Why do schools expel children?

By , June 11, 2013 5:33 pm

Today, I saw this article surrounding a Chicago protest of charter school expulsion policies, and it got me to thinking of the more broad question, “Why do schools expel children at all”? and what our answer implies about our beliefs about education.

An all too quick answer – that expulsion is “punishment” for certain offenses – simply dodges what my real question is here, namely, why is it expulsion that chosen as appropriate punishment.

In a student expulsion, a school is saying that it is either better for the student, or better for the school (or both) for that student to no longer be there.

If it is better for the student for them to be expelled, the school is essentially saying that they do not have the resources to meet that student’s needs. If it is better for the school for that student to be expelled, they are saying that other students will not succeed as much if that student continues to attend.

Put differently, an expulsion states that the school community would be better off by excluding that particular student from participation. Ultimately, expulsions betray the fact that people believe that excluding an individual from a school may, in some cases, result in the benefit of others.

And while I don’t think this particular admission is controversial (for example, if a student brings a loaded gun to school, I don’t know anyone who would argue for his or her non-expulsion), it does make us a bit uncomfortable. After all, we are progressive people who like to talk big about how inclusive we are and how inclusive our school systems are.

Yet fuzzy lines are being drawn between varying definitions of what school officials deem worthy of exclusion. Given the huge nature of peer effects on both student achievement and behavior, it is not surprising that we want to send our own children to schools that are exclusive (literally excluding), whether we’re excluding students that pose a safety risk, excluding students with behavior we deem undesirable, or excluding students with lower levels of demonstrated academic mastery.

I am not arguing the rightness (or wrongness) of the expelling that Chicago charter schools are doing. Rather, I’m simply raising the question of how comfortable we are with the idea that different schools exclude different students for different reasons. All schools exclude some students (again, bringing weapons will result in automatic expulsion in most districts). Once we’re honest about which schools do which excluding, perhaps we can have a more honest conversation about how to measure the effectiveness of these schools.


Git ‘er Done

By , March 16, 2013 5:20 pm

“Processes become highly mechanistic when you don’t trust people.”      -Anonymous DC district administrator

If my job as a teacher ever falls through, I have determined that I should have no problem going to work for my other favorite governmental agency, the US Postal Service. Yesterday was spent rounding up answer sheets from the entire math department of the district’s thrice-per-year (“triannual”?) math periodic assessment to mail to LAUSD.

While I am regularly assured that the results of these assessments (which I’ve heard cost in the neighborhood of $40 million district-wide) will not be used to evaluate schools and teachers, I do get a fair number of worried emails from folks in the district checking and double-checking that they are submitted on time. Perhaps even more frustrating is that what’s emphasized is not so much how well our students do on these assessments, but how high our school’s “completion rate” is.

The sad reality of all of this is that this district is monstrously huge and really does (by both its emphases and processes) betray that leaders don’t seem to have much trust in us, whether the “us” is an individual school, or an individual teacher. While the question remains as to whether that lack of trust is deserved (in some cases, it is likely warranted), it will be hard moving this district forward for all kids unless better lines of trust between teachers, principals, district managers, and district leaders.

One of my favorite bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo, brings up this very subject in one of his recent Ed Week posts.



Why We Need to Pass Prop 30

By , September 22, 2012 7:37 am

Last evening, I had the privilege of attending a high school football game. The home team, coached by a former colleague, played their hearts out, but ultimately was defeated in the end, not only by the opposing team, but by the referees.

Yes, as much as I do appreciate seeing my team win, I also appreciate the level of skill it takes to accurately referee a game, and I honor and respect calls for the opposing team when they are the right ones. I may “boo”, but I know that it was, nonetheless, a good call.

Yet last evening’s fiasco was abominable. In addition to consistently conflating “encroachment” and “false start” calls, we began the second half kickoff with a “Safety”/”Inadvertent Whistle” / “Re-kick”, followed not a few minutes later by a referee long tossing a football from the sidelines in the direction of the referee in the middle of the field, only to have the errant throw hit a player directly in the head.


All I can assume is that the salary for this high caliber of referee is coming from the LAUSD budget.

Do we need more funding for schools in California? You bet. Or there will be more of this:

5th down and 14 to go…..wait, wait…….something’s wrong here….


Great Expectations Part I

By , September 20, 2012 11:00 am

This summer I did not see the film What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Nor do I plan to. Ever.

Yet it’s mere title illustrates one of the main educational questions I’ve been wondering in the past few months, which is simply this: When we use the phrase “high expectations“, what is it that we mean exactly?

In my 8+ years as a middle school math teacher in Los Angeles, I always thought that I knew what I meant when I said I had “expectations” for my students. Yet, as I’ve recently come to appreciate the subtle and often subversive power of language, I’ve found it really important to “unpack” for myself exactly what it is that I (and globally, the educational community) mean by the term.

Despite oft-touted phrase of “high expectations” among ed policy makers, professional development leaders, teacher placement organizations, administrators, and even teachers, it is not clear to me that we all mean the same thing by this term.

What follows may simply be semantics, but, by golly, semantics matter. The title of this seemingly ridiculous film illustrates my point. In the phrase “What to expect“, the term expect essentially means to “predict” (or a similar word with a thrust toward probability), yet three words later, this notion of prediction is utterly abandoned as the term expecting now connotates  a meaning of anticipating, hoping, or desiring (looking forward to with pleasantness).

In some future posts, I’ll be delving deeper into (1) what exactly what we might mean by the phrase “high expectations”, and (2) consequences of the lack of clarity surrounding this term.

Stay tuned as this important issue will be addressed by me in future posts……and by KISS right now.

Won’t Back Down vs. I Won’t Back Down – A Comparison

By , September 18, 2012 6:17 pm

On Friday, September 28, Walden Media is releasing the film Won’t Back Down, chronicling the based-on-real-events story of a passionate parent and teacher who work to take over a failing school. The film is already controversial.

But far more interesting for me, is not how the film represents or strays from its real-life events, or even ed policy, but rather how Won’t Back Down stacks up against the real timeless masterpiece, Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down.

After 20 years, will Tom Petty be unseated as Won’t Back Down master? Or will the new film be simply the latest to fall in total submission to the magical sound-strings of early 90s soft-rock? So for your discerning eye, a side-by-side comparison. You be the judge:

Won’t Back Down (2012)

I Won’t Back Down (1989)

Music Video
  • Passionate performances.
  • Movie clichés and catchphrases (“Be the Change”).
  • Trailer music in 4/4.
  • Will likely divide it’s viewers.
  • Main characters sport a 50/50 long-hair/short-hair ratio.
  • Editing and effects designed to elicit goodwill, inspiration, and even tears.
  • Bright lights.
  • Rock-star supporting cast:
    • Viola Davis
    • Holly Hunter
  • Viewing may result in ed policy changes.
  • Subtly passionate performances.
  • Nearly everything rhymes. Everything. (“Ground”. “Around”. “Down”).
  • Yep, in 4/4.
  • Will likely unite it’s listeners.
  • MUCH greater long hair/short-hair ratio (in the 3-1 range)
  • Editing and effects designed to…, well,…enhance any substance you may be inhaling.
  • Dark room. Sunglasses.
  • Literal rock-star supporting cast:
    • Jeff Lynne
    • Half of the Beatles.
  • Viewing may result in illegal downloading.

I know who’s got my vote.

Should Teachers Be Accountable for “Grit”?

By , September 8, 2012 11:21 am

I know I’m a terrible person for doing this, but it’s too tempting. So here’s a pre-book report for Paul Tough’s recently released “How Children Succeed”. And while I have not yet read the book yet (I plan to), I’ve read plenty of thoughts from those who have. Here are some good starting points:

Perhaps most surprising for me is that I suspect it is possible, at least from what I’ve read, for ed policy wonks in opposite camps to embrace what seems to be the main thrust of this book twofold: First, non-cognitive skills (grit, self-regulation, perseverance) is as important (if not more) to a child’s success as mere content knowledge is. And second, these non-cognitive skills are “learnable”, and thus “teachable” across all age groups (though certainly easier in the earliest years).

If Tough is right, then ed reform advocates are likely to carry the text as a banner for the expansion of charter schools, such as KIPP, some of whom actively attempt to incorporate “performance-character” education into their curriculum.

However, if I’m reading the reviewers right, I can also see critics of these organizations touting the message of the book as evidence of the unreliability of test data for use in evaluating teachers. Assuming Tough’s argument is right, then this begs the question surrounding teacher evaluation: If “grit” is such a huge factor in student success, shouldn’t “grit” be one of the control factors used when calculating a teacher’s ‘value-added’ score?

While I’ve not heard Tough answer this question directly, he acknowledges that “for the most part, we don’t yet really know how best to teach these skills” and that “so far at least, no one has been able to come up with a bulletproof method of teaching non-cognitive skills” (see the Interview w/ Tough, above).

If this is the case, then critics of value-added might just have some more ammunition.


Back to Blogging

By , September 6, 2012 5:54 am

April, 2012:
The Mets were in first place.
Republicans still hadn’t landed on a nominee.
The last time I wrote a blog post.

I could give lots of lame excuses as to why I seemingly dropped off the face of the earth, but I’d rather just own it.
My bad.

The first week of September for the first time, is bringing the third week of school, and as my kids settle quickly into their routines, I’m finding that I must, as well.

Here I go. Back to blogging again.
(Also a good way to check which of my IFTTT rules are still set up

Give Art to Students

By , April 12, 2012 3:00 pm

DSC_0011 (1)As fellow ed-blogger, Joanne Jacobs, recently notes, schools should be teaching the arts for the arts’ sake.

I’m lucky enough to work at a school where I have wonderful colleagues who do exactly this. Mark Roeder is teaching a group of 6th graders who will be engaging in a sculpture project with a final exhibition in Chinatown near the end of the year.

Mr. Roeder’s students will be making small sculptures of an object that is or was important or significant to them at some point in time. The object they’ll choose will be something that says something about them or reveals something about them that they haven’t realized yet. Roeder says that sixth grade is a great time for them to take an art class because they’re not so concerned with their self-image yet and they’ll still take chances in expressing their thoughts, ideas, and experiences. They’re completely uninhibited with the materials for each new project. According to Roeder:

"Every project I have them do is geared towards getting them to look at their worlds like they’re a microscope, small pieces at a time. The more they reflect on their daily lives, the more considerate thinkers they’ll be, and the more considerate they are, hopefully they’ll make better decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities as they get older. I tell my students each and every day that the experiences they have this year, as artists, will make them more interesting people. Being an artist doesn’t require any inherent talent or prerequisite skill. Becoming an artist is a bizarre leap of faith that requires you to say, ‘I am an artist.’ This statement has now defined the nature and freedom of your existence."

While these students have already received supplies donations for their sculptures (microcrystalline wax and carving tools to plan and carve hand-sized wax sculptures), they’re still in need of funds for casting the sculptures at the foundry and purchasing materials to build 30 pedestals for the exhibition. The estimated additional cost of the project remains at a whopping $3500.

So here’s the cool part. Mr. Roeder’s class has already received 45% (that’s 9/20 for those of you 7th grade math students out there) of their goal! That’s already $1560 of their goal.

For those of you who’d like to make a contribution toward this amazing cause, you can do so on this Kickstarter website!

And for those of you who need a little extra push, Mr. Roeder’s class is even offering some pretty sweet rewards.

Check it out.

Random Tweet of the Day (@metspolice)

By , April 10, 2012 7:12 am


metspolice: Bruce playing Land of hopes and dreams…it all comes together…Faith will be rewarded!!

What a start! 4 and 0. As a displaced New Yorker, I’m glad I’ve still never given up on my hometown team. After several abysmal years, it’s quite exciting to begin a season in sole possession of first place in the NL East. So I must take a break from the typical education related post and simply revel in some no doubt soon-to-be-short-lived first place glory.

Even if the season is less than 2.5% over, it’s still been a pretty amazing 2.5%.

image      image

Random Tweet of the Day (@DianeRavitch)

By , April 6, 2012 8:49 am


Diane Ravitch: Louisiana newspaper: Why the rush? Why no deliberation on Jindal plan? dailycomet.com/article/201204…

I knew this would happen sooner rather than later. With (as of this writing) 29,764 tweets, Diane Ravitch’s influence as an author and speaker is perhaps only eclipsed by her influence as a tweeter.

Ravitch is certainly one of the most vocal critics of the education reform strategy currently espoused by prolific education reformers. Perhaps because of this, teachers’ unions across the nation have adopted her rhetoric as central to the fight against what is often termed “corporate reform”, “education deform”, or (in a slightly more personal tone) “Rheeform”.

Two months ago, our union, UTLA, invited Ravitch to come and give a speech about the current state of education reform in this country. What I strongly appreciate about Ravitch is that, despite her 140 character tweets, her reasons and rationales for critiquing the ed reform movement are rational and reasonable. Coupled with the fact that she had the chutzpah to admit she was wrong about many of her past policy positions (particularly when she served in the Department of Education), Ravitch has definitely earned my respect even though I don’t always agree with her (or many of those she chooses to “re-tweet”).

One of the interesting side-effects of Ravitch being as vocal an opponent as we’ve seen to education reform policies, is that by standing so far in opposition to Rhee, Duncan, and Kopp, the distance she creates between herself and them suffices for a nice wide-open middle ground for much discussion and debate regarding what can be done to push forward education reform, while honestly addressing many of the criticisms that Ravitch et al bring up.

If it weren’t for dissent, there would not be much room for middle ground.


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