An Illustration of a Problem in K-12

Occasional OTBer Chris Lawrence notes the following via his FB feed from The Telegraph (in Macon, GA):  Teachers: Frustrations over student discipline widespread

Some Bibb County public school teachers say discipline problems have become so widespread that teachers feel victimized twice — once by disruptive students who go unpunished, and again by the administrators who blame teachers.

[…]

Some of them expressed fear of being fired if central office administrators learned that they had discussed this pressure.

One staff member said there had been implied threats to revoke teaching certifications for those who were unable to deal with discipline problems “using alternative methods,” the report stated.

In some cases, teachers have said they even felt they would be blamed for violence against them.

Nova Bruss, who retired this summer from Westside High School, said, “We were told if a student tried to leave your classroom, not to stand in the door because if they pushed you out of the way, that was your fault.”

Or if a teacher tried to confiscate a student’s cell phone “and they opposed you physically, that would be your fault,” she said.

[…]

Georgia law expressly gives teachers the authority to remove a student from class who “repeatedly and substantially interferes” with a teacher’s ability to teach. The law states, “Each school principal shall fully support the authority of every teacher in his or her school to remove a student from the classroom.”

But some teachers say the law is not being carried out in Bibb County.

Bruss said she felt that when two assistant principals at Westside tried to start the last school year with high standards for student behavior, they got in trouble for having “too many” students in in-school suspension or disciplinary hearings.

The striking thing here is that perhaps the most important contribution that the administrators in a school can provide to the overall educational mission of a school is to deal with problem students.  However, if the administrators are either unwilling or unable to do so, then they are failing the teachers and the students.  The problem is that discipline is hard, and so the pressure is to push the problem down onto the classroom teachers.  Of course, in so doing, the other students suffer.  Every minute used to discipline other kids in the class is a minute not being used for instruction.

Now, one cannot make a blanket statement about all K-12 in terms of whether administration is failing on this count.  However, I think this case does provide an illustration of a key issue for those wanting to understand an aspect of the problem in universal education.

Note, too, that problems like this are lessened in a private school setting (or, even magnet schools in a public system) because such schools do not have to tolerate problem children.  As such, vouchers don’t, ultimately, solve the problem.

FILED UNDER: Education, Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. As such, vouchers don’t, ultimately, solve the problem.

    Well, except for the parents who can get their children out of a dysfunctional public school and, of course, their children.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    Well, except for the parents who can get their children out of a dysfunctional public school and, of course, their children.

    So rather than trying to fix said public school, it’s much better for those who can to flee and leave that school as a dumping ground for whoever is left…nice plan…

  3. @Doug Mataconis: Well, actually no. If the method of creating discipline in a school is as noted above, then a voucher does not solve that problem. You are assuming that a voucher system means that only “good” kids will go to the “good” schools.

    If I have a “bad” kid and a voucher and I send him to school X, and at school X the principle refuses to let the teachers send my kid to him/her for discipline, then the same problem above accrues.

    How does a voucher system solve that problem?

    Also, the “problem” that I am addressing here is the problem of universal education. Vouchers, like private schools, magnet programs, and the like solve the problems of individual students, but do not solve the problem of the overall system.

    I have some experience with this, by the way, as I have three public school teachers in my immediate family and two kids in private schools and one in a magnet program. Part of the reason one of my kids is in a private school is because of the lack of ability to maintain adequate discipline at the school he would attend.

  4. @An Interested Party:

    So rather than trying to fix said public school, it’s much better for those who can to flee and leave that school as a dumping ground for whoever is left

    This is the problem. The idea of choice and vouchers is appealing (as noted above, I spend a good bit of money on tuition). However, the underlying result of vouchers is to hope to create good schools and bad school and assume that the good parents will figure out to send their good kids to the good school and then the leftovers get the bad school. (Of course, that is not what gets talked about. The focus, instead, is on how parents upset with the current system can get their kids into the good schools).

  5. If parents have the ability to take their children out of failing schools and put them in schools where discipline is taken more seriously, then that is a net win for both parent and child.

  6. @Doug Mataconis:

    If parents have the ability to take their children out of failing schools and put them in schools where discipline is taken more seriously, then that is a net win for both parent and child.

    Sure, this is true (assuming that the other choices are, in fact, better. I find, again through experience, that things are rarely so binary when you move your kids from school to school).

    Still, this approach ignore another rather important and more macro-level approach: seek to fix the discipline problem. While it is impossible to eliminate challenging children, it is possible to change the way that they are dealt with.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Vouchers? Would private school accept these dysfunctional children?

  8. @Doug Mataconis: In other words, there is a difference between fixing the problem just for me, and fixing the problem.

    Trust me: I am far more focused, as a parent, on fixing my children’s problem and spend more time every day so engaged than one might imagine.

    However, education policy is more than just what happens to my children, and education will be important to this country long after my kids are not longer in school. Basic issues like citizenship and economic growth are dependent on good schools. As such, we have to look at the macro level problems.

  9. MstrB says:

    Fed policy on the role of race on discipline doesn’t help either. link

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Around here, disciplinary problems are slowly addressed, but ultimately expelled. Its expensive because the studens still are required to receive an education, so they get tutors 1-2 hours a day (though the tutors count drive time). Many feel that this “punishment” is actually a “reward” because they get most of the days to themselves.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    @al-Ameda: For a true marketplace to exist, the same basic rules would need to apply to public and private schools; if they don’t its simply crony capitalism, a device for private enterprise and religious institutions to get public money without the public responsibility.

  12. @PD Shaw: The problem is (and why I have soured on vouchers) that it is impossible to have both a “true marketplace” and universal education.

  13. mattb says:

    @SJ:

    Note, too, that problems like this are lessened in a private school setting (or, even magnet schools in a public system) because such schools do not have to tolerate problem children.

    Actually, these issues are really only lessened in the most elite of private schools — the ones with rock solid endowments.

    I have a friend who teaches is a top tier Jesuit boys school in the area, and while the problems might not be the same as inner city schools in our neck of the woods, they have nearly the same amount of discipline problems as suburban schools (in some cases more).

    In part the reason for this is that their operating budgets are largely dependent on tuition and maintain good relationships with affluent parents. And problem children are often kept in order to keep the money coming in.

    Granted they do eventually cut bait — and sooner than public schools. But things are still very disruptive for teachers and oft times the administrator comes down on the side of the paying parent.

  14. @mattb:

    And problem children are often kept in order to keep the money coming in.

    This is certainly true.

    However, private schools still have the option, as you note, to cut these kids loose. The public schools simply do not and the dynamic is telling (and it is one that I have seen in action).

    Things like magnet schools are especially illustrative of what vouchers might look like: demand is higher than supply and so the schools can pretty much set the rules about who stays and who goes. Don’t like something? Won’t behave? Adios. Now, this creates great schools for the kids in the school (who qualify, behave, and maybe won a lottery to get in) but that model won’t serve the entire system.

  15. sam says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The problem is (and why I have soured on vouchers) that it is impossible to have both a “true marketplace” and universal education.

    The cynic in me thinks that is the real reason behind the voucher movement.

  16. TastyBits says:

    Schools are businesses. When there are too many vouchers, new schools will be opened, and existing schools will be expanded. As long as there is a steady stream of revenue, somebody will try to capture it. As noted by several other commenters, a healthy donation to the “building fund” seems to offset bad behavior.

    Vouchers also allow the government access into private schools. It baffles me why the anti-voucher crowd has not realized this, and the private schools will begin to resemble public schools.

    Fixing the discipline problems in public schools is the answer, but few people want to tackle the problem. These schools are usually located in the worst areas of town, and the problems inside the school are a reflection of the problems outside the school. Many of these problems are caused by the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty. Blah, blah blah. I get tired of sounding like a broken record.

    The other problem is that most people pontificating on the problems in these areas have little or no experience with them. Most parents want the best for their children, and that includes parents of problem children. The issues in these communities will not be solved by throwing money at them or the “pull oneself by one’s bootstraps” advice. Blah, blah blah. Again, I get tired of sounding like a broken record.

  17. Carson says:

    It’s the same situation around here and probably most places: teachers and principals are not backed up when it comes to dealing with discipline issues. It seems that principals are afraid to have too many suspensions on their record, maybe they think it makes them or the school look bad, or they are worried about legal issues from the ACLU or something like that. Be that as it may, something needs to be done. The principals and teachers must be given authority to remove violent, disruptive, and disrespectful repeat troublemakers immediately without having to go through a bureaucratic maze to do so. Teachers are intimidated by students and parents: nothing is done. When I was in school, the principal sent the troublemakers home right then and there (their parents took care of them too), the second time they were out for good. Our school had few problems and students were safe. No wonder many school systems are losing good teachers and principals right and left. The schools do have a written no tolerance policy toward misbehavior, violence, sexual harassment, and bullying. Yet if the principals and teachers take action, the administration hangs them out to dry. Parents are not held accountable, teachers get all the blame. Talk to any teacher – they’ll tell you what is really going on. I would like to see some opinions from principals and teachers here about this.

  18. @TastyBits:

    Schools are businesses.

    You proceed from a false premise, and therefore your reasoning is faulty.

    Schools are not businesses. They do not exist to make profits. Further, one it is established that everyone will receive a set minimum level of education you cannot treat it like a business.

  19. @TastyBits: In fairness, I do not disagree with your entire post.

    However, I will also note a different spin on something else:

    Vouchers also allow the government access into private schools. It baffles me why the anti-voucher crowd has not realized this

    I think it is more telling that the pro-voucher side seems not to understand this dimension. If we go full voucher in the context of a government mandated then, by definition, the government will have a lot more say over the structure and conduct of private schools. You cannot have truly private and independent schools if they accept public monies via vouchers.

  20. anjin-san says:

    except for the parents who can get their children out of a dysfunctional public school

    Ah, so there are no problems in private schools. A few years back, there was an incident at an elite private school up the road. The heads of several girls were photoshopped onto the bodies from nude porn photos. The images were widely distributed among students.

    The guilty kids were quickly identified and expelled.

    The parents hired attorneys and prepared to sue the school. The school quickly caved, and the guilty parties ended up with a slap on the wrist. Message recieved: “you don’t have to follow the rules, especially if your parents have money & infulence.”

    Yes, the magical free enterprise ponies solve all problems.

  21. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    Schools are not businesses. They do not exist to make profits. …

    Private schools are non-profit organizations if you like. They have a bottom line. Private schools compete for students, and they are subject to a similar dynamic as any business.

    Public schools try to maximize the government money they receive, and they are similar to a similar dynamic as any company doing business with the government.

    There are differences, but there are fewer differences than many realize. The days of the Dominican Sisters or Christian Brothers providing an education to poorer children is mostly gone.

    … Further, one it is established that everyone will receive a set minimum level of education you cannot treat it like a business.

    It is established that everyone will receive a set minimum level of cleanliness at food establishments, and they are treated as a business. Furthermore, it is a lot harder to choose who will be accepted as a diner.

  22. cfpete says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Dr. Taylor,
    I suggest you watch this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J5AoK23rP0
    and rethink your views on “universal education” accordingly.

    You will never achieve an equal outcome for all kids in public school, but you may render worse outcomes for all by trying. If you have a solution to this problem, I suggest you offer it.
    Otherwise, you are just some old white guy criticizing those who could not save every person from drowning on a sinking ship.

  23. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    I think it is more telling that the pro-voucher side seems not to understand this dimension. …

    You are correct, but I think the pro-voucher is more apt to disregard this. Some of the pro-voucher crowd wants to get reimbursed for their private education costs, but they also do not understand how private schools operate.

  24. Septimius says:

    Obviously, we just need more time (and money) and we can fix bad schools. The good kids who want to learn but are stuck in bad schools because their parents can’t afford private school need to suck it up. They can always take comfort in the fact that they didn’t abandon the public schools. So what if they are stuck working menial jobs for the rest of their lives. Their sacrifice will ensure that no unionized public school teacher will ever lose their job.

  25. @cfpete:

    You will never achieve an equal outcome for all kids in public school, but you may render worse outcomes for all by trying

    I am, by no means, suggesting that you can achieve equal outcomes for all kids in public schools.

    That is not what “universal education” means–what that means is simply the notion that every child of the appropriate age will be provided access to a K-12 education.

    I work in education and, as I noted above, I have three immediate family members who are/were public school teachers (along with experience in private schools). I am well aware of the challenges and the limitations.

  26. @TastyBits:

    There are differences, but there are fewer differences than many realize.

    The differences are quite vast, in fact. I work for a public university.

    The days of the Dominican Sisters or Christian Brothers providing an education to poorer children is mostly gone.

    I am not sure, exactly, what you are getting at here. I am no speaking of charity, but of universal-access public education.

    It is established that everyone will receive a set minimum level of cleanliness at food establishments, and they are treated as a business.

    Establishing food safety standards is not the same thing as providing everyone a daily meal.

  27. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Their sacrifice will ensure that no unionized public school teacher will ever lose their job

    And we return to blaming the teachers. Ah, the gravy train upon which they ride!

    What about the non-union public school teachers. Are they ok?

  28. cfpete says:

    @anjin-san:
    Oh my god!!!!!!!!!
    Did they call out the National Guard to fix this photo-shopping problem.
    Kids OD’ing in the bathroom is one thing, but photo-shopping someone’s head on another person’s body – Damn!!!!!!

    Students do share similar photos. I only wish they were photo-shopped.

  29. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    The differences are quite vast, in fact. I work for a public university.

    I was not including higher education, but those institutions also compete for dollars which are generated by students. The colleges and departments sell curriculum with little difference from any other business.

    Vouchers are a method of using private grammar and high schools to achieve a universal-access public education, but the proponents assume that market forces will affect private and public schools through competition. Market forces will affect private and public schools, but the effects will not be those the pro and anti crowds argue over.

  30. @TastyBits:

    I was not including higher education, but those institutions also compete for dollars which are generated by students. The colleges and departments sell curriculum with little difference from any other business.

    The fact that there is competition for dollars does not mean that things work as they do for a business. Businesses are in the business, if you will excuse the expression, of making profits. Schools aren’t.

    Further, your local business is not charged by the state to provide a specific good, schools are (especially K-12). These difference matter.

    These differences matter significantly.

  31. @TastyBits: You cannot have a true market in education if you are also going to provide universal access.

    Consider also: from a business standpoint alone, all schools need to be “profitable” is to have enough students. A bad school will be just fine in that context if it can attract enough students–which it might do because of a) location, b) bad choices by parents, and/or c) not enough slots at the better schools.

    Just because everyone wants to go to Best High School Ever does not mean that there is enough room at BHSE. As such, the surplus students have to go somewhere.

  32. Septimius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I’ve never heard of a non-union public school district. While they may be a few around the country, I would bet that they are only a tiny fraction of all school districts. And, yes, I do blame the teachers unions for opposing school choice initiatives. Who else has been a bigger impediment to school choice?

  33. Ron Beasley says:

    The schools are getting a bum rap here. Garbage in garbage out – many parents simply quit parenting about 30 years ago. It was my generation – the boomers. Their children since they weren’t parented didn’t know how to do it either. My wife and I did parent our two boys and often ended up with a houseful of their friends who actually wanted some parenting. And note, we lived in an upper middle class suburb and some of the non parenters were actually school teachers.

  34. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    The worst students will not be dumped onto the public schools. Additional schools will be opened, and the BHSE will expand to take in more students. As long as the government pays for these students, they will be dumped onto private schools.

    Market forces will be at work, but both sides miscalculate how these forces will work.

    Vouchers will not solve the problems unless they are limited, but that leaves the government “choosing winners and losers”. Universal vouchers will transfer the problems to the private schools, but they will provide a revenue stream from the government to a private entity. The pro-crowd crowd are usually opposed to both of these.

  35. al-Ameda says:

    To me the voucher idea presents potential problems.

    If a private school is at capacity, and it has a waiting list of parents who want their kids to attend that school, then how is a voucher system going to create an opening for those children? Is the idea that the voucher will create an incentive for new private schools to open?

    Also, say that a private school has an annual tuition cost of $10,000, and a taxpayer is provided a voucher in the amount of $10,000 for their child. (1) Why wouldn’t the private school increase the tuition to $15,000 or $20,000 in order to keep receiving the $10,000 from current parents, and realize additional monies for their reserves or other school purposes? (2) Wouldn’t the existence of the voucher serve as an incentive for private schools to increase their tuition?

  36. @al-Ameda:

    (2) Wouldn’t the existence of the voucher serve as an incentive for private schools to increase their tuition?

    Just look at the way college tution has skyrockets in tandem with government subsidies of higher education. Of course, do you think that we should end federal student aid on that basis? If it’s worth the unintended consequences in the college space, why not in the K-12 space?

  37. al-Ameda says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Just look at the way college tution has skyrockets in tandem with government subsidies of higher education. Of course, do you think that we should end federal student aid on that basis? If it’s worth the unintended consequences in the college space, why not in the K-12 space?

    It’s a reason I think people are deluding themselves if they think that somehow, their problem kids are going top accepted into private schools, or that the voucher is going to make those school affordable to those parents.

  38. An Interested Party says:

    It is always amusing whenever anyone want to solely or mostly blame teachers for bad schools…as if bad parents and/or bad neighborhoods have absolutely nothing to do with failing schools…are there bad teachers? Of course there are…but are they the reason that schools are failing in areas with high poverty, high drug use, and a lack of stable homes with competent parents? Of course it is understandable why some would want to blame teachers as that fits in with the whole meme about how awful the government and unions are…

  39. JKB says:

    The object of this post is why we have bad schools. The lack of discipline enforcement. If we wish universal access, with forced attendance then we must enforce discipline against those who would be disruptive. But how? It is certainly unlikely corporal punishment will be renewed. We now have, all the way from the presidential level, the push for punishment based on race, more for whites and Asians, less for blacks. So in reality, there is no solution since if disciplinary measures are applied to objective actions, the losers in the educational community, especially those who don’t actually teach, run back to their progressive roots crying discrimination.

    Vouchers do not solve the whole problem of universal education. But we are discussing people’s lives here, a one shot deal, during their childhood. The vouchers permit sorting so that those that can be saved, can save themselves. Of course, that undermines the Progressive plan for education where the talented are mixed with the poor students in some misguided believe that all will rise to the highest when any experience with reality tells us, that all decline to the lowest common denominator.

    If you want to fix universal education, the solution is strict discipline to high standards with help for those who stumble. But that is not possible in our current society. On the upside, the Khan Academy is rediscovering a method of teaching that will permit the more committed students to possibly survive public education in better shape. By flipping the classroom, they remove the teacher as the sole focus and easy to disrupt to coach who helps kids working independently or in groups. Such a set up could employ a teacher and bouncers thus keeping the teacher on task and better students can stay focused on their learning as the disruptive students can’t bring instruction to a halt.

  40. @JKB:

    corporal punishment

    bouncers

    Because if we could only hit and manhandle the students, then education would be saved.

  41. Dave Schuler says:

    Clearly, there have been major changes over the last half century or so. Among them are the attitudes of people towards schools and the division of roles and responsibilities. Seventy years ago when my mom started teaching in the public schools if a kid presented a discipline problem parents invariably sided with teachers and administrators in resolving the situation. Nowadays parents much more frequently side with their children against the teachers and administrators, even taking them to court.

    Rather than bickering about whether the schools are dysfunctional, it might be more productive to consider the reasons that conditions and attitudes about discipline have changed and how those might be improved.

  42. TastyBits says:

    @al-Ameda

    To me the voucher idea presents potential problems.

    I agree, but not the problems usually put forth.

    The proponents usually cite competition as a reason to implement a voucher program. This competition is supposed to force public schools to improve quality. This is flawed. Unless there is only one private school, there is competition among existing private schools. As you noted, one outcome would be to allow some private schools to increase their total price. (There are numerous fees in addition to tuition.) Inserting the government into this market would cause distortions, and the proponents usually are against this.

    In larger communities, there are several private schools, and among these there is one or two elite schools (BHSE). These schools compete amongst themselves with little competition from the lower tier schools. This competition is for the wealthiest and/or best students. The next tier schools compete against public schools also. All private schools need money to operate, and this money comes mainly from students, but there may be limited government funds and alumni donations.

    Private schools like to have the best they can have with the funds they can generate. Libraries, drama theater, computer lab, sports facilities, flowers, and walkways are a few of the things private schools want more and better. Public schools are the same, but they have other means to raise those funds.

    The opponents usually cite dumping the worst students onto the public schools, but this is also flawed. If government money is available, somebody will try to get it. New schools will be created, and existing schools will be expanded. Many schools use trailers as temporary or overflow classrooms, and a new/expanded school would use these also. Some private school would be willing to accept the worst students as long as the tuition was being paid.

    There are many other problems associated with a universal voucher system. I would expect the medicaid and future universal healthcare system to follow a similar pattern.

  43. Carson says:

    @Septimius: The state that I live in does not allow teacher unions. While there are teachers’ associations, they have no “bargaining rights” and any sort of strike is not allowed. These associations are mainly to lobby and support with professional liability insurance. They also sponsor workshops and other education efforts. Their main power comes through influence at election time. They have had moderate success influencing legislators to improve salaries and benefits, depending on the economy. That is about the only leverage teachers have in our state – their vote. Most of the time they are at the complete mercy of the legislators. Some teachers do not like political activities, but I remember a principal tell our staff long ago that “every aspect of your job is determined by politics and politicians, even the amount of construction paper the school gets each year.”

  44. @Dave Schuler:

    it be more productive to consider the reasons that conditions and attitudes about discipline have changed and how those might be improved.

    Indeed and this is really what I am trying to note in this post. A place that can be addressed is in-school discipline and the relationship between administrators, teachers, and problem students.

    Just insisting that the teachers fix it without help is a recipe for disaster.

  45. TastyBits says:

    @JKB:

    … corporal punishment …

    … bouncers …

    I cannot tell if you are endorsing this or not.

    In order for discipline to be effective, it must be swift, certain, and just. Swift is obvious. Certain means that the consequences are known and applied. Just means that the rules are applied to everyone. The consequences can be on an increasing scale, and they do not need to be harsh. Corporal punishment does not need to be included.

    Discipline does need to be subjective. The circumstances of each case needs to be evaluated. There needs to be an established process for appeal, but this process needs to include negative consequences for frivolous appeals. This does not violate discipline being certain. Certain is only applicable once a violation has been established.


    … The vouchers permit sorting so that those that can be saved, can save themselves. …

    The worst performing schools tend to be in the worst areas of a city, and they tend to be poorer. Many of the parents will not have the means to send their child across town to school. Public schools provide subsidized meals, books, supplies, and more things that are not at a private school.

    Vouchers do not solve the whole problem of universal education. …

    Vouchers will introduce additional problems. (see earlier post)

    If you want to fix universal education, the solution is strict discipline to high standards with help for those who stumble. But that is not possible in our current society. …

    I agree, but vouchers are not the solution. They may be able to provide a bridge to a solution, but the downside probably outweighs the upside.

    This is not a full discussion of any of these topics.

  46. TastyBits says:

    @Dave Schuler
    09-09-2012, 11:51am (cdt)

    I agree.

    @Steven L. Taylor
    09-09-2012 12:33pm (cdt)

    I agree.

    Regarding vouchers, I agree that they are not the solution, but I philosophically disagree with your reason.

  47. @Steven L. Taylor:

    Because if we could only hit and manhandle the students, then education would be saved.

    While I’m not suggesting to the time where corporal punishment was routine in schools, at some point discipline must be backed by the threat of physical force. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of cooperation of the student being disciplined. You can send them out of class, but only if they agree to leave. You can suspend them, but only if they agree to stay home.

    If you’re not ready to talk about where the line is that we’re going to use force to make children behave, then you’re not actually advocating improved discipline. You’re just another person wringing their hands demanding something be done while refusing the let anyone do anything.

  48. Just Me says:

    Seventy years ago when my mom started teaching in the public schools if a kid presented a discipline problem parents invariably sided with teachers and administrators in resolving the situation.

    I think this is a core problem. This isn’t so much about corporal punishment but united front.

    When I was in school back in the 70’s and 80’s, if I got in trouble at school, I knew I would be in trouble at home and that my parents would back up the school’s discipline. My parents and my teachers were a united front who both intended to hold me accountable for both my behavior at school and my work.

    This united front is no longer united. Parents and teachers are no longer viewed by children as united in their goals, and when kids perceive a less than united front, they are going to manipulate when and where they can.

    I also think schools often lack creativity in discipline. Back when I was in school a detention wasn’t essentially a group of kids gathered in a room for an hour after school. My school made students work (washing desks, scraping gum off desks, cleaning blackboards, trash cans and other stuff). My school never used corporal punishment, and classroom behavior was rarely a problem and when it was it was more of a one off event than a regular thing.

    I do think one issue with out of control classrooms is that generally a small number of students create an environment where the majority of students can’t or have difficult learning.

  49. Carson says:

    @Just Me: One school system was the object of a lawsuit because a student was required to clean the restroom after throwing wet paper towels on the walls and floors.
    Some of the best schools in the country are inner city. They have been given the authority to deal with problems without interference from the administration, lawyers or courts. They are allowed to make their rules and standards.

  50. anjin-san says:

    @ cfpete

    Ah, so there are no drug problems at private schools?

    What color is the sky in your world?

  51. bill says:

    @al-Ameda: well they may not already know them to be “dysfunctional” on arrival. one huge thing that private schools have is they can and will discipline kids. and parent that are paying schools directly seem to make sure their kids aren’t out of control. private schools can still toss those who won’t abide too, something public schools are weary of doing. public schools have been turned into “free babysitting” or “day care” centers in many places, they enjoy the federal money too much.

  52. Rob in CT says:

    I’m in agreement with those who suggest that parent’s reaction to school discipline is a major problem. I hear this from teacher friends. They get no backup. Administrators don’t want to back them up. Parents are convinced that their little angel did no wrong. Result: it’s a losing battle.

    As for this:

    I’ve never heard of a non-union public school district

    Wow. I thought it was common knowledge that entire states were non-union. South Carolina. Georgia. Texas? I tried to google up a map, but didn’t find one.

    public schools are weary of doing. public schools have been turned into “free babysitting” or “day care” centers in many places, they enjoy the federal money too much.

    bill – public schools aren’t supposed to just “toss” bad students, which is why they’re wary of doing so. That is, in fact, one of their big handicaps. They don’t get to select the best students and reject the worst, they way private schools do. They have to try and educate everyone. That’s what Steven is talking about when he says “universal education.” And I guarantee you that many schools would willing trade federal money for the ability to boot their worst students (this would not, in my opinion, reflect terribly well on those schools, but I sympathize).

    With regard to vouchers… I’m pretty neutral on them. While I see the same downsides that others point out (take out the best kids and what’s left? That’s a recipe for guaranteed failure for already struggling public schools), frankly what’s the difference between that and the sorting the parents already do when they buy a home in a good school district (paying more to do so)? Vouchers expand this effect by allowing an “in” for people who couldn’t afford the house in the nice district.

    When my wife and I moved in 2007, we looked at a number of towns that shared many characteristics. Relatively rural towns with large plots of land available. In the end, though, we chose to buy into a town with very good schools, instead of a couple of nearby towns with so-so schools.

    From a macro perspective, this type of sorting is bad. But of course, when thinking about my daughter, I want her in the best school and to hell with the macro effect. There is a limit to anyone’s altruism, and I’d guess the vast majority of people are past that limit when it comes to their own kids.

    That’s the problem in a nutshell. Vouchers are just another manifestation.

  53. TastyBits says:

    @bill

    Private schools have bills to pay, and the more elite schools usually have larger bills. Private schools do not toss out students willy-nilly. Furthermore, the more money the school is short for operating or capital expenses, the more bad behavior they will tolerate. There is a maximum threshold they will tolerate, but public schools have one also.

  54. @TastyBits: It is true that private schools will tolerate difficult children for the sake of tuition.

    However, and this is key, the private schools are under no legal obligation to education a given child. However, the public schools are. They cannot, save in the gravest of situations, totally remove a student from their district. Indeed, even if a problem child cannot be handled within a given school, the district can be made to pay for that child to be educated elsewhere. This is a very different dynamic.

  55. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    Yes, private schools have the ability to expel a student, but the decision to expel a student is not as simple as is often portrayed. Students expelled from one private school are usually accepted by another. They are rarely dumped onto the public school system. The reason is money, and who pays that money is usually not an issue. I am aware that there are exceptions.

    This is a component of improved discipline, but it is not a major component. The major components are the discipline process – swift, certain, and just. In the private schools these are more aligned than in the public schools. This is due to the administration, principles, teachers, parents, students, etc. – the usual suspects. In public schools, there is a serious breakdown in the discipline process, and hence the problems.

    The solution requires correctly identifying the cause of the problem. If the cause is the inability to expel problem students, the solution would be enhanced expulsion ability be a school. The problem students can be sent to problem student schools, and these schools can use a more effective discipline program – “boot camp” like.

    I predict the result will be more problem student schools are needed, and they will be the majority. Vouchers are not the answer, and the public school problems will be transported to the private schools.

    Troubled schools are usually in troubled communities, and increasing discipline in the public schools requires increasing discipline in the public. It requires a more detailed discussion, and this will require tossing some cherished beliefs onto the trash heap. This is applicable to all sides, and hopefully, nobody feels slighted.

  56. @TastyBits:

    Yes, private schools have the ability to expel a student, but the decision to expel a student is not as simple as is often portrayed

    I am not suggesting that it is easy or even common.

    I am pointing out that there is a profound difference between being legally bound to provide an education to a problem child (the public schools) and not having to do so (private schools).

    There is also a self-selection issue here that is related: almost by definition if one is in a private school, one has a fairly involved parent, which makes the discipline situation different.

  57. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    There is also a self-selection issue here that is related: almost by definition if one is in a private school, one has a fairly involved parent, which makes the discipline situation different.

    This is why the voucher argument is worthless. This is a major component of the problem, and it will be a major component of the solution. War on Drugs, War on Poverty, blah, blah, blah said the broken record.

    Troubled parents of troubled students in troubled schools in troubled communities want their children to succeed, and they are neither lazy nor helpless victims.