Disorderly-Conduct Complaints in Schools Surge 45% in Past Five Years

by James A. Bacon

Who possibly could have predicted this? After years of “racial equity” and “restorative justice” disciplinary policies in Virginia school districts, discipline in schools has gotten worse, at least as measured by the number of disorderly conduct charges filed by school resource officers.

The number of disorderly cases filed increased from 360 in 2016 to 523 this fiscal year, a four-year increase of 45%, reports the Virginia Mercury, citing data from a report by the Legal Aid Justice Center. Black students, representing 22% of the state’s school population, account for 62% of the complaints. Charges against black girls have increased in “startling” numbers, the study observes.

The Legal Aid Justice Center’s proffered solution? Rewrite the disorderly conduct law to “stop criminalizing childhood behavior and unnecessarily pushing youth into our criminal legal system.”

Despite the imposition of therapeutic disciplinary policies designed explicitly to reduce the black-white gap in in-school arrests, out-of-school suspensions and in-school suspensions, the gap is as vast as ever. Logically, one might conclude from this data that these ideologically driven policies are not working and it’s time to re-evaluate them. But there is no sign of such a reappraisal in the Legal Aid Justice Center’s report. To the contrary, the proffered solution is to deprive teachers and administrators of another tool for maintaining order in schools.

My prediction: Adopting the Legal Aid Justice Center’s proposal would double down on a failed policy and magnify the failure. School discipline will not improve. Disorderly behavior will spread, and the racial gap in educational achievement might even get worse.

What the study says. The report, “Decriminalizing Childhood: Ending School-Based Arrest for Disorderly Conduct,” maintains that Virginia’s disorderly conduct statute is a “vague, overbroad, catch-all law that criminalizes low-level public disruption that does not rise to the level of physical harm, property damage, or even a threat.” The report then ties the law to Virginia’s racist past.

Disorderly conduct laws find their strongest roots in the insidious “vagrancy” and other public order laws that fueled policing in the Jim Crow South. Intentionally designed to be vague in order to facilitate discriminatory enforcement, these laws have been used to control the movement of Black people, break up strikes and protests, and target suspects when no probably cause exists — a shameful legacy Virginia has not yet left behind.”

[Since 1990] students can be adjudicated delinquent (found guilty of disorderly conduct in Virginia if they either intentionally or recklessly create a risk of “public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm” by creating a disruption that “prevents or interferes with the orderly conduct” of any school or school-sponsored operation or activity.

Black students in particular, and Black girls at a momentously increasing rate, are targeted in school with disorderly conduct criminal charges in disproportionate numbers to their white peers. And the consequences of such charges, whether they proceed before a judge or not, cause cumulative harm that can derail a child’s education and make them more likely to sink deeper into the justice system.

The Justice Center says that children have been charged for:

  • Singing a rap son on a school bus;
  • Running and shouting in a cafeteria;
  • Cutting in a lunch line;
  • Pushing past a teacher to get onto a school bus;
  • Yelling or cursing at other students or teachers; and
  • “Flailing” as a result of a schedule change that was difficult for the student to process because of a mental health condition.

Over the past five years, 19% of all disorderly conduct charges against young people in Virginia were filed against children age 13 years or young. In one 2014 example, an 11-year-old, sixth grade boy with autism was arrested at school and charged with Disorderly Conduct for kicking over a trash can in a school hallway.

Bacon’s bottom line. Let me preface my criticisms of this report with an observation that no disciplinary system is perfect, and all laws should be periodically scrutinized and re-evaluated. People are human, and it would surprise no one if in the 2,000 or so cases filed over the past five years one couldn’t cite examples of unjustified complaints, as the Legal Aid Justice Center has done.

However, the Justice Center clearly is highlighting instances that best make their case. Are they typical? What do some of the worst instances of disorderly behavior look like? Would most people agree that application of the disorderly conduct law in such cases was entirely appropriate? We can’t tell from the Justice Center report. But eliminating the law, as opposed to reforming it, based on a handful of cherry-picked cases makes no sense.

Further, the report takes the standard racial bean-counting approach to the school disciplinary issue, breaking down the number of disorderly charges by sex and race, and making the assumption that any discrepancy represents an injustice. But what if the punishments reflect the reality that black students are more disorderly than other students? The report makes no effort whatsoever to adjust for poverty, disability, family structure, geography, or disciplinary history. Are the disciplined children more likely to be poor? Are they more likely to come from single-parent households? Are they more likely to suffer disabilities? Are they more likely to be concentrated in inner-city schools? Are they more likely to have accumulated more disciplinary complaints of other kinds? Racism and/or discrimination is assumed, not documented.

One more observation. The Justice Center report does not ask why the number of disorderly conduct charges has increased so dramatically despite a concerted effort by state and local educational authorities to reduce their number. To all appearances, social-justice policies are producing exactly the opposite result they intend.

Let me suggest a hypothesis to explain what might be going on. I don’t know this to be true, although it is consistent with anecdotal information I have seen and heard, but I think it is far more plausible than the idea that teachers and administrators have suddenly gotten more racist in the application of the disorderly-conduct law over the past five years.

  1. The less punitive “restorative justice” approach is not working.
  2. Students generally have figured out that poor behavior has fewer consequences.
  3. Black students have figured out that teachers and administrators, intent upon reducing the black-white discipline gap, are willing to cut them even more slack.
  4.  Disorderly behavior has gotten worse. The spreading disorder may not be reflected in numbers reported to school districts and the state, however, because teachers and administrators have every incentive to suppress them.
  5. As disorderly behavior has gotten worse, so has the number of more extreme instances that fully justify disorderly-behavior complaints. Thus, the number of complaints has increased.

If my conjecture is accurate, the “progressives” running Virginia’s schools are hopelessly misdiagnosing the problem, their so-called solutions will continue to contribute to the erosion of order in schools, and the quality of education will continue to decline. Those most hurt will be blacks and minorities — victims of another unintended consequence.

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10 responses to “Disorderly-Conduct Complaints in Schools Surge 45% in Past Five Years”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    A fair question, which I don’t think was addressed by the article or the underlying advocacy paper, is whether charges under some other statute have declined. The author of the report is correct that disorderly conduct is a broad catch-all, but is it being used more because charges of assault or battery, for example, are going down? Picking out one particular charge instead of tracking them all might not give you the full picture. Worth asking.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’d like to see something lower than the 10,000 foot perspective.

    How about show the various school systems or even schools within a school system?

    When you look at something at this top level – the implication is that this is a universal problem across all schools – is that true?

    The other thing – once again – is to not look at this in race terms – but to look at it in socioeconomic terms – is the problem spread across all socioeconomic strata?

    Finally – if you look at our criminal justice system with the same race-oritented persepctive – what do you know? Would you say that there are higher numbers of blacks because blacks are more “criminal” as their nature?

  3. For the article posted on Facebook, I said there is no way to figure out based on the examples given, whether or not anything was true or not. The only other statement I made was what was the in classroom issues, did they have an effect on other kids’ learning and the kids’ own learning. Along those lines. No answer yet.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    here’s something going on right now:

    “Social media post shows Riverbend high school students wearing clothing depicting the Confederate flag, using racist term.

    Extra school resource officers were called to Riverbend High School Thursday after several social media posts appeared to show students there wearing clothing depicting the Confederate flag and using a racial slur, a Spotsylvania County school spokeswoman said.

    Spotsylvania County Public Schools spokeswoman Rene Daniels said Thursday afternoon in an email to The Free Lance–Star that the school division is aware of “recent social media posts involving students making inappropriate gestures and derogatory statements while wearing clothing that depicted the Confederate Flag.”

    so my question is, do you think these kids are going to be “disciplined”, expelled, etc for “disorderly conduct” or will they not show up at all in these “statistics” ?

    do you think there is a clear standard applied the same way at all schools?

    what is that clear standard?

  5. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    Here is a question … What the H*** are schools doing calling for the Justice System to handle any of the actions listed below? Creating rap sheets for kids who cut in the lunch line? Really?
    • Singing a rap song on a school bus;
    • Running and shouting in a cafeteria;
    • Cutting in a lunch line;
    • Pushing past a teacher to get onto a school bus;
    • Yelling or cursing at other students or teachers; and
    • “Flailing” as a result of a schedule change that was difficult for the student to process because of a mental health condition.

    Reading Larry’s post I would add …wearing inappropriate clothing … to the list of ridiculous reasons to call in the police.

    I tried to find out what other states used the justice system so liberally to deal with their in-house discipline. What I did find, to my amazement, was that 15 states expressly permit corporal punishment by teachers in their school. Only 28 states expressly prohibit corporal punishment. WOW!

  6. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I agree with Jane’s comment above.

    In addition:

    The central issues here do not originate with the color or race of any misbehaving kids. Race or color, the the mother of all red herrings, has nothing to do with these issues, except in our fears and imaginations so often on wild display in these matters.

    Thus, if the wild success today of the Success Academies proves anything, it proves this obvious point that the mother of all red herrings, the race and color of other people, have nothing to do these kids, but everything to do with how we characterize falsely kids, and what ails them.

    Hence, we need to think of these issues in a wholly different ways that reflects reality, including rapidly advancing modern science, instead of 17th century tribal emotions and stereotyping. Now we have much historical data to prove how tribe emotions and imaginations drive us off the tracks again and again, and now also we have a ever growing body of scientific research that allows us to pinpoint with far greater accuracy and confidence the complex of forces at play that cause these swings in today’s anti-social behaviors of children, irrespective of their race or color. Indeed, like never before we are learning on the basis of science that the fantastic, wildly varied and unique potential of all human children require enormous, disciplined, and constant effort and insight on the part of human adults who nurture and raise their kids, if kids are to avoid debilitating anti social behaviors that severely limit their futures, no matter their race.

  7. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    How can we expect kids to bond with adults, if we never give them reason to trust adults?

    Without the opportunity to trust another, how can any kid even begin to share emotions with an adult much less discover, refine, and deal with, or project in any positive way, their own emotions as a child? How then can any child share any joint goal, find any common cause, with any other person, or even know where and how to focus his or her attention on any joint goal, much less gain any ability to deal constructively with another person. Without any bond with a least one trusted adult every day, the child enjoys no sense of WE, and so this child is lost at sea, perhaps forever.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Recently, in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Robert Hamilton, author of 7 secrets of the Newborn, St. Martin’s Press, 2018, described the human child’s first year of life as being his or her 12 months from conception in the mother’s body to some 3 months after the child’s birth, this latter three month period being a time “when kids are disoriented and angry at mom ripping them from womb. So during this period the newborn struggles to get its bearings outside in its new and alien place, as it struggles to sleep, feed, stay warm, and safe.”

      Then miraculously around 3 months outside the womb, the child, now oriented, seems transformed as it takes its first purposeful steps into its new world of wonders. Says Dr. Hamilton “These developments make (the doctor’s) three month check up (of an infant) an affair of joy and wonder, the look these babies have in their eyes, the guileless glance that convey hope and destiny, plus a furtive glimmer of self knowledge. Babies this age seem to have a sense of the human potential they’re soon to claim.”

      It is here that Michael Tomasello, in his seminal new book Becoming Human, “a grand synthesis of three decades of collaborative research at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig,” picks up the story of the human child’s cognitive and social development from the 1st year after birth to somewhere around 6th year of the child’s life that typically ends its kindergarten year before the 1st grade. If you understand that story, then you will understand why so many of our public schools as now operated fail our disadvantaged children, while at the same time your will far more deeply appreciate why the methods and reasoning behind a child’s first year in kindergarten in a Success Academy put the child so firmly on the road to success. Those methods and that reasoning are as described by Robert Pondiscio in his new book How The Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, And The Battle Over School Choice after he spent a year closely observing Success Academy Bronx 1. To quote Mr. Pondiscio:

      “At the end of the school day, Syskowski and Matt Carnaghi empty their classrooms of their kindergarten-size chairs and arrange them in three rows in the open area adjacent to Liz Vandlik’s office. The children are held for dismissal, forcing parents to come upstairs and listen to the teachers before picking them up. At 3:45 p.m. sharp, Syskowski launches in. “The reason we’re having a meeting together is because there’s a lot of work to be done. We need to come together as a Bronx 1 community and figure out what’s going on and set goals.” She scans the thirty adults seated before her in chairs meant for five-year-olds. “As you can see, right now we have a meeting for ninety children and this is the parent turnout. It’s not good.”

      Syskowski walks them through the reading benchmarks for kindergarten. “It’s January. A number of our children are still Level A or pre-A, which means they don’t know how to read.” The kindergarteners will be tested again in February, by which time they’re all expected to be at Level C. If the point is lost, Syskowski lays it out plainly. If their children are not at Level C by the end of February, they are unlikely to reach Level D by the end of the school year. “If they do not reach D, they do not go to first grade,” she says, “Do not. Period.” She pauses to let the message sink in, then repeats it. “They will not go to first grade if they’re not a Level D. That has been said before, and I’m just restating it.”

      Now that she has the parents’ full attention, Syskowski pivots from reading levels to school culture and expectations—for adults. “A lot of you are brand new to Success Academy. We know it’s a new world,” she tells them. “We want you to ask questions. We know what we teach here is a little different. It’s different than the way you learned and the way we learned. We received a lot of training and we know this is the best way that children learn. If there are things that you need, you need to ask. So, this is us reaching out, having that parent meeting and saying, ‘Here we are. This is our space. And we need to talk because we’re not meeting benchmarks.’”

      The benchmarks Syskowski is referring to are not only the reading-level chart in her classroom but achievement levels of the kindergarteners relative to dozens of other Success Academy schools. “Other schools within our network over in Brooklyn, in Manhattan and Queens, their children are reading at benchmarks,” she says pointedly. “All of us in this room are not doing enough for our kids. The children in Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan can do it, and our kids can’t, even though we all have the same curriculum, we all have the same training.”

      There are no secrets in a Success Academy school. Classrooms and hallway “data walls” leave little to no doubt which children—by name—are at, above, or below academic standards. This can be off-putting to some parents and has been attacked by critics outside the network. On the other hand, it is the rare student in any school who isn’t aware of who the standouts and strugglers are in class. Success Academy puts it on the wall for all to see. Syskowski begins to spin a sobering tale of the trajectory children can find themselves on in the absence of energetic efforts. “First grade is a huuuuge literacy year,” she says. “If we don’t set them up in kindergarten, they will drown.” The parents sit silently. “We need to step it up.”

      Carnaghi has been standing alongside Syskowski, nodding stoically. He introduces himself as a “first-year LT,” or lead teacher, then adds almost apologetically, “I’m pretty resourceful and here for you guys.” But it’s Syskowski’s intervention, and she’s just getting started. Her tone is unfailingly warm and encouraging—she wants to win the parents over and make common cause, not alienate or antagonize them—but her words are unsparing. Standing behind the rows, I cannot see all the parents’ faces, but most appear to be nodding along. If there’s discontent with Syskowski’s brand of tough love, there’s no sign of it. “If your children are late or they’re not here, we can’t teach them,” she says. “We really need you to get your children here by 7:45 if not 7:30.” The first moments of each day, kindergarteners have breakfast with their class, and teachers do a “re-teach,” working with individual children on skills in which they’ve fallen behind. “If they are not here on time or not here at all, we can’t do that,” she says. “We have some children in this grade who’ve already been absent eleven times. Anytime I’m sick, I come here. I can’t afford to lose that day with your children. At the same time, your child cannot miss that day with any of us. We’re here, we need to be here, we want to be here, and every second is really . . .”

      A toddler starts crying loudly, drowning her out, and without breaking pace, Syskowski orders the toddler’s sister, Rama B., one of her students with a serious, almost adult face, to take her into a nearby classroom. Syskowski is rolling now and doesn’t want to lose her audience, which now fills all the chairs and spills down the hall. “You want your child to go to college. You sent them here to a college-bound school. Our philosophy is that every single child goes to college and it starts when they’re five. I know that you want that for them, because that’s why you brought them to Success Academy. At the same time, it’s a daily grind. You need to put that work in to get them there.”

      Syskowski asks for a show of hands. “Whose child is reading at a Level A right now?” A few hands go up. If the parents are aware of their child’s reading level, many more hands should be in the air. Carnaghi scans the room and jumps in. “There’s one,” he points and calls out. “Two. Anyone else? There are plenty here.” It is impossible to tell if the parents don’t know, don’t want to reveal that their child is below benchmarks, or are feeling called out and embarrassed. “We want to get it out there. You’re not alone!” Syskowski implores, trying to encourage more parents to own up and join in.

      “Level B?” More hands go up. “There’s three, four, five,” Carnaghi counts off. By the time she gets to Level D, only one hand is up. “So that means out of everyone here, we have one child who is ready for first grade,” Syskowski says, growing quiet. “We’re a community of parents. Use each other to help each other. I know you guys have daily struggles as parents. I’m not a parent, so I don’t know that struggle. I know that struggle as a classroom teacher when I’m with your scholar and really pushing them, and they’re like, ‘Ms. Syskowski, this is hard,’” she says plaintively. “And yeah, it’s hard.”

      Syskowski’s urgency is not misplaced. By January, the children should be learning to read. Midway through kindergarten, they should recognize and be able to name and write upper- and lowercase letters. They are acquiring those “print concepts,” such as understanding the basic structures of a book and that text moves from left to right, even if they are not fully able to decode the printed word. Five-year-olds are also developing phonological awareness, such as recognizing syllables, rhymes, and “phonemes,” the forty-four units of sound that make up every word in the English language. An essential literacy building block at this age is beginning “sound-symbol relationships” and the ability to read consonant-vowel-consonant words like “cat” and “dog.” Syskowski and her colleagues do not expect parents to be surrogate reading teachers or to have a nuanced understanding of these skills or progressions. But they nonetheless put a heavy lift on parents to read nightly with their children and to monitor and ensure that they are reading at home—something affluent parents tend to do reflexively, often without even knowing why.

      “We’re seeing two really big issues,” Syskowski says. “Your reading logs still have your scholars’ books on them. They can read those books by themselves. Those are not the books that go on the reading logs,” she instructs. The reading logs are for books that parents read aloud. Very young children can understand even sophisticated texts when they are read aloud, which, research indicates, helps them develop as readers by exposing them to new vocabulary and allowing them to hear mature readers’ fluent pronunciation and expression. Kindergarteners should also spend twenty minutes reading independently at home each night. “That doesn’t mean they read on their own, you go do laundry. It. Is. Challenging. I hear you. We need that patience and excitement to tell them, ‘You know what? You are a great reader, and you can do this.”

      Carnaghi has been largely silent, but now it’s his turn to take the lead. Reading logs must be completed 100 percent of the time. “If we look cross grade right now? Ninety percent. Ninety-two percent. Eighty-six percent,” he says, indicating the compliance rate in each of the kindergarten classrooms. “It’s not getting done.” If any other elementary schools in the neighborhood asked parents to maintain reading logs, 90 percent compliance would be a cause for celebration. Here it’s a crisis. “The reason we’re so on you about these reading logs is because it sets up routines, right?” he continues. “These routines help build up memory skills, problem-solving skills. These are all cognitive skills. If you’re not at home constantly building those, your child will not be successful.” There is a long pause as Carnaghi and the parents stare at one another. “Really cold, hard fact. You really need to listen. You need to hear it. Like hear it.”

      This is one of the first times I’ve seen Carnaghi “on.” While few restrictions have been placed on my observations, Vandlik asked early in the school year that I “give Mr. Carnaghi some room.” As a new teacher who expected to be an associate, not lead, teacher, it seemed an undue burden to be under an outsider’s microscope, unhelpful to him and a distraction to his students. As a result, I’ve barely set foot in his classroom. Like so many of his colleagues, he radiates earnestness, even as he tries to play bad cop to Syskowski’s good. “One in six children in our community who are not proficient readers, by third grade—forget about college. They’re going to have a really hard time passing high school,” he says.

      It’s suddenly hard to hear over the delighted squeals of kindergarteners playing in the classroom behind me, unaware of the high-stakes conversation we are having about them. But the grim urgency Carnaghi is trying to communicate is not misplaced. Failure starts early in communities like Mott Haven. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. first graders who struggle in reading are still struggling in fourth grade; three out of four third-grade readers who are below grade level are still below grade level in ninth grade; and one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time—a failure rate four times greater than among proficient readers. If the ninety-odd kindergarteners of Bronx 1 steer clear of this grim vortex of failure that has been all but inevitable for children in this community for generations, it will be in no small part due to what Syskowski, Carnaghi, and the rest of the kindergarten teachers are doing this year—aided and abetted by fully engaged parents.

      “I assume right now that every single parent in this room knows exactly how to teach that kid because nobody comes up to me and asks me, ‘What can I do? How can I help my child? Is there anything else I can do?’” Carnaghi is making demands, almost hectoring, but his tone is plaintive, nearly pleading. “We’re here for your kids. But you’re not showing us that you’re here for your kids right now, because these routines are not getting set up. If you need to know what to do, raise your hand now.”

      Syskowski takes up the call. “Any question at all!”

      Now there are lots of hands. Parents ask about how to handle behavior problems at home. One says she has a hard time getting her child to focus. Another mother expresses frustration at how poorly her child is performing on sight-word quizzes. “When he’s in the house, he does the work perfectly fine. But when he comes here, I guess he gets a little bit scared. Whenever we do words in the house—‘they,’ ‘were,’ ‘was’—he does it perfect. When he gets here, he usually gets one right or two right. Sometimes he gets all three right. So, I’m a little bit . . .” She trails off.

      “Think about environment, right?” Carnaghi replies. “At home, your child is in such a relaxed environment. Do you time him?” Mom says no. “Start timing him. Get him used to timing in both environments. When he’s at home, he gets all the time in the world, he’s relaxed. That’s not a problem. But if you really want to see something different, put on a timer.” In other school settings, the suggestion that parents time their children, conduct weekly tests of sight words at home, or be forced to sit and listen to their child’s teacher lecturing them that they’re not living up to their parental responsibilities would cause an insurrection. But none of the parents raise an eyebrow, whether out of deference, intimidation, a shared sense of urgency, a reluctance to make waves, or some combination of these factors. Carnaghi adds, “Being timed makes anybody anxious, right?” He turns to the crowd. “Silent thumbs-up if that’s what makes it anxious for you?” and many turn their thumbs up while several chuckle audibly. “It’s not easy!”

      “We have an open-door policy here,” Syskowski reminds them, returning to her main theme. “Tell us the time you’re scheduled to be off from work. Tell us the time you want to come in. Schedule some time. Please!”

      Syskowski calls on a mother who is having trouble keeping her child’s frustrations in check. “Nyelle has that same problem. If she doesn’t know a word like ‘what,’ she actually gets angry. She cries and then we have to end it,” she explains. “I feel like she’s a little behind. I know she’s got a C, but I feel like she should already be at D. But the last, maybe, two weeks, we had to shut down early because she gets so emotional.” Syskowski senses a teachable moment. “You said something really awesome I wanted to get out in the open. Nyelle is very much a high-flier in my class. It’s very hard for me to challenge her, because she gets it in a snap,” she explains, pointing at the mother, but directing her comments to the whole group. “Right now, Nyelle’s mom is saying she’s really not doing her best. Yes, a C is past where we need to be right now, but knowing your child and saying, ‘That’s not good enough,’ keeps that bar high. Yes, it is going to be frustrating, and we will give you strategies to handle that frustration. They totally get frustrated here.”

      “We had a visitor in our class today, and he was like, ‘That’s the first time I saw tears’ today,’” Syskowski adds, and I realize she’s talking about me. She tells the parents what happened with the little boy who won’t be going to blocks tomorrow. “That was really tough for him to hear. At the same time, did I say, ‘It’s OK if you don’t finish your book review?’” Now it’s Syskowski who starts to tear up. “No. It’s not OK. Because why would I let him fail when other kids are surpassing it and they’ll go to first grade? You would not want me as your child’s classroom teacher. You would not want Mr. Carnaghi or Ms. Skinner to be your child’s teacher if we were like, ‘You know what? You’re right. It is really hard. Let’s just let them be a B.’” How about if they get two out of the four sight words correct? ‘That’s good enough.’ Where are they going to be in thirteen years? Then we won’t talk about college. And that’s something that . . .” Syskowski lowers her gaze to the floor. “I get chills. That’s something that’s really hard for me to . . .”

      Syskowski doesn’t finish the thought. She can’t. She’s crying. “I do get emotional. Because your children are amazing. They are absolutely amazing. I try to . . .” She quickly gathers herself. “We will never lower that bar because it’s too hard. We will figure out other paths to get to the destination.” She hammers every word—“Other. Paths. To get to the destination.” She adds, “We will not lower it.”

      Syskowski is spent. The meeting breaks up with a smattering of applause from the parents, who pull on their coats, collect their kids, and begin to melt away down the hallway. Vandlik emerges from her office and shoots me a smile as she heads down the hall toward the main office. It’s the biggest tell of the afternoon. In most schools, this kind of whole-grade, all-hands-on-deck meeting would be a major event. At Bronx 1, the principal didn’t even participate.” End Quote.

      For more of this new very fine book on how a serious and so highly successful school for mostly all disadvantaged kids in the Bronx teaches kids extraordinary learning and success, please read How The Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, And The Battle Over School Choice (Avery, 2019, $27, 384 pages), by Robert Pondiscio.

      Note that at end of 2018-2019 school year, the students at Success Academy Bronx 1, 100% percent black or Hispanic and 84% economically disadvantaged, and all chosen by lottery, earned proficiency rates of 89.9% in English Language Arts and 98% in Math. Of these, 41% scored at the highest level in English Language Arts , as did 83% in Math. Thus these kids exceeded the performance of two of New York State’s highest preforming schools, Scarsdale and Bronxville where no students are disadvantaged and most are from highly affluent families.

      In addition also see 2015 article “What Explains Success at Success Academy” wherein, among many things, one finds:

      “Elementary students complete two “project-based learning” units in each grade, where students read and write about a particular subject for six weeks. In 4th grade, for example, children learn about the American Revolution. This year, Success is piloting two additional two-week “mini Core Knowledge” project-based learning units. “We love [Core Knowledge founder] E. D. Hirsch,” says Michele Caracappa, Success’s director of literacy.

      In middle school, Success adds independent reading time and includes a literature class. Students receive iPads loaded with books. Middle-school students must read seven key texts, typically comprising four novels, two nonfiction books, and one of poetry. (I saw middle-school students in Harlem reading The Block, which combines poetry of Langston Hughes with paintings of Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden.)

      Writing skills are emphasized in daily workshops from kindergarten through 8th grade. In later grades, students produce longer pieces across several genres, going through the entire writing process. Much focus is on revision; teachers are trained to give targeted feedback.

      Success’s children’s literature expert, Sara Yu, fills the schools with rich, engaging books at all levels. Yu worked for many years at the highly regarded bookstore affiliated with the Bank Street College of Education. She notes that the books aren’t selected only to produce competent readers, but also to expose children to “relevant, important, beautiful material … diverse cultures, economic backgrounds, settings, and characters.”

      This devotion to content pays off. At the Success Academy in Bedford-Stuyvesant (one block from the Marcy Houses, the public housing complex where Jay Z grew up—still a tough neighborhood), 81 percent of 3rd graders were proficient in ELA last year (98 percent in math!). A 4th-grade English class dissects How My Parents Learned to Eat, the story of an American sailor learning to use chopsticks to impress his Japanese girlfriend. …” End Quote.

      See https://www.educationnext.org/what-explains-success-academy-charter-network/

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” The central issues here do not originate with the color or race of any misbehaving kids. Race or color, the the mother of all red herrings, has nothing to do with these issues,”

    Thank You.

  9. Posted on behalf of Bob Shannon:

    Back in 2009 I spoke to a School Board meeting here locally and the topic of each classroom having a ” teachers aide” was a central focus because of the added cost. I reminded these folks that 60 year old Nun’s kept control of the classroom of 30 kids all by themselves without any need for another adult in the room. When one of the faculty then stated the number of kids in their classes who came to school improperly prepared, didn’t have adequate amounts of sleep, perhaps hadn’t had breakfast , had done no homework etc etc I pointed out the obvious

    The policy for some 50 years now of subsidizing illegitimacy resulting in the levels of single parent households was a root cause of this problem….you would have thought I had just publicly advocated for beheading. We can either address the root cause or continue to treat the symptoms. I understand we don’t want to punish children who had no control over the making of this mess, but high time we come to terms with and face up to what is causing it. Otherwise we continue to listen to Educrats pontificate about more money , more resources.
    I closed my remarks with the following.

    If a child goes home from school , sits in front of a TV or video game until they fall asleep at 10 with no adult in the household, the child never cracks a book, does no homework or reading assignments, no amount of money is going to remedy that problem.

    Needless to say I am not a highly sought out speaker for public school board meetings. 6 Public Charter Schools in all of Virginia , some 160 in North Carolina……………competition is the only way out now, the problem has been left to fester so long that a remedy isn’t feasible.

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