16 March 2008

The "Pipeline"

I’m not sure where my wife digs this stuff up, but she sent a link this morning (from across the room) to a research paper entitled “Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline” (executive summary) released in October 2007 from a group called Texas Appleseed. Per the paper, the group’s “mission is to promote justice for all Texans” through problem-solving. The paper attempts “to explore the relationship between school discipline policies, the dropout rate, and ‘gateways’ into the juvenile justice system.”

The paper cites the following as evidence of something seriously wrong with the disciplinary system at work in Texas schools (these may not be verbatim from the paper):

- Students in alternative education placements for disciplinary reasons have a dropout rate five times higher than normal schools.
- Two-thirds of students in alternative placements are there because of the discretion of school districts, not because of state mandates.
- African-American students are, in some school districts, over-represented in alternative placements and in referrals resulting in both in-school and out of school suspension.
- Special education students are over-represented in the same ways.

What I took away from this is that, while reduced to easily readable numbers, the research done here appears to be specifically about numbers for the most part (or in whole). There is little or no reference to examples of discipline problems resulting in suspension or alternative placement. There is no reference to measures attempted before suspension or alternative placement. The reader is supposed to simply rely on numbers and relationships between populations within schools (specifically to show over-representation). What is more important than reasons students are referred for suspension or alternative placement, the reader of the report must assume, are the remedies to reduce the “pipeline.”

The first remedy, which is an obvious one, is that there are “fewer discipline problems in schools where parents are involved” (emphasis in the original). Parent / teacher communication, though, is a two-way street which is often only has traffic in one direction. The paper by in large marginalizes parental responsibility and focuses remedies on state, school district and individual school levels.

First, there is a call for greater oversight of programs and numbers by state agencies, including drilling the same kinds of statistics presented in the paper and overseeing all of the alternative placement sites in the state. There is also a call for expanded services in alternative placements, to include a wider range of course offerings and using more technology for those offerings. (There’s an obvious dollar link there, but the gratuitous use of technology in education is a topic for another time.)

The two which strike me the most of these policy recommendations, though, are the call for a “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” for students and parents (to be offered by the state) and the call for “funding [of] expanded school-based mental health services” (emphasis in the original). One thing about rights and responsibilities is that the “right” to an education will always trump, in the minds of equality-of-outcome minded liberals, the responsibilities of students or parents. Thus, there will be a need for mental health services because the student/parent combo who has no place in the public education realm will need the services until such time as the age of the student allows them to exit the system.

But what hits closer to home for me are the recommendations for school districts and schools. My least favorite on the list is the call for more “teacher…training in positive behavior management, as well as training to enhance cultural competency”. “Positive behavior management” is a technique for addressing entire school populations with respect to appropriate behavior in school in a proactive manner (from what I’ve read), but I have no idea what “cultural competency is. As far as I know, improper behavior in the classroom or school – as well as good behavior – does not change definition based on ethnicity.

Which brings me back to the over-representation question. Why are the over or under-representation of “sub-populations” so important that teachers and staff need to be trained in “cultural competency”? Wouldn’t it make more sense on an equality level for all folks inside of a school (campus or district) to be educated – formally – in what is proper and improper behavior? Shouldn’t parents be required to attend the same or similar sessions? Why the emphasis on teachers and staff only?

This is especially curious because, one more time, the report claims that parents need to be involved by teachers. I’ll turn that on its head: teachers need to be engaged by parents so that they (parents) can find out how they can best support the learning, and ultimately the graduation, or their students.

It all comes back to a fundamental question about belief: is education a right or a privilege? If it is a right, as it clearly seems to be, then it is mandatory, compulsory. What’s more is that some students, those who believe they have a right to an education regardless of their actions, will demand to “be learned” by their teachers. Behavior and decorum fall by the wayside, as no child will supposedly be left behind, anyway. If education were to be seen as a privilege, then perhaps those troubled students and their parents would take more responsibility for their actions, at least inside of school. Maybe.

I realize that this remedy - individual responsibility - is probably overly simplistic, or can be read that way. I think that's ok. Not all remedies need to be comprehensive or culturally sensitive. They don't need to be state mandated or statistically driven. They don't even need to cost more money. They simply need to work. A developed sense of individual responsibility tends to work at the most important level, the individual - which is ultimately the "thing" being counted by the statisticians on the "pipeline".


Jack N said...


You are truly the rare educator.

But alas.. school "systems" only want to become more "complex-bureaucratic" in order to more easily obfuscate their incompetency..

Less is better=simplicity

Bob M. said...

Jack - Thanks for that. After more thought about this paper is that it was put together pro bono. In one way, it's not shocking that there are no real insights in the paper. The transition from statistics to recommendations is lightning quick, even for an executive summary.

On the other hand, I ask myself where would money enter the "pipeline" (to borrow a term). I see three ways: expanded alternative education settings and services (more teachers and administrators to man these), greater use of technology within those settings, and more mental health resources within all schools. There's some serious money in those three recommendations...

ProfSeeman said...

You make some good points above.
However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
Go to: http://www.panix.com/~pro-ed/

If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

If you cannot get them, email me anyway and I will try to help.
Best regards,


Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus,
City Univ. of New York
20 River Court
Suite 1404
Jersey City, NJ 07310

Email: Hokaja@aol.com
FAX: (586) 279-0935

Book, Training Video/CD:
Preventing Classroom Discipline Problems
The Educator's Support Forum

Bob M. said...

Dr. Seeman,

I appreciate the information on classroom management. Like any good educator, I'm always looking for new techniques.

However, the point of this piece on the "pipeline" is that what passes for research and recommendation, at least in this case, is really a logic leap from limited-meaning statistics to recommendations. A huge oversight in this research, as detailed in the executive summary, is that there is no representation of infraction committed by students which land them in ISS/OSS/DAEP. Without this information, the research, through its own method, limits itself to race and SPED status when looking for root causes.

Additionally, most of the alternative education placements (DAEP) are for behaviors outside of the classroom, from my experience. More often than not, educators try to keep all kids in their classrooms - mostly because they know that once in ISS, the kids, at best, do not learn. Point being that kids who choose to grossly misbehave do so in most places; their behavior choices don't suddenly get "bad" in the classroom.