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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: discipline

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February 5, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Seattle teachers want district to outline new discipline approach

Loren Demeroutis (right), principal of Big Picture High School in Burien, speaks to students during a group discussion about drug use as part of the restorative justice process. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

Loren Demeroutis (right), principal of Big Picture High School in Burien, speaks to students during a group discussion about drug use as part of the restorative justice process. Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times.

While federal investigators continue to pore through discipline data in Seattle schools, concerned about a pattern of punishing minority students at higher rates than whites, many of the district’s teachers say there’s no need to wait for a formal verdict. They know there’s a problem, and they want to move ahead with a solution that could address it.

Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association, said the union plans to hammer out a proposal this month, urging the school district to consider restorative justice as a new model for student discipline.

“I sense not just a willingness, but an eagerness to get to it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Restorative justice, as described in an Education Lab story last month, treats misbehavior as harm done to a relationship and focuses on repairing it, rather than simply suspending students. Teachers who have used this approach in other cities, like Denver and San Francisco, say it can make a huge difference in classroom dynamics.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: discipline, restorative justice, Seattle Education Association

January 24, 2015 at 6:05 PM

Guest: Six common myths about student discipline

Sarah Yatsko

Sarah Yatsko

The rate of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions has doubled since the early 1970s, even as rates for juvenile crime and violence in schools have both sharply declined.

In 2013, Washington state improved the laws that govern suspensions and expulsions. In recent weeks, The Seattle Times has highlighted how some school systems are rethinking discipline policies. These are hopeful signs, but some pervasive and persistent myths prevent our education system from truly facing up to the overuse of what should be a tool of last resort.

Myth 1: It’s rare that a child is suspended or expelled.

Last year, Washington schools levied more than 68,000 suspensions and expulsions, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Rates peaked at the end of middle school, with nearly one out of every 10 eighth graders suspended or expelled. One out of every 65 all-day kindergarteners was also excluded from school for behavior.

Myth 2: Most students are suspended or expelled because they’re dangerous.

Aside from fights — which made up 15 percent of suspensions and expulsions — only 7 percent of all reported suspensions and expulsions in Washington in 2013 and 2014 were for violence, according to OSPI data. More than half of all suspensions and expulsions fall in the discretionary “other behavior” category, which does not include alcohol, bullying, drugs, fighting or violence.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Center on Reinventing Public Education, discipline, Sarah Yatsko

January 24, 2015 at 6:01 PM

Your voices: Parents, teachers share ideas for fixing discipline

As part of our ongoing series on school discipline, Education Lab recently asked readers to share their experiences with student discipline. A selection of these responses are below (some have been edited for length or clarity).

Want to add your own two cents? Go here to share your thoughts. We may publish another round of responses at a later date.

How have you seen discipline handled well?

Discipline has worked when I’ve seen adults willing to be a mediator for helping students listen to each other. Establishing agreements (not rules) beforehand and continuing to revisit them is also helpful. When children know they can trust, they will be heard, they are more willing to listen and learn and be guided.

–Marcia Christen, Poulsbo

I see more schools using positive behavioral supports. We have to teach kids how to behave and the right social skills to get their needs met. Suspending them only makes it worse.

–Lori Lynass (teacher), Shoreline

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January 24, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Guest: Restorative justice well worth educators’ time and effort

Loren Demeroutis

Loren Demeroutis

Visiting educators and community members are a common sight at Big Picture School in the Highline School District, where I serve as principal. These visitors are interested in thinking differently about public schools, and they often ask about our use of a discipline approach called restorative justice — how it works, if it is worth the resources, and if it appears scalable to larger schools or districts.

My short answer to all of the above: Absolutely.

About five years ago, an 11th-grade student named Laura Jimenez Guerra introduced me to restorative justice and proposed giving suspended students the option of reducing their time out of school by meeting with a panel of community members to address the harm caused by their actions. At multiple times during the process, we remind students the entire ordeal is optional and depends upon their willingness to participate actively and own their actions.

The ensuing conference brings the student together with one or two of the identified allies and community members representing different types of harm resulting from the student’s choices. With the support of these individuals, the student goes through three steps:

  • identifying his or her thinking leading up to, through, and after the event(s)
  • understanding and validating the harm or potential harm caused by the student’s choices
  • generating ways to address and restore the harm.
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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Big Picture, discipline, Highline School District

January 22, 2015 at 11:53 AM

Tell us: How have you seen student discipline handled well?

Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Boo Davis / The Seattle Times

Education Lab’s series on student discipline continues Sunday with a story about how a Burien school is using an approach called restorative justice to reduce suspensions and develop a stronger sense of personal responsibility among students.

The story will be Part II in our series, which began last month with a look at how the Kent School District is working toward similar outcomes and testing out in-school suspensions as an alternative to more traditional forms of discipline.

Along the way, we’ve been asking readers to share their experiences with school discipline. Where have you seen it done well? What can teachers or administrators do to better balance the need to minimize classroom disruptions with the desire to reduce suspensions and expulsions?

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Comments | More in Question of the Week, Your voices | Topics: discipline

January 6, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Contrary to popular belief, tossing ‘bad’ kids harms ‘good’ ones, too

Paul Tong / Op Art

Paul Tong / Op Art

Traditionally, the thinking around school discipline has proceeded along these lines: Suspend a disruptive kid and, though that student may suffer academically, the rest of the class benefits.

But two Midwestern researchers have a new study suggesting that this thinking may be flawed. They tracked a Kentucky school district over three years and found that high levels of exclusionary discipline – that is, suspensions — actually harmed math and reading scores for all kids, even those who were never tossed.

Consider the context: School discipline practices nationally are both more invasive and more punitive than ever, with suspension rates doubling since the 1970s. (In 2010, more than 3 million children across the country were removed from class.) But there has been little research to test the academic rationale for this approach.

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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 10:00 PM

Your voices: Teachers share thoughts, best practices on student discipline

Education Lab recently reached out to a handful of teacher groups in an effort to gather educators’ thoughts and experiences with student discipline, as part of our Sunday story about the issue. What follows in a sampling of the responses we’ve received so far.

Are you a teacher, parent or student? Have something to say about this important topic? Join the discussion by filling out our reader questionnaire or weighing in in the comments section.

How do you approach student behavior in your classroom? Has your strategy or technique changed at all during your career? If so, how?

I try to deal with children one on one. If that fails, then I call home. If the behavior continues, then I use the progressive discipline (guidelines) in our school.

At Kentlake (High School), we have been doing a freshman retreat for all ninth-grade kids. We also have been doing a Breaking Down the Walls community building exercise for the past four years. As a result, the number of fights at Kentlake are the lowest in the district. Does this kind of success translate to the classrooms? I like to believe it does.

–Theresa Turner, Kent

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Comments | More in Your voices | Topics: discipline, your voices

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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