Writing
Discussion post

Question Description

  • An original research topic related to the module’s Learning Resources (Note: This proposed research topic can be related to the general topic for the module or to gaps in the literature regarding the topic of safe school culture, or it can be related to a specific reading for the module.)
  • An evaluation of the main concepts, with a focus on their application to creating a safe school culture and their impact on positive social change
  • An annotated bibliography of at least five additional resources related to this module’s topic

I have posted the reading below as an attachment.

Below are other areas that we are focusing on that help come up with the research topic

Creating Climates of School Safety: A Foundation for Reducing School Violence

Managing a Threatening Situation

School Prevention and Intervention

School shootings

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2 PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN Discipline Practices at School At Landsdowne Junior High School, the St. Louis Sun reports, "there are scores of window frames without glass, like sockets without eyes." Hallways in many schools are dark, with light bulbs missing or burnt out. One walks into a school, a member of the city's board of educa­ tion notes, "and you can smell the urinals a hundred feet away ... " A teacher at an elementary school in East St. Louis has only one full-color workbook for her class. She photocop­ ies workbook pages for her children, but the copies can't be made in color and the lessons call for color recognition by the children. A history teacher at the Martin Luther King School has rm students in four dasses--but only 26 books. Some of the books are missing the first hundred pages.' T his bleak description of schools in East St. Louis, Illinois, a poor area in which most of the residents are African Americans, comes from Jonathan Kozol's book Savage Inequalities.• In other passages he describes schools in wealthier areas that have all the supplies they need and are in excellent ph ysi­ cal condition. Such disparities in schools' physical conditions surely lead to differences in how schools are run. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to convince students in one of these East St. Louis schools of the importance of education, to supervise groups of children in dark hallways, or to ask them to respect one another when they suffer the disrespect of having to attend such decrepit schools. The four schools I studied face different circumstances and challenges that are also important to discuss in order to understand how each polices and punishes students. Discipline Practices at School 43 Unionville High School Unionville High School is located in a mid-Atlantic state. When its school district approved my research, I had listed Unionville High and another school as equally appropriate research sites. The district officials specifi­ cally requested that of the two, I visit Unionville High. As my research assistant and I entered the school and spent time there, the reason why became apparent: the school has a reputation as being a disorderly, low­ performing, and violent place. When I met the administrators who would serve as my contacts for the next several months and answered their ques­ tions about why we were at Unionville High, several of them grinned and asked how I had chosen the school as a research site. I told them that it was an appropriate demographic comparison to a school I had already studied in another state, and that the district officials requested Unionville High rather than another school. At this, the school employees usually laughed knowingly, and talked about how Unionville High has a reputa­ tion for being violent and disorderly, which is why (they assumed) the district wanted me to study it. This knowing laugh made me think that only outsiders perceived Union­ ville as disorderly, and that these insiders knew better. I soon realized that this is untrue. Staff members told stories of weapons being common at school, as well as rampant drug use in bathrooms among students-some stories even described staff members who smoked marijuana with the students in years past. Students echoed this negative assessment, such as the following white female student: The kids in this school are just awful. INTERVIEWER: Yeah? Tell me, how are they awful? STUDENT: They're disgusting, their attitudes and lack of respect. I just, I don't how their parents even raised them like that, they're just rude. INTERVIEWER: Like what kind of rudeness? Like what kind of, how does that show itself? STUDENT: Like, let's say ifl was in the hallway and a dean came up to me and was like, "Let me see your pass," the student would cuss at them, yell at them, walk away. l was in the hallway with [the Junior ROTC instructor] the other day and these two kids walked up, you know, act­ STUDENT: 44 Discipline Practices at School FIGURE 2.1 Frequency ofSuspensions, by Category, at Unionville High 900---------------------------, &OO-l---------------700-l---------------- 600-1---------------­ soo-1---------------­ 400-1---------------­ 3 00 +-------------------, 100 ing all arrogant and stuff, and [the instructor] asked them you know, "Do you have a pass?", like repeatedly, and they just ignored him and kept on walking. That is just the utmost disrespect I've ever seen in this school. INTERVIEWER: Hmm, so they just don't respect the adults in the school? STUDENT: No, not at all. (I) Based on my observations over time, it is understandable why school officials and students talked about the disorder at Unionville High. Though I never observed serious violence, weapons, or drugs firsthand, I did observe a great deal of minor incidents-more than at any of the other three schools. These incidents fall short of actual crime and often short of school rule violations, but they contribute to a chaotic, unruly feeling, such as physical play between students, yelling, profanity, and disobedience to school staff. The response to disorder at Unionville High is striking, as shown in fi gure 2.1, which uses data on suspensions for the 2005-2006 school year that were supplied by district officials. This figure is overwhelmed by the enormous number of suspensions for defiance (n = 796), which includes behaviors the Discipline Practices at School 45 school labels "defiance of school authority," "disruption of the educational process," and "inappropriate behavior." With 180 school days in a year, this amounts to more than 4 suspensions per day for this type of minor-level mis­ behavior. There were also 175 suspensions for fighting, and 172 for attendance violations. With regard to race/ethnicity and class, school staff talk about Unionville High students in a way that surprised me-they frequently speak about the students as if they are nearly all racial/ethnic minorities and poor. Yet according to the Institute of Education Statistics, the student body is 36% white, 49% black, and II% Hispanic, and 4I°/o receive free or reduced-price lunches (see table 2.1). Whites are in the minority here, and nearly half the students are classified as poor for the school lunch program, but school officials talk about the student body in terms that made me expect a much · lower percentage of white students and higher percentage of poor students. For example, the police officer there once commented on how the school . . TABLE 2.1 Comparison ofSampled Schools {2004-2005 School :K>ar) Southwestern state Mid-Atlantic state schools schools ·Frontera Fairway Unionville Centerville High Estates High High High Total students Student/teacher ratio Race/ethnicity(%): 2,227 White Hispanic Black Asian American Indian/Alaskan Free or reduced lunch 3 .5 82.5 36.3 73 .5 91.7 II.I 10.9 3 3-I 2.3 48.9 20.8 2.4 3 .7 2.4 0.2 0.2 4 1.2 9.1 2,73 9 1,506 2,067 18.1 0.4 1.2 93.8 I8.I Source: Institute ofEducation Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. • If one calculates the student/teacher ratio using the populations listed on Fairway Estate Higlis website rather than using rhe U.S. Department of Education data, the ratio is 18.3, which is consis­ tent with the other three schools. 46 Discipline Practices at School district "dumps all of the worst kids" at Unionville High, and that the students at Unionville come from the "lowest socioeconomic statuses" in the area. By emphasizing the level of disadvantage among the students at Unionville High, the staff's rhetoric is consistent with how many of them speak about Unionville High generally: as a school in trouble. Unionville High faces academic challenges as well. During my time there, it was on "academic watch'' under the state's accountability/testing system, as it had not met adequate yearly progress goals. The state's 2007 goals for per­ centages of students who meet or exceed standards in English and math were 68% and 50% respectively; Unionville students failed to meet both of these goals, with 54% meeting or exceeding the English standards and 36% meeting or exceeding the math standards. Additionally, the school's graduation rate is only 72%, below the state goal of 78%. Another problem facing Unionville High is the physical structure itself The school consists of a single building, built in 1973, that is surrounded by parking lots, tennis courts, and athletic fields. Inside the building some of the paint is faded and chipped, and the lighting is poor in many places. School staff members pointed out to me where temporary walls were erected to create additional office or class space, since the school was designed for fewer students and staff than it currently houses. In addition to this dismal appearance, I often saw trash in the hallways and occasionally graffiti on walls. Subscribers to the "broken windows" theory of crime--that resi­ dents of communities take cues from their environment, such that litter, graffiti, or broken windows in an area make one more likely to commit crime--would argue that the physical environment encourages misbehavior at Unionville High.3 The school's architectural layout presents challenges as well. When I first arrived at Unionville and looked at a map of the school, I was confused by the byzantine array of corridors and separate wings. The school has two floors, and each of these floors is divided into two circular sections. Each section has its own cafeteria. There are several stairways in different parts of the school, and multiple paths one could take from one wing to another. More impor­ tant, with so many turns in the hallways, staff members monitoring the halls find they have very little visibility, since there is always another corner around which a student can hide. Discipline Practices at School 47 There is also very little oversight of the front entrance. Though there is a desk by the door with a clipboard and sign-in sheet for visitors, there is usu­ ally nobody monitoring the entrance. All other doors are kept locked (though students can open them from inside the school). As one might expect based on student demographics, Unionville High is located in a relatively poor neighborhood. It is in the suburbs, about ten miles from a mid-sized city, but the suburbs are home to a large number of townhouses and trailer parks. The single-family homes near the school are small and stand in stark comparison to the 3,000-4,000 square foot mansions immediately surrounding Centerville High. But looking at the immediate neighborhood does not fully explain Unionville High, since a large number of its students are bused in from the nearby city. This practice dates back to the 1970s, when the area schools were forced to desegregate. In response, the public high schools in the city eventually closed, and the city's resident children were sent to high schools in three different neighboring districts. Children in some of the poorest neighborhoods of the city were sent to Unionville High's district, which continues today. This is important for understanding dynamics at Union­ ville High not only because it means that there is a good deal of poverty and a large number of racial/ethnic minorities among the students, but also because it means that many parents-and especially parents of the most disadvantaged students-do not live near the school. This adds to the dif­ ficulties parents already face in interacting with school officials or attending school events. It also imposes greater social distance between groups of stu­ dents, since they live far apart. Some contend that the inner-city youth who are bused to Unionville High make the school a more disruptive place, as these youth are more likely than others to commit crimes . One white male staff member, for example, told me very confidently that these students are the ones who bring marijuana to school: You can't buy weed in [the neighboring community]. The weed that's for sale [near the school] they can't afford. You want the cheap weed that these kids are smoking, it's gotta come from [the nearby city]. They don't have cars,· tuckily we provide transportation [buses]. (I) 4,8 Discipline Practices at School The school is located on a busy, four-lane, divided highway. In front of the school on the street there is a street sign that is supposed to say "drug free school zone," except that the word "free" has been crossed out with spray paint. The s hool sits immediately next to a townhouse complex, and across the highway is a strip mall with a Burger King, grocery store, pharmacy, and other small stores. Thus, there are plenty of entertaining destinations for stu­ dents who skip class, as long they are willing to cross a busy highway (where there is no crosswalk)-! often noticed students drinking from Burger King cups in school. The political climate surrounding Unionville High should also be noted. I began the observations during a difficult time for this school district. The superintendent had recently left to take a position in another state, and the new superintendent requested a budget audit, which found that the prior superintendent had disguised questionable financial transactions and a twelve-million-dollar deficit. This weakened public confidence in the district and put it in fiscal constraint at the same time that the housing market was collapsing and the economy was heading into a deep recession. These prob­ lems left their toll on Unionville High in the form of insufficient funding for supplies and programs, as well as a lack of job security for school staff. Ero­ sion of staff morale was evident in the spring, when several of the staff with whom I interacted regularly were informed that they would not be rehired for the following year. Leadership at Unionville has been inconsistent as well. I began research there shortly after a new principal took control of the school, a few months into the 2006-2007 school year. This was the fourth principal in the past four years, leaving a great deal of inconsistency in how the school was run. Some students noted this during interviews, such as the following black female stu­ dent who complained about the current principal: I don't really like him. He's not fair at all, every single principal in this school was not fair I think. We had, I was here for four years, four differ­ ent principals each year and every principal tried to change up the school in a way that was not even important. He changed, we had so much spirit in this school, like artists who had like a [mural] on the wall, or like school spirit, he painted all the stuff white, and we were not supposed to have certain posters on the wall, in the classrooms. It's like, it was hard, Discipline Practices at School 49 like this school was like jail.And like if he'll see you in the hallway, he'll question you. Like, if you go to him with help, he never gets back to you. There's some teachers who don't like to help you at all, so you have no choice to go to him because he is the .principal.... I don't think any of the principals is fair, but they all left, so it's like you can't count on nobody in Unionville. Unionville is just one big mess.... I wish I never even came here. (I) Discipline Policies and Practices All these challenges faced by Unionville High-political turmoil, inconsistent leadership, disorder in the hallways, a deteriorating physical structure, parents who live far away, and a relatively disadvantaged student body-are impor­ tant for understanding how punishment and security work here. They set the stage for a punitive discipline regime that responds to the perceived chaos by trying to provide a regimented order. The situation at Unionville High illustrates clearly how contemporary school discipline is fueled by insecurities surrounding school and a lack of confidence in public education; with all the problems the school faces, one of the few things a principal can do is imple­ ment tough policies that promise to "right the ship." Of course, since school discipline has changed throughout the United States, it is obvious that these particular challenges faced by Unionville High have not created its punitive discipline climate--but these factors have influ­ enced the school's draconian climate, and possibly made it worse. Union­ ville High relies on exclusion of students far more often than the other three schools I studied-its suspension rate is a staggering ninety-six suspensions per hundred students (including repeat offenders), with 43% of the student body suspended at lest once in 2005-2006 (see figure 2.2).The themes I dis­ cuss throughout this book are present in Unionville High and elsewhere, but punishment is given out more often at Unionville than at other schools. Other schools punish students without listening to them, escalate misbehav­ ior problems, and enforce authority without dealing with problems, all of which is qualitatively similar to how this happens at Unionville High-but the other three schools do it less often. In pan, this is directly caused by the higher rates of disorder; but it also seems due to a tougher stance on student misbehavior in an attempt to create order out of chaos.4 50 Discipline Practices at School FIGURE 2,2 Suspension Rate (per IOO youth} in Each School (2005-2006) .g 8 0-i---------------------§ l 60+--------------------- 40-i---------------------- Fairway Estates High Fronrera High Centerville High Unionville High The method of punishing students at Unionville does not vary substan­ tially from the other schools I studied. Like other schools, most of the rule enforcement and punishment is handled by employees who are called "deans of discipline," staff members whose primary responsibilities concern respond­ ing to student misbehavior. There are. three deans of discipline at Unionville High; each is assigned students based on an alphabetical range, and each has an office where students go if given a "referral" and removed from dass.s The . deans then respond by assigning punishments based on their judgment and the school's code of conduct. They have a great deal of discretion in punishing students-assistant principals are required to sign all suspension forms, but I routindy saw the deans forego this. When I began observing at Unionville High, one of the deans, an African American woman, also performed other duties: she spent a great deal of time with students entering the school from alternative placements, as well as those facing expulsion. During my stay, another dean, a white male, was hired and she concentrated solely on her other duties. At this point, all three deans were white males, and like at other schools, these men were very involved in ath­ letics. One was a former college football player and is the current defensive coordinator for the varsity football team, and another is the school's athletic director and golf team coach. Disdpline Practices at School 51 The fact that two of the three deans are coaches is important. Disciplinary roles can be "free hires" for administrators, in that they can hire somebody who has skills in another area (e.g., coaching), and give that person duties as a disciplinarian in order to justify a full-time salary. I discussed this with an administrator and former dean of discipline in another school, within the same district as Unionville High, who told me that deans tend to be coaches for two reasons: (1) because coaches often have a disciplinary mindset and thus they seek out the position, and (2) because it allows a full-time position for a coach. In other words, disciplinary roles are not filled by looking for candidates with backgrounds that lend themselves toward effective discipline (e.g., consistency, empathy, listening skills, patience, etc.). Instead the posi­ tions tend to be filled by individuals with no tr ...
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