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Report Spotlights Alternative Discipline in 6 N.Y.C. High Schools

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Many high schools try to combat student behavior problems with police officers and metal detectors. But a new report offers alternatives that capitalize on strong relationships and student support, and suggests that they might work better.

The study, released today by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, profiles six New York City high schools that serve at-risk populations without using metal detectors or zero-tolerance policies. Compared with 89 high schools that have metal detectors, the six profiled schools have higher graduation rates, and far fewer suspensions and police incidents.

One of the ways the six schools manage student safety and behavior successfully is by building school environments in which leaders and teachers know students well and are involved in working with them on discipline issues, the report said. (On the chance you will say that this is only possible in small schools, think again: One of the profiled schools has 4,100 students. Another has more than 1,000.)

In these schools, staff members have a collegial and trusting relationship with the New York City Police personnel that patrol them, the report said. School staff members handle most behavior and safety issues, with police used only in the most serious situations. They also employ some form of the "restorative justice" model of discipline, in which a committee or council that includes students is convened to hear all sides of a dispute, take its circumstances into account, and come up with a mutually satisfactory solution.

The Civil Liberties Union recommends that the city Department of Education discourage metal detectors, assign fewer police officers to schools, and mandate training for all school staff in conflict resolution. Providing better supports for students, making sure they have a voice in discipline issues, and ensuring clearer authority for principals to manage police personnel at their schools are important as well, the organization recommends.

In response to EdWeek's request for comment, the city education department said in an email that it had not yet had much time to review the report. But it disputed the study's claim of higher graduation rates in the schools without metal detectors as "just untrue." The department's statement went on: "We wholeheartedly embrace discipline as an educational matter, but we will continue to use all tools available to us."

An earlier report by the New York Civil Liberties Union on the use of police in schools is here.

4 Comments

What a breath of fresh air, to see behavior problems among high-schoolers treated by something other than a minimum-security prison mindset!

I've taught in urban high schools long enough to know that even the most frightening-looking "thug" actually may be a very frightened child inside, and that kids in city schools often face truly daunting pressures and difficulties.

As this study reflects, relationships are the key. I don't think this can be emphasized too much.

Almost everyone in tough schools understand 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 attempting to create a code of conduct, or seeking consistent and credible assessments of disciplinary consequences.

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.
Schools wouldn't have to criminalize teen behavior if we would just enforce our rules. In my experience, students would be much tougher on themselves. One school studied by thee ACLU 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 without constantly worrying that they will be undercut by the central office.

I am currently in a summer session education class at Lehman College in NYC. I am changing careers and would like to be a NYC middle school social studies teacher. This thread caught my interest due to a recent reading assignment. The assignment was a series of readings in our text in which we had to compare and contrast the educational philosophies of Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann.
I have made a connection with what I have read in my assignment to what has been posted here in this blog. Would you both agree that, in 2009, we are still having the discipline issues that Horace Mann observed and hoped to fix back in the mid 19th century in city schools? He believed that "Punishment, when taken by itself, is always considered to be an evil." Now the punishment he was referring to in the 1840's was physical abuse and overall fear from teachers. This is certainly not going on today, but can police officers, metal detectors, and an unfair judgment/hearing system in city schools be considered a 2009 version of what Mann observed back then? In my eyes, all of the above is considered to be negative actions towards students.
I believe in Mann's philsophy greatly. He believed that a totally competent and passionate teacher, who developed sincere connections with his/her students, would win the hearts of all students and find their rational, genuine side. Mann believed that one of the most important goals of all schooling was to train our students in self-governance. I believe that metal detectors, police officers, and dis-interest in what students have to say does not encourage their development of this self-governance Mann spoke about. I think students take on a very negative state of mind when walking through a metal detector and seeing cops all around his/her school building. This creates anger and built-up frustration which possibly causes fights, arguments, and other generally bad behavior in schools.

Students and teachers are entitled to a learning environment that is conducive to education.
The healthy, positive learning environment that should be present in all city schools has long been stifled by inadequately trained police personnel. The environment created by the massive deployment of police staff is often hostile and dysfunctional. School discipline has long been a heated debate and a very controversial topic in our country. Its earliest problems arose when Horace Mann first investigated the issue of discipline in public schools in the mid-nineteenth century. These issues are still looming today in our nation’s city schools, but there is hope. Six New York City at-risk high schools are undergoing a project that is attempting to diminish police-student conflict with great success. The overabundance of police personnel in schools is not the answer to the public school discipline system.
Many schools attempt to combat student discipline with police officers and metal detectors, but alternatives are illustrating clearly that strong relationships and student support are essential to making things work better. The American Civil Liberties Union along with The Annenberg Institute for School Reform profiled six schools undergoing this new alternative discipline project. It is coming with great success. The six schools being studied showed higher graduation rates, very few suspensions, and less police incidents with students. The idea of building a positive, welcoming environment to all students is resulting in great success. School leaders and teachers are getting to know their students much better by forming better relationships with them along with getting the students involved with discipline issues.
This can only be seen as an improvement to the present situation in city schools, as students have to get passed a never-ending process of metal detectors, pat-downs, and bag searches by inadequately trained and often unsupervised police officers in schools. These same officers are often aggressive, belligerent, and disrespectful towards the students inside city schools. This only takes away from valuable class time from students as well as teachers who are often thrown in the middle of police-student confrontations. This is not at all necessary. Discipline needs to be brought back to school officials and progress can be made through strong teacher-student relationships. How can students feel positive and be ready to learn when the one building they are supposed to feel safe in is not?
Teachers and school officials need to develop strong, positive relationships with each and every student. Metal detectors, searches, and aggressive police personnel is not the answer to daily school discipline. Frightening situations cause fear which not only corrupt the intellect of a student, but also his/her personality and character. Horace Mann believed that if a teacher was to control the moral, social, and intellectual development of a child, then that teacher must have access to that child’s inner self. How can a teacher formulate these relationships when they are often getting thrust day to day as a buffer between student and police officer? The answer is to restore school discipline back to the school and let school staff manage their building. If six public schools can positively improve graduation rates and greatly reduce student confrontations by removing metal detectors and lessening police presence then it is possible to repeat this success.
The answer is simple: police officers should only be getting involved in a situation where safety is the concern. Authority over police must be restored to school officials. Officers should also be receiving better training in order to differentiate between situations in school hallways. Their role should also be limited to legitimate security and safety concerns for teachers and students. Students need to be treated like they are students and not like criminals. How can a student focus and be ready to learn if he or she has to enter a school that is hostile and threatening? The system in place must be changed in order to create a safer, more supportive environment. We need to move away from a prison mindset and look towards building better relationships with students. Trust is what builds a relationship. Teachers and school officials need to be given the freedom to build these relationships. Aggressive police personnel who treat young students like criminals are not the answer to school discipline.

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