Public schools all across America are failing on all fronts. Every year new calls come from all angles to change the system. Unfortunately most voices focus on the effects rather than the causes of the shortcomings. This series of discussions will explore realistic and honest approaches to actually fixing the American public school system. Everything will be on the table; sacred cows will be slaughtered and served with slaw. Frankly, our children deserve no less.
This year my campus has instituted random tardy sweeps in order to curb the rampant scores of late students. As soon as the bell rings to signify the start of class an announcement is made instructing teachers to lock and close all doors. All kids remaining in the halls are “swept” into a central area and issued Saturday D-Halls. Just this past week before Thanksgiving break four students in one of my periods got caught in a sweep. After getting their d-hall pass to re-enter class, an otherwise well-behaved “B+” student looked straight into my face and quipped “Oh it’s cool Mr. Whitley. We’re just gonna get ___ _______ to erase it.”
All Bark, No Bite
I left the administrator’s name blank intentionally because the point was not to point fingers, but to illustrate an epidemic in our schools. Teachers are responsible for the minds of the students we encounter year after year. With an average of forty-six minutes to teach thirty plus kids every second is precious. However, everyday substantial chunks of time, the only resource we can’t reproduce, are stolen through various discipline infractions. On top of this, rules are sporadically enforced and favorites/ athletes are pardoned. Even when a referral is issued, students know they only go so far. Essentially if a student gets a d-hall the punishment for missing is Saturday d-hall. If a student refuses to comply they are subject to a two day suspension. Larger offenses (drugs, weapons) earn kids a six week stay in ALC (Alternative Learning Center).
The problem? D-hall is a glorified time-out. Students do homework the entire day. Most times they are doing the same nothing they would be in class; namely talking, texting, and listening to music. When they get suspended it is simply a two day vacation. The kids know the limits of the discipline system and they are comfortable with it. There is no reason for any student to respect and listen to authority if/when infractions occur there are no consequences. Worse still, the obstinate actions of repeat offenders spread like a cancer in the campus. Soon even the responsible kids are slipping into class late and barely completing assignments. Fights become more frequent and intense.
Do As I Say AND As I Do.
If we want an environment conducive to education then we must be stern when behavioral expectations are not adhered to. This reform requires resolve. Tardy sweeps must be preformed every period. Every tardy should be accompanied with a robocall to the parents and a Saturday d-hall. After ten tardies the parents/ guardians will be fined $500. Everyone needs to understand that poor parenting costs our society far more. Three rounds of fines and the student gets suspended, which stays on their permanent record. Here, suspensions matter. While the child is off campus they would be required to complete seven hours of community service per day with the local police department. Very soon suspensions would become the rare occurrences they once were when I attended school. If you fight, you are shipped off to ALC for six weeks; fight again and finish your year there.
Speaking of Alternative Learning Centers…they must fundamentally change as well. Classes average about ten less students; therefore they get more teaching time. It seems criminally unfair to jam thirty plus kids in a regular classroom and have trouble makes benefit from better teaching practices. True reform requires full-sized ALC’s. Chronic problems should be gradually weeded out from the primary schools. At the end of each school students in ALC’s can file a petition to re-enter their primary campus. Some of the requirements should be:
No recent discipline issues
Written “Plan of Action” to prevent future problems
Expanding ALC’s will not only cut down on the discipline issues on campus, but will also reduce the unwieldy massive classes. Referrals that actually carry consequences will change behaviors; this simple measure will affect everything. Test scores will rise. Instances of bulling will evaporate. Campuses and administrators will find themselves with extra time due to the lack of multiple fires that constantly need to be quelled. Most importantly, our students will emerge into the real world with the knowledge and skills to strive for goals, and the discipline and focus to achieve them.
This series is far from exhaustive. The purpose of these articles is to spark new ideas and pioneer real reform in our public schools. I am about solutions, nothing more. I fully expect to raise the ire of naysayers and guardians of the status quo; in fact I welcome it. Have something to say? Whether it is a compliment, criticism, or comment sound off below or contact me at email@example.com.
Alternative Learning Center.schools.cfisd.net/alc
Dallas Parents with Truant Kids Taught a Lesson.dallasnews.com