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THOMPSON: Respect

Behavior The New York American Civil Liberties Union only studied six schools, but its recommendations are suggestive. As urban educators would confirm, the ACLU argues that metal detectors, "zero tolerance" rules, punitive discipline, and the criminalization of teenage misbehavior do not work. Trusting relationships are the key to school safety.

I despise top down mandates that compromise my autonomy in the classroom, but the NYCLU describes an great accountability system. If students believe that a teacher’s policies contradict the school’s core values, they can appeal to a fairness committee. By respecting student voices, as well as investing in the staff necessary for timely interventions, I have no doubt that most students and adults can create an appropriate learning culture.

Based on six schools, however, I would not bet the farm and back off from seeking consistent and credible assessments of disciplinary consequences. One of those schools was described in the New York Times as the "premier example of a large failing school turned into a peaceful campus of successful small schools." Another was described as "a big school that works ... [but] has its share of stragglers." Great Schools rated one school as a 2 on a scale to ten, while parents rated it as 3 on a scale of 5, and the NYC DOE graded it as a "C." Another school was ranked 772 out of 1041 high schools. The study would have been much more valuable as a policy document if they had evaluated essential information indicating whether those schools are outliers or whether their experiences could be replicated.

I would love to take a "trust but verify" approach to their innovations. I have no problem with allowing hats and chewing gum, and listening to music "in some classes," but I won’t allow text-messaging or iPods when my students need to concentrate. Similarly, one school made it clear that fighting contradicts their school’s core values and educators must have the final word in suspending or expelling violators. That’s a "win win" agreement, respecting students while allowing teachers to enforce fundamental rules. - John Thompson

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Very interesting post. I suspect--or hope--the issue of effective discipline policies will resurface as the nation focuses much more attention on school turnarounds. Most turnaround stories I know begin with the establishment of order, but discipline policies and their impact have been largely absent from recent discussions of school reform.

John - I imagine it was particularly gratifying this March when you required students to engage in class rather than watch the NCAA tournament during the entire month. Thanks for your leadership on this.

Charlie,

Remember the reason why I work my students bell to bell. They voted and unanimously determined that they prefer nonstop class instruction to b-ball.

Charlie,

Remember the reason why I work my students bell to bell. They voted and unanimously determined that they prefer nonstop class instruction to b-ball.

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