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Archive for the ‘Schools’ Category

Digging into Common Core

Monday, April 7th, 2014

A few weeks ago there was a flurry of Facebook links critical of the Common Core standards being expanded in schools across the country. The primary method of those complaining was to take what seems like common sense to show how ridiculous Common Core is. In one case a dad did a simple subtraction equation instead of using the number line the math test question required. Another questioned the need for “friendly” numbers.

A friend of mine posted one of those, the number line one, and I responded with a tepid contrarian outlook. I saw the value of the number line. I say “tepid,” because I have to admit I don’t know as much about Common Core as I should, so I have to hold out that frustrated dad might have been correct in his complaint.

My 10,000-mile explanation is that Common Core emphasizes the process of getting the answer as much as the answer itself. That sounds like a good idea, but I plan to dig in further in the next several weeks to learn and present more, because unintended consequences usually come from good ideas. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I found this story from my old Vancouver, Wash. employer, The Columbian. It’s a short story about students taking a Common Core approach to history.

All on board with all-day kindergarten?

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

From what we hear from school district officials in Kitsap and North Mason counties, the demand among families for all-day kindergarten is high.

Kids who take part in enriched early learning programs — including all-day kindergarten — have greater success throughout their academic career, the experts say.
Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 5.10.58 PM
Local districts are joining the all-day kindergarten movement, using different models and funding sources. South Kitsap School District was the latest to announce its plans to expand all-day kindergarten to all of its 10 elementary schools.

By the 2017-2018 school year, all districts in Washington State will be asked to offer all-day kindergarten programs, and the state by then is supposed to cover the entire cost.

Steve Gardner, in his story earlier this month, quoted a North Kitsap parent, Stacie Schmechel, who said parents she’s heard from want half-day kindergarten as an option. Schmechel said studies show the full-day model works well for underachieving and overachieving students, but has little impact on those in between.

South Kitsap Superintendent Michelle Reid, in a recent memo to staff, said research shows the largest gains from an all-day program occur among students who enter kindergarten with the lowest skills, “though even students who arrive well prepared for kindergarten will benefit from an enhanced and extended day program.”

But what about those parents who just don’t want to send their 5-year-old off for a full school day?

Reid said the district, at least for the foreseeable future, would accommodate those families.

“We recognize parents are every child’s first teacher, and there are parents who are willing and have the time to provide enrichment for their children,” Reid said. “I think parents need choices, and we’re a district that believes in providing parents choices.”

But the have-it-your-way model presents some logistical problems. You couldn’t mix half-day and all-day kids in one classroom, Reid said. Districts already will need more space for the all-day programs, and if the numbers of families in each camp didn’t divide neatly, the district would have to make some hard choices or big accommodations, it seems.

Reid said the possibility that the half-day students could fall behind the full-day kids is a real concern. But until all-day kindergarten becomes a universal concept schools can’t/shouldn’t force families who want that half-day at home with their child, she said.

Schmechel argues that parents who elect to keep their children home probably have the time to devote to helping them learn, so it is unlikely they would lag behind their peers.

Brenda Ward, North Kitsap’s director of elementary education, said the request for half-day kindergarten when an all-day program is available would be unusual, based on her experience.

Peggy Ellis, Ward’s counterpart in the Central Kitsap School District, said she had not seen any parents requesting half-day classes there. CKSD will offer free, all-day kindergarten at all its elementary schools next year.

Some children, especially those who have had little preschool experience, have trouble adjusting, Ellis said. In that case, allowing half-day attendance early in the school year would be an option.

Where does your family stand on the option of all-day kindergarten? Do you welcome it as a constructive alternative to day care that you’d be paying for anyway? If you have the option to stay home with your child, would you take advantage of an all-day program? Or would you rather keep their schooling half-day for that one last year?

SAT changes: rewarding risk

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Among changes coming to the SAT college entrance exam in 2016 is a new provision that there will be no penalty for wrong answers.

It’s no secret that strategies for taking the high stakes test are seen as almost as (if not more) important than the content. In the past, students have been coached to answer questions when, by process of elimination and other methods of sifting evidence, they can say with near certainty which answer is correct, according to Franklyn MacKenzie, director of secondary education at Central Kitsap School District.

Calculated risk taking is a useful skill that schools endorse, Mackenzie said. Under the new standard, the SAT will reward that behavior to a much greater level. That is, they won’t be penalized for taking that risk if they happen to be wrong. Schools typically encourage such calculated risk-taking, MacKenzie said. Now the test will be more like what students experience in school.

Chris Swanson, career and college counselor at Bremerton High School, also sees the no-penalty-for-wrong-answers change as a positive. In the past, he said, SAT coaches have made kids crazy by telling them not to answer questions if they’re not almost 100 percent sure. For eager students it feels like slacking and counter-intuitive to what they’ve been taught on school tests.

Swanson believes the old strategies won’t work well on the new SAT. The new test also calls on students to demonstrate why they know something is right, a huge trend in schools these days.

“It sounds to me like in the future those strategies will likely not be the keys to success that they are today, but rather your ability to provide the evidence to back up answers,” Swanson said.

The change could be a good thing for cautious students. But what if you have a student who is perfectly comfortable taking risks, who sees the change as a green light to answer questions willy nilly. The College Board’s press release on the SAT changes doesn’t say how or if the test will screen for such an approach. Perhaps, as Swanson suggests, the call for evidence-based answers will weed out the wanton risk-takers.

Sample questions due out in April are likely to provide more insight into what new strategies will be called for.

Students, what SAT strategies have you found most useful? What was the hardest thing about the test? Knowing what you do now, is there anything you would have done differently to prepare?

Walking the Bud Hawk walk

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

The Central Kitsap School Board has not scheduled a conversation on the question of renaming Brownsville Elementary School after John D. “Bud” Hawk. It will likely be on the agenda for the March 26 meeting, but I have heard from a couple of sources that some will be at Wednesday’s meeting this week to air their thoughts. In preparation for that conversation, in an attempt to understand views on both sides of the question I asked the district to see all the responses to the online survey the district conducted about the question, particularly the spaces where people could weigh in with comments.

I should say up front that all three of my children went to Brownsville. One was there a few months, another a year and the other all seven elementary school years. Given that, we do have a sense of gratitude for the work that goes on inside the school. But I get paid to keep my feelings about an issue to myself, so if I had an opinion I wouldn’t tell you what it is. Besides, we don’t live in that area anymore and my youngest goes to Silver Ridge, so I don’t have a dog, or a bear, in that discussion.

So I leave it to the survey respondents to make the arguments. Here are a few samples:

John “Bud” Hawk was a great man who accomplished more in his lifetime than most people I know. He has also been recognized and memorialized in many ways as a tribute of thanks for his many years of service. For me personally, I feel strongly that Brownsville Elementary should remain, and a portion of the school should be named after Bud. Brownsville is a school with a wonderful family vibe and supportive community. Many of our families attended Brownsville as children and now watch their own children roam the halls of a school they love, one that has been called Brownsville for almost 60 years. In a time where everything moves so fast, information is shared so quickly, names and trends come and go at a rate most of us don’t remember them. I feel that offering some consistency, an anchor of sorts to our youth is crucial. Let Brownsville be that constant, that place where our children will look back and smile, that tangible memory that lets them know that not all things disappear … that some, very special places are kept as they are because of the powerful and positive impact they’ve had on so many.


When my family moved here our three grade school sons were among the largest number of students ever to attend Brownsville at one time. Within months Esquire Hills and Cottonwood opened, reducing the head count to one third. Through it all Bud Hawk kept his cool, maintained order, got to know the children and even cooked Thanksgiving turkeys for the Thanksgiving feast. He was phenomenal under tremendous pressure. He dealt with parents, students and teachers in a way each was heard and respected. For all that Bud did before he came to Brownsville and for his exemplary leadership as principal, John “Bud” Hawk deserves to be remembered in a lasting way. Please don’t flub this. Please name the entire school after a man whose shoes can never be filled by another person. Let this be his legacy.


He was an eyewitness to some of the most horrible things man can do his fellow man. And his reaction to that was to embrace the nurturing of children. He was motivated to make education his career because he knew it was important to help children., that the key to a peaceful world was happy children. His understanding of what was really important in life and his insight into how to change the world is at the heart of knowledge. And the heart of knowledge in any school is the library. I think the library should be named after him.


I attended Brownsville Elementary in the 1970s and remember Mr. Hawk fondly. Of all my school principals, he is the one I remember the most. What he did for our country in WWII is certainly deserving of renaming the elementary school where he dedicated many years of his professional life in his honor.

Nearly everyone supported naming at least a part of the school after Hawk, so it seems clear there is large support for honoring Hawk somehow.

Now, allow me to put on my best pinstriped suit to play advocate for the devil.

Many who opposed renaming the school spoke of how it could harm Brownsville’s “storied history” and “legacy.” Those are kind of big words to attach to an elementary school. What historic moment happened at Brownsville? What legacy at Brownsville is so unique that it couldn’t be found at other schools?

I was especially struck by the people who said renaming the school would be harmful to the memories of people who went there, to which I ask, “Why?” Would your memories be any less beautiful if the school you once attended wasn’t called Brownsville anymore? Did new people move into the house you grew up in? Did that make you sad? Did you get over it? How do the people who went to East High School feel about their old campus being turned into something else? How do Seabeck and Tracyton alums feel today? If they change the name of your school, it doesn’t change your memories.

On the flipside, let me still represent the devil in arguing the other case. A few brought up that the school is actually in Gilberton, some saying that calling it “Brownsville” was a compromise to appease people who really did live in Brownsville and were disappointed the school was not located there. I haven’t verified that. Despite all that, even though Brownsville Elementary School is in Gilberton, that argument ended a long time ago. The school has been there for years with that name, and renaming it Hawk isn’t going to right an old wrong.

Let me tell you a little of my history. Forty years ago I graduated from an elementary school named after a street. That much I knew then. What I didn’t know was the street was named after a former whiskey maker and rancher who helped settle the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. That’s something I found out about an hour ago, thanks to Wikipedia. The school’s website didn’t have any info on it. Nor did the high school named after John A. Rowland. I still don’t know who my junior high school was named after. This request is coming at a time when the emotions about and the memories of Bud Hawk are fresh. Years from now as more people pass through the class-picture-lined halls of the school there is the threat that the passion to remember the school’s namesake will diminish.

Naming a school after a hero is the most a school district can do, but it’s not nearly enough for what John D. “Bud” Hawk did. There have been principals, few of them maybe, who can match his impact on students. But as CK’s Superintendent Hazel Bauman said at a previous board meeting, there are not that many principals who were previous Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. When I read Hawk’s World War II story I was legitimately flabbergasted. Ed Friedrich, explained Hawk’s wartime exploits well in the story he wrote when Hawk died.

“On Aug. 20, 1944, German tanks and infantry attacked Hawk’s position near Chamois, France. He fought off the foot soldiers with his light machine gun before an artillery shell destroyed it and wounded him in the right thigh. He found a bazooka and, with another man, stalked the tanks and forced them to retreat into the woods. He regrouped two machine gun squads and made one working gun out of two damaged ones.

“Hawk’s group was joined by two tank destroyers, but they couldn’t see where to shoot. So he climbed to the top of a knoll with bullets flying around him to show them where to aim. The destroyer crews couldn’t hear his directions, so he ran back and forth several times to correct their range until two of the tanks were knocked out and a third was driven off. He continued to direct the destroyers against the enemy in the woods until the Germans, 500 strong, surrendered. He would receive four Purple Hearts.”

Then he came home and became a teacher and a principal. Or as the survey respondent quoted above said, “He was an eyewitness to some of the most horrible things man can do his fellow man. And his reaction to that was to embrace the nurturing of children.”

Whatever decision the district makes, this conversation should spark one commitment out of anyone interested in the question. No matter what decision is made about the renaming of the school, the students who go to school there should know well the story of what John D. “Bud” Hawk did in war, and then what he did in peace. For all the distinction and symbolism there is in naming a school or a part within the school after a hero, the greatest way to honor someone is to emulate someone. Whatever the district decides to do, the decision should be made answering the question that as students walk the halls Bud Hawk walked, what decision will more influence them to walk the life he walked, too.

Empty bellies and student discipline

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

The link between discipline in schools and student achievement has gotten considerable attention over the past year in Olympia. The Legislature last year passed a bill, effective in September, requiring that districts take steps to reduce expulsions and bring kids who have been expelled back into the fold, whenever possible.

A bill introduced this session (SHB 2536) connects the dots between misbehavior and hunger. The bill, which passed the House last week 67-31, would require districts with high numbers of low-income students to implement so-called “breakfast after the bell” programs.

In most districts, breakfast is available before school starts (not after the first bell). Although available to all students, breakfast before the bell is meant to ensure that children financially eligible for free- and reduced-cost meals have a shot at what nutritionists call the most important meal of the day. But low-income kids can feel stigmatized by the arrangement, say child advocates backing the bill. Sometimes transportation is an issue … as if there weren’t already enough reasons to skip breakfast.

The bill cites evidence that school breakfast is associated with “improved outcomes” for students, including fewer discipline incidents, better attendance and improved performance on standardized tests. Washington State ranks forty-first in the nation for participation in school breakfast programs, according to the text of the bill.

The bill, now with the Senate, calls for a four-year, phased-in process for providing breakfast after the bell in “high needs” schools. Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, all high needs elementary schools in the state would be required to offer some form of breakfast after the bell; the requirement would extend to all high needs schools the following years.

Schools could use whatever model best suits their student population and logistical requirements. Models proposed in the bill include, but are not limited to, breakfast in the classroom, “grab and go” breakfast, or a breakfast after first period.

An amended to the bill would allow high needs schools to obtain waivers from the requirement if they could show that their direct costs for the program, including food service staff, would exceed available revenues.

Funding would come from federal school nutrition sources and the cost to the state would be “minimal,” according to Sara Levin, of the United Way of King County, which would help with start up costs in that county, and Katie Mosehauer of Washington Appleseed, a public policy organization aimed at social justice. The Breakfast After the Bell program will cost an estimated $9.6 million per year when fully implemented.

Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, doubts the bill will make it through the Senate, at least in this version. Haigh, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said even proponents of the bill feel there are issues inadequately addressed, including cost. There are other concerns around the logistical challenge of allowing food in classrooms and ensuring the nutritional quality of what students are eating.

Nonetheless, said Haigh, passing a law to promote wider access to breakfast in schools is something the Legislature should pursue. “We’ve got to keep working on this,” she said.

Racial terms and the books that are filled with them

Friday, February 21st, 2014

During the coverage of the use of the racially charged word at Poulsbo Elementary School, a few commenters raised the issue of whether schools should stop having students read some pieces of literature.

“Do you mean to say that you doubt the value of a Martin Luther King Jr in the world? Or of a Samuel Clemons and a Huckleberry Finn?”

“We’d best burn all copies of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to spare the children and their parents future further discomfort.
Better throw in To Kill A Mockingbird for good measure.”

Or if he reads Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.
Or Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”.
Or even Alex Haley’s “Roots” – come to that.

The next one is especially prescient:

“Enroll your children in Charter or Private School immediately! Common Core propaganda “teaching” will warp your child’s cognitive skills and retard his/her intellect. Seriously!”

It’s prescient because our latest issue comes from just such a private school, Crosspoint Academy in the Chico area. It seems parents there are capable of noticing these issues, too.

Roland and Naomi Truitt said their son, who is in eighth grade, brought home the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The Truitts are black and said their son is the only black student in his class. There was little notice beforehand about the book, they said. There had been an email from the teacher telling parents the students would be reading the book and instructions for how to download a copy, but not discussion of some of the language in the book they thought warranted ample conversation before engaging in the Mark Twain classic. The Truitt’s sought a conversation with the school’s administrator, Nick Sweeney, which they did receive. They asked if other books that accomplish the same purposes could be considered. They asked that if Tom Sawyer were to be the book read, that someone who is trained in culturally sensitive history be allowed into the classroom to discuss the book’s language with the school children. In the end, they said, nothing really changed. They’re not certain the teacher is equipped to adequately address the sensitive issue, or what kind of conversation there was ahead of time.

Sweeney, for his part, has not returned two requests I made to him on Thursday to talk about the issue. I can’t say for sure that he won’t talk about the it, but in an an email he sent to the Truitts following a conversation he had with Robert Boddie, who was requesting a conversation, he said the school does not “disclose information about any actions to outside press, lawyers, agents or others,” so his silence so far is in line with that statement. We don’t have Crosspoint’s side of story.

Our readers who mentioned other books that contain the n-word are drawing upon recent history. Tom Sawyer has been controversial, but not nearly as much as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In Tom Sawyer the main villain is a Native American who is repeatedly referred to in insensitive terms. Tom and Huck also use the n-word four times. In Huck Finn the n-word appears 218 times, according to Auburn University English Professor Alan Gribben.

In 2003 a student at Renton High School asked that Huck Finn be banned, even though the class where it was assigned spent two weeks discussing the language, the context and laid out ground rules for the class before anyone even opened the book.

For Gribben, all that controversy over the words “formed a barrier to these works for teachers, students, and general readers” he wrote in the introduction of the version of the Tom and Huck he had published. “We may applaud Twain’s ability as a prominent American literary realist to record the speech of a particular region during a specific historical era, but abusive racial insults that bear distinct connotations of permanent inferiority nonetheless repulse modern-day readers. Twain’s two books do not deserve ever to join that list of literary ‘classics’ he once humorously defined as those ‘which people praise and don’t read,’ yet the long-lofty status of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn has come under question in recent decades.”

The books are a satire of the racism of the time, yet their use as standard reading in schools was diminishing, because of the language. Gribben wanted people who might shy away because of the language to know the books, so he replaced the n-word with “slave” and he modified the phrase used form the villain in Tom Sawyer and a few other phrases.

Gribben’s other justification for doing this was because Twain used to read his daily writings to an audience outside his house and would take note of language the listeners liked or didn’t. He’d make changes because of it. Gribben is suggesting Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain was his pen name, I probably don’t have to tell you.) might have made the change himself had he ever read the stories from Tom and Huck to an audience that cared.

Critics saw Gribben’s move as wrongheaded. In a story published by the BBC, Cindy Lovell, executive director of The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri, said, “The book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book.” We’re supposed to be uncomfortable with the language, she said. “He wrote to make us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the purpose.”

There are other parallels. For a while there was a slate of companies that would edit out of movies content people found objectionable. It gave some people access to stories they would otherwise have not seen. But sometimes storytelling is designed to make people uncomfortable, perhaps through language or imagery they don’t make a point to encounter. Literature is supposed to not just entertain us, it supposed to enlighten us, and sometimes it might have to make us angry or embarrassed to get a point across. That might be what those people who had their movies edited missed.

For the Truitts, they really want all three of their children to continue with the private education their kids are getting. The Truitts both work, he at the shipyard and she owns a business. They are Christian and want their children to go to school around other Christian children so they will be “equipped to defend their beliefs when they’re out in the world,” Roland said. They are Republicans who place a high value on personal responsibility, for not relying on government. They have been happy with how Crosspoint officials have been willing to work with them on other issues, such as the possibility of having one of their three children skip a grade. College is an expectation for their children, not a wish. And they think the Crosspoint education supports their efforts to raise their children well, educationally and spiritually.

On the issue of Tom Sawyer, though, they wonder if there is a blind spot.

“I hope that we’re able to work this out,” Naomi Truitt said. “As a family we don’t whitewash past history, but we have discussions about it. That’s all we’re asking for, is a conversation.”

District policies call for immediate expulsion for gun in school

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

One person who commented on today’s story about the impact of expulsions on families said he thought expulsion was too harsh a punishment for a 9-year-old boy who brought a gun to school in February 2012, resulting in the critical injury of an 8-year-old classmate. The girl survived, but her health remains compromised, a spokeswoman for the family has said.

Here is the comment from Larry Croix and my response outlining the rights and responsibilities of school officials, students and parents in cases where students bring a gun to school. In short, most districts, under state law and their own polices, have no choice but to expel the student. Students are entitled to due process, including the right to appeal.

Larry says, “There was a lot about the 9 year old in this story that I could not fathom. I don’t want to minimize the past and future pain and suffering of the victim. That said I don’t understand how a 9 year old could be criminally guilty of anything. I thought and still think a years expulsion was wrong headed given the circumstances. Changing his school certainly, but anything beyond that was excessive and I have to wonder what they were thinking beyond avoiding having to deal with over wrought parents of other children.”

My response, “Under state law, bringing a gun to school is “grounds for” expulsion. Bremerton, like most districts, spells out in its parent handbook a policy that students who bring a gun to school will be immediately expelled.

The law says students who suspended or expelled are entitled to due process including the right to appeal (the link here is to a document posted on the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website), but schools can emergency expel a student who poses an immediate threat. The emergency expulsion, must be followed within 24-hours by written notification to parents/ guardians and converted to some other form of discipline.

So in the case of the 9-year-old, the district was bound by state law and its own policies to expel the boy. His guardian doesn’t dispute the district’s actions immediately following the shooting.”

Chris Henry, reporter

Video of Bremerton teacher shows challenge of classroom management

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Note on Feb. 24: My apologies. Due to a coding error, the video did not show up when I posted it. Video should work now. Chris Henry, reporter

Today’s story in our six-part series on student discipline focuses on a Bremerton classroom, where teacher Veda Langford manages her students with a blend of compassion and discipline.

Here’s the video of Langford’s class, which posted on Day 1, in case you missed it.

Race, it’s complicated

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Two students’ stories illustrate the elusive influence of race on behavior and discipline.

By Chris Henry
Educators, including top officials in Kitsap and North Mason school districts, agree that some groups of students — kids of color, those with learning disabilities and the poor — are disciplined more often and more harshly than the majority white, middle-class students.
What’s not always clear is the interplay among contributing factors that may include family dynamics, the student’s personality, mental health issues, teachers’ bias or a combination of the above.
Clearly educators, students and their parents all have their roles to play. But as these students’ stories show, it’s hard to pinpoint when, where and why behavior starts to go off track.

Cedric Turner was a sophomore at Central Kitsap High School when he was arrested Nov. 11, 2011, for bringing a gun to schools in Central Kitsap and North Kitsap and firing off a round at Raab Park in Poulsbo. No one was injured.
The Turner family, who are black and in the military, felt a culture shock moving to predominantly white Kitsap County, said Lapeachtriss Turner, Cedric’s mom. Cedric felt out of his element after living in more diverse communities, his mother said. A good student, socially adrift, he hooked up with some troublesome kids.
The Raab Park incident stemmed from bullying at school with racial undertones, Lapeachtriss said. Cedric got drawn in trying to defend friends in his racially mixed group. So yes, race was “a huge factor” in his getting kicked out of school, she said.
Cedric is a good boy who made bad decisions, his mother says. She excuses none of her son’s behavior. The family was frustrated, however, by what they describe as uneven support and communication from district administrators before and after the arrest. Central Kitsap School District officials won’t comment on behavior records of individual students.
Cedric’s cause was complicated by an earlier, similar firearms charge in California. In Kitsap County Superior Court, he pleaded guilty to three felony charges, including possession of a dangerous weapon at school.
Expelled from CKHS and on probation, Cedric took classes at the Kitsap Alternative Transition School, where students under court supervision can earn credits while suspended or expelled.
Cedric progressed well, but after several months, he ran away and began skipping school, violating terms of his probation. Taken back into custody, he completed his sentence in the juvenile detention center.
Cedric was sent to live with his grandmother in Georgia. He caught up by taking extra credits, first at an alternative school, later at a regular high school. But when his parents tried to move him to the North Carolina district in which they now live, his felony record dogged him, and officials were reluctant to admit him. The family has worked on an alternative plan for Cedric to complete his high school education.
All he sees, said his mom, are doors closing left and right.
“He did what he did, and he should have been punished. I’m the first one to say that,” Lapeachtriss said. “I just want us to get past all of this and move forward. I don’t want him to get punished for the rest of his life.”
Statistically, Tony Riojas, 18, has two strikes against him: he has learning disabilities and he is multi-cultured. His father is black, his mother is Mexican, and his stepdad is white.
Tony’s military family lived in ethnically diverse towns before moving to Kitsap County. He spent time with his father in Florida, but says his dad’s neighborhood is “ghetto,” rife with conflict. He prefers Poulsbo where his ethnicity makes him a standout.
“I love being different,” he said. “I’m pretty sure my skin color makes me who I am in Poulsbo. Everybody knows me as the black kid, so if I wasn’t the black kid, who would I be?”
Sociable, smart, athletic, Tony has been in trouble since fifth grade, his angry outbursts landing him in the principal’s office time after time. He’s been arrested twice; charges were dropped both times.
Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tony had a specialized learning plan at North Kitsap High School that required him to follow a behavior “contract.” Therapists also diagnosed “oppositional defiance disorder,” described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as “an ongoing pattern of anger-guided disobedience, hostility, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.” The district, which declined to comment, would not recognize the condition, according to Tony’s mother, Corine Proctor.
Tony thinks race and disability might be factors for some students who get in trouble, but not for him.
“I’ll probably be the only person you will talk to who will admit to just causing trouble,” he said. “I was very hot headed. … Honestly, I didn’t care, ‘cause that was just me.’ Up until 11th grade, I didn’t care about what anybody thought or what anybody did or the consequences of my actions.”
Conflict was the norm. Tony admits using his blackness to intimidate people.
Tony continued getting in trouble on returning from Florida to Poulsbo as a senior.
“I had a past with that school,” he said. “Every little thing I did, if I was late to class they’d write me up.”
This fall, a kid from the high school, a former friend, crossed him.
“I saw him at school one day. I said, ‘Listen, if I see you off campus you will legitimately be dead,’ Tony said. And he meant it.
There was a confrontation in the Dairy Queen parking lot, and the kid reported feeling threatened. The school took it as a credible threat, and because of Tony’s lengthy discipline record, they expelled him.
Tony’s mother and stepfather reached the end of their rope and kicked him out of the house. He ended up couch surfing, wondering what to do next.
Tony has no interest in going back to the high school, but he blew off the options offered by his mom, Corine said.
She thinks she should have drawn a line in the sand years ago.
“I’m tired of this scrub life I’m living. I have no money, no job, no diploma,” Tony said. “I know now if I would have just stayed on the straight and narrow, I’d be done with school and in the Navy, going places, going abroad and having it all.”

More on that discipline data

Monday, February 17th, 2014

This blog post started out as a reply to readers who commented on today’s story discussing discipline data. The data show discriminatory discipline is a real phenomenon at the local, state and national levels.

My reply got a little lengthy, so I had to put it in the blog.

Vitaeus, you asked, “Is there any research into how many discipline cases are upheld on higher review?” You also were worried about districts being subject to quotas.

Regarding whether cases were upheld, I assume you’re talking about the federal review of complaints of possible civil rights violations in schools. My understanding is that the evidence of discriminatory discipline referred to in the report was based on cases that had been vetted (not those that were unfounded), as well as investigation of school districts’ discipline practices across the nation.

Larry Croix: Yes, it is possible for a snapshot of data to be taken out of context. But the feds have been following this issue for years (as I will elaborate on in part 6 of this series).

None of the many school officials, youth advocates and education policy analysts I talked to denied that discriminatory discipline exists, including Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute (quoted in this story). But Petrilli doesn’t like the idea of sanctions, which he says could drive schools toward a quota-driven approach to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

That seems a valid and fair concern, especially given recent history in districts, like Philadelphia, where school officials tried to reduce suspensions and expulsions without a systematic approach to maintaining control of the classroom. The schools became chaotic and dangerous, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Data from the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is different from the federal data. It comes from Washington schools’ annual reports in the number of incidents and disciplinary actions (as in the database, above in the story). That gives a snapshot of each district per school year, showing what was the most prevalent reported offense at each. Was it bullying, drugs, fighting without major injury? And so on.

On OSPI’s website, you can also drill down to each school. They are working on making that information easily accessible/ sharable, but when we checked, their “report builder” wasn’t ready for prime time. And we’re talking a ton of data here, so transferring it by hand would have been prohibitive for our staff. We will try to pull that data to our website when it becomes available.

Schools, in the past, also have reported demographic information on race, socioeconomic status and disabilities. As of 2012-2013, they must now show disciplinary action by demographic group.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is incorporating this new data (not new to the schools) into its public database, which will be out some time this spring, according to the OSPI spokesman I talked to.

What will all this new data do? Going forward, districts and other interested parties can track discipline data by demographic group over the years by district and down to the school level. Hopefully, analysts and the public will look at patterns and not snapshots taken out of context, a concern of one school official I spoke to.

In theory, districts are consistent in their recording and reporting of incidents, but that may not be so, at least yet, according North Mason’s Superintendent David Peterson, whose district had the highest rate of suspensions and expulsions of all local districts in 2010-2013. Peterson says differences in how districts view, record and report offenses can account for at least part of this.

Larry Croix, you make the point that data could be manipulated. School officials and a spokeswoman from the Washington State School Directors association, also were concerned about this, especially given that (in theory) anyone could make their own data report from OSPI’s website. Cherry picking in theory is a possibility, so certainly one would want to consider the source.

The state report referenced in this story analyzed discipline data by demographics for the 2009-2010 school year. Data for the graphic illustration in the newspaper today came from the 2012-2013 school year, analyzed for us by Washington Appleseed, an organization focused on education policy and social justice. Appleseed has a data sharing agreement with OSPI.

The state report, co-authored by data analysts at Washington Appleseed, appears well vetted. Lawmakers considered it heavily in recent legislation addressing discipline that got bipartisan support.

Bottom line, regarding discriminatory discipline, we’re talking about a decade or more of local, state and national data. I talked to dozens of school officials and teachers. Only one denied that discriminatory discipline is a real phenomenon.

Will the data get better as districts become more consistent in their reporting and as the state improves its system of collecting and reporting that data? Hopefully. That’s the idea. This is all a big work in progress.

In the meanwhile, educators are moving forward with “best practices” aimed at helping troubled students while reducing exclusionary discipline.

“I don’t need to know the exact number of students they’re suspending and expelling and the exact rates,” said Linda Mangel of the ACLU of Washington. “We have enough data to know we have a serious problem with racial disparities in discipline in our state.”

But, Mangel added, “The data only tells part of the story.”

You can’t make the assumption of bias in discipline just based on data, she said.

“What data can help us do is identify teachers in schools who may need extra support,” she said.

That will be the topic of tomorrow’s story.

Local officials have argued that solutions to discipline issues are most appropriately found at the district and building level. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss how behavior can get misinterpreted and where some teachers may need support in working with minorities.

Thanks all, for your interest.

Chris Henry, reporter

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