Thursday Reading List: School Safety, Unprepared Teachers, and Public Montessori

Rebecca Klein of The Hechinger Report looks into school security policies and finds that more policing doesn't necessarily mean more safety:

Data shows that just having a school-based police officer makes it more likely that a child will be referred to law enforcement for even minor infractions — potentially pushing kids into the justice system for misdeeds like vandalism, more generally known as the school-to-prison pipeline. This phenomenon is particularly acute for black children, who are 2.3 times more likely than white children to get arrested or referred to law enforcement at school, according U.S. Department of Education data from the 2013-14 school year. In the past few years, there has been at least a handful of high-profile incidents of police brutality in schools involving students of color.

Klein looks at the proliferation of school based police - euphemistically called "school resource officers" - and how their training contributes to both good and bad practices. Maintaining a safe environment is critical, and Elizabeth Harris of The New York Times looks at recent changes to how school violence is reported in New York:

Johanna Miller, the advocacy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, was a member of a task force that worked on the new regulations. She said the group “worked a lot with the language of the categories so it matched up better with the language of school discipline, rather than what it was before, which was penal code language.” For example, “assault with physical injury” and “assault with serious physical injury” will now become a single category, called “physical injury.” Categories like “reckless endangerment” will disappear.

Keeping schools safe is a primary imperative. So is correcting inappropriate behavior, which should happen outside of the criminal justice and penal systems for the vast majority of behaviors, particularly those evinced by children. The blurring of the lines between criminal corrections and school behavior management is extremely pernicious and needs to be fixed.

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Elsewhere, Sharif El-Mekki at Philly's 7th Ward wants to make sure that teachers are more prepared for the rigors of educating his students:

Once students are in teaching programs, there is a lot that they simply aren’t taught, even though districts and schools will require them to teach those ignored subjects to children. For example, only 39 percent of the elementary programs in this study taught their undergraduates all five components of reading (phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary). Out of everything we are accountable to teach students, reading is by far the most complex. When students enter school with gaps in reading skills, the quest for literacy is even more fraught with challenges. Research indicates, students proficient at reading will have seen an average of 18,681 words of running text by the end of the first grade. Struggling students will have seen around half of that number. When students leave elementary school behind grade-level reading, the gap is compounded, and by high school, the chasm is vast. Sixty percent of teacher programs are only teaching a part of what constitutes reading. From the start, these teachers are behind. When we put them in front of kids who are already behind, it spells disaster.

El-Mekki hits on one of my pet issues here, which is our country's failure to prepare educators for actual teaching challenges. Almost every country that outperforms ours in schooling performance has a rigorous, standardized approach to reading instruction, which accounts for both the neuroscience of reading, and the content necessary to extract meaning from texts. We do neither of those things well in the United States.

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Finally, Erin Einhorn at Chalkbeat looks at a public Montessori program in Detroit:

The popular educational method that allows children to learn at their own pace in mixed-age classrooms not only appealed to [Yolanda] King as someone who sent her son to a private Montessori preschool. It also said something larger to her about the district’s relationship with its children and its future. “It was an opportunity for DPS to prove to me as an employee that it really valued our students,” she said. “[It shows they’re] looking at different ways to educate, to kind of give something back instead of taking something away, as they typically unfortunately do” ... But as Montessori becomes more common in public schools, the programs often face steep challenges as they try to shoehorn a non-traditional approach into a traditional bureaucracy. How can students learn at their own pace when there are state tests looming? Should some classrooms get new wooden blocks while others lack textbooks? And in Detroit, there’s an added question: Will the district be stable enough to sustain the new program in the years to come?

Einhorn does a nice job unpacking the challenges of offering even a modestly non-traditional education program within a school district context. When I worked for the school district in Washington DC, Montessori expansion was one of my responsibilities; there was always high demand for more programming, and each expansion brought instructional, budgetary, equity, and accountability challenges. Those challenges are worth tackling, though, as districts need to figure out how to provide more, better options for parents. I have a long article coming out in a magazine soon (stay tuned!) which will say a lot more about innovative Montessori programming.