Reaction: Leading Safe & Effective Schools

Three articles this week:

Schacter, R. (2010). Discipline Gets the Boot, District Administration.
Witkow & Fuligni (2010). In-School Versus Out-of-School Friendships and Academic Achievement Among an Ethnically Diverse Sample of Adolescents, Journal of Research on Adolescence. 20(3), 631-650.

Ratner, Chiodo, Covintgton, Sokol, Ager, Delaney-Black. (2006). Violence Exposure, IQ, Academic Performance, and Children’s Perception of Safety: Evidence of Protective Effects, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 52(2): 264-287.

The thread for me this week was a sense of being overwhelmed at all the other factors that shape who students are before they ever walk into a classroom. We spend so much time and money developing and prescribing curriculum that never considers the factors of school discipline policies, violence in the community, parenting, or friendships. As Warren wrote last week,  “it is patently unreasonable to expect that [urban schools] alone can compensate for the effects of poverty and racism.” The basic requirement for safety in schools was also looked at in Bryk et al. (2010) Organizing Schools for Improvement that we read at the beginning of the semester. It left me with a feeling of amazement that anyone who is not middle class and white makes it through the educational system at all. Witkow and Fulgini (2010) and Ratner, Chiodo, Covington, Sokol, Ager, and Delaney-Black (2006) do give ways that children cope, whether through friendships or protection, the latter of which might come from a caring teacher at school, but they are still outside of any curriculum.

Reading these articles reminded me of watching the fourth season of the Wire and the horrific things the kids witnessed outside of school and how much the teacher wanted, naively, to protect or almost act outside of their system. For some kids, the care they received in schools  insulated them to some degree, to get through the evening/nights, but their friendships and protection they offered each other did more. For most, however, they would inevitably lose to the conditions they grew up in.

It was interesting to me in the Discipline Gets the Boot article how much the data speaks the message: numbers of behavioral referrals and suspensions, graduation rates. Outcomes data is the language schools now use to describe their programs. After my field methods course this spring, I have a new perspective on reading empirical articles. After having to write sampling strategies, I could see how these authors articulated their decisions and how they linked them to the rationale.

Finally, I think the Witkow & Fulgini (2010) article about friends in-school vs. out-of-school missed a key component of adolescent life by not addressing the impact of social media. They do mention in their limitations to go “beyond the dichotomous nature of the in-school/out- of-school variable used here,” but I think it is even more complicated than this. We had a student from a poorer area of town who decided to attend the elite private school where I taught, and she used social media to stay in touch with her friends from home. Publicly, she wrote on her Facebook page how she did not like her new school and would be returning home soon. To everyone at school, she was happy and enjoying the challenge of the new place. We had similar situations where students from China would be posting publicly about how terrible our school was on Chinese social media while writing how wonderful it was on her American Facebook page. Clearly the girls were trying to balance in- and out-of-school friendships, but this was happening all the time everywhere instead of localized to when she was in these different communities in person.

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