of, oh say, readers, or bottom 5% of math? Wouldn't that also make his job a lot easier?

What about the "bottom 5%" of teachers? Should they likewise get the axe? He'd be the first to run to the union. Let's hope this op-ed gets him canned. I'd never want somebody like that for my kid. At least now we know who he is. I'll request a different class.

Anonymous said…
One other thing. Duh! There are already mechanisms for:

Nothing [..] prevents formation of a charter school whose mission is to offer a specialized learning environment and services for particular groups of students, such as at-risk students, students with disabilities, or students who pose such severe disciplinary problems that they warrant a specific educational program.

If a student poses "such a big, disciplinary problem", the district ALREADY has the mechanism for a specific educational program. Most specifically, a completely out of control student will qualify for special education under the: Emotionally and Behaviorally Disabled category. Then, he (it's always a he) will be eligible for a "range of alternate placements", which includes existing self-contained classrooms for behavior AND out of district placement.

If a student really needs that - it's ALREADY available. And no, charters won't do it. Can you imagine a charter devoted to that? Or anybody willingly signing up for it? I can't.

Bottom line, there are already alternate placement available for students with behavioral disabilities. The district resists using out of district placements because of cost. Charters won't change that, nor could they be mandatory. (which is why they won't exist)

Anonymous said…
holy cow!!!
i love the bomb-throwing rhetoric, hopefully school discipline will get some fresh air blowing on it. the district, as I tell my daughter, is in the social control business, educate in behavior and skills. these kids are trouble and disrupt and that shouldn't adversely affect others, yet the schools are there to mitigate the future problems. courts, jails, prisons, crime, anti-social behavior; they all cost a lot more in the long run. Yes, we need better ways to deal with these kids, and that's what we should be looking at. I tend to think of these kids as special needs and deserving of extra attention and money. That said, learning for the other students must not be impaired.
Let's try to help all students.

mirmac1 said…
"I think much of the underlying issue is poverty, as well as single-parent households," said Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell. He said students who live in poorer households tend to receive more disciplinary actions "perhaps because the long hours of the working poor leave them less time to get involved in their children's education."

What a %^#(@!&! Right, behavior, and the consequences meted out by our district, are tied to poverty and single moms. Deny the bias that he and Teacher Dan barely contain. Bottom 5%, my word! And in Magill's land of opportunity, isn't there a point where rights should just be denied, there's not enough to go around?
"Can you imagine a charter devoted to that?"

Actually, a guy showed up at the Board of Ed meeting who runs a military-style charter in Oregon that serves just those kids and yes, he wants to open one here.

Hmm, do I think behavior issues are all special needs issues? I don't and I think it isn't a good idea to think that way simply because special education is for those who have a recognized issue.

"Learning for other students must not be impaired."

Okay, then, what to do? It is very hard to know a class your child is in is being disrupted by one or two students and feel helpless about it.
Jet City mom said…
Michael DeBell is an ass.
I dont see that the study linked income & behavior.
Are you telling me only low income students behave immaturely, or cause disruptions?
Only low income kids act out?

Ive taken a workshop by Felice Yeskel a few years ago. Highly recommended.
Ms Yeskel is sadly not with us anymore, but i expect their are other trainers who could help Seattle to get their shi+ together.
Anonymous said…
I think he has a good point, though it's an impossible problem. I agree the kids he means are not at fault for the circumstances which often exacerbate behavioral problems. But neither are the other 25 kids, and their education is not allowed to progress because of the disruption. I would like to see us focus a little more on the ability of a classroom to move forward (those other 25 kids). But I don't have a good solution for those behavior problem kids- expelling them just sends them to jail. Maybe higher staffed self contained rooms, with incredibly fluidity? I want kids who are motivated to be able to access education, and right now that's not possible in many schools too often, even "good" schools, and that's not fair either. More differentiation of classes?

Jet City mom said…
A district with a high drop out rate has failed its children.

There should be in school suspensions & transition/ alternative schools, for students who need more structure/support than in a comprehensive high school.

Its practical as it will save money in the long run but more importantly its the right thing to do.
Anonymous said…
I remember alt high school in my district, voc they called it, for vocational. It was for problem kids. Why not use more of that and less suspending? And, give kids a way to come back to theopir regular school. As far as special needs, APP kids are special needs by definition, why not disrupters?
As far as the racial dimension, I would like to see the breakdown by income of suspensions.

Anonymous said…
Well now!

What IS the discipline disproportionality situation for African American students at Franklin High School where Magill teaches? It sounds like he thinks his students have special needs. What is the disproportionality situation for students receiving special ed services who have the misfortune to be in MaGill's orbit?

It sounds like this educator is burnt out and upset. It sounds like he never had a single training or a single supervision in his entire professional career. I am a teacher. If I have a problem I get advice. I get a mentor. I fix the problem. The challenges he describes are easily resolved. What is this guy's story? What his is principal's story? What is his principal's supervisor's story?

I HOPE SPS looks at this OpEd and then concludes that it is no wonder that OCR is investigating prejudice.

Teacher Chris
Anonymous said…
P.S from teacher Chris ... a shout out to Seattle Pubic Schools: when are you going to get a grip on your principals?

Signed, teacher chris?
Anonymous said…
No h. APP is not special education... it may fall under some umbrella or nebulous "special needs"... but "special ed" it AIN'T. Special ed is defined by IDEA, the Individuals with Disability Education Act. Period.

And yes Melissa. EBD or BD, "behaviorally disordered" or "behaviorally disabled" ARE INDEED federally recognized categories of disability. Students with BD or EBD - must be given IEPs. So, if a student has such persistant, awful, over the top behavior, then BY DEFINITION it is a disability. And, as a student with a disability, the student is entitled to a "range of alternate placements", including special programs, special classes, and out of district placement. He WILL be excluded for uncontrollable behavior. Those are simply the facts.

If a student ISN'T identified as "behaviorally disordered", then the behavior isn't really that bad... is it? And if it isn't that bad, then why doesn't this teacher get off his duff and do his job? (instead of complaining and blaming the student)

Behavioral disabilities are identified in children whose behavior prevents them from functioning successfully in educational settings, putting either themselves or their peers in danger, and preventing them from participating fully in the general education program. The Behavioral Disabilities fall into two categories: Conduct Disorders and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

From the DSM-IV, Conduct Disorder:
The essential feature of conduct disorder is a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder:
•Often loses temper
•Often argues with adults
•Often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult's requests or rules
•Often deliberately annoys people
•Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
•Is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
•Is often angry and resentful
•Is often spiteful or vindictive.

So... it sounds like the kid really wasn't that bad - or he would have been alternately placed to begin with.

Unknown said…

Generally students with conduct disorders do not quality for special education programs, supports, or services. The reason for this is that through assessment and interview, most students with conduct disorders can be proven to choose to act this way. And if students with conduct disorders choose to act this way, they can choose not to act this way. Special education programs are services given to students that have no choice in the way that they act, or have no choice in the condition or way that they were born or became. Therefore, more often than not, students with conduct disorders are found ineligible for special educational support and services.
Unknown said…
Regarding Director Michael Bell's comments in today's Times:

I think the fact that Director Bell chose to make a statement like this,"I think much of the underlying issue is poverty, as well as single-parent households" is most unfortunate. While his view may be widely held by those who have not spent much time delving into the issue, the fact of the matter is that it is a far more complex issue than he or others would like to admit, and simply passing blame onto families is irresponsible. This emphasis on individual socioeconomic disadvantage is but a distraction to the larger issues of the historical structural inequities in education which only replicate the same inequities.

If Director Bell would chose to educate himself before he blurts out misinformation, as would typically behoove someone who is sitting on school board, much could be gained.

Here is a good source of reading material for those who are interested:
Unknown said…
Teacher Chris,
I looked at the data for Franklin.

It actually as a fairly low rate of exclusionary discipline. Overall, as compared to other high schools, SPS official demographic data puts suspensions at a count of 63 or 4.6% of average enrollment, placing it at the 4th lowest out of the 12 high schools in terms of exclusionary discipline.

My records, however, indicate a count of 75 suspensions last year. Of those 75 incidents, 32 (42%) involved students with identified disabilities. Considering that Franklin only has 9% special ed students, that is significant disproportionality. Race-wise, disproportionality is also present. Franklin High School has 29% African American students but a whopping 56 of the 75 suspensions (for 75% of the suspensions) were for African American students. I'd say that's disproportionality.

Jan said…
To me, this has issues that are much the same as the issues with principals and teachers -- just as there are a few (but not very many) cases where a teacher is truly not teaching well (serious burnout, depression, other undiagnosed mental illness, PTSS from any number of things that can cause it, etc.), there are a few (but very few) kids who cannot be reached, under any circumstances, by regular classroom teachers. A few may qualify under behavioral diagnoses, but others may have a variety of other things going on -- PTSS, depression, bipolar disorder, sensory integration difficulties, significant disruptions in homes, loss or prolonged absence of a parent, undiagnosed learning disabilities, etc. etc. etc.

We need to figure out solutions for kids who make it impossible for a teacher to teach in a classroom. But we do ourselves a disservice by concentrating on these few, and ignoring the huge number of kids suspended or expelled for -- dress code violations, unexcused absences or tardies, real or perceived "sassing" of teachers or administrators, chewing their peanutbutter sandwiches into a shape that might be mistaken for a gun, coming to school with teensy one-inch plastic GI Joe guns left in their backpacks by mistake from an overnight trip, -- and the list goes on. THIS discussion is all about how to prevent suspension/expulsion -- but how many other discussions on "serious" matters (bullying, guns in schools, misbehavior on buses or playgrounds, etc.) have parents and other adults shaking their fists and demanding that these kids be expelled! THAT'LL teach 'em!

Just like good teachers (including those who are not perfect but who are genuinely working hard and generally doing well) need protection against principals whose "tool box" for behavior management seems to consist of bad evaluations, PIPs, and pink slips, kids need protection from teachers and administrators who find it far easier to just suspend/expel them than to come up with answers that are less harsh and more in keeping with the idea that all of these kids need to be taken care of.

Along with race, I would like to see the breakdown of suspensions/expulsions by gender -- as it has been my experience that far more boys are sent home for being [loud, wiggly, disruptive, distractible, etc.] than girls -- but maybe I am wrong on that.
Anonymous said…
Will somebody ensure that the unconscionable disproportionality stats at Franklin high school reach the board and supt???

mirmac1 said…
Reader, in fact the superintendent's Special Education Advisory and Advocacy Council will present him with a position paper on disproportionate discipline. The statistics at schools like Franklin will be cited.

Then SEAAC will stay on it until the district responds.
Charlie Mas said…
The Seattle Times continues to beat the drum on school discipline with a column by Jerry Large.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
40 students per general education classroom at McClure are the result of a principal and counselor who can not figure out how to balance anything. Clearly they do not believe smaller class sizes help anyone, or they would not arrange the schedules so that there are classes of 40 students.

another parent
Anonymous said…
yes, another parent. the mcclure situation is a principal problem. what DO these education directors do? it's a principal problem that has been going on a while.

another reader too
Eric B said…
For Reader and anyone else who wants to get something in front of the Superintendent and Board:

Regular Board Director community meetings are publicized here as well.

Please don't assume that anyone here is more influential than you in bringing something to the Board. If you care about it, speak up!
Anonymous said…
I tutor regularly at a SPS middle school. I am often working one on one with the class ‘trouble-makers’. What I notice first is that most middle school kids are often inappropriate when judged by adult behavior standards. Their emotions are all over the place and always exaggerated, they laugh too loudly, they are constantly measuring their behavior by the reactions they get from their peers then adjusting & trying again, they are easily embarrassed or hurt or angered, they say all the wrong things, they are easily distracted. I think that all these things are developmentally appropriate & very hard on teachers who need to get the whole class focused on absorbing a specific amount of academic material all at the same time, all in the same way.

Often I work with kids who are not participating in a productive way in the classroom. What I find are kids who feel like they cannot succeed even when they try. (And of course they don’t always try.) They are so hurt that they build up defensive walls & ensure their own failure because they don’t believe they can succeed. They believe they are going to be punished or marked down for something no matter how much they try. They will never have a clean slate. I listen a lot. I use every opportunity to help a child feel successful & valued. They are so happy to have attention. (Surprise) They want to tell me what they think & how they work best & what they can do next. I adjust to their abilities to interact & I don’t ding them because of where they are, we just start there & every success is good. Sometimes it takes multiple tries & approaches to reach a success whether academic or behavioral. That is ok, maybe I make the goals smaller so that they reach one more often. We talk about their personal strengths & how they can use those to their advantage in a school setting. They are amazingly productive when they are given the support they need to succeed. They are much better behaved when they have more adult attention, feel like they are liked by those in authority, & know that they will have second chances. I think our kids need more adults & more individualization in the system if we are really going to educate all kids. They don’t need for us to give up on them.

-SPS tutor
Tutor, bless you for your work and your great attitude. I tutored middle school kids and found the same things you did.

I think we do need to reach out to those kids who are exhibiting behaviors that are hurting their academic progress. BUT, there are some kids who don't listen, even with one-on-one attention. If they are given supports and STILL make bad choices, they need to be gone from the regular classroom.

A lot of other kids suffer in silence because a couple of kids won't listen. It's just not fair.

Be willing to help and to listen but at some level, the kid is going to have to make that decision about what he/she is going to do and no one else can make it for them.
Anonymous said…
Wait, if some special ed designations are behavioral, doesn't it make sense (indeed isn't it almost necessary) that more behavioral discipline will be headed that direction?

I tutor at a middle school, too, and I think the problem is large class sizes. A teacher can handle a disruptive kid or two out of say, 20, but large class sizes will necessarily mean more, and more than even an excellent teacher can handle, just numbers wise, unless you track, which causes disproportionality problems that special ed families do not like. There are plenty of borderline kids whose behavior would not rise to the level of an IEP, and if they're the only one in the class with those issues, it's no big deal. But at 40 kids in a class, there are too many of these kids, bored, frustrated, acting out, getting more bored and frustrated because the class is moving slowly or is over their heads- vicious cycle.

I really don't think the teachers are the problem. I have been in several absolutely excellent teachers' classes who were just given an impossible task. Not all kids are able to be managed in a group setting, even if they wouldn't qualify for special services. Each time I saw this I felt terrible for the rest of the kids who really were trying and wanted to learn, but who got zero attention and help because the teacher's attention gets sucked to the couple kids who don't really want to be there.

I still don't know what to do about it. But I don't like it.

mirmac1 said…
SPS Tutor,

Thank you for embodying positive behavioral supports!

: )
Anonymous said…
I don't tutor, but am a middle school parent and this is the best description ever of middle-school-ness. And something I needed to read, and will read over and over again.

What I notice first is that most middle school kids are often inappropriate when judged by adult behavior standards. Their emotions are all over the place and always exaggerated, they laugh too loudly, they are constantly measuring their behavior by the reactions they get from their peers then adjusting & trying again, they are easily embarrassed or hurt or angered, they say all the wrong things, they are easily distracted. I think that all these things are developmentally appropriate & very hard on teachers who need to get the whole class focused on absorbing a specific amount of academic material all at the same time, all in the same way.

I'm printing it out and putting it on my mirror.

and, thanks for tutoring.

-middle school mom
Catherine said…
@SPS tutor...
Do you see any correlation between learning disability tendencies and the disruptive classroom behavior? I think I do.... I don't have a huge sample size, but it's pretty consistent. They act out to get out of class before anyone can see them fail so miserably because they can't read or understand the material. It's a coping thing, that I think we enable with our discipline policies.
Anonymous said…
Wise words indeed tutor. As to 40 kids to a classroom at McClure, is that the rule or the exception? Hard to find 20 kids per kindergarten class these days much less a MS classroom. Look to the really expensive private schools for that or smaller religious co-op schools and don't think they dont' have some "bad" boys and girls too.

I've noticed since NSAP kicked in and Magnolia and QA kids are not longer able to choose Whitman, Hamilton, or Washington, McClure is in the hotseat for comments, especially its principal and some staff. Sometime pretty nasty stuff. And not just on this blog. What's with that?

Jenny said…
As apparent who has spent a little time at McClure, I can only say I am very happy. The diversity is way down with theNSAP, but it has a autism program which draws from farther away and has an African American principal and VP as well as some teachers. The principal is outstanding and I think the kids, mine included, currently going through McClure are getting as good as SPS has to offer. As a small MS, it lacks many of the classes a larger school would have, but it really mixes up the kids who are there well and the respect they have for each other and the administration is impressive. I really can't think of a rational reason to trash the school. The one bone to pick would be SpEd, which is a problem everywhere. The autism program definitely sensitizes students, but non-autistic SpEd kids are still marginalized, from what I've heard. Of course, this isn't a McClure problem, it's a society problem, and there are miles to go within this school and every school in the district. I know JA is considered more friendly to disabled kids and I'd like to see McClure be more attractive to these students, but I would not lay that on the principal. I just don't know enough about her relations with that parent community. As usual, stigma is an issue and that is a tougher nut to crack for adults than children, in my experience, and I think the SpEd staff there, that I know, is very, very good with all the kids.
No school is perfect, but McClure is doing good things and deserves credit for them.
Dan said…
I appreciate some of your comments regarding my column. But every time this happens, I am amazed by the unfounded conclusion people draw.

For example: the implication I must be burnt out and a lousy teacher. Then please explain how 15/24 of my AP students passed the AP chemistry exam last year. Yeah, that's pretty lousy. It only beats the national average.

And please explain how my students consistently get back to me after heading to college and talk about how helpful it was in my class, and how well it prepared them.

So, please stop accusing me of stuff you know nothing about.

Secondly, the main point of this column was not to say we should "give up" on struggling student. I never even implied that. The main point of the column is to question how many resources should be devoted to students like this.

I am asking a question most people refuse to ask: Where is the line? At what point have students run out of opportunties for a free education?

I personally think 18 is a very arbritrary age.

And did you miss the part about how much effort we put into students like Rheece before they get suspended? All the meetings, the emails, the phone calls home--there was tons and tons of effort put in to try to help this student (and the others in the class). I could document the hours and hours I spent trying to help them outside of class.

And they still dropped out and went to other schools.

So don't tell me I don't care. And don't tell me I don't try very hard to help all my students succeed.

And again, it's ALL my student. Not just these who monopolize the class and bring down the level of education for the other students.

Am I an expert in classroom management? No. Am I terrible? Far from it. I am what I call relatively average. And in a world that functioned based on respect, desire to learn, and reason, this would be enough.

In our world...
Thanks Dan for weighing in.

Everyone should walk a mile (for a week) in a teacher's shoes.
mirmac1 said…
If these children (under 18) are not in school, then where are they?

Should we spend the money building more juvies?

Unknown said…

Thanks for writing your op-ed and your piece here today. Your opinion is very valid.

I think it is a very good time to look at some of the issues you raise, and I also think it is a good time to admit that although exclusionary discipline may remove disruptive kids from the classroom, it doesn't teach them new behaviors or actually change their behavior in the long term.

One of the things that is clear to me is that these kids and these teachers needs better supports for positive options having to do with supporting the behaviors we all want.

My hope is that the District moves to a model of positive behavior interventions and support which would support both gen ed students and special ed students to reduce problem behaviors.

Anonymous said…
For example: the implication I must be burnt out and a lousy teacher. Then please explain how 15/24 of my AP students passed the AP chemistry exam last year. Yeah, that's pretty lousy. It only beats the national average.

Gee Dan, you have star students taking AP chemistry, in a class that's literally at 2/3 capacity, and you're able to get around half of them to pass the test. ??? How is that the bottom 5% sucking everyone else dry?

Did you notice? Your advanced class is NOT FULL? The pricetag for having classes at 66% capacity is that OTHER students with significant needs do not get what they need.

Far from the "lower 5%" sucking out all the resources, as you claimed, you highlight that it is actually the other way around. They are under resourced. Clearingly sending a bunch of emails didn't work. Clearly you need to do more. It's not the number of hours - it's what you do.

And, the whole idea that a student "brings down" the education, just the language you use - shows a profound disrespect for some of your students. Just the idea that resources should be funneled to the top (for the kids you like to teach) instead of to the the "bottom 5%" that you don't... also shows lack of compassion, drive, and curiousity for those who need you the most. Unfortunately for you, we need school to be for ALL the students not just the AP chemistry students.

Anonymous said…
Dear Parent at 1:31,

Chemistry is a LAB science; the Council of Science teachers a few years ago found that Lab Classes with more than 24 students present a potentially dangerous situation.

The fact that WA State has among the largest average class sizes in the nation..... does not mean that a Chem Class should have 35 students in it.

-- Dan Dempsey
Lake Union said…
Dan, you are doing a great service by bringing this issue to light. You sound like a person who calls it like it is. These kids, the disrupters, need help, but the system is not working well when many, many other students suffer and resources are drained that could be used more efficiently. ALL kids should be served equally well. Some may cost more and that is appropriate, but the system for these type of kids and for Sped kids is not working well. For that matter, it doesn't work well for gifted kids either. The district has that responsibility and they need to address it. Thank you for making noise and don't listen to the trash talkers, you make an easy target.
As far as where too draw the line and what to do with these kids, I c,an only pray there are smarter people than us working on it and people downtown looking at ways to improve the situation. Classroom management is a great skill and if you are only average, you are still a superman min my book. I've spent enough time volunteering to know what you're up against and I admire anyone who can do your job.
mirmac1 said…
Staff surveys consistently rate the McClure principal significantly lower than the district average. She has one the highest numbers of labor grievances of any principal. The school has a high rate of teacher turnover. Connect the dots.
Anonymous said…
I am sure he teaches other classes.

But he's saying he is able to get information into willing minds. It's what to do with the less willing minds, especially once their behavior crosses over into keeping other kids from being able to learn.

I think it is hard to have this conversation about all grades at once. How long I want to keep an elementary school kid in class while they are being disruptive(infinite chances- they are a little kid) is a different number than a junior in high school(less- those other juniors are running out of time to get an education). Middle school is the toughest area for me because the struggling kids are still pretty much little kids, but I care more if the other kids have to miss half a year of science because a few too many goofballs are bored.

I do think, though, that it would be nice if we could talk about the effects on other students while we think about different forms of discipline. I never see that. I see no exclusionary discipline, and honestly I wince- so there is going to be no way for anyone to be able to do anything about the kid who keeps throwing balled up paper at my daughter day after day(hypothetical based on real events)? I get that he's bored and has a hard life at home, but he's got the whole class at his mercy, and reaching him is going to take a very long time. It's a complicated thing. Shouldn't the other kids get to learn during that time? We have to have some tools to be able to get control of the class back. I also think it is reasonable to instead of just think about the perfect form of discipline for struggling kids to thing about whether the allocation of resources is fair, especially as the kids get older, and whether perhaps spending all our energy on kids who don't buy into the academic project is fair to the kids who DO want to be there and try hard. That doesn't mean the struggling kids don't deserve more- of course they do. They all deserve more, but the thing is that that includes the kids who are being made to put their education on hold while we go through the lengthy perfect process for the struggling kids.

What if we had a class on classroom behavior for kids who were being disruptive? A real one, not just a holding pen; that would get them out of the class but maybe still learning something and reaching them. Maybe include some sociology; that can be pretty interesting.

Anonymous said…
well merimac,
connecting dots is a risky and challenging task. Maybe labor grievances, low ratings and high turnover mean we have a principal who manages her staff closely, reprimands poor work from them and is happy to see the deadwood leave. My kid goes to school and it is great and the principal is as well.

Anonymous said…
Chemistry is a LAB science; the Council of Science teachers a few years ago found that Lab Classes with more than 24 students present a potentially dangerous situation.

Lots of people have found all sorts of things about ideal teacher student ratio's. The fact is - high schools are funded for general ed ratio's of 32:1, and at somewhat higher in a small school. When you have a chemistry class at 24:1... somebody else is eating it. Another kid will be in a class of 40. And then, we see the discipline problem. And then we complain that the kid is taking too many resources. Respect starts with a respectful teacher, and that isn't somebody who is wondering "how much is too much?" etc.

-parent X
Anonymous said…

The principal at McClure had a 23% approval rating from her staff. Bottom line, they hate her, and it shows in the school. She had a big round of grievances for the 7 period day a couple years ago, that nobody wanted, which resulted in 40 kid classes, and ridiculously large case loads for teachers. That's not "closely managing your staff." The old "I'm just cleaning house and getting rid of the duds" is pretty tired. She's had 7 years to "clean house", it should be squeaky clean by now and filled with staff she can work with. Unfortunately, the school is a revolving door for teachers. They can't all be bad. At some point, you have to work with people.

-been there
Anonymous said…
Great op ed! I think you posed some great questions that are always glossed over. For those of you who don't know, the AP Chem test is probably the 2nd most difficult AP exam. 15/24 is a phenomenal pass rate.

To all of you bleeding hearts out there. Dan wrote from the position of a high school teacher. Do not apply an elementary or middle school mindset to his claims. Part of elementary school is to teach children how to be students. What is expected of them, and what are the norms of a classroom? Middle school teaches students how to be a high school student. Note taking, studying skills, participating in class, etc. A high school student has been given all the tools they need to succeed in high school.

I've seen a lot of talk about discipline problems as a special ed issue. Most students with disabilities are not any more of a discipline problem than the average student. To say that misbehavior is the result of a disorder is insulting to students with disabilities, and just makes an excuse for bad behavior. Now that student does not have be accountable for their behavior because it's the disability's fault, not theirs.

And, then there is the cliched the student is acting out for attention. That needs to stop. Nothing can substitute for parental attention, so stop trying to burden a school with that responsibility. I understand that not everyone was blessed with the perfect home life, but that does not justify creating a poor learning environment for other students.

Let's say that once a week, "Rheece" causes a disruption that interrupts class for 10 minutes. Over the course of an 18 week semester "Rheece" has stolen 3 hours of class time; just over half a week of instruction time, from every child in that class. Not only is "Rheece" stealing time, but he then consuming resources from all of the specialists whom Dan stated. Those specialists could be helping students apply to jobs/college, treating the children who bottle up their pain, or any number of other proactive avenues.

-Another Stat
Anonymous said…
Golly we got the hate crew out today. McClure principal rates about 65% vs. about 70% district average on leadership for 2012. Look it up.
And the attacks on Dan, give me a break. Everybody wants to help these kids, but in a way that lets others keep learning. Fire him? I pray he stays and more will speak out like him. We will all be the better for it.

Anonymous said…
Dan puts his name out there, and this "parent" snipes from the hills. Dear "parent" - YOU are why teachers won't and don't discuss the issues Dan is bringing forward.

Who has time to deal with people like you?

Speaking of this reality called "time" - did "parent" read and understand any of "SPS tutor" at 3/11/13, 9:36 AM?

SPS tutor, bless his or her heart, spends a lot of 1 on 1 time with individual class disruptive students. How many disruptive students can SPS tutor manage a class period, a day?

Has parent ever had a class with 3 or 7 class wrecking disruptive students, out of 24 or 34? How about 2 or more of those classes a day?

Teachers won't and don't bother bringing forward these issues because they'll have to suffer the slings and arrows of Leave It To Beaver arm chair critics, and, more importantly, NO ONE invests the time to figure out realistic, sustainable solutions.

As far as I'm concerned, in all of the over 5000 of the classes I've been in front of, in EVERY class more than 1/2 the kids WANT to learn - and then there are the disruptive students for a million reasons, and then there are the "parent" types blaming teachers instead of working on fixes for the broken system.

Another parent said…
The biggest barrier to learning at my child's middle school is behavioral issues. These kids aren't poor or handicapped. There is a group mentality to pick on the teacher and it gets really old.

Happily Teaching Elsewhere said…
My previous comment was deleted on this thread. I'm pretty sure it was because I used a curse word in an anecdote I presented about my time teaching at McClure Middle School: a student boldly called me a b.... when I asked her to stop painting her nails in the middle of my social studies class. The consequence for her? Nothing. I find it very interesting that the word was so wildly inappropriate that my comment had to be deleted from this forum, however, when it was spewed from the mouth of a 13-year-old student in a classroom full of 35 other kids, it was okay. The best decision I ever made for myself, my career, and my sanity was leaving SPS, which is too bad for SPS kids because I'm actually really good at my job and I really enjoy working with middle school kids, awkward stage in life and all. When are people going to wake up and notice that it's the effective teachers who are leaving, fleeing in some cases from my experiences at McClure, due to huge problems that are blatantly ignored?
mirmac1 said…
I don't think anyone would fault my credentials when it comes to defending teachers.

I firmly believe the onus on negative disciplinary practice lies with administrators. And I KNOW that many administrators fault teachers for seeking HELP with difficult students.

At the same time, I have also heard from many teachers who, like SPS tutor, know what works best with many difficult students. I have also heard about many students perceived as "different", and were branded as "violent" when others would have otherwise received a slap on the wrist.

The matter requires close scrutiny and support for students and teachers. Administrators at my school have matters under control but at others it is an entirely different matter.
Seattle Teacher said…
Another stat, you nailed so many good points. You clearly have a solid grasp of the realities.

As for further misguided uninformed assumptions about my AP class that you know nothing about, here's more context you don't have:

-My first year teaching that particular class, there were 35 students (way too many for AP). The next year 28. The only reason there are fewer this year is because we offered a third AP science class (physics) for the first time, which diluted the numbers a bit in the others. Those darned facts....

-In the past and/or currently, I have taught 9th grade science, remedial science, and math at all levels from Pre-algebra to Pre-calculus.

I've been in some of the hardest classes and some of the "easiest." But when we say "easy," that's not really accurate, because what's easier in terms of behavior is much harder in terms of grading, because the vast majority of students in those classes actually do the work, and they do it more frequently.

So grading, assessing, planning, and all the other work takes much longer.

I am sorry you are so upset about this, parent, but this is the reality of teaching. I don't have time to sit down and have half-hour counseling sessions with all my troubled students every day.

No doubt, you are also in those crowds who think teachers should be evaluated on test scores. (I'll admit, it's my own assumption, but you fit the bill).

So, you get angry that we don't spend all waking hours helping every single student, even the ones who cuss us out and destroy the class environment, but then if we do help those students which causes our test scores to go down, you say we're "ineffective."

All I have to say is this: Even Superman can only talk to one kid at a time.
(But you're still waiting for it seems)
Happy Teaching, if you were deleted, you either signed anonymously or you used the word on other person (neither allowed here). If you are explaining an incident, no problem but you must always use a moniker here.
Anonymous said…
I can relate to Happy Teaching, I am a former SPS elementary level teacher who failed the evaluation system and was ousted from the district. I had multiple severe behavior kiddos (who had in school and out of school suspension) along with a few run-of-the-mill-sometimes-naughty-kids. I had chairs thrown at me, was screamed at, hit and kicked, among other things. When I went to my admin for help (on top of utilizing suggestions from my mentor and other coworkers, attending classes and reading books) admin shrugged her shoulders at me and told me that I didn't know what I was doing so they couldn't help. When it came down to it, it was far easier for my admin to give me a horrible evaluation than to actually work with me to give my kids the support they needed.
I got to move on to a new place, I still worry about "my kids."
Anonymous said…
Ok Seattle Teacher. Let's get the straight. You have to work harder for the "easy classes" because you actually teach, plan, grade/assess for those "easy" kids. ???? (the ones you like teaching, the already privileged ones) BUT, you don't do that for the other kids. eg. The worthless ones you gave up on. Well, that pretty much says it all. And that brings us right back to civil rights investigation of inappropriate disproportionate exclusionary discipline.

Just Wow.

Anonymous said…
OK, as a mom I need to give an example of what some teachers are up against.
Many years ago, my daughter was in 2nd grade with a wonderful, veteran teacher who was wholeheartedly committed to teaching and bringing every single one of her kids up to standard by the end of the year. At the same time, she was great at challenging kids who were academically ahead. She also was skilled at dealing with difficult kids. One student with emotional difficulties, who had graduated from her class, was often sent back down to her class by his 4th grade teacher when his new teacher couldn't calm his outbursts. He would proceed to sit calmly by her desk and do his work.
A new boy was put in her class, one who had been expelled from another SPS school (2nd grade!). He was smart and could be charming, but had many problems. He would not stop hitting and pinching other students, he defecated on a kindergartener's lunch box and sprayed pee all over the staff bathroom after a visit with the principal. He also brought a copy of Grand Theft Auto (an M-rated video game) to school to show off. In the course of the year he got suspended from the library, from the lunchroom, from recess, from the school bus, etc.
Meanwhile, his mother and grandmother would come to school and insist that their boy was actually an angel and was just getting picked on (then how would they explain his having an M-rated video game?).
The teacher was justifiably proud of not having had to suspend him herself (although she understood why everyone else needed to), but she was so exasperated over his effect on the rest of the class and her inability to reach him, on top of dealing with his irresponsible and complaining guardians. Since this teacher had a huge heart for her students, she genuinely wished she could reach him and help him change, but she couldn't.
At the end of the year, the family was told that if he came back, he would be sent to a behavioral class at another school. He didn't come back.
There are some kids that need way more help than the schools can provide, especially when their parents sabotage any good efforts. We can't blame the teachers for not being superhuman.
Mom of 2
Anonymous said…
Just Wow at 8:57 -

Your reading and writing skills are amazing!

Look at the big words you strung together!

"civil rights investigation of inappropriate disproportionate exclusionary discipline."

Too bad you weren't able to comprehend that teachers who are spending lots of minutes which add up to hours with YOUR out of control over indulged brat are NOT able to teach as much as they could to the other 90%++ of kids who actually want to learn.

Someday human societies will figure out how to allocate resources - people like bill gates and his billionaire buddies will have enough wealth to live easily, if they invented something useful. They won't have enough wealth to corrupt everything to their benefit. People like you, who are takers and takers and takers ... will be doing something useful?

mirmac1 said…
"YOUR out of control over indulged brat"

Hmmm, I'm seriously questioning my blind support of all teachers. I see a pattern in teacher comments on this thread that disturbs the hell out of me. This civil rights investigation will disclose bias and inequity and, one would hope, educate administrators and teachers about alternatives to exclusionary discipline. Hey look at that. I can string together big words too.
Unknown said…
I don't think that insulting teachers or insulting other commenters here is a useful contribution to this discussion. For example, I don't agree with Mr. Magill that expelling students is the answer to the problem of disruptive kids.And I really don't care for his characterization of these kids as the "bottom 5%." But I think, as a teacher of these kids, he has a very valid opinion.

I happen to be the mother of a kid with disabilities. Just as it would be easy to tag a teacher as bigoted, it would be easy to tag my kid as lazy, or to tag me as irresponsible. The fact of the matter is that these generalizations are really not valid nor are they helpful. What happens in a classroom may somewhat be under the control of the teacher and the student, but it would be ignorant to ignore the larger societal causes. When Mr. Magill says he has tried to reach these kids, I believe him. And like, him, I share the frustration of devoting enormous resources with just one kid who often shows little motivation, and little improvement over the short term. But I don't give up. The cost to the individual child of the loss of a basic education is very high. And the cost to society is even greater.

He's right, one teacher does not have the resources by him or herself to deal with the multiple layers of a kid with behavioral issues. But there are other solutions to these problems besides kicking the kids out. And the school district is the entity that needs to look at them. And with whatever solutions are proposed, there needs to be the supports in place for the teachers and the students to ensure meaningful change.
mirmac1 said…
As always Mary, the voice of reason. : )
Anonymous said…
Your opinion may change as your child ages into high school. The basic assumption of our secondary education is that it's perfectly OK to leave some students behind, or to exclude them. Special education? That's more of an option than a requirement. (Mr. Magill already mentions that "Rheece" received special education.) It is the child who is at fault, he believes. There isn't the obligation to meet a kid where he is. And, whatever your child's elementary experience was, your secondary one will be a whole lot more punitive. So, when you read teachers complaining about "devoting too much, for too long, to those pesky kids in the bottom 5%, who already have special education experts", you'll know what it means. It means they already do have resources beyond themselves; they aren't "going it alone." It means they don't want to teach your kid, and they want to garner support for that exclusion and discrimination with extreme op-eds in the newspaper targeted at audiences who also don't care about your kid.

Unknown said…
You must know me and my kid! I actually fear putting my kid into middle school year next year for the reasons you voice.

But as much as a fear the status quo, I also know that things HAVE to change. Whether my kid will benefit is another question.

Unknown said…
Here is a nice graphic featuring the statistics at Franklin High School.

Keep in mind that Franklin High School has a fairly low rate of suspensions.

Even so, the disproportionality is off the charts! Of the 75 suspensions at Franklin High School last year, all but 7 can be accounted for by race of African American, disability status or both. Yowza!
mirmac1 said…
Cool infogram Mary!
Anonymous said…
Our educational system is a factory. It is set up to use one kind of raw material to make one kind of product. If you don’t fit the mold because you are above grade level, or differently abled, or from a different culture, well too bad for you. Teachers have no choice, they have too many kids, to little planning time & too little training to truly reach the huge variations of humanity that come to them to be educated. Parents are also not equipped to shape every child into the correct material to succeed in school. We may like to think that is because times have changed & parents are not doing their job. But in fact the change is that we are now trying to educate every child, even the ones that parents are not able to prepare to fit the mold & teachers are not able to cram into the mold once they get them. The factory model doesn’t work when you can’t discard the rejects.

When my Dad was in school he was told to go sit in the back of the class because he was too stupid to learn. Not by one teacher but by years worth of teachers. He was dyslexic. That was in the 30’s. Want to guess what he taught me about respecting teachers? He taught me that real learning doesn’t happen in school & teachers should only get the respect that they earn from you, like everyone else. So when my son started to fail in school I asked for testing for disabilities. I was told by several years worth of teachers that my son was failing because he was lazy & non compliant. If he would just do what he was told, then he would learn what he was suppose to learn. Outside testing showed that my son was in the 0.01 percentile in his area of learning disability. Guess things haven’t changed that much. So I tell my son, that real learning happens at home, try not to make trouble for the teacher because sucking up is a life skill & respect must be earned.

The system needs to change if we want to reach every kid.

-Another generation of bad parenting
Anonymous said…
Another Gen,

Great analogy above. SPS makes widgets. It is a less than impressive system. That is why I voted for charters. Hoping a better widget factory can be built. It is sad and depressing factory.

Long gone
CS said…
The bottom line -- students are responsible for their own behaviors -- not the parents, not single parent families, not learning disabilities, not racial or economic inequality, not the schools. The acting out student knows what they are doing is wrong. Especially middle and high school students.

Making excuses for bad behavior sets up a situation where the student in question is able to sit back and watch others scramble and run in circles to take on what he/she should be responsible for. We are doing a huge disservice to at-risk students by enabling and reinforcing their disruptive behavior.

I am a parent of one of those students. I only saw the behavior change when I stopped listening to excuses, blaming teachers, searching for reasons, how to fix it, the right school/program, tutoring, therapy, etc. and allowed my teen to fail and face some serious consequences. It has been the most valuable learning experience in my teen's life and mine.

My teen is back on track and may or may not graduate, is attending school and is no longer a distraction in class. Regardless of graduation, that's a success. I know that there are other options for high school completion such as GED programs and Community College CEO programs (for 16-21 year olds paid for by public school funds).

Many of you will see this post as harsh but dealing with a strong, defiant, acting-out teen requires allowing them to fail and face serious consequences for their behavior. Sometimes suspending or expelling a student is a very appropriate consequence. The next level of public intervention may appropriately be the juvenile justice system.
Another point of view said…

No need to assault Teacher Dan. I applaud his courage and honesty.

Does anyone remember the juvenile sex offender that assaulted the 16 year old developmentally student at Roosevelt? The state puts juvenile sex offenders back into the schools and expects teachers to monitor these kids.

Teachers can not be all things to all kids. Teachers need support and they don't get it.
CS said…
In the examiner article it says: "...there's a detailed assessment done, agreement about an appropriate placement of the student, and safety and behavior plans".

Obviously the placement was not appropriate. That's where the gaping whole is. We have very few programs for appropriate placement unless the family has substantial funds for an out-of-state program for at-risk teens. So, they put them back in the already over extended public schools and hope things don't go bad.
Anonymous said…
I appreciate the conversations above.

Dan Magill and the postings above don't talk mention those cases when 2 - 3 students get in trouble for the *same* offense. However, when the parents of one of the kids bring in lawyers or threaten to do so, that particular student will most likely get less time than his friends--or have the disciplinary action rescinded. Administrators and District brass are afraid of lawsuits.
More often than not, we see the students of color and/or working class white kids that get the shaft unless they know how to work the system. These are the students with families who tend not dispute what it was that their kid did.

This reality still sometimes exists in 2013, same as when I was a student in SPS back in the day.

--Old School Music
Anonymous said…
CS, Another-Viewpoint, did you even read the article on the rape at Roosevelt?

From your article:
Yes, the school was notified; the district was not. We did not receive that information at central office. What happens when we receive that information at central office (is) there's a detailed assessment done, agreement about an appropriate placement of the student, and safety and behavior plans

Got that? The district was NOT NOTIFIED, so no appropriate placement decisions could be made. Why didn't the school notify the district? Wouldn't it be a simple thing, "Hey Director So-And-So, We got a sex offender assigned showing up tomorrow." ??? A school, on its own, does not make placement decisions - for anyone. And yes, alternate placements are indeed available. You have to follow the process. That's the most bothersome thing - school staff thinking the process is not for them.

CS said…
Exactly, as I said, it was obviously not an appropriate placement. And, yes, why didn't the appropriate school administration notify the district? By law, aren't they allowed to notify the appropriate administration staff or seek counsel from the district? So, only the individual schools are notified. It's still the Seattle Public Schools responsibility to put in place how this sort of situation should be handled by individual schools. In this case, school staff thinking the process is not for them was not only bothersome, it put others in danger. Again, it's the school district's responsibility to ensure that procedures are in place and that they are followed.
CS said…
Exactly, as I said, it was obviously not an appropriate placement. And, yes, why didn't the appropriate school administration notify the district? By law, aren't they allowed to notify the appropriate administration staff or seek counsel from the district? So, only the individual schools are notified. It's still the Seattle Public Schools responsibility to put in place how this sort of situation should be handled by individual schools. In this case, school staff thinking the process is not for them was not only bothersome, it put others in danger. Again, it's the school district's responsibility to ensure that procedures are in place and that they are followed.
Another point of view said…
Chill parent. Things go wrong and that is part of the problem Got that? The level of aggression you show is a bit disturbing

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