Response to the Discipline Policy

Following the policy collaborative meeting, we will have until February 3rd to make our recommendations for changes to the policy.  

Back in December the school board decided (8:1) to delay voting on the school discipline policy for two months while the district works with stakeholders to make the policy more progressive. Board members Cheryl Casciani, Martha James-Hassan, Peter Kannam and Andy Frank echoed our input by saying: “Why not take the time and make the policy truly progressive?” Dr. Santelises said: "After all this work, we might as well get it right."

We are also interested in talking more generally about how to democratize the policy making process. We have a particular focus on teachers’ concerns about the flexible Code of Conduct and the mandate to reduce suspensions prior to full implementation of any new approaches to school climate and discipline.

We are currently focusing on Baltimore City Schools’ discipline policy. The board will make a final vote on the policy on Feb. 28.

Input on the Baltimore School Discipline Policy

Teachers’ Democracy Project held a forum on Baltimore City Schools discipline policy on Tuesday, Dec 6. The Discipline Policy was under review by the school board and they were seeking input from the community. Teachers and parents talked about what the new discipline rules mean for their students. The forum brought multiple view points together and addressed one central question: How could this policy create a more functional system? Dinner will be provided and the event is free to attend.

An Equitable and Just School System Now!

The Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) is a national network of intergenerational, grassroots community organizations led primarily by Black and Brown people in 24 U.S. cities. We assert that the lack of equity is one of the major failures of the American education system. It is a particular failure of the Obama administration, as a wholesale commitment to school privatization through school closings and charter school expansion has energized school segregation, the school to prison pipeline and subjected children to mediocre education interventions that over the past 15 years, have not resulted in sustained, improved education outcomes but have contributed to the destabilizing of the quality of life in urban communities. 

TDP Policy Recommendations

After reviewing the Community School Strategy and soliciting feedback from teachers, parents, lead agencies, community schools coordinators and others, TDP has proposed the following recommendations to the School Board: 

  • The policy should have as a goal that there be a functional, democratically- organized School Family Council (SFC) and the recommendations of the council SFC should carry the most weight in choosing the lead agency to manage the community schools coordinator.
  • The planning process involved in becoming a community school should be part of a single strategic planning process required of these schools. This would ensure that this work is seen holistically as a part of climate issues and student social emotional needs.
  • Community school principals should be held accountable through their evaluation for this integrated community schools plan.
  • This policy should be linked to other relevant policies such as the discipline policy. A commitment should be made to review existing policies in relation to each other.
  • Teachers need to be included in the community schools plan and should participate in evaluating the school’s partner organization.
  • In schools that are larger, there should be more than one Community Schools Coordinator. Since this would require substantially more funding, there should be stronger aspirational language to indicate the amount of additional funding required.
  • To acknowledge the need for equity across schools, there should be aspirational language to indicate the amount of additional funding required to support all schools in becoming community schools.

Beyond Community Schools

TDP hosted an event called Beyond Community Schools on Monday Oct, 3rd at the Parkview Recreation Center. The event focused on Baltimore City Schools recent policy that formally supports the presence of community schools in Baltimore. We heard from community activist, Kim Trueheart, educator, Chris Baron and Community Schools partner agency leader, Mark Carter to gain insights into innovative models with a community-centered approach, and shared ideas and questions. TDP compiled the ideas and questions from the event and shared them with the school board.

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises talks link between poverty, achievement

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises talks link between poverty, achievement

Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises believes schools in pockets of concentrated poverty will improve if she can provide them with better teachers, offer their students a richer curriculum and leverage the sometimes unrecognized strengths of people within their communities.

Santelisis spoke as part of a panel of educators at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Education Thursday afternoon. The school is holding a two-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Coleman Report, a 700-page landmark publication that shaped education research and school reform for decades.

The Third Rail: Transit, Race and Inequity in Baltimore

A recent journal entry  by Baltimore resident Alec MacGillis writing for the online journal Places provides an excellent introduction to the history of inequity and segregation in Baltimore through the lens of transportation.  The article traces the developments in transportation and its relationship to accessible jobs, white flight, and housing segregation from the early days of street cars that gave rise to the, then, leafy suburban developments in Forest Park and Roland Park, to the recent cancellation of the East-West Red Line by our Republican governor, Hogan--a line that would have connected low income, Black residents from both East and West sides of the city to twin hubs of employment at Social Security and Johns Hopkins Bayview.

What Has Done More to Improve Living Standards: Indoor Toilets, Air-conditioning, or Smart Phones?

What Has Done More to Improve Living Standards: Indoor Toilets, Air-conditioning, or Smart Phones?

Linking school reform to economic growth and competition, the Report spurred a generation of reformers to raise curriculum and performance standards for both students and teachers, increase testing, and create accountability frameworks that included rewards and penalties in subsequent decades. Marrying school reform to the nation’s economic growth–the human capital rationale for schooling (see here and a rebuttal here)–occurred, according to Robert Gordon, at roughly the same moment–1970s–when the “special century” of inventions, innovations, rising standard of living and productivity were ebbing.

The Truth about “Good” Schools

by PLTHOMASEDD from the becoming radical

When I posted about how political and media labels of “good” and “bad” schools are significantly misleading—more about race and class than the actual quality of the schools—I received a request to identify some “good” schools.

Here is the disturbing truth about “good” schools: Among formal schools, both public and private, there are no “good schools.”

Traditional schooling is mired in a number of wrong-minded approaches to children and young adults, to teaching and learning, and to what we believe the purposes of schooling are.

Formal schooling is mostly bad.

Good teaching happens when teachers take risks, work outside the norms of schooling.

Good learning happens for many students in spite of formal schooling.

In this last circumstance, consider how English classes tend to make students hate reading, that students who are avid readers often do so under the school radar—toting around huge books they choose to read (instead of doing school work), reading and collecting comic books (please read Louise DeSalvo’s Vertigo for some vivid examples of this reality).

That formal schooling is mostly bad, that good teaching occurs mostly by renegade teaching, that good learning happens mostly in spite of formal schooling—these are all made more disturbing because children in privilege (living in slack) suffer far fewer negative consequences in these realities, but children under the weight of poverty and racism (living in scarcity) suffer the double negative consequences of a bad life and bad schooling.

Children living in scarcity must be superhuman in order to learn in spite of schooling—especially since their teachers are under heightened pressures and even less likely to be risk takers.

We must stop demanding superhuman (and inhuman) expectations of the most vulnerable children and young adults. We must stop looking for and pretending there are “miracle” schools—outlier good schools—we can use to shame bad schooling in an inequitable society.

Instead, we need to reimagine formal education that is unlike the inequitable society those schools serve—attending instead to the needs of all students, regardless of the lives no child chooses (whether one of slack or scarcity).

The “Grit” Argument Continues: Paul Thomas responds to Author Ethan Ris

by LORRAINE KASPRISIN on Journal of Educational Controversy Blog

Editor: In our anniversary issue of the journal, we published an article by Ethan Ris entitled, “Grit: A Short History of a Useful Concept.”  It continued both the conversation that we have been having in the journal and added also to the current debates found in a number of recent books on the topic.   Below, author Paul Thomas responds to Ris’ argument.

A Friendly Rebuttal to Ris on “Grit”

P.L. Thomas, Furman University

In his “Grit: A Short History of a Useful Concept,” Ethan W. Ris offers, I think, a rare and significant contribution to the scholarly discourse on “grit”—one that has been mostly uncritical.

 Powerfully, Ris presents a discourse analysis of “grit” with a historical lens and argues that “the grit discourse allows privileged socioeconomic groups to preserve their position under the guise of creative pedagogy” (p. 2).

Ris makes a strong case that Angela Duckworth and popular advocates of “grit” (such as journalist Paul Tough) have contributed to policies and practices aimed at mostly black/brown and poor populations of students, conceding “[t]he critics, however, are right that poor children are the inevitable losers of this game” (p. 10).

It is here, where Ris confronts both advocates and critics of “grit” that I want to offer a friendly rebuttal. 

Again, Ris’s discourse analysis and historical couching of the “grit” narrative are very important, but his argument that “grit” has been mostly an idealized character trait embraced by the privileged does not, as Ris suggests, discredit assertions “grit” is racist (and classist); in fact, Ris’s historical context proves “grit” is racist. 

Part of the problem here is Ris’s “[b]oth sides have the story wrong” (p. 2)—the both sides being:

To its champions, the concept of grit offers a solution to the intractable low performance in these schools: help the kids get grittier, and they can claw their way out of poverty (Tough, 2011; Tough, 2012; Rock Center, 2012; Lipman, 2013). To its skeptics, grit is at best an empty buzzword, at worst a Social Darwinist explanation for why poor communities remain poor – one that blames the victims of entrenched poverty, racism, or inferior schooling for character flaws that caused their own disadvantage (Shapiro, 2013; Thomas, 2013; Anderson, 2014; Isquith, 2014; Noguera & Kundu, 2014; Ravitch, 2014a; Snyder, 2014; Ravitch, 2015). (p. 2)

I am on the “skeptics” side that asserts “grit” as a narrative and as a character quality formal schooling needs to instill in black/brown and poor students is racist, but I see in Ris’s analysis a direct relationship between “grit” as a domain of the privileged and how that has created the context within which many in the U.S. assume black/brown and poor students lack that quality.

My rebuttal, then, revolves around “skeptics” being wrong because we agree wholeheartedly with one of Ris’s central argument: “Here, though, is the fundamental problem with the perception that the importance of grit has to do with bettering the chances of disadvantaged students. Children raised in poverty display ample amounts of grit every day, and they don’t need more of it in school” (p. 8).

 So I would like to pose that Ris has not proven “both sides are wrong,” but has failed to recognize why we skeptics have been calling out “grit” policies and practices.

 As Christopher Emdin explains in For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, vulnerable populations of students are plenty “gritty,” but they remain the primary targets of “no excuses” schooling grounded in “grit” discourse and lessons.

Therefore, the formula to me (one made clear by Ris’s work) is that the privileged have historically promoted and continue to promote the “grit” narrative (the work ethic the working class has imposed on itself out of fear of not measuring up to the affluent)—and needlessly worry about the “grit” of their own children—because they need the wider public to believe that success is the result of effort (merit) and not the consequence of privilege.

So I agree with Ris that the “grit” narrative and “grit” as educational policy are tools to keep the class (and race) divisions in the U.S. intact—all of which confirms that “grit” is racist and classist because the narrative speaks to and perpetuates race and class stereotypes that black/brown and poor people are inherently lazy, deserving their stations in life.

Ris’s work is really important, and I would not have felt compelled to offer what may appear to be a minor quibble from someone labeled as “wrong” in Ris’s essay, but one of the ways in which privilege is maintained is our reluctance to name racism, our urge to find any other cause possible.

Duckworth, Tough, and the growing legions of advocates in the “grit” industry—these people are invested in “grit” and they are surely wrong.

We skeptics? I think we are making a case reinforced by Ris’s work, and I invite him to consider this carefully because I believe his work is crucial in reclaiming the value of effort and engagement for all children, but especially for vulnerable populations who are being mis-served by the “no excuses” and “grit” movements.