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California Advocates Seek To Reduce Student Suspensions By Axing 'Willful Defiance' Charge

Posted on September 29, 2014 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (5)

Am I the only one having a hard time with this? I just don't see how eliminating a particular type of suspension changes anything? Either administrators will now just ignore acts of willful defiance or they must brand it something else. As a former high school administrator, I have suspended countless students for willful defiance and all of them earned it. Taking away that option won't improve our students' behavior. If we really believe that suspensions are too high for any race, eliminating one category will hardly solve the problem. How about some staff development for both classified and certificated staff to learn the art of de-escalating a hostile situation? What about more behavioral support for our at-risk students? How about additional resources for parents, including parenting classes? These all cost a lot more money than just eliminating one Education Code provision but I suspect they would be far more successful.

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LOS ANGELES -- School suspensions were once reserved for serious offenses including fighting and bringing weapons or drugs on campus. But these days they're just as likely for talking back to a teacher, cursing, walking into class late or even student eye rolling.

 

More than 40 percent of suspensions in California are for "willful defiance," or any behavior that disrupts class, and critics say it's a catchall that needs to be eliminated because it's overused for trivial offenses, disproportionately used against black and Latino boys and alienates the students who need most to stay in school.

 

"It's so broad it's not useful," said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and chief executive of the nonprofit South Los Angeles Community Coalition. "You can't quite define what it means, what it doesn't mean."

 

 

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) earlier this year introduced a bill to remove willful defiance as a reason for suspension and expulsion. His bill, AB 2242, would replace that category with specific behaviors such as harassment, threats, intimidation, creating substantial disorder or a hostile environment.

 

Willful defiance is coming under scrutiny as attention focuses on whether "zero tolerance" discipline policies instituted in many schools in the 1990s are working, especially for minority students. A report by the U.S. Department of Education's civil rights office last fall found vast disparities in the use of suspensions and expulsions against students of color.

 

Black students comprise 18 percent of public school enrollment nationwide, but 35 percent of suspensions and 39 percent of expulsions, the report stated.

 

School discipline even caught the attention of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, who addressed the issue in her State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature in March, saying she was alarmed to find out that 700,000 suspensions and expulsions were handed down statewide last year.

 

"You might ask, `Why is school discipline a justice issue?' The answer is obvious – when children are not in school, studies show they are at risk of entering the juvenile justice system," she said. "Studies show that one suspension triples the likelihood of a juvenile justice contact within that year."

 

Most school districts across the country stipulate defiance or insubordination as a cause for discipline. The key is the punishment meted out for the offense.

 

Baltimore City Public Schools has managed to slash the number of suspensions from nearly 27,000 in 2003-04 to just over 11,000 in 2010-11 after extensively revising its code of conduct and disciplinary policies. A suspension for defiance is now only given if it's a repeated offense, according to district data.

 

In California, defiance is a key reason behind high suspension rates, particularly for black and Latino students. A University of California Los Angeles report found students of color are most often suspended for infractions relating to disrespect, defiance and disobedience.

 

"There's a bit of profiling that goes on, particularly with low-income African-American and Latino boys," Harris-Dawson said. "A white girl can scream and slam books on the desk and not be seen as threatening, but a black boy can do half of that and it can be taken as `he's going to hit me.'"

 

For teachers, sending troublemakers to the principal's office is a necessary tool to maintain classroom discipline, said Frank Wells, Southern California representative of the California Teachers Association, who said he has not noticed an excessive use of defiance and the union has to remind teachers they can use that.

 

But if statistics show a disproportionate use of defiance against certain groups of students, it could indicate a cultural gap. "It's something that should be studied," he said. "But we hate to limit teachers' authority to discipline."

 

South Los Angeles high school senior Brett Williams said he feels teachers use defiance as an excuse not to hear the students' side. "It's like sit down and shut up," the 18-year-old said. "You're not even able to tell your story. That to them is being defiant."

 

A few weeks ago, Williams was not wearing his uniform shirt under a sweater after playing basketball. Told to go to the dean's office, he resisted because he was putting on his shirt and wanted to remain for the lesson. He was threatened with suspension for being defiant and sent home.

 

When he returned to school the next day, he had a run-in with the dean and was told he was disrespectful, rude and defiant and was sent home again.

 

"It escalated into two days of missing school over a uniform shirt," said Williams, adding he's determined to graduate in June despite the problems. "You can't even be treated fairly so what's the point of going to school. That's the way they made me feel."

 

At Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, administrators started taking a different approach to discipline after seeing a record 600 suspensions in 2004.

 

The 2,700-student school now has a progressive discipline system where teachers and counselors intervene before a situation reaches the dean and principal. Parents are called and offenders ordered to write apology letters, apologize publicly, or spend lunchtime in the dean's office to realize the consequences of their behavior.

 

Defiance is no longer a cause for suspension.

 

"We took the suspension quick-trigger off the menu," said Assistant Principal Ramiro Rubalcaba, who used to have students in his office for everything from chewing gum to sleeping to coming to class without a pencil. "It was the big umbrella."

 

Teachers, who initially balked at the new disciplinary approach, are given extra training in classroom management if they report a lot of student behavior problems.

 

Last year, the school had only one suspension and has had only one so far this year. With that record, Garfield has become a model for discipline reform, and is now regularly visited by administrators from other high schools and even state lawmakers.

 

When seniors Jamie Rodriguez and Janaye Esparza got into a fight during drill team practice earlier this year – grounds for suspension at most high schools – their parents were called in, they were banned from the team for a week, spent lunch in the dean's office and were counseled on getting along.

 

"We learned to keep our distance and respect each other," Janaye said. "We ignore our differences."

 

Both girls said the toughest punishment was sitting out drill team. "That was hard," Jamie said. "It was something I really worked for."

 

Rubalcaba said he's found that students respond more to the removal of privileges than being sent home to watch TV.

 

"They like being suspended on Thursday so they have a three-day weekend," he said. "Suspending is now the last option."

Huff Post Education

Sept 29, 2014

What About Supporting the Support Systems? Author: Michael Chapko

Posted on June 30, 2014 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (211)

Over the last 25 years public education in America has faced increasing calls for reform in the manner which education is delivered to students. Elements such as teacher preparation, the use of classrooms, curriculum, parental participation, learning styles, and incorporation of new technologies among others are argued, discussed and promoted.


Yet for all the attention given to the calls for reform in public education, one element of the present system would appear to have escaped notice. Little attention is given to refining the operations in the support systems in public education. With few exceptions the areas of business services, human resource management, and facilities and maintenance services continue to operate much as they have for the past 50 years or more.


 Typically the rigid top-down organization structure found in support systems groups in public school districts resembles 1930’s corporate America, one which promotes divisions and departments functioning within their own silo. Fortunately, the top down model is becoming increasingly irrelevant and is slowly being replaced by the matrix type organization – one which performs across different segments taking the best from each and requires collaboration. The skills required to effectively navigate the matrix are different than those needed to succeed in the old, hierarchical organizational model. Leaders lacking these skills often find these roles frustrating or draining, as they must continually influence to be able to deliver through others, managing up and across, as well as down.


 All too often, those charged with leading these operations practice a form of self-abrogation, opting to “caretake” instead by leaving in place pre-existing practices and paradigms without ever assessing their value or appropriateness. Those aware of the need to assess the value of ongoing practices are often limited in their ability to do so by the overwhelming nature of day-to-day challenges.


 To effectively support the monumental changes occurring in public education it is no longer adequate or tolerable to blindly accept and do what was done in the past. In order to ensure effective public education is sustainable, its support systems must be run business-like. This includes engaging in regular assessment of organizational effectiveness.


 Perhaps the single most critical task today’s leaders in public education support systems have is ensuring effective staff are in place. Staff are the single most crucial asset any of us has. Without them we are no more than a rudderless ship at sea. We may possess incredible strategies and initiatives, but without the means to implement them we are rendered ineffective.


 In their role as guardians of the gate, leaders are responsible for ensuring all new hires possess the minimum required skill sets for a given position. The days of assigning a position simply on the basis of how long a candidate has been employed with a school district is a luxury none can afford. Unlike inherited staff, newly hired staff can be effectively evaluated for possessing the required skill sets.


 Use of hands-on testing is the best means for assessing a candidates skills sets. All research demonstrates this to be the single most valid and correlated means of predicting a candidate’s future success in a position. To be sure, CSEA is not a fan of hands-on testing. But by including staff in the creation of the test and assessment of candidate skills during the test itself, objections raised by CSEA fade away.

 A secondary benefit of implementing hands-on testing is it aids in creating a culture based upon merit instead of longevity.


Anyone who has occupied a leadership position in public education knows well the accuracy of the “80-20 rule”, in which 80% of the time spent on personnel matters is concentrated on the 20% of staff who consistently under-perform. This is something else requiring a change. Instead, the 80% needs to be spent on the 80% who are stars and role players. These are the individuals who increase the quality of service delivered and strengthen operations. One’s focus must be on developing strengths, not improving weaknesses. Rarely has a weakness ever become a strength.


Development of stars and role players takes many forms;

Supporting and positioning staff to be successful

Using empowerment to wake up staff to what is inside of them

Cross training to discover new skill sets and develop operational redundancy

Encouraging failure and mistakes of commission – We learn and benefit from these. Since none of us works in the “perfect world” environment, what matters is learning how to effectively recover from them.


In the current system employee performance is crippled with the effect of rigid and often outdated job descriptions. Within my own district there are job descriptions more than 30 years old. Many staff spend their work days anesthetized by the rigid limitations of their specific job descriptions – going through their work days much like zombies, performing only the mundane tasks linked to their job descriptions. Breaking through these systemic limitations not only delivers increased operational results, but also frees staff from debilitating limitations placed upon their own abilities to be innovative and productive.


The lack of a profit/loss metric within the support systems component of K12 public education enables those in leadership positions to opt for the easy way out, and to embrace the status quo. A rapidly changing landscape in K12 public education coupled with increased demands on funding is eliminating this as an option.


None of this occurs overnight or without push back. I am not saying it is easy; I am saying it is worthwhile.


“We need a revolution, not an evolution in American public education.” – RiShawn Biddle


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