Saturday, February 5, 2011

TFA Alumnus Describes Barriers to Student Achievement


How My School and District Failed its Students

The following is by Frank Beard, a graduate of Drake University and a former Teach For America corps member (Kansas City ’08). He taught middle school science, social studies, and communication arts in the Kansas City, Missouri School District. 

A large number of this country’s schools are failing its students—but not in the way that many columnists, education reformers, or school experts would have you believe.

From 2008 to 2010, I taught at the middle school level in Kansas City as a Teach For America corps member. But don’t worry, I’m not going rehash Freedom Writers, and I certainly won’t tell one of those sappy “this is why I Teach For America” stories.

Instead, I want to offer some very candid thoughts about why I think my district and school were such abysmal failures.

When people ask me what I believe was the number one barrier to student achievement at my school, I always offer the same answer: the failure of the school and district to address chronically disruptive students. It was a problem created by negligent leaders who willingly allowed a free-for-all environment that was conducive to chaos instead of learning.   
           
I’ll never forget the first day of staff development my second year. During the “welcome back” talk, my principal handed out a sheet which detailed the number of discipline referrals submitted by each teacher the previous year. We were informed that it is wrong to submit a lot of them because discipline is a classroom-management issue and therefore must be addressed within the classroom. Sending students to the office, she said, is simply not acceptable or allowed.

I didn’t think much of that at first. After all, I had just come from an amazing summer school experience in which I had supportive principals, a fantastic assistant principal who liked to hang out in my classroom, and students who were simply a joy to be around. Even though many of my students had received no science instruction at their regular schools (that time was used for extra reading and math test preparation), they were veritable experts on the scientific method at the end of our six weeks. I was continually impressed with their hard work and desire to learn.

Coming from that experience, I ignored my fellow teachers’ warnings that the new year was going to be complete and total chaos. I also ignored the fact that losing our vice principal—who tried his best to be an effective disciplinarian—was sure to affect the school’s climate. Instead, I was excited and ready to teach. The other middle school teachers and I collaborated and developed a student handbook in which we standardized all of our rules, expectations, grading practices, behavior management systems, and other relevant policies and procedures. We were a united front, and our students were going to have a successful year.

Or so I thought.

Everything was great for the first three weeks, but then a few students began testing the limits of what was acceptable behavior. It’s one thing when a student throws a paper ball at his friend, or when someone utters a rude comment. It’s quite another thing when a student tells you that she’ll “crack” your “bitch ass” or demands that you “get the fuck out of [her] face”. Unfortunately, as the students soon discovered, our principal offered no support whatsoever. Nearly ever discipline referral sent to the office was returned with a polite reminder to please contact the students’ parents. Clear and consistent consequences simply did not exist—even though they were mandated by the district’s code of conduct.  

Once that realization spread, the school effectively went from quality to chaos overnight. The following is but a sample of what an average day looked and sounded like:
-         Students standing in the hall and kicking classroom doors for five to ten minutes at a time
-         Students fighting
-         Teachers pelted with paper, pencils, erasers, and rocks whenever they turned their heads
-         Assignments torn up and thrown on the floor the moment they’re passed out
-         Teachers cursed at, threatened, and sometimes even assaulted
-         Classroom supplies vandalized or thrown about the room
-         Groups of students running the halls and showing up to one or two classes at most
-         Constant yelling and shouting from the hallways
-         Gang writing written on the walls with permanent markers
-         Students talking and yelling so loud in the classroom that nobody could hear the teacher

By “students”, I’m of course referring to the 15-25% that were chronically disruptive. The truth is that the overwhelming majority in each class were great kids who came every day ready to learn. Besides being from an impoverished part of town, they were no different than students at any other school.

This wasn’t just a problem at my school. When I spoke with other teachers throughout the district, they told me that the situation at their school was nearly identical to mine. Some of their stories are just as outrageous.

When students are subjected to a toxic environment that prevents learning, all other education concerns—curriculum, standards, integrating technology, etc—become totally irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is something rarely ever addressed in both local and national media. And education reformers—whether from watching Freedom Writers one too many times or just understanding that blaming teachers is politically expedient right now—repeat until they’re red in the face the idea that a teacher with leadership skills and high expectations can fix everything short of the conflict in the Middle East.

So what did our school leaders focus on, if not the toxic atmosphere in the schools? The superintendent—a product of the Broad Superintendents Academy—was concerned mostly with “right-sizing” the district, preparing to implement standards-based learning at pilot schools, and token efforts towards “community involvement”. As for the school board…well, that’s anyone’s guess. I think they were more concerned with political in-fighting and a sudden attempt to appear legitimate.

I should be surprised that the toxic atmosphere wasn’t addressed, but I’m not. I came to realize a certain truth about this country’s urban schools: their leaders—especially those at the district level—rarely have any stake in whether or not the schools are successes or failures. They’re not a part of those communities, they don’t send their children to the schools they oversee (except, sometimes, the selective admissions-based ones), and at the end of the day, whatever happens doesn’t really affect them. They’re working with other peoples’ children. The only thing they have to lose is their jobs—and that’s easy to protect if they cover their rear, furnish the necessary documentation, and blame those below them.

Though I was also not a part of my district’s community, it was different for me since I was a teacher. Teachers bond with their students, become their advocates, share in the joy of their successes, and help them learn from their failures. They feel the pain of their situations at home, keep extra granola bars and juice boxes on hand for those who don’t get enough food, and go above and beyond to ensure that they get the education they need. Their students are real people and they care deeply about them. They’re not just a statistic on some document.  

As a teacher, I saw firsthand the very people who were failed by my district’s leaders:
-         They failed C.P., a quirky, wonderful student who was reading Plato’s Republic for fun in seventh grade
-         They failed D.W., a bright, talented student who although sometimes lost his temper due to problems at home, would always apologize afterwards.
-         They failed M.J., the sweetest, nicest, most prim and proper student I’ve ever met, who was forced to endure disruption day after day by one of her classmates who threatened to shoot others, was arrested for armed robbery, and made sexually harassing comments to girls
-         They also failed M.W., a student who although acted as a class clown at times, was incredibly smart, motivated, and had the potential to do anything he wanted to in life

Were there other problems? Of course there were, but the chronically disruptive atmosphere was by far the most significant and destructive. It’s a problem that’s conspicuously absent from successful suburban schools—which don’t tolerate outrageous misbehavior—and is usually never mentioned by education reformers, policy experts, consultants, and the other people who pretend to know what’s best for our schools.

Perhaps my expectations are too high. After all, how can I expect them to understand the seriousness of this problem if they’ve spent little or no time working in the very schools they pretend to be experts about? 

You can follow Frank Beard on twitter @FrankBeard, or email him at fbeard@gmail.com.


Franks has since followed this up with a post on what actions he thinks need to be taken by the KCMSD leadership in a post entitled Fixing Chaotic Schools Requires the School Leaders Step Up.

81 comments:

  1. Thank you! This is exactly what is going on in Washington DC. It is absolutely outrageous especially when our former chancellor, Michelle Rhee, is now parading around the country being touted as a rock star. It makes me ill every time I see an article referencing her and her new organization Students First.

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  2. Thank you Frank.

    Given that many other TFA teachers teach in schools with similar problems, I wonder why they don't speak out openly the way you have.

    Any thoughts?

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  3. Thank you for an insightful article. My hope is that you will follow this with one outlining the concrete ways your administrators and district leaders could have partnered with you in dealing with the behaviors you mention.

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  4. I've been teaching for 8 years in a suburban Flint, MI school district, and although we don't have the problems to the extent you mention, you are SPOT ON in identifying the problems in schools throughout America.

    Pack 32 kids and one teacher in a room and a single disruptive student can infect the room's climate enormously. Take 3-7 such kids and god have mercy on that teacher's soul.

    Especially when there's no administrative support.

    People throughout the country should be forced to be a teacher for 1 year before they claim to have any idea what it's like, yet alone the answers to the complex problems we face.

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  5. "People throughout the country should be forced to be a teacher for 1 year before they claim to have any idea what it's like, yet alone the answers to the complex problems we face."

    I agree, but I'd like to amend that thought. Put them in a classroom with 34 kids, maybe with 15% of them being over-age, 5 or 6 of them with IEPs, 1 or 2 who were decertified from the now-apparently-defunct "emotionally disturbed" classification because of the push under NCLB to get kids into the least restrictive environment possible, and the room doesn't have enough chais, or chalk, or books, or paper, no heat in the winter, no air-conditioning in the summer -- I could go on, but I have go do some chores right now, after all, I'm entitled to a life, right? -- for a year. When the administration doesn't back a teacher on a student discipline issue, and you're tirde of trying to get the dean on the phone, and the kid is physically menacing you but you can't put your hands out in self-defense because even though safety guidelines specify that you CAN put your hands on a student in defense of yourself or defense of others but who'll believe you because after all if you have a disruptive student in your class it must be your fault - geez, after a year, maybe then you can talk. Until then, all you teacher-bashers out there, shut your pie-holes.

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  6. Yep. Teachers need to have support. While there's something to the classroom atmosphere and management, it's only really workable if you have a school culture that supports teachers and students in learning, and takes discipline problems seriously. We've had a lot of crap go on in the schools I've been in that just...resulted in nothing but frustrated teachers and students, even. One student actually left our school to go back to PA because she said that she didn't like how the students ran the school and treated the teachers, and that she didn't feel she could learn anything because of the disruptions.

    They tried this year to have a dean handle discipline issues, but that amounted to little more than an outline of "policies" and a few talks about how you have to, as a teacher, "be tough," etc., etc. I don't know what I'd expect from the leaders in a given school, but the ones where I've been were much the same as yours - having us fill out meaningless papers about standards we're addressing, goals, meeting minutes, crap like that. We planned so much, and for what? So that students can say whatever they want, push teachers around and do stuff on purpose so they can spend the day as an assistant to the principal? (Yeah, that was one "punishment.")

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  7. @1:08 StudentsFirst makes me sick too (as if anyone is really arguing for StudentsLast). A more accurate name would PoliticsFirst.

    @EFavorite I think many have a difficult time not blaming themselves for what happened at their school. TFA drills into your head the idea that poor student achievement/behaviors is the result of poor teaching. Every corps member is required to track student mastery of the state grade level expectations, and having 80% or higher is taken to mean that your students made "significant gains". For those who deal with a toxic school environment, reaching that 80% can be quite difficult. I think many take it personally instead of realizing that their school is simply not conducive to learning. Sometimes they're even told by TFA that the school environment is their fault. My second program director said as much to me, and I had the chance to meet a first-year corps member who although was very bright and talented, happened to work in a school that may have been worse than mine. TFA threatened his job security unless the situation improved. Since many corps members are high-achieving Type A people not used to failure, I think they often take that situation personally and don't speak out. Besides, anyone who says what I said obviously hates children and doesn't believe that they can succeed :)

    Other corps members sometimes have less difficult teaching assignments, and I think that sometimes reinforces the idea that all it takes to fix problem in urban schools is a great teacher. Those are the types you see writing about "why I Teach For America" and publishing inspirational articles in their hometown newspapers.

    @2:09 I definitely plan to write about that.

    @2:11 Thanks for the comment, and I agree that understanding this problem requires having actually taught in a classroom. Too often those making key decision in education have never done so.

    @2:22 I'd love to see Arne Duncan or Chris Christie last a week in that classroom.

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  8. @Topher You're absolutely right. That situation sounds like what I went through. During my second year, the school district started pushing Positive Behavior Supports. Our staff made a list of nice-sounding student actions/thoughts that applied to each part of the building (classrooms, bathrooms, lunch room, hallways, etc). Of course there were no consequences for failing to abide by those standards, so it became completely and totally meaningless.

    Teachers complained to our principal about the lack of support and discipline in our school nearly every time we had a staff meeting. Her response? Discipline doesn't have to be punitive, and we should start finding ways to prevent bad behaviors from occurring. We never received any support, and the school environment continued to be utter chaos.

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  9. Thanks Frank - please write more about TFA attitudes and training -- It needs to get out more.

    If a lot of TFAs are hiding these kinds of feelings and experiences to protect their own self esteem and reputation, it is really baaad for kids. It's a self-perpetuating cover up for adults

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  10. My initial reaction is this seems to unfairly blame the students (and to refer you to Alfie Kohn's article, "School Would Be Great If It Weren't for the Damn Kids" at http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/damnkids.htm). However, on second thought, I think you bring up an important point about the challenges of teaching in many schools. Alfie's article is still instructive in considering how to address the issue. Simply responding with more brute force behavioral management is not really going to address the problem. Teachers need support and those students need support.

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  11. but that can't be right. according to Davis Guggenheim the problem is that teachers have a right to a fair hearing (also called "tenure") before they can be terminated. are you daring to suggest that there might be some factor outside the control of classroom teachers which affects their effectiveness in the classroom? blasphemy!

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  12. @Chunga I don't mean to sound like I'm blaming the students--though I definitely see how it can be taken that way. Instead, I blame the school and district administration for failing to uphold behavior standards in a clear, consistent, and fair manner (or at all, in the case of my school). I firmly believe that many of the chronically disruptive students would not have acted in such a manner had there been more structure. Some of them even told me that they WANTED the principal to call them out on their behavior. Letting them do and say whatever they want is just a way of communicating that the school doesn't care about them. Like one of the veteran teachers at my school said: we discipline children not because we dislike them, but because we love them and want them to be their very best. Unfortunately, telling teachers to provide that structure but failing to give them both the means and support to do so is a recipe for disaster.

    @3:39 Davis Guggenheim is as much of an authority on teachers as I am on air traffic controllers :)

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  13. This is a very well-written and heartfelt piece, and I hope your thoughts and experiences will reach other TFAers, and an uncritical media that presents a largely fawning image of the organization.

    I also hope that in the future you write something about the connection between your and your school's experience and TFA as an institution, its actions versus its rhetoric, its agenda and that of its backers.

    That would be very powerful stuff.

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  14. Wow, this is exactly the situation in America's schools!. People are getting out of this profession in 1-5 years. I can't see anyone staying around thirty years to retire in this toxic environment. Afghanistan couldn't be worse than some communities. CYA is the order of the day with 'administrators'. I'm getting out before I stroke out!

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  15. The idea that, say, 15% are the "most expensive" (in time, attention, and discipline, which obviously requires staff, programs, separate rooms [in short, money and institutional investment] as remedies) reminds me of this article from the New Yorker, discussing the expensive cases in health care:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/01/24/110124fa_fact_gawande

    The claim is that one-on-one medical coaches saves money over the medium term. One can easily imagine how hard this would be in the public schools; indeed, 15% is a big number. And I doubt that focusing on the core 5% disrupters would do enough to lower the temperature and mitigate the group dynamic of bad behavior.

    And I suspect "bad" kids would have a hard time understanding why participating in life coaching would help them.

    Meanwhile, love her or leave her, Diane Ravitch in the Death and Life of the Great American School System is really compelling on how the smaller schools, be they charters or magnets, make the bigger schools dumping grounds for the problem cases who are forced out for nebulous reasons.

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  16. @Frank from 2:22: I've posted this many times on different blogs, but I'll happily post it again - during the heat wave of, oh what was it? 2007? When Randi said in interviews that Bloomberg should have called a heat emergency, Bloomberg said that we were all whiners and that we should "tough it out." I only worked with small groups of children who had IEPs, but my room was well over 110 degrees on all of those days. About 1/3 of the classrooms had a/c but no one wanted to rotate out of them to allow those of us who didn't have any to use the rooms during their off-periods. As a result, two of my students fainted in my room, and one, a wheelchair-bound, developmentally-disabled, non-verbal, English-as-a-second-language child burst out crying and howling because the backs of his legs were sweating and sticking to the seat of his wheelchair. Yes, I'd like to see Duncan or Black or Obama or Bloomberg last the same 3 days in that room that we did.

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  17. Maybe instead of whining about how unfair it is that charter schools and private schools can get rid of bad seeds, people like Diane Ravitch, et al., should instead be arguing for letting ALL public schools deal with these kids appropriately, so that they don't ruin education for everyone else.

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  18. @9:24 Unfortunately, your proposed solution is not an option. Under NCLB, there has been a push to move children along the least restrictive environment continuum, meaning, large numbers of children in special education placements were dumped into large community schools. IEPs are not just for children with mental retardation or developmental delay - some have learning disabilities, some have speech and language impairmens, some are deaf or hard of hearing, some are emotionally disturbed, some are blind, some are even gifted but have other issues like autism. Local Education Agencies are under federal mandate to "Child Find" - they have proactively search for all children in their local that might require special education or related services (RS is speech, occupational, physical, hearing, or medical therapy necessary to allow the child access to the general education curriculum/classroom). Child Find includes children in shelters, parochial schools, jail, and those being home-schooled - LEAs can't wait for parents to contact them, LEAs have to go out and find these children, then provide evaluations and special services free of charge, even if the child is not in public school. There used to be self-contained classes designated for children with behavioral or emotional disturbances but these classes have largely been abandoned - whether there is no longer a classification or a placement, I am unsure - so these decertified, emotionally disturbed children are unceremoniously dumped into community schools that 1) they can't handle being in and 2) can't handle having them. Our ability to deal with and discipline such children is limited. If a child, such as the ones described in the above post, has an IEP and that IEP document behavioral issues, it is incumbent upon school authorities to demonstrate that they fulfilled every single accommodation on that IEP. Due process for such a child facing suspension or explsion is greatly expanded, and may make it impossible for a school to seek an appropriate placement, such as a special school that can provide intensive behavioral therapy along with appropriate curriculum. If such a child commits a crime and is sent to prison, his or her rights to a Free and Appropriate Education continue until age 21 or until a high school diploma is awarded, whichever comes first. All special education and related services continue, by law, even if the child is incarcerated. I don't know how the law works for children without IEPs, but I do know that even if a child is that disruptive, it can be difficult for schools to segregate them into special classes or into other placements. To attempt to do so often leads to accusations of discrimination, followed by threats of lawsuits. So - what exactly IS an appropriate method of dealing with them? We have a culture of permissiveness - the schools didn't start that, but they ARE the ones stuck with being unable to enforce any sort of real discipline to children who will not respond to or benefit from it.

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  19. Just to clarify one point - an incarcerated child is eligible to continue receiving IEP services if s/he had an IEP before being jailed. I don't believe that Child Find requires the LEA to seek out incarcerated youth for evaluations, just services that are already in place.

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  20. And I apologize for the typos. I was typing fast and some of my computer keys were a little bit stuck.

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  21. Wow - I was JUST having this same conversation with my parents over dinner about the situation in Memphis City Schools. We're wanting to add more time to the day/week/year to improve test scores and anyone with classroom experience could tell you the better way to improve scores would be to utilize time more effectively and be more efficient. This is done by eliminating classroom management issues and focusing instead on instruction. How do you do that? Address chronic behavioral issues. I'm right there with you. Got the print out of my "write ups" and the admonishing speech to the faculty to prove it!

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  22. ABSOLUTELY AWESOME and COMPLETELY TRUE! I work for one of the Big 4 urban districts in New York State and this is what I am seeing and experiencing every day. I am a special education teacher, and need to express that it is NOT always the students with disabilities that are the behavior problems, and it is not fair to say that students with disabilities can't be punished because of due process laws. Many students with disabilities need firm rules with consistent follow-through of consequences in order to understand the connection between their behaviors and the outcomes, and this often does not happen because administrators are encouraged to "reduce suspension numbers" and "avoid due process procedures". We are failing our students by being inconsistent and excusing their behaviors because it is the easy thing to do. I can have the highest expectations in the world for academics and behavior, but if I don't have administrative support, I can only do so much.

    Frank, you rock! Thanks for sharing this honest view of what happens in many urban schools and also for pointing out that it isn't all of the students. :)

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  23. Thanks for the inspiration - I blogged in response to this post on my teacher blog (I post sporadically on it. http://tellallteaching.blogspot.com/2011/02/how-to-raise-test-scores.html

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  24. @Michael I definitely plan to write about some of those topics.

    @5:51 You're right. There's a reason for high turnover in many urban schools, and it absolutely has to do with the poor working conditions.

    @6:28 Kansas City, compared to other cities, has this country's fourth highest percentage of students attending charter schools (http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/106497064.html). This is a growing trend, and I worry that the non-selective public schools may eventually become little more than the "dumping grounds" you mention.

    @9:16(2:22) That's horrible. I know what that feels like since my summer school lost air conditioning during some of the hottest days of 2009. I'm not sure if it was quite 110 degrees, but it sure felt like it.

    @9:24 That is an issue which needs addressed. No public school should have to tolerate terrible behavior.

    @10:30 You're right that it's often extremely difficult to deal with misbehaving students due to all the restrictions and policies in place (didn't Philip Howard's organization discover that it takes something like 42 steps to suspend certain students in NYC?...I forget the exact number but it's ridiculous).

    Still, schools have no excuse for not taking the steps necessary to deal with these problems--even if they are lengthy, costly, and burdensome. Our students deserve better than what many of them are getting.

    @Kathryn I know what you mean. Almost every time we had staff meetings, the topic had nothing to do with the horrible behaviors occurring in our school. It was frustrating to hear a guest speaker talk about teaching inductive and deductive reasoning (in the sense that it would better prepare students for the state test, of course) when the one thing that would have made a difference was putting a stop to all the chaos.

    Interesting blog post by the way. We too had a PBS system that was utterly useless, and there was a large disconnect between those of us in the classrooms and those either on the school board or at the downtown administration building. There was one school board member who was quite understanding of the problems in the classroom (he used to teach in one of the high schools), but he was just one person.

    @11:10 "I can have the highest expectations in the world for academics and behavior, but if I don't have administrative support, I can only do so much."

    ^ You're absolutely right. That pretty much sums up why my school was a failure.

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  25. @11:10: my point was not to diminish or denigrate children who receive special education, only that solution offered before my post was not as simple to implement as the author might think. I not only worked in special education, I've taught college classes that covered regulations and laws governing special ed as well. The due process laws of which I wrote are specific to behavioral issues that are noted on the IEP. I have attended several IEP Committee meetings where the school did its due diligence of evaluation and assessment for children who were inappropriately released from restrictive environments into those small boutique high schools that resulted from a larger high school being shuttered. In at least one case, there was a significant emotional and behavioral disturbance, and in the other there was a child with ELL needs as well as delayed academic and cognitive skills. The team evaluated the former as being unlikely to benefit from a general education environment and recommended a restrictive placement in a special school where he could receive individualized behavioral intervensions. The team evaluated the latter child and designated his standing as "SIFE" (student with interrupted formal education, common among children from certain parts of the world where schooling is sporadic) with ELL challenges. He was too far behind academically to benefit from being in a regular high school, so we recommended a restrictive placement of a self-contained class in a community high school (one of the larger high schools that had not [yet] been broken up). Both of our recommendations were denied, so both children are still where they were when we started. Now, before you think we snapped our fingers and gave up, every single member of each child's team stepped up and worked with them individually and exhaustively. Each of those children is doing incrementally better than they were two years ago. But it was exhausting and threatened to take our focus and energy and attention from the other 300 or so children who also had IEPs. An IEP team can get around the expanded due process rights of a behaviorally disturbed child only if the parent or his or her advocate doesn't understand their rights and doesn't push for them.

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  26. I work at DCPS, and this is exactly my situation. Do DCPS head office know about it sure they do, but they don't do anything about it. Not only that whenever DCPS come to visit the administrators clear the hallways with a bullhorn before they come, on the last visit they even solicited teachers to do it on the top floors. When I asked the teacher "Why would you do that, you're always complaining about the environment and then you help to make it look better for one day?" He said, "he didn't think about it like that and felt he had no choice!!!"
    The environment you mentioned plus our frequent lock-downs had created an environment that is similar to a jail, and the quality of learning is worse than one but this is were I think our children are heading if someone doesn't do anything about it. I think that physiologically we are damaging these children - I feel like I suffer from PTSD just from being in such a toxic environment for only one year. I agree with you when you say, that not all schools are like this. It is so unbelievable when you are working in one of these schools that when you describe it to people they think you are making it up or exaggerating. My school is a war zone and it is Washington, DC.

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  27. "It is so unbelievable when you are working in one of these schools that when you describe it to people they think you are making it up or exaggerating."

    I know what you mean -- they listen with interest and horror at first, then you can see the look on their faces change to "This person is a nut case!"

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  28. I also taught in the Bronx (Morrisania/Hunts Point) in 2 different schools and saw this for myself. The first school was the same as you describe, possibly worse, and in some classes, it was much more than 15-25% disruptive students. The administration blamed us. I was told if my students were fighting, it was my fault because they weren't engaged enough in the lesson. I think it speaks to a larger issue that I have often commented on when discussing urban education, both in NYC and here where I teach now in urban NJ. And that is that the problem is not in the schools so much as in the homes. In many cases, generally the worst ones, contacting parents did no good. Lack of strong parenting or problems at home were often the root of their behavior issues. If their parents are absent, on drugs, or just young and overwhelmed without any idea of how to handle or discipline their child, that tactic is going to fail. Where the situation is the later, the community needs to provide support for parents that want or need help with parenting. In the first two or other similar situations, the problem then becomes that of the school and the community, and no one is talking about that or providing solutions for it, at least to those of us who need it.

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  29. Efavorite, they don't believe us. They think we are making this stuff up. That is why they think we are "nuts."

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  30. Thanks for this post! After 30+ years I am leaving education. Everything you have to say in your post aligns perfectly with my own experience. For a few years, I was even an administrator. What I think a lot of people don't understand is that administrators also don't know what to do with disruptive kids. What does one do with the 10 kids who have been sent to the office and you have parents waiting to see you and 20 phone calls to answer and reports that your superiors want done yesterday? There are ridiculous rules about not being allowed to remove a student from their educational setting (ie., classroom) The superintendent of our district even told us that no students, short of brandishing a weapon, could be suspended from school. Of course, then there is the law that no child with an IEP can be suspended for behavior that is deemed part of their disability --- so just try suspending a student classified as emotionally disturbed or Other Health Impaired because of ADHD.

    So I think what happens is, that because they don't know what to do, they turn it back on the teachers.

    But what has been even more difficult for me has been walking through a hallway between classes. Just the violent language alone sets up a tone that leads to disruptive behavior. I have witnessed students being just as disrespectful to their parents as they are to adults in school. Or parents who yell and scream at school staff that their child absolutely could not have done "that" and school personnel were lying. I have even seen school personnel physically attacked by a parent.

    Although it is true that these behaviors occur in about 10% of the population, they still impact all of the other students.

    One other aspect I would like to add is the behavior of some staff. I had a number of classroom aids who also added to the problem. To be fair, I also have worked with some who were invaluable. But the difficult ones just added to the chaos. I would have to spend time with staff regarding being on time, not leaving the room whenever they wanted to or talking on their cell phones.

    I think that the problem goes beyond teachers or administrators and is an indication of our culture in general. I think we expect our schools to be encapsulated areas where the rules are simply different than they are on the street -- particularly, but not exclusively, in urban areas.

    Many of our schools for grades 8 and above have become toxic emotional environments for all involved.

    Finally, one day in Oct. 2009, when I asked my students to open their books to a particular page, and one student responded with "Why don't you open your legs instead." .... I knew I was done.

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  31. Frank, thanks for a very perceptive piece of writing. I taught elementary school and though we had problems they were nowhere as serious as yours - and we had a supportive admin on discipline, though there were some teachers I saw who would exaggerate even minor problems into major incidents and exasperate the admins.

    The current paradigm is that all discipline problems are due to poor teaching practice.

    Since by the comments this is happening nationwide let me put my conspiracy theory out there. That this is part of an intentional undermining of the public school system by the ed deformers - Broad, Gates, etc. - to create a chaotic situation for parents of the non-disruptive students who will see privatized charters as the better option. And it is working for them just fine. The outcome will be that most of the teaching staff will be non-unionized and toothless to fight for the children with teachers overworked and underpaid.

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  32. Excellent article, Frank.
    I did not read that you were blaming the children, far from it.
    You described another case where the adults failed the children by not setting boundaries and enforcing them.
    What you've described is going on in Central Falls High School, where the new administration provided one summer day for training on the new discipline policy which boils down to this: deal with it in your room, don't send kids to the office. 2 months ago, NPR was in the school and while the VP was talking to the reporter, some student went by screaming his head off.
    The VP said nothing to the student.
    This is not NEW news.
    The Washington Post magazine carried a story from the Manhattan Institute back in 2003 concerning a TFA who failed at his job and ended up being sued.
    http://www.city-journal.org/html/13_1_how_i_joined.html
    Joshua Kaplowitz's principal failed him and the students much in the manner you described at your school.

    Unfortunately, my children went through the same thing at their suburban Maryland Catholic elementary school. The principal for the previous 4 years left on short notice (having gained the experience needed to be a principal in the Archdiocese of Baltimore). His replacement had two qualifications- a doctorate and vp experience in Northern Virginia. She managed to lay waste the quality education that had been built up over the previous 18 years. She handed power over to the kids and to the parents. She was gone at the end of the year.

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  33. Thank you, Mr. Beard, for telling the truth about the number one problem in most low-performing schools: chronic student discipline issues. As a former teacher, my ability to teach effectively was heavily influenced by my ability to maintain order in my classroom. Maintaining order was very difficult without support from the administration.

    Once students learned that school rules would not be enforced, it became virtually impossible to teach. Alternatively, when I taught at schools that enforced school rules and supported teachers, the schools ran much more smoothly and more learning took place.

    Thank you for bringing attention to this issue, which for some reason is oddly and inexplicably neglected in almost all public policy discussions on improving education.

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  34. I'd also like to point out that these problems are not all the fault of administrators: As other posters have noted, many laws and policies prevent principals from disciplining students (especially special education students) effectively. If teachers are required to contact a parent before issuing a detention, but the parents don't have a phone, the student can never receive detention (this was the policy at one school I taught at). If a school is not permitted to discipline a student for behavior stemming from his or her disability, and that 'disability' is being emotionally disturbed (ED), then the school may be effectively prevented from disciplining the student for any behavior at all.

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  35. Don't fool yourself, suburban schools also have this problem.

    Also, I have a simple solution. Every teacher knows who the disruptive students are. Ship that 15%-25% all to military school. The regular schools will be very wonderful. The problem of bullying will disappear. Meanwhile, those disruptive students will probably end up as productive members of society after some military instruction.

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  36. I taught high school for a bit and am familiar with the problems. I agree that the disruptive students are the biggest problem among many problems. Solving that problem won't fix the other problems though, so fixing it likely wouldn't improve things all that much. So many things need to change.

    For now if you are a parent concerned about your child's education and you are not in a charter or magnet school, enroll them in private school or homeschool them. They can not get a good education in public school.

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  37. You are so right, it all starts at the top.

    My son (now 11 years old, and in 6th grade in Mill Valley, CA), has been at 7 schools (4 in US, 3 in UK). All of the great schools had great principals. All of the mediocre schools had mediocre principals.

    Kids need, and want, boundaries. They were crying out for more discipline, not less.

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  38. We are living in an age where criticizing teacher is a politically correct move, since they are paid by tax payers money. Since most of the people paying most of the tax are not the rich ones (tax brackets etc and rich kids don't go to public schools anyway), those who paid taxes should demand the best for their kids.

    Maybe what this means is instead of the teachers making the case, the parent need to start making the case too. Of course, that can only happen if those parents care.

    We can look at this issue as the problem itself, or look at it as a symptoms of a bigger problem. Like the society not caring of the about the education of their kids. It seems school is a place where parents let go of their kids while they are working, as out of sight may mean out of mind.

    Okay, I maybe just stating the obvious.

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  39. Two words: corporal punishment.

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  40. Thank you Frank. I sent you an email. Your honesty is greatly appreciated.

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  41. Thank you, Frank. You have articulated a problem that has plagued each of the five years of my teaching career and has led to numerous administrative disciplinary response directed, not at the students, but at me, the teacher. I came into the classroom as the culmination of my lifelong dream, and I don't know, after five years, if I will be able to put in my thirty years. I will definitely be sharing this with my co-workers!

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  42. I was a TFA-er in New Orleans, and I'd have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with your focus on adult mismanagement of student behavior.
    I've consistently told folks who ask about my teaching experience that my school was bad because of the adults, not the kids. When they assume I mean the parents, I correct them and say no: it was administrators who administered nothing resembling discipline, and a large handful of teachers who taught students nothing on a daily basis.
    At my school, we watched the same student behavioral issues you describe remain unaddressed by a string of half-term principals. But administrators also ignored teachers' missing lesson plans, regular Skype dates and Halo tournaments during class time, no-call no-shows, assaults on students, four-hour lunch breaks and refusals to work outside of school hours.
    I understand (and desperately hope) that not all schools have such badly behaved teachers, but unfortunately down here that's the norm. I believe that teachers like many of my former co-workers deserve their share of the blame just as much as administrators.

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  43. Whenever a principal tells us not to send kids to the office and to deal with our own problems, I say "So if a kid brings a gun to class, we shouldn't send him to you?"

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  44. Well said. My wife is a teacher, and I know what you say is true. Unbelievable what a shell game is going on, when something this obvious is so broken and the system seems to have no intention of fixing it.

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  45. Everything you say is correct. No one disagrees with what you are saying. Yet no one with the power will do anything about it. Why? Its like no one will admit that some of these little darlings are hell on wheels and need to be curbed.

    I have a kid who has missed literally 90% of school this year. He showed up yesterday so he could be in the class photograph. I went up to him and said you ought to be embarrassed to be in this picture. You don't deserve to be in this picture.

    He expressed shock that I would dare to say that to him.

    In a sane world someone would have jerked that kid up. But God forbid we hurt their feelings or make any waves.

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  46. The answer is with us, not from them. Considering the educational "revolution" will not be televised (not brought to us my suit and tie administrators), we need to be the revolutions.

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  47. I see nothing has changed in KC schools in over three decades - except the G&T program has probably been eliminated. Aside from that, he could have been describing a day from my Jr High years at Bingham - although mine included sexual harassment from Coach Hairy Arms.

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  48. School leadership can be quite an obstacle to student (teacher and community) achievement indeed. Having worked for some very effective and ineffective leaders in urban schools, there are some ways to engage the 10-15% of your students who are exerting influence in negative ways. These are things that have worked for me and provided some sanity within my classroom even when the rest of the school was chaotic.

    * Create a strong classroom community with your students where they feel included, they know how they can exert influence in positive ways, and they take ownership in "maintaining" the norms and routines of the classroom community. (See: TRIBES http://www.amazon.com/Tribes-New-Learning-Being-Together/dp/0932762409)

    * Push your leadership (no, you don't have a lot of free time, but this is a key place to put your energy) to come up with a plan for improving school culture and community involvement (some resources: responsive classroom for younger grades http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/, developmental design http://www.originsonline.org/)

    * Push for "lunch advisories" where a group of students meet once a week with an advisor to talk about how school, home, and work or social life is going. This is also a forum for students to brainstorm ideas for problem-solving within the school. The idea here is that getting students who have the most challenges with discipline to help improve the school's discipline policies. They will feel like they can exert their influence/opinion while solving real problems that are for the greater good of the whole community. (These advisories would not be comprised solely of students with 'behavior problem').

    What we do everyday matters at all levels. School leadership needs to be strong and effective especially in the schools with the most challenges and least resources. You are an asset to your school and your students- a great resource. These along with all that you are already doing are just some ways to improve the environment within your classroom for you and your students.

    Best regards and keep doing your great work!
    -Tricia

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  49. When I read the list of students failed by their school and district leaders, I started to cry because I could see my own students in that list. I taught for one year in one of the most impoverished and violent neighborhoods in Washington, DC. It was the worst year of my life because I had all these wonderful kids in my classroom and no way to help them because the school had no consequences for out-of-control behavior. I had a student bring a knife to school, and he wasn't suspended, not even for one day. My heart was so broken after that year, my idealism so comletely crushed, that I couldn't go back. Whenever I think about my students, what they must be going through right now, I feel sick to my stomach. I was able to leave it behind. They don't get that choice.

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  50. Exhibit A: http://www.kmbc.com/news/26834769/detail.html

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  51. Earthy Girl: Something similar happened in DCPS this past week, with a number of students being arrested at one school.

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  52. @Earthy Girl

    That's crazy, but I suppose it's no surprise given the chaos at Southwest this year.

    Did you see that Covington is on a panel at TFA's 20th Anniversary Summit about "putting kids first"?

    http://www.tfa20years.org/tfa2011/Speaker.asp?SpeakerID=195

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  53. @efavorite 3.13PM No TFAer ever admits that things were/are PERFECT in their classroom. I've NEVER heard even one TFAer say something like that. Just like traditional teachers, TFAers face the exact same problems.

    I'm a 2010 TFAer and things are not going too well at my school and I've even considered quitting so many times. My ADMINISTRATORS (& some teachers!) are responsible for all that's going on at my school.

    Why should we blame TFA for poor student behavior? You may be right about getting rid of disruptive students, but I think what TFA stresses is "EVERY child will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education". So even though it might be the best solution to get rid of disruptive students, I personally believe that such students also deserve a chance. Sometimes all that matters is getting to know them, understanding what they're going through and promising them your full support.

    As a first year, there's NO way I claim to be an "excellent" teacher or a "highly effective teacher"...ABSOLUTELY NO WAY! There's even been times when I've wondered why an experienced teacher wasn't hired for my job. But I have the desire to push my students to stupendous success and every day, I do 'whatever it takes' to push them to those greater heights. I mean, I stay up late most nights; this is the HARDEST thing I've ever done in my life, but at the same time, I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile.

    Also, TFA does support us throughout our 2 years as CMs.

    At my school, the principal has been pushing us (teachers) to reduce our failing rates and ensure that most students are passing. This is even when kids are doing NOTHING! Once again, things like this can't be put on TFA. It's our school systems that have the blame. As TFA CMs, we're doing the best we can to ensure that students are learning and getting an excellent education (even though sometimes, the quality is challenged by several factors!)

    OK, I didn't really organize my thoughts and I know I've thrown in different things, but all what I wanted to say is that while TFA places teachers in low-performing schools, it has no control over what the administrators at the schools do. That's why we are all advocating for a better school system in which student learning is maximized and students are a priority; not the principal or assistant principal doing 'whatever it takes' to save her job by making the school look good on the outside (having fewer referrals, high passing rates, excellent scores on District tests...because the kids are given the test before the "real" test...hmmmmm)

    Disclaimer: By no means am I even calling myself a highly efective teacher. I really believe that some other teacher could do a better job than me". I am a first-year teacher!

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  54. Finally, a blgo that tells it like it is! We need to stick hard copies of this under superintendents'noses! As a nine-year veteran certified 'highly qualified' classroom teacher, I told my fellow teachers with regard to TFArs that the students in St. Louis would chew 'em up and spit them out. That soon came to pass with too many horror stories to relate here. The St. Louis Public Schools are just as chaotic as the rest of the nation. I call it, 'kick the cat time' from the higher ups who are more interested in warehousing warm bodies in order to collect Federal money than supporting teachers who have to deal with the incorrigables.
    From: Out of the classroom and loving it!

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  55. No discussion of classroom discipline and student achievement is complete without being open about the race of the students, and I take those were black students that the author had the displeasure to teach. It's rather clear by now that black students in America chronically under perform in *EVERY* district and under *every* teaching format. Not surprisingly, black students elsewhere also perform far below East Asians and Caucasians. There are a number of reasons for this outcome, genetically passed lower average IQ is certainly one element. High testosterone levels in male students is another, and then add all the cultural luggage of the so called black "culture" they not only carry with them, but are encouraged to 'celebrate'. And they do, exactly the way the author describes, by defying authority, destroying property, frowning upon law and order, and denigrating knowledge and achievement. These problems will exist for as long as we pretend that they are curable pathologies, rather than normal patterns of behavior of black students.
    Beard suggests that removing the 25% of students who were chronically disruptive would dramatically change the situation. I doubt it. Having removed the 25%, one would find another 25% that are still disruptive and so on, until the class would be reduced to only a few students who are indeed somehow capable of sitting quiet, behaving, and being trained.
    Every population has a few extreme cases that greatly deviate from the norm, and those would be the ones.
    What is truly upsetting about the situation is the fact that stating hard facts about race have become a taboo. Breaking taboos was once an important element of American culture. Perhaps it's time to dust it off again for the benefit of all.

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  56. adam. What constructive discussion could possibly come from "dusting off" this box of archaic nonsense? It's one thing to break taboo, it's another to spout racist and classist opinions as "hard facts." I think you pulled the idea about low IQ from the same book that said black people have an extra muscle in their legs. Actually, what you just said was just laughed at by 95% of the people who took the time to read it. I can't even believe I took the time to comment on this.

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  57. It is just nice to read a well written, thoughtful blog. Most blogs are pathetic in structure, grammar, spelling, content, and development.
    Most people leaving comments would do well to consider the quality of the article that they are commenting on, as well as the topic. Adam's digressions aside. There is no reason to dwell on his constructs.

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  58. Thank you so much, Mr. Beard, for your truthful blog. I am a first year TFA teacher I couldn't help but laugh at the bullet points of an average day, so absurd, and so true. I am most definitely one of the type-A TFAers who has been blaming herself for the chaos around her. The number one hardest part of this job is seeing the way the students treat each other and steal each others' opportunities through misbehavior. The number two hardest part is probably the blind eye our administrators turn to behavior problems and blame teachers for not "managing." Thank you for helping me realize that it isn't all my fault.

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  59. My point of view is a bit different - I've never been a teacher, much less a teacher in a school that offered no support on classroom discipline.

    But I HAVE been a student in one of those classrooms where the school did nothing about disruptive students. And I still remember how nervous I got when I had to go to school and how awful it was sitting in that classroom with the constant noise and getting hit with the occasional projectile and watching the teacher try desperately to give something useful to the few of us who could still hear him or her.

    I was only in those classes for about two years, but I sometimes wonder if the anxiety disorder I developed about that time wouldn't have crippled me so quickly if I hadn't been in that environment. Not to mention what I missed in terms of an education.

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  60. Thank you so much for this website. TFA is an organization that was conceived only to privatize public education. I'm a teacher in a SF Bay Area urban district. I'm glad that former TFA teachers are speaking out about the injustices that are taking place. TFA is not the 'magic wand' that is going to fix public education. The fact is there isn't one. This punishing attitude has to stop.

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  61. thank you thank you
    I am a public school teacher in Memphis, TN and just last week got denied my tenure after fifteen years of teaching. The desription of your school is exactly what I am dealing with. An unsupportive administration that will NOT help with discipline. Not only will they not assist they will blame the teacher for whatever is going on in the classroom. I was not allowed to teach because of continuous behavior disruptions. However, at the end of the day I am the one that will ultimately pay the price. I am currently searching for a way to overturn my denial although I am not hopeful, I am seeking lawyer's advice and school board members support to try and save my job.

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  62. Thank you for caring about this work and sharing your experience nothing you said in your post is anything I would disagree with. We need strong leadership from top to bottom for urban (or all rather) school districts to be a successful place and productive place for kids to be. I don't think any role from top to bottom is easy. I also don't believe that, in my mind, one person is ever responsible for the success nor is it about one persons leadership but the collective ability to lead. Its not about TFA, its not about the teachers, its about the communities ability to rally together around a common expectation, a dysfunction it seems you felt and saw first hand while teaching. As a TFA staff member but more fundamentally as a person I believe it takes us all to figure out what will work. This voice is an important piece of that.

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  63. so true,, i agree 100%%%%%%%%%%% DISCIPLINE is lacking,,, No support form staff or administration.. Thats why the schools are failing.. its not the "myth of the highly qualified teacher" its the lack of support adn DISCIPLINE in the schools!!!!!!!!!!!

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  64. Teachers around the country in many states are getting attacked by the corporate powers because they want more of the public education money pie. The only thing standing in the way of privatization of public education are the teacher's unions. The teacher's unions are the last bit of democracy we have left in education.

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  65. I agree with everything that everyone has posted.It takes a village, without the support from administration and our staff the schools will fail. Being a highly qualified teacher doesnt make everthing run smoothly in the school its the lack of discipline. Most of the times the highly qualified teachers are the first to run and give up on our children.

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  66. I am a teacher in the DCPCS. I teach Pre-school don't think its just the upper grades that have discipline problems the pre-schoolers as well. There is no consequences for these children, because they say they are so young. I beg the differ because these little cuties are going to grow up and it becomes bigger problems in the schools. Our Administrators are not supported at all when we bring this problem to our staff meeting. The only thing they is they will probably grow out of it.
    What do you say about this?

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  67. adam is absolutely right. There are real differences in *average* cognitive abilities, and probably behavioral traits such as impulse control, between the races. It may be that sending mostly white, very high IQ graduates of elite universities into 'urban' schools is not only a waste of resources (mainly their time), but also counterproductive as they simply cannot 'grok' what these kids can and cannot understand.

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  68. After about a hundred years of research into educating children, TFA has finally discovered what was overlooked for those hundred years. All the previous research should be discorded,teachers with old techniques fired, and for profit private companies should replace our public education system. Michelle Rhee would be so proud that her claims are now supported. With all the defects that the current public school system has, I shudder to think of the colossal waste by taxpayers of what is ahead if the "reformers" convince elected officials to adopt their reforms.

    Haven't we squandered enough capital to education and sociology expects in all their wasted research? I suppose teaching techniques could undergo marginal improvements, but it is beyond naive to think the U.S. will quickly close the gap in scholastic achievement with counties such as S. Korea.

    Isn't it obvious to any intelligent and honest person that many children come from such unfortunate conditions that learning problems cannot begin to be overcome by changing school conditions. An entire change in attitude by those influencing these unfortunate children is needed, but there is no indication whatsoever that any positive attitude change is foreseeable.

    I'm afraid that we also need to face the taboo subject of significant group differences in cognitive ability. Unfortunately, facing this taboo is so politically incorrect that we are doomed to look at any area but this one.

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  69. I am a parent of 3 elementary school kids in the KCMO school district. I also volunteer in a "standards-based" 2nd grade classroom for several hours weekly. From what I have seen, "standards-based" is too free-flowing and independent for a demographic and age group that needs structure and adult led instruction. Many of the children are in survival mode, not relaxed and ready to learn. Many behavior issues could be investigated by school psychologists but none exist. Calm classroom are the exception not the rule, that is the biggest reason for low test scores and lack of learning.

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  70. My son is a special ed student, one of those "ED" ones mentioned here. (he's 7 and now in a self contained ED class not at his home school). Please stop knocking those kids, not all of them are headed for jail, some like my son, are just disturbed and yes, disabled. He hasn't gotten off due to his disability, in fact, I think teachers are more prone to fault him for things and isolate him due his "label". For instance, big mention at an ARD meeting was made of a time he scratched another kid on the playground when the kid tripped him. Did anybody do anything when , at the same school, a kid BIT my older son drawing blood, or the other time when an older kid tripped my older son causing him to fall down the steps of the school bus.....nope because they're not "ED". Or about the time three boys ganged up on my special ed kiddo laughing at him, calling him crazy in front of the whole class....try to look at it with an open point of view...

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  71. Situations with "ED" students certainly can go both ways, and I have seen both. I teach "inclusion" classes in North Carolina and have those students who are essentially invincible because of their classifications and almost non-existant parents. I teach "inclusion," stadard, and honors classes during different parts of the day. One of my inclusion classes is a teacher's dream come true with students that both want/need help and want to do well for themselves. One of my "standard" classes sees multiple administrator visits each day with frequent drop-ins from our school police officer. They throw things at each other while the head principle is lecturing them about behavior.

    There is a classroom environment that is set by a combination of the school environment, individual teacher, and the magical combination of students in that classroom. I feel like I teach during most of my day. One period per day I feel like I do nothing but police, fuss, beg, tug at my hair, and look like a fool in front of 30 some kids that are doing nothing but playing on their phones, throwing my "engagingly educational" things, and yelling at eachother. I have taught enough years to know that it isn't just me, but I can't help but wonder if some other teacher would handle them better than I do. I always question.
    What does the administration do? Nothing really. NPR was in this horror-classroom also. The head principal was in the room the whole time, and out of a whole day of recording...all of the crazy noisy school sounds came from me "trying" to teach them. The head guy was standing right there!!! Did it help? No, because he's their friend, not their authority.
    Believe you me. Once the student loans are paid off...I am GONE. I dream about a job that only takes 40 hrs per week, where I can go home at the end of the day and actually be off the clock. Instead I wear the label of teacher (which lately also carries the connotation of uncaring and innefective teacher that is failing the students), and any argument that I don't have time to do this or that since I've already worked 60hrs this week only reinforces the idea that teachers are failing. I'm tired of being set to an impossible task and then pointed at like trash when I fail.

    Who's pointing the finger at the parents? I don't have any idea what would have happened to me if I'd been sent home from school suspended for something I'd done wrong. I have no concept because it never happened and I have no way to conjure up what would have happened. Probably they would have told me how disappointed they were, but I have a horror of the thought like they would have cut off my little finger. My students get to stay home and watch TV when they're suspded. How do you compete with that?

    You'd better behave or you'll get two days off of school...

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  72. this moment onwardJanuary 7, 2012 at 7:37 PM

    I recently retired from public school teaching in Berkley, CA. I spent the last two years of my 25 year career teaching (mostly black) middle schoolers. I naively thought they would be as excited about earth science as I still am. They did everything possible to derail the learning experience. I became burned out and started not to care. I received a poor evaluation. I retired the day after my 55 birthday and lit out from California to Oregon, where I wake up in a small, mainly white, civilized town and thank my luck stars. I have begun teaching again and love it.

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  73. I am a former Teaching fellow from NYC. What a great article. Teaching those 15% students in the same classroom with the rest of them may sound wonderful but it's like jamming a square block in a round hole - it's anti-common sense and wastes huge amount of resources while robbing other kids of education. I say get those animals out of the class for good after they throw something at a teacher, and have them go to special school. Once they mess up there too - get them into vocational training - education should be a privileged, not a right of a few to spoil it for the many.

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  74. PS. NCLB - what a joke, another politically motivated B.S. move. All it accomplished is added paperwork at every level of public education. It should be called "no child getting ahead"

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  75. PS. NCLB - what a joke, another politically motivated B.S. move. All it accomplished is added paperwork at every level of public education. It should be called "no child getting ahead"

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  76. PS. NCLB - what a joke, another politically motivated B.S. move. All it accomplished is added paperwork at every level of public education. It should be called "no child getting ahead"

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  77. Reading this post made me want to cry. This was exactly the experience that I had when I did TFA. I have moved on and am doing much better now, but the constant stress of dealing with fighting and school violence is unbelievable if you have not been through it firsthand. I absolutely agree that dealing with the discipline problems generated by (I would argue) only 5-10% of students is the number one problem in schools today. This prevents teachers from being as effective as they might be. This is absolutely the number one barrier to success in the classroom and it is hard on teachers as well as the other students.

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  78. I taught in a small town in CA. What you described happened here too. I got so sick of it I left the only job I wanted after high school.

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  79. I work in the Medditeranian and it is funny to see that so many teachers in the US share the same problems I am going through here. I guess this is the tip of the iceberg and that many teachers around the world are suffering for similar reasons. Good students are being lost and kids who can be saved are turned into greater threats due to no consequences. During all this choas the teachers are feeling helpless, getting discouraged and ill. Unfortunately noone is calculating what the world is going to be like 20 years later. These kids are going to grow up, good teachers are going to be lost in the process. It is sad to see the world head in this direction.

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  80. I have been a teacher for 13 years in Denver Public Schools. I spent one year at a middle school with a high Free/Reduced lunch population, and while I love that age group, we had the exact same problem: no consistent discipline. A girl threw an F bomb at me and she spent all of 5 minutes with the student advisor. Thank God her mother was a hard ass who made her apologize to me. Other kids weren't so lucky with their parents: too many shrugged off lack of focus or discipline. The school lost three math teachers: one quit within the first week; the second (who was the first's replacement) quit within a month, and after that those kids had a string of long-term subs who knew nothing about math leaving them even further behind. The third teacher who quit just had a change of heart half-way through the year. I hope more TFA alumni speak out about this: I know the commitment is only for two years but hopefully they can see that the problems are much deeper and more complicated than not having "engaging" lessons in the classroom.

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  81. Perhaps it takes a diamond in the rough to tackle these classrooms. Facilitating learning experiences for children who have grown up without much guidance, in a non supportive school system can be done. I know this to be true. But it is a rare individual who can pull this off, its a chemical mixture of love, toughness, humor and magic which can not be taught in education classes or on top of the ivory TFA tower. In the corporate world these rare peeps would be worth millions, in urban schools of decay they are underpaid and ignored. Would a supportive administration who enforced rules make it easy for those teachers who can not do it alone, yes, but until then, lets recruit, spotlight and pay those educators who can reach these kids who like it or not will be residing in your world. TFA is coming in my school next year to solve our problems. I will be in my room conducting my un-televised revolution being underpaid and ignored as will many other skilled, veteran master urban school teachers.

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