Alexandria Schools’ Tentative Return to Sanity

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by James A. Bacon

Yesterday I wrote about a move by the Alexandria public school system to designate 30 minutes each day to “social-emotional learning” — a therapeutic approach involving counseling and community circles to teach students how to behave themselves in school. This initiative follows a previous decision to restore School Resource Officers (SROs) in the public schools, and it accompanies other measures such as restricting access to school buildings, requiring students to carry student ID cards, and staggering student dismissal times.

Now comes this bit of context from WTOP News (my emphasis): “The school system has had problems with dozens of fights and weapons, on and off campus, including the stabbing death of a student at the Bradlee Shopping Center during a brawl in May.”

I have argued that violence and disorder surged in Virginia public schools, especially in low-income neighborhoods, as social-emotional learning proved inadequate to deal with disciplinary issues arising from COVID-driven school closures. Alexandria compounded the problem by removing SROs from the schools. The results were predictable — Bacon’s Rebellion saw the early signs around the state early last fall and warned repeatedly of the encroaching anarchy. In many high-poverty schools, it was evident that adults had effectively lost control.

Credit must be given to Alexandria school officials. Woke though they may be, they are not blind to reality. Fights and violence became a problem too severe to be ignored. The adults are trying to re-establish control.

Captive to their ideology that views all issues through the prism of “systemic racism,” Alexandria school officials are doubling down on social-emotional learning as a tool for getting students to behave in a civilized manner. I question how effective that initiative will be. I expect many students regard the community circles as a joke and will quickly learn how to manipulate the system. But other measures may be helpful. School Resource Officers, it turns out, provide a useful purpose. Prohibiting random strangers from entering schools sounds worthwhile, too.

It will be interesting if educators in other urban school districts see the light as well. I’ve seen signs of a return to sanity — City of Hopewell schools banning cell phones, for instance — but nothing resembling a movement. At this point, Alexandria looks like an outlier.

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4 responses to “Alexandria Schools’ Tentative Return to Sanity”

  1. Lefty665 Avatar

    Enforcing social/emotional learning on all when a majority of students either do not need it or for whom it will be only marginally beneficial seems a major waste of scarce resources.

    Schools know who the problem actors are. Focus on them and work to change their problematic behaviors.

    Dunno why identifying a problem and proactively dedicating resources to solving it is controversial. It directly helps the problem kids and the entire school benefits. It’s a win win.

    They will find a lot of overlap between kids with problem behaviors and inability to read, Teach kids to read along with moderating problem behaviors and it’s a twofer. It is an opportunity to give otherwise lost kids a path to a decent, non marginal, life and to improve the school experience for everyone.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      “Dunno why identifying a problem and proactively dedicating resources to solving it is controversial. It directly helps the problem kids and the entire school benefits. It’s a win win.”

      That’s called Multi-tiered System of Supports – Behavior (MTSS-B)** and the Captain woke (Freudian slip, WROTE) a whole article on how, even though it is implemented in 21 States, it doesn’t work well.

      Although, most of his complaint was the Virginia plan didn’t reference some particular study, and that they “fraudulently cited” references.

      He’s the expert.

      **Of course, muti-tier is only a framework, a method, not the specific implementation. Multi-tiered systems are used in instructional education, security, manufacturing, and quality control just to mention a few. What makes a specific application is the evaluation-remediation applied at each tier.

      1. Lefty665 Avatar

        Thank you for the explanation. I had things to do the other day and avoided the massive time it would have taken to ingest the Admiral’s post and participate in the subsequent arguments, other to object to the Admiral’s signature jumping to a conclusion, this time FRAUD!!

        In the rehab business we found that we could quickly and consistently identify problem behaviors. That allowed us to focus on them. It was much more effective at ameliorating them than spreading resources over the whole population, most of whom did not need the specific, individualized, targeted attention.

        Being simple behaviorists interested in achieving behavior change rather than educators we did not have the need to gussy things up with vocabulary like Multi-tiered System of Supports – Behavior. Nor did we feel the need to pray to the behavioral god Skinner 3 times a day or even visit the Skinnerian commune Twin Oaks in Louisa.

        We were simple, naive people focused on outcomes. Rehabilitation counselors and social workers at the batchelors and masters levels and consulting psychiatrists to provide insight into mental health diagnoses and to manage psycho active meds.

  2. Fred Costello Avatar
    Fred Costello

    In the 1960’s, the battle cry of the rebels was that you cannot legislate morality. They were right. But administrators continue to try to do so.

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