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Student Discipline Is Still Controversial

It's not often that I agree with Eva Moscowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools.  But I think she is on solid ground when she insists that student decorum is indispensable for learning ("Turning Schools Into Fight Clubs," The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 2).  I know that seemingly chaotic classrooms can still work, but I maintain that they are exceptions.

The debate is over how to develop decorum and how to handle violators.  Suspensions have been lambasted because they tend to disproportionately single out black males.  But what about the right of other black males who want to learn?  Don't they deserve to be in a classroom where learning can take place?

Where Moscowitz stumbles is in dismissing out of hand what is known as restorative justice.  It's not a way of letting students escape the consequences for their actions.  On the contrary, it has proved highly effective. Instead of suspending students who get into fights or disrupt instruction, restorative justice successfully breaks the cycle. 

For example, the Oakland Unified School District is one-third black and more than 70 percent low-income.  In 2012, the program was expanded after a federal civil rights agreement was reached to reduce discipline inequity for black students. Since then, the percentage of students suspended has dropped from 34 percent in 2011-2012 to 14 percent in the next two years ("An Alternative To Suspension And Expulsion: 'Circle Up!'" npr.org. Dec. 17, 2014).

Sometimes - not always - getting students to apologize for their misconduct and making them understand the seriousness of their actions are more effective than anything else.  It's certainly worth a try. Don't forget when students are suspended, their teachers are still responsible for providing them with opportunities to make up the work they missed.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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