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.”
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.
Ms. Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools.
Tynetta Megginson and son Storm McCra. Megginson describes her son's disciplinary hearing
as 'an ambush' that led to his expulsion.
Gonzalez: Boy, 9, expelled from Harlem charter school after an 'ambush' disciplinary hearing, mother claims
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 12:25 AM
Third-grader Storm McCraw was expelled from Harlem Success Academy 2 on Friday, after a disciplinary hearing that resembled a kangaroo court.
Prior to the boy’s ouster, administrators from the Success Charter Network had suspended the boy an astonishing 15 times this school year. Among the allegations against him: throwing chairs and books, kicking a principal in the leg, and biting an assistant principal. On Feb. 27, the school even called 911 and had an ambulance take him to Mount Sinai Hospital’s emergency room.
“An ambush” is how the 9-year-old’s mother, Tynetta Megginson, describes the hearing.
Success officials, she claims, have been violating her son’s rights since he failed state reading and math tests last April, prompting them to retain him in third grade for another year.
“It’s sink or swim at Success Academy,” Megginson said. “If you don’t get the lessons, you get ostracized.” She kept resisting pressure to transfer her son out, she said.
The Success network of 32 charter schools, often touted for its high test scores, produces far higher student suspension rates than regular public schools.Network chief Eva Moskowitz has denied allegations her zero-tolerance policy pushes out low-achieving or special needs pupils.
Prior to the boy’s ouster, administrators from the Success Charter Network had suspended the
boy an astonishing 15 times this school year.
“Storm needs immediate help,” Success 2 principal Lavinia MacKall said. “Unfortunately, our efforts
to give him this help were hampered by Ms. Megginson’s refusal, despite our advice, to let us evaluate her son for special services or to meet with us informally to explore an alternative to this expulsion, the first in Success Academy’s history.”
“They never recommended evaluation for special education,” Megginson insisted — not even after they dispatched him to Mount Sinai.
Network spokeswoman Ann Powell acknowledged there is “no written correspondence” to the
parent urging such an assessment.
Megginson also claims the school never provided alternative education to her son — as mandated
by state law — during any of his suspensions.
“For every single suspension, we offer live instruction,” Powell said. “Ms. Megginson never
brought Storm in for alternative instruction.”
This isn’t the first time, though, the network’s policies on suspensions have been questioned.
|Network chief Eva Moskowitz (pictured) has denied allegations her zero-tolerance policy pushes out |
low-achieving or special needs pupils.
A review of Success Academy 2 by the State University of New York in February 2013 noted: “alternative instruction for suspended students was not consistently presented to parents as mandatory. It was unclear that live instruction was consistently provided in accordance with New York’s compulsory education law.”
Then there’s the matter of Friday’s expulsion process. Megginson sought and received two postponements of the hearing after she had trouble finding a lawyer.
She sought a third postponement last week, but the network’s general counsel Emily Kim said she’d first have to attend an informal “resolution” meeting with Kim and Moskowitz.
Megginson instead kept requesting a postponement of the expulsion hearing. So did the attorney she finally hired, Arthur Schwartz, who was unable to attend the Friday hearing.
The school refused one more postponement. At the hearing, two Success attorneys represented the school. Megginson faced them and a handful of Success administrators by herself. She received a list of witnesses 24 hours beforehand, but was provided no written reports to prepare her son’s defense.
The hearing officer, another Success Academy principal, found the boy guilty of all charges and ordered him expelled.
So two weeks before this year’s state reading and math exams — Megginson was frantically trying to find a public school to accept her son.