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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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December 16, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Using discipline to help kids feel better about school, not worse

Nicholas Bradford, founder, Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest

Nicholas Bradford, founder of the Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest. Courtesy photo.

Schools nationwide are facing the hard-to-refute fact that using suspension to discipline students doesn’t do much to improve their behavior — and may make it worse.

But what if there was a way to nudge kids who disrupt classrooms or bully peers to atone for those violations by confronting them?

What if the atonement itself actually strengthened the relationship between students and their schools?

Nicholas Bradford, a member of the Coast Guard Reserve, says such a technique exists, and it’s called Restorative Justice. Maybe that sounds a bit kumbaya, but the approach has been used successfully in tough Oakland schools and in some prisons.

Bradford spoke with Education Lab about this practice, and its implications for students here.

Q: What exactly is Restorative Justice, and why do you think it’s a smart way to approach school discipline?

A: It’s an approach to conflict that holds a youth accountable for harm, while simultaneously building relationships. The usual way — suspending kids — just pushes them out and further damages the relationship between student and teacher.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, Nicholas Bradford, race

December 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Student discipline has results, and that’s the problem

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, Assistant Principal Regina Hauptmann, left, works with a student in the Focus Room during a recent school day.  The Kent School District is looking at how they discipline students and seeking alternatives to suspending them.  Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, Assistant Principal Regina Hauptmann, left, works with a student during a recent school day. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Cacophony is not too strong a word for the collective response to coverage of school discipline.

Readers of our Sunday story on efforts in Kent to rethink student suspensions ranged from blaming parents, to blaming teachers, to blaming the media. But the point of such inquiries — whether they appear in a newspaper or emanate from a think tank — is not to assign fault. It’s to open a discussion. It’s a search for answers.

With this in mind, one study mentioned in the story warrants greater emphasis because it shows that punitive discipline often has serious, detrimental repercussions for students.

In “Breaking Schools’ Rules,” researchers with the Council of State Governments tracked nearly 1 million Texas kids for six years, from seventh through 12th grade, trying to find out what happens to those who get suspended.

Their findings:

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, suspensions

December 6, 2014 at 8:10 PM

Sunday story: Kent schools take fresh approach to student discipline

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, school-safety officer Bobby Fuller patrols the hallways during a class break. Such officers in Kent now act as mediators rather than just security guards. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

At Mill Creek Middle School in Kent, school-safety officer Bobby Fuller patrols the hallways during a class break. Such officers in Kent now act as mediators rather than just security guards. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

The fight began over a girl. Or online insults. Or because high school is a bubbling caldron of energies that can overflow at any provocation, without regard to rules. And those rules were clear: No violence.

Chris Valmonte learned this the day he was surrounded in the cafeteria at Kentridge High School, threw a punch to ward off his attackers and wound up suspended. Two years later, when his sister was jumped during dismissal, she remembered Chris’ punishment, refused to push back and ended up with a concussion, her budding athletic career dashed.

“What should I do if something like that happens to me?” the Valmontes’ younger brother, David, then an eighth-grader, asked his mother. “What are kids supposed to do if they’re attacked?”

Mary Valmonte did not know how to answer. She brought her son’s question to the Kent School Board. They couldn’t answer, either.

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November 26, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the Game, 5: Teacher meetings aren’t only for the kids

I don’t know what I expected — an inquisition about my parenting style? The discovery that my 5-year-old was a secret sociopath? A misfit genius? Whatever I imagined this bogeyman to be, my first parent-teacher conference was nothing close.

Instead, we adults sat on tiny-person chairs around a miniature table, looking over evidence of my son’s 12-week evolution. I saw his handwriting on the first day of kindergarten, and how it had changed three months later. (Still no “finger-spaces” between his words.) I saw what he could sight-read in September, how he’d tripled that by November, and where on the reading-assessment levels he now rates. (Pretty well, though he still stumbles when trying to read the word “read.”)

Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

I pictured this veteran teacher, sitting all day in those itty-bitty chairs, doing the same show-and-tell exercise for two dozen other families, and realized how much an elementary educator’s job involves teaching parents the processes of public school.

It’s visible, the mark this bureaucracy leaves on a 5 year old. On the first day of class, all the kids looked vaguely perplexed at having to sit in fixed seats or at assigned spots on the carpet. That’s gone. You can see it in their faces. They’ve toughened a bit, figured out that they’re being funneled into a much bigger system, and that it has rules.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: parenting, Skin in the game

November 21, 2014 at 1:05 PM

White House officials to hear from Native students on Monday

The federal Department of Education will visit Seattle next week to hear from Native American students, their families and educators about ways to better meet the academic needs of Native American youth.

The listening tour had been planned for earlier this month by the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, but was abruptly cancelled out of respect for grieving families after the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooting, in which four students were fatally shot, and another injured, before gunman Jaylen Fryberg turned the weapon on himself. Fryberg was a member of the Tulalip Tribes.

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November 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Not a pretty picture: A call to action for black girls in school

Update, 11:05 a.m.: This post was updated to include information about students at Chief Sealth High School winning a film award related to race and education.

Across the country, educators are talking about new ways to handle student discipline, and while there is broad acknowledgement that punitive, zero-tolerance policies have fallen disproportionately on African-American boys, a recent report points out that black girls are suspended at a rate six times that of whites — and at rates that also surpass those for Latino, Asian and white boys.

Though research shows that they do not engage in more frequent or serious misbehavior than other groups, African-American girls account for 43 percent of all female students arrested at school. They constitute only 17 percent of the nation’s female students.

Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls: A Call to Action for Educational Equity,” authored by the National Women’s Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, highlights these facts and attempts to quantify some of the long-range costs.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, race

November 15, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Lessons learned: Some common themes to improving schools

The assignment sounded clear enough: Find schools making demonstrable improvements to student achievement, then explain how they did it so that others might do the same.

Education Lab reporters could look anywhere for these lessons. The only criteria were evidence of success and ideas that could be transferred without a tremendous investment of extra time or money. In other words, we would look beyond examples of individual heroism to practices that could be replicated broadly.

Would we find advances in brain science that influenced the best classroom teachers? Were there little-known techniques that worked magic?

Hardly. Twelve months, 17 stories and hundreds of blog posts later, our team has interviewed students, parents and educators from the West Coast to the Heartland, identifying new ways to improve instruction, help more kids finish high school and go to college. Yet there were certain basic themes common to every successful effort.

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November 15, 2014 at 4:58 PM

Where are they now? Updates on Education Lab’s past stories

Over the past year, Education Lab has examined 17 schools, districts and approaches to learning last year, searching for proven results in student learning. Did the early promise we found continue? Did it increase? Here are updates from some of our most popular stories.

White Center Heights Elementary
After a year of boosting scores on state tests by double digits across the entire school, White Center Heights acknowledged far less rosy results after it took the new, Common Core tests this spring.

“We were at 50 percent proficiency across the building — not good,” said Principal Anne Reece. “I’ll tell you right now, my teachers are worried.”

City Year Corps member Becka Gross, right, and student Taylor Trimming chat in the hallway between classes last fall at Denny Middle School. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

City Year Corps member Becka Gross, right, and student Taylor Trimming chat in the hallway between classes last fall at Denny Middle School. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Diplomas Now
Both of the Seattle middle schools in the Diplomas Now program had another year of encouraging results.

Denny Middle School had the top daily attendance rate for the month of September — 94.7 percent — among any of the 16 middle schools in the national Diplomas Now network.

Across town, Aki Kurose was honored as Middle School of the Year by Diplomas Now, and has kept its daily attendance rate steady at 95 percent — a marked upgrade from 2010, when more than half the school’s 600 students missed at least 10 days of class. Referrals for bad behavior are down 62 percent. Academic performance has improved steadily too.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: lessons learned

November 7, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Bob Craves, who helped thousands go to college, dies

Bob Craves

Bob Craves

More than 3,800 people hold college degrees today, in part because Robert Craves decided to address the prohibitive costs of higher education.

Craves, a corporate leader who was a founding officer of Costco and then went on to found the College Success Foundation, died Wednesday at age 72.

In 2000, stunned that thousands of students never consider higher education because of its price tag, he helped start the then-small nonprofit in Issaquah, providing scholarships and mentoring to low-income and first-generation Washington students. That work soon spread across the country to the nation’s capital. The foundation now estimates that 5,000 young people are currently enrolled in college with financial help from Craves’ group.

He counted politicians and billionaires among acquaintances – former Washington Governor Gary Locke credits Craves with uplifting a generation – yet inspired equally powerful devotion from students whose names don’t appear in boldface.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Bob Craves, College Success Foundation

November 6, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Students performing their own stories find relevance in school

Students from Scriber Lake High School will perform their own stories in "Behind Closed Doors."

Students from Scriber Lake High School will perform their own stories in “Behind Closed Doors.”

In the search for ways to make schoolwork relevant to students, Marjie Bowker, who teaches English at Edmonds’ Scriber Lake High School, may have hit the jackpot.

Her students — many of them credit-deficient, involved in gangs or otherwise difficult to reach — are now clamoring to participate in Bowker’s “Write to Right” program.

The curriculum, which Bowker created with memoirist Ingrid Ricks after reading her book “Hippie Boy,” teaches ninth graders how to excavate their personal stories, structure them for publication and perform these works for the public. On Friday, at 1 p.m., they will present “Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Inside Out” at the Seattle Public Theater, located in Bathhouse Theater on Green Lake.

Much of the work covers tough material, including struggles with sexual identity, addiction, self-harm, depression, assault and parents in prison.

“These are edgy stories, as edgy as it gets,” said Bowker, who was searching for a way to teach Common Core standards — in this case, nonfiction narrative — to students who’d previously found little about school that interested them.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, Scriber Lake High

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