School Safety and Security: Research and Evidence

Update: Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model, United States Secret Service (2018)

If You Want to Know How to Stop School Shootings, Ask the Secret Service, Jeff Daniels, Professor of Counseling, West Virginia University

The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative, United States Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education (2002)

Overview of Safe School Initiative Findings

The findings of the Safe School Initiative suggest that there are productive actions that educators, law enforcement officials and others can pursue in response to the problem of targeted school violence. Specifically, Initiative findings suggest that these officials may wish to consider focusing their efforts to formulate strategies for preventing these attacks in two principal areas:

  • developing the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available or knowable information that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack; and,
  • employing the results of these risk evaluations or “threat assessments” in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.

Support for these suggestions is found in 10 key findings of the Safe School Initiative study. These findings are as follows:

  • Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts.
  • Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
  • Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
  • There is no accurate or useful “profile” of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
  • Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
  • Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
  • Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack.
  • Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
  • In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
  • Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.

Why security measures won’t stop school shootings, Bryan Warnick, Benjamin A. Johnson, and Sam Rocha

If anything, the response of the Kentucky lawmakers represents what has been called the “target-hardening” approach to school shootings. This approach attempts to fortify schools against gun violence through increased security measures. These measures may include metal detectors, lock-down policies, “run, hide, fight” training and surveillance cameras.

While some of these measures seem sensible, overall there is little empirical evidence that such security measures decrease the likelihood of school shootings. Surveillance cameras were powerless to stop the carnage in Columbine and school lock-down policies did not save the children at Sandy Hook.

Preventing School Shootings: The Effectiveness of Safety MeasuresCheryl Lero Jonson

Abstract

The tragedies at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary School catapulted concern about school shootings into the national spotlight. Calls for something to be done to protect our students, faculty, and staff became a salient concern for school administrators, with many schools hiring armed security officers, restricting access to campus buildings, installing metal detectors, and training individuals how to respond when a shooter enters school grounds. However, many of these security measures were implemented with little to no consultation of the empirical literature. This failure to enact evidence-based responses has had fiscal and latent consequences that are only now being discovered. This essay seeks to fill that void by examining the empirical evidence surrounding common security measures enacted in response to well-publicized school shootings and calling for the use of an evidence-based approach to school safety.

Research on School Security: The Impact of Security Measures on Students, National Association of School Psychologists

Impact of Security Measures on Violence

  • There is no clear evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence, 8,9,10,11 and little is known about the potential for unintended consequences that may accompany their adoption.12
  • There has not been sufficient research to determine if the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students. 13
  • Some researchers have expressed concern about the widespread use of guards, cameras, and other security technologies, given that so little is known about their effectiveness. 14,15
  • Research has found security strategies, such as the use of security guards and metal detectors, to be consistently ineffective in protecting students16 and to be associated with more incidents of school crime and disruption17 and higher levels of disorder in schools. 18
  • Evidence from a school–police partnership implemented in New York City reveals that students in these schools continue to experience higher than average problems linked directly to future criminality, compared to students in other New York City schools not involved in the partnership. 19
  • Surveillance cameras in schools may have the effect of simply moving misbehavior to places in schools or outside of schools that lack surveillance. Even more troubling, it’s possible that cameras may function as enticement to large-scale violence, such as in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter who mailed video images of himself to news outlets.20
  • Research suggests that the presence of security guards and metal detectors in schools may actually increase levels of violence in schools by strengthening the influence of youth “street” culture with its emphasis on self-protection.21

More Guns Do Not Stop More Crimes, Evidence Shows, Melinda Wenner Moyer (Scientific American)

More than 30 peer-reviewed studies, focusing on individuals as well as populations, have been published that confirm what Kellermann’s studies suggested: that guns are associated with an increased risk for violence and homicide. “There is really uniform data to support the statement that access to firearms is associated with an increased risk of firearm-related death and injury,” Wintemute concludes. Gun advocates argue the causes are reversed: surges in violent crime lead people to buy guns, and weapons do not create the surge. But if that were true, gun purchases would increase in tandem with all kinds of violence. In reality, they do not.

Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias, Jason P. Nance

Abstract

In the wake of high-profile incidents of school violence, school officials have increased their reliance on a host of surveillance measures to maintain order and control in their schools. Paradoxically, such practices can foster hostile environments that may lead to even more disorder and dysfunction. These practices may also contribute to the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” by pushing more students out of school and into the juvenile justice system. However, not all students experience the same level of surveillance. This Article presents data on school surveillance practices, including an original empirical analysis of restricted data recently released by the U.S. Department of Education after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Paralleling other disturbing trends of inequality in our public school system, these results and other empirical analyses reveal that schools serving primarily students of color are more likely to rely on more intense surveillance measures than other schools. Further, the empirical evidence suggests that these racial disparities may not be justified by legitimate safety concerns. This Article then turns to a discussion of the role that implicit racial bias may have in school officials’ decisions to rely on intense surveillance methods. Finally, it proposes legislation and strategies that federal lawmakers, state lawmakers, and school officials should adopt to counteract the effect of implicit racial bias on school officials’ decisions to implement strict security measures (and other decisions school officials make). Implementing these recommendations will help create better learning environments that benefit students of all races.

Latino/a Student Threat and School Disciplinary Policies and PracticesKelly Welch and Allison Ann Payne

Abstract

Using a nationally representative sample of approximately 3,500 public schools, this study builds on and extends our knowledge of how ‘‘minority threat’’ manifests within schools. We test whether various disciplinary policies and practices are mobilized in accordance with Latino/a student composition, presumably the result of a group response to perceptions that white racial dominance is jeopardized. We gauge how schools’ Latino/a student populations are associated with the availability and use of several specific types of discipline. We further explore possible moderating influences of school crime and economic disadvantage on punishment. We find that schools with larger percentages of Latino/a students are more likely to favor certain punitive responses and less likely to favor certain mild responses, as predicted by minority threat. The percentage of Latino/a students is also related to greater use of certain disciplinary responses in schools with less crime.

Mental Illness Didn’t Make Him Do It, Jonathan Foiles (Psychology Today)

The supposed link between mental illness and violence is so ingrained in our culture that stories like the above need only suggest that the perpetrator was depressed to satisfy a need for an explanation. Research reveals a far different story, however. People with mental illnesses are actually far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence (Appleby et. al., 2001). Those with severe mental illnesses (schizophreniabipolar disorderpsychosis) are actually 2.5 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than the general population (Hiday, 2006). A 2011 study found that to prevent one violent homicide by a person with schizophrenia, 35,000 patients deemed to be at a high risk of violence would need to be detained (Large et. al., 2011). And yet the link persists. A 2013 survey conducted after the Newtown shooting found that 46 percent of Americans believe that persons with a serious mental illness are “far more dangerous than the general population” (Barry et. al., 2013).

The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study Revisited: Two Views Ten Years After Its Initial PublicationE. Fuller Torrey , M.D., Jonathan Stanley , J.D., John Monahan , Ph.D., and Henry J. Steadman , Ph.D.

The lessons to be learned from the MacArthur Study are those that we have identified in our various publications. Among the more salient findings, violence risk attributed to people with mental disorders vastly exceeds the actual risk presented. Indeed, for people who do not abuse alcohol and drugs, there is no reason to anticipate that they present greater risk than their neighbors. The predictors of violence by people with mental disorders are more similar to than different from the predictors for the population as a whole, including alcohol and drug abuse. Violence in this population only rarely results in serious injury or death and generally does not involve the use of weapons. People with mental disorders are less likely than people without such disorders to assault strangers and to commit assaults in public places. Although there is suggestive evidence that remaining in treatment may reduce rates of violence among some persons with mental disorders, better data are needed; it is unlikely that treatment alone will eliminate violence risk.

Most Mass Shooters Are Not Mentally Ill, Carmela Epright

Sociologists explain why American men turn to gun violence, Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober

A great deal of commentary attempts to tie mass shootings to a single issue. Often, that seems like the easiest way to make sense of atrocities. That’s why we get sound bites that lean on mental health (when shooters are white), terrorist ties and affiliations (when shooters are brown), gang violence and “urban decay” (when shooters are black), bullying (when it happens in a school), and overwork (when it happens in a workplace).

The truth cannot be boiled down to any single issue. As sociologists, we can look to the bigger picture, point out patterns, and identify common denominators. Our research suggests that gun control is, indeed, an important piece of the problem. But in order to understand the factors behind America’s mass shootings, it is also critical to consider the relationship between masculinity and violence.

Scholars who study masculinity and mass shootings have consistently drawn attention to the fact that mass shootings are not only a uniquely American social problem; they are a problem with American men. We’ve argued before that there are two questions that require explanation related to gender and mass shootings. First, why is it that men commit virtually all mass shootings? And second, why do American men commit mass shootings more than men anywhere else in the world?

The psychological effects of ‘active-shooter drills’ on kids could do more harm than good, James Hamblin

Studies of whether active-shooter drills actually prevent harm are all but impossible. Case studies are difficult to parse. In Parkland, for example, the site of the recent shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had an active-shooter drill just last month. The shooter had been through such drills. Purposely countering them may have been a reason that, as he was beginning his rampage, the shooter pulled a fire alarm.

In any case, preparedness drills always change the baseline level of risk that people perceive. This heightening can manifest as stress and anxiety, not to mention changing the way kids understand how people treat one another—to even consider violence an option, not in some abstract way.

Colleen Derkatch, an associate professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, studies how we assess risk when it comes to our health. “The more prepared we are, the more heightened our sense of risk,” she told me. “And one potential effect we haven’t considered is how these kinds of preparedness activities affect kids psychologically, and could increase a sense of feeling at risk. They really expand the ways in which we feel increasingly under siege.”

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION USING A RACIAL, DISABILITY, AND LGBTQ JUSTICE FRAMEWORK

The National LGBTQ Task Force is a progressive social justice organization that works toward a society that values and respects the diversity of human expression and identity, and achieves equity for all. As the progressive voice of the LGBTQ movement, the Task Force approaches gun violence prevention from an intersectional framework conscious of issues such as racial justice, disability justice, and reproductive justice. These policy recommendations are meant to provide a guide for policy makers and advocates alike on advocacy for gun violence prevention from a progressive, intersectional perspective. In this policy brief, we have identified 10 recommendations for addressing our nation’s gun violence epidemic.

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Disciplinary Bias by Race and Gender Begins in Preschool

As reported by Cory Turner for NPR:

“What we found was exactly what we expected based on the rates at which children are expelled from preschool programs,” Gilliam says. “Teachers looked more at the black children than the white children, and they looked specifically more at the African-American boy.”

Indeed, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than white children. Put another way, black children account for roughly 19 percent of all preschoolers, but nearly half of preschoolers who get suspended.

One reason that number is so high, Gilliam suggests, is that teachers spend more time focused on their black students, expecting bad behavior. “If you look for something in one place, that’s the only place you can typically find it.”

Further Turner notes:

It’s impossible to separate these findings from today’s broader, cultural context — of disproportionately high suspension rates for black boys and young men throughout the school years, of America’s school-to-prison pipeline, and, most immediately, of the drumbeat of stories about black men being killed by police.

These findings parallel Michelle Alexander’s claims about racial inequity in policing and the criminal justice system—a dynamic disturbingly grounded in education and education reform.

The study itself finds:

Preschool expulsions and the disproportionate expulsion of Black boys have gained attention in recent years, but little has been done to understand the underlying causes behind this issue. This study examined the potential role of preschool educators’ implicit biases as a viable partial explanation behind disparities in preschool expulsions. Participants were recruited at a large conference of early educators and completed two tasks. In Task 1, participants were primed to expect challenging behaviors (although none were present) while watching a video of preschoolers, balanced by sex and race, engaging in typical activities, as the participants’ eye gazes were tracked. In Task 2, participants read a standardized vignette of a preschooler with challenging behavior and were randomized to receive the vignette with the child’s name implying either a Black boy, Black girl, White boy, or White girl, as well as randomized to receive the vignette with or without background information on the child’s family environment. Findings revealed that when expecting challenging behaviors teachers gazed longer at Black children, especially Black boys. Findings also suggested that implicit biases may differ depending on teacher race. Providing family background information resulted in lowered severity ratings when teacher and child race matched, but resulted in increased severity ratings when their race did not match. No differences were found based on recommendations regarding suspension or expulsion, except that Black teachers in general recommended longer periods of disciplinary exclusion regardless of child gender/race. Recommendations for future research and policy regarding teacher training are offered. (abstract)

The Post and Courier: Get real for reform by ending ‘get tough’ school discipline

Get real for reform by ending ‘get tough’ school discipline

[See original submission with hyperlinks included below]

Reforming School Discipline Policies Must Recognize Racial Inequity

P.L. Thomas

A recent Post and Courier editorial argues: “[school] is…not a place where children should be labeled criminals on a regular basis. And that’s what seems to have been happening in Charleston County schools.”

Just as Richland 2 (Columbia) addressed in 2014, Charleston is now committed to reforming discipline policies in schools that have resulted in significant imbalances in how students are treated, worst of which is that often those practices criminalize students of color disproportionately.

Education reform has been prominent in South Carolina and across the U.S. since the late 1970s and early 1980s, notably with the accountability movement based on academic standards and high-stakes testing. Along with a “get-tough” attitude about academics—such as instituting exit exams—public schools have also increasingly embraced “get-tough” approaches to student behavior—“no excuses” philosophies and zero tolerance policies, for example.

Over the past thirty or so years, however, doubling down again and again on accountability as well as discipline has not created the outcomes promised, but has resulted in many unintended negative consequences.

Exit exams as gatekeepers in school and student accountability as well as popular policies such as grade retention based on test scores have proven to be extremely harmful, especially for vulnerable populations of students (poor, black/brown, and special needs students and English language learners).

While Charleston continues to struggle with education reform targeting academics, the city has also been the epicenter of the larger national challenge to recognize concerns about policing and racial tensions—with the shooting of Walter Scott and the heinous massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

To reform school discipline, we must admit, is to confront a subset of the wider race problem with mass incarceration and police shootings. If our public schools are to be change agents for our society, they must be unlike the culture and communities they serve.

Charleston, then, is making a wise and important decision to reform discipline policies in the district, but additionally, this move requires that political leaders and the public are well educated about the realities of racial inequities in school discipline.

Those lessons must include the following:

  • In 2012 the Office of Civil Rights released disturbing data about racial imbalances in school suspensions and expulsions: “African-American students represent 18% of students in the CRDC [Civil Rights Data Collection] sample, but 35% of students suspended once, 46% of those suspended more than once, and 39% of students expelled.”
  • Racial inequities in school discipline begin in prekindergarten, and have lingering negative consequences for students, including contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline and higher drop-out rates.
  • Research also shows that black children are targeted more often and treated differently than white children for the same behaviors. In fact, Kenrya Rankin Naasel reports: “When black students exhibit behavioral problems at school, administrators are more likely to call the police than to secure medical interventions. In fact, the study found that the more black students who attend a school, the more likely the people in charge are to call the police, rather than a doctor.”
  • Black children are viewed as being much older than their biological ages, and thus, Stacey Patton, a senior enterprise reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Educationargues, “Black America has again been reminded that its children are not seen as worthy of being alive—in part because they are not seen as children at all, but as menacing threats to white lives.”
  • Police in the hallways of schools has proven to be more likely to criminalize students than to create safer learning environments.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement has forced the U.S. to confront some hard truths about lingering racial inequity, and addressing discipline policies in Charleston along with continuing to reform academic opportunities for students is yet another set of hard racial truths for us to examine and overcome.

Charleston educational leaders should be commended for this needed move, but the way forward has to be informed by the available research and then grounded in a firm commitment to create the sorts of equitable and rich school experiences that South Carolina has for too long neglected to provide for poor and black/brown students.

In his For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, Christopher Emdin offers a powerful guiding principle for all education reform: “It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.”

Our “get-tough” approaches to academics and discipline are damaging our students, and we must find better ways to serve all our students.


See Also

Greenville News: COMMENTARY: Are black children criminalized in schools?

Thomas: Race matters in school discipline and incarceration | Opinion Columns | The State


UPDATE: And then I receive a racist (incoherent) email as a response:

racist email

The Everyday Crimes of Race and Class

Consider carefully the U.S. when children were subjected to horrific labor.

Were the children culpable for that abuse? Did children have the physical or political power to end the abuse?

Or were the adults responsible—the only agents of that process capable of ending child labor?

These may seem to be silly questions with obvious answers, but when racism, classism, and sexism are confronted in the U.S., many shift the accusatory finger to the victims, calling for the victims themselves to right the wrongs leveled against them.

Black and brown people in the U.S. did not create racism, do not perpetuate racism, and cannot end racism. Poor people do not cause poverty, and despite what pandering conservatives believe, cannot “think [their] way out of poverty.” And women are not the cause of rape culture, inequitable pay, and domestic abuse; they cannot end them either.

Change ultimately lies with those who have power—physical, political, financial, ideological.

And there isn’t a damn thing fair about who has power in the U.S.—or who does not.

And while the U.S. has mostly eradicated child labor through laws, we are still confronted with Tamir Rice—a boy, a child shot and killed by a police officer sworn to protect and serve.

Tamir Rice was a child.

For the most part, those people with power don’t give a real damn about Rice’s tragic story. There is some passing rhetoric, but there is no action to prove otherwise.

Philando Castile lies before us now. His tragic story also means almost nothing to those with power, but the lessons are dark and powerful:

“What Mr. Castile symbolizes for a lot of us working in public defense is that driving offenses are typically just crimes of poverty,” says Erik Sandvick, a public defender in Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul and its suburbs….

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Temple University and the author of Crook County, which documents the problems in the criminal justice system of Chicago, said Castile was the “classic case” of what criminologists have called “net widening,” or the move of local authorities to criminalize more and more aspects of regular life.

“It is in particular a way that people of color and the poor are victimized on a daily basis,” Gonzalez Van Cleve said.

Rice and Castile were criminalized—rendered by the mere facts of race and class.

Being black or brown, poor, or female are burdens from which people cannot take a vacation. Because of systemic racism, classism, and sexism, the condition of scarcity “leaves citizens with no good choices — having to pick, for instance, whether to pay a fine or pay for car insurance,” as Castile represents.

Interpreting Tamir Rice as older than his age and violent, dangerous was nested in the police officer—not Rice.

That officer was an agent of systemic racism that justifies excessive use of force, racial profiling, and a whole host of criminalizing practices by the state.

From school-based discipline polices to zero tolerance, we have ample evidence that formal schooling creates criminals in the same ways policing creates criminals in some neighborhoods (read poor and black, brown).

But as we ignore the tragic stories and lessons of Rice and Castile—among so many others—we also ignore who controls the game.

One day, marijuana possession and sales are crimes, and then, the next, marijuana possession and sales are good ol’ business. In the first case, criminalizing disproportionately black and poor people, and in the second case, making monied white folk wealthier.

There is nothing inherently right or wrong about using or selling marijuana; only who controls the right and wrong matters.

Racism targeting blacks in the U.S. suggests the problems lie in blacks themselves. Classism in the U.S. blames laziness among the poor for poverty. Sexism deems women inferior to men and the cause of their own sexual abuse.

All of this, however, is as obvious as the opening questions.

Brock Turner—privileged, white, and drunk—and Judge Aaron Persky—white, male, and drunk on privilege—are the problems to be addressed.

The even uglier reality is that the power to admit these problems of white privilege and to do something about it rests in people just like Turner and Persky.

Education May Never Be “Great Equalizer,” But Must Model Equity

Model and actress, Emily Ratajkowski gained fame from a misogynistic and exploitive music video, but has since emerged as a complicated and important feminist voice confronting the sexualizing of women and body shaming.

Ratajkowski’s Instagram account mainly offers personal and professional photographs of Ratajkowski in various states of undress, but she is also prone to using that platform for the occasional political message.

Recently, she posted a grainy photo of crudely taped note challenging dress codes in schools for discriminating against females; as the note states, “INSTEAD OF SHAMING GIRLS FOR THEIR BODIES, TEACH BOYS THAT GIRLS ARE NOT SEXUAL OBJECTS.”

I shared this on social media myself, and encountered a number of not surprising responses—many of which where the typical “but” offered by men when sexism is exposed.

The central message of the note posted by Ratajkowski is both well documented [1] and urgent in terms of the essential inequity found in many traditional school policies such as dress codes and disciplinary guidelines and outcomes: Dress codes are sexist and school discipline (notably suspension and expulsion) is racist—paralleling the same inequities in U.S. society.

School dress codes and discipline policies, then, represent the tragic failure of claiming that formal education in the U.S. is the “great equalizer.”

Not only is that claim untrue, but also the reality of how formal education reflects and perpetuate social inequities is even more damning.

And while a strong case can be made for reforming traditional public education so that school can be the “great equalizer,” I remain skeptical that school reform alone will ever reach this ideal.

In short, we need public policy that directly confronts the cancers of racism, classism, and sexism—the great inequities that thrive in the U.S.

But my skepticism doesn’t justify ignoring the equally great failures of public education. At the very least, we must create a public education system that is a model for the sort of equity we envision in our so-called free nation.

Dress codes that place burdens disproportionately on females are entrenching sexism, body shaming, and rape culture (for an extreme version, consider the lack of institutional care at Baylor University), school discipline practices that initiate and parallel the racially inequitable criminal justice system—these are but two, although significant, examples of how public schooling remains trapped in an accountability paradigm that neither recognizes nor corrects inequity because standards and high-stakes testing are themselves inequitable, teacher assignment is inequitable, tracking and gate-keeping of advanced courses are inequitable, charter schools and school choice are inequitable, and grade-retention is inequitable.

Dress codes may seem to be a somewhat insignificant but necessary part of formal education, but, in fact, dress codes are ugly reminders that we have failed to create schools that model the type of fair and just world to which we aspire.

For Ratajkowski, her own feminism may have ironically begun because of the exact failures of these attitude:

In eighth grade, a vice principal snapped my bra strap in front of an entire room of my classmates and other teachers. She did it because the strap was falling out from my tank top and that broke the school’s dress code.

The institutional shaming of young girls is the seed of misogyny and rape culture just as the disproportionate criminalizing of young black males and females in school discipline codes is the seed of mass incarceration.

If our education system cannot be the “great equalizer,” it must at least be a model of a fair and just way of being.


See Also

Dress Codes in Schools: Spaghetti Straps, Midriffs; Adults’ Need for Control, Steve Nelson

[1] See The Sexism of School Dress Codes, Li Zhou; The Anatomy Of A Dress Code, Juana Summers; How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture, Laura Bates; Girls Fight Back Against Gender Bias in School Dress Codes, Brenda Alvarez. Also, the research:

“Tank Tops Are Ok but I Don’t Want to See Her Thong”: Girls’ Engagements With Secondary School Dress Codes, Rebecca Raby

Cleavage in a Tank Top: Bodily Prohibition and the Discourses of School Dress Codes, Shauna Pomerantz

Polite, Well-dressed and on Time: Secondary School Conduct Codes and the Production of Docile Citizens, Rebecca Raby

Class‐Room Discipline: power, resistance and gender. A look at teacher perspectives, Kerry H. Robinson

Headscarves and Porno-Chic: Disciplining Girls’ Bodies in the European Multicultural Society, Linda Duits

Outliers Never Evidence of Normal in Education

In Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares, the NYT, like most of mainstream media, is begrudgingly coming to admit that race and class inequity in the U.S. has a profound impact on the education of children—and that simply tinkering (badly) with school policy is not enough to change that reality:

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

But then there is this:

The data was [sic] not uniformly grim. A few poor districts — like Bremen City, Ga. and Union City, N.J. — posted higher-than-average scores. They suggest the possibility that strong schools could help children from low-income families succeed.

“There are some outliers, and trying to figure out what’s making them more successful is worth looking at,” said Mr. Reardon, a professor of education and lead author of the analysis.

Well, no, if we find outliers—and virtually all data have outliers in research—we should not waste our time trying to figure out how we can make outliers the norm.

The norm is where we should put our efforts in order to confront what is, in fact, not “puzzling” (used earlier in the article) at all; the data are very clear:

What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

Our great education reform failure is one of failing to rethink our questions and our goals.

Let’s stop trying to find the “miracle” in a rare few schools where vulnerable students appear to succeed despite the odds against them. With time and careful consideration, we must admit, those appearances almost always are mirages.

Let’s instead put our energy in eradicating the poverty, racism, and sexism that disadvantages some students, vulnerable populations easily identified by race and social class, so that we can educate all students well.

And while we are making efforts at social policy, let’s end the in-school policies that we know “exacerbate” inequity: tracking, teacher assignments (and TFA), high-stakes testing, grade retention, discipline policies grounded in zero tolerance and “no excuses,” and segregation through school choice (including charter schools).

Education reform, as was highlighted in the original court case examined in the South Carolina documentary The Corridor of Shame, is obsessed with playing the hero by seeing who can pull the most babies out of the river.

And then examining the ones who survive the potential drowning in order to “make” all babies survive the trauma of being cast down stream.

But no one seems interested in walking upstream to stop babies being thrown in.

Life and learning do not need to be something children survive—and we must confront that we have decided that this is exactly what we are willing to accept for “other people’s children.”

It would not be so if we believed and acted upon that “they’re all our children.”


The Allegory of the River

How Good Is the Best Edujournalism?

A recurring theme running through my blog posts—one that could be addressed daily—is that education journalism is almost always significantly misleading and way too often completely inaccurate.

Mainstream media and journalists are trapped in false but compelling narratives about schools, learning and teaching, children, poverty, and race. Journalism itself fails education as a field because of a simplistic “both sides” to a rather cartoonish “objective” journalism.

As I have detailed too often, media coverage of education includes primarily voices and perspectives of people with no or very little experience or expertise in education, but when a few contrary perspectives are offered, those are typically framed as “some critics”—with no effort to establish which claims are credible or not.

Sadly, the best unmasking of the essential failure of the media has been by one of our faux-media comedians, John Oliver, who highlighted that even if there are two sides to an issue, one can be overwhelmingly credible while the other is mostly baseless; therefore, placing them as one-versus-one misleads the public on the weight of the arguments.

So when I received yet another email from the Education Writers Association (EWA)—who is extremely proud of itself—announcing their top award for education reporting, I wondered: How good is the best edujournalism?

The EWA Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting was awarded for Failure Factories (The Tampa Bay Times), written by Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner and Michael LaForgia. The series includes the following:

Without question, this series is comprehensive and it confronts some incredibly important issues about public schooling: the significant relationship between race/poverty and student achievement; the plague of segregation and resegregation in public institutions such as schools; and the huge inequities of education faced by racial minorities and impoverished students such as teacher assignments, school safety, funding, and discipline practices.

And while the series does a solid job of raising these issues, my first response is that these are all old news—I mean very old news.

That our public schools have failed poor and black/brown students is a recurring message over the last century—little different before or after the Civil Rights movement.

Therein lies a real problem with even the so-called best edujournalim—journalists without a historical lens afforded those with expertise in a field are ripe to fall prey to the lens of a novice.

One such failure of this series and then how the EWA praised the series can be found in the quoted judge’s comment:

Bravo to this team and the paper for taking an all-too-common story (low achievement in a high-poverty area) and digging past the excuses to reveal a shameful history of indifference and, most troubling, willful neglect. I was awed by the dogged reporting, the sheer volume of interviews and data-crunching, and the courageous analysis that put the blame exactly where it needed to be. But the true brilliance of this work is found in the stories of the children who were robbed of an education they deserved. How many other school districts in America might have the same story to tell?

The series title “Failure Factories” is but one of many triggers for the pervasive and ugly “no excuses” narrative that is all the rage in the U.S.

You see, once again, this series oversimplifies the story of educating vulnerable populations of students: racism and classism are merely excuses for the schools charged with high concentrations of vulnerable students.

And as the judge notes above, this is all about “blame”—and keeping the focus on those damn failing schools.

The shame is that without this corrosive and ugly framing, there is an incredible amount of work in this series that does deserve praise. We should be asking: Why do we need yet anther round of test scores to admit and confront race and class inequity—especially when high-stakes standardized testing itself is racist and classist?

The truth is that schools in the U.S. have never been, are not now, and never will be anything other than reflections of our society—unless we do things different in both our social and educational policy.

Yes, public schools almost entirely reflect and perpetuate the race, class, and gender inequities that remain powerful in our wider society, and much of that is embedded in the very reforms being championed in the media and among political leaders: accountability, standards, high-stakes testing, grade retention, zero tolerance policies, “no excuses” practices, charter schools, school choice, Teach For America, school report cards, value-added methods of teacher evaluation, and the worst of the worst—”grit.”

That is not simply a fact of the schools targeted by this series. That is a fact about public education across the entire country.

And many educators as well as education scholars have been yelling that for decades; that’s right—decades.

Possibly the most telling problem with the series is the end, where the condemnations of Arne Duncan and John King are treated as if they are somehow credible.

If this weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable—nearly rising to the level of an article in The Onion.

Therefore, here is a little message about the best of edujournalism.

Dear EWA:

Public schools have been reflecting and perpetuating the worst aspects of our society for over 100 years. People in power really don’t care, and politicians in the last three to four decades have learned that education policy is a powerful political football.

Since the Reagan administration, public schools have failed students even more significantly because of inane obsessions with accountability, standards, and tests.

Duncan and King are the personifications of all that is wrong with education policy: lots of soaring rhetoric masking policy cures that are part of the disease; thus, the accountability movement is intensifying race, class, and gender inequity—not overcoming it.

Racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia are never excuses, but facts, and these burdens are more than micromanaged and technocratic in-school only policies can address.

Yes, we need much more equitable school practices and polices—but none of what politicians are doing now meets those standards—and those alone will never accomplish what we seem to want without concurrent changes to public policy that also addresses equity.

Edujournalism, as well, is part of the problem because it remains trapped in false narratives, committed to simplistic “both sides” frames of issues, and unwilling to listen to the voices of the practitioners and scholars in the field of education.

Nearly everything addressed in “Failure Factories” was raised by novelist Ralph Ellison in a 1963 speech to teachers. Your best journalism is old news wrapped in a false frame and too often fumbled badly with good intentions.

I remain concerned that education-bashing journalism has become so lucrative for your flailing field that it is in fact as pressing that we address the journalism crisis as we do the need to significantly reform our public schools.

As agents of the public good, journalists and educators have a great deal in common that is being squandered; neither can afford as a field or in the name of that public good to remain the tools of those who have interests other than the public good.

We both can and should do better.