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How My School and District Failed its Students (anurbanteacherseducation.com)
168 points by thisisnotmyname on Feb 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 124 comments

My solution? Make attendance voluntary by abolishing truancy laws. Disruptive students don't want to be there, and forcing them to go doesn't teach them anything.

Human beings can't be forced to think. This runs absolutely counter to all kinds of notions and traditions, but it's how nature is. Wishing, legislating and expecting that facts be otherwise won't work any better here than it would in the physical sciences (imagine how you might react to such a stance against thermodynamics or the inverse square law).

Edit: if you disagree, say why instead of just voting me down.

From my knowledge of radical education approaches like Summerhill or Ferrer's Modern School, I would agree with that, with one caveat:

Students don't have to attend class. They just have to go to school. They can choose, on a daily basis, what class they want to be in. If they disrupt, they're kicked out of class for the day, since attendance at that class is a voluntary association.

To get credit and a grade for a class, you have to complete X homework assignments and pass Y amount of tests.

If a kid decides they wants to hang out all day in the cafeteria, good for them. Teachers might want to check in on them and see why or offer books or computer access to do some self-education.

You'd also want to diversify the classes if possible. Add classes in video game design, automotive engineering, etc. Make these classes enticing, and hard. Rope the kids in to hard classes by making them seem like blow-offs.

But most of all, let the kid choose to learn, and you have a lot more power over the kids who come in just to disrupt. You also have the added social pressure of the other kids, who will recognize that the disruptors don't have to be there and are only ruining it for everyone.

Never underestimate the motivating power of boredom.

I would love to see this concept implemented in an urban setting, under the context of a general education school (rather than a magnate, etc.). While I think it would work for some, I suspect many of these disruptive children probably have major family issues that make it difficult or impossible for them to focus on learning. See: Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

It would certainly be a good starting point though. Something must change, and mandatory testing changes nothing.

The Brooklyn Free School is relatively diverse, no? (Well, as far as anarchist schooling goes, anyway)

To add to your post I attended a school based on the summer hill philosophy and one of the reasons all the students went to class was because the whole school set up the timetable democratically at the start of each semester.

This led to some interesting subjects like yoga and womans rights but it also provided subjects of interest to nearly all the students so there was more desire to attend and learn.

An additional bonus of this kind of system is that often subjects like computer games development require some grounding in maths which makes these kinds of abstract subjects more desirable.

It was also clear that these core subjects are requirements for further education so there was always enough desire from people wishing to attend university to keep the core subjects going.

So how is this different from jail? You're forced to be somewhere you hate, unable to go outside, for a part of your life just because you were born?

Jailers are not very professional, and are allowed to treat you like livestock.

Teachers are professionals who are generally trying to help you become a better person (even if a few degenerate in Stanford Prison Experiment style guards, and they are the ones some people really remember).

You can't drop out of jail.

You can't be home-jailed.

At the end of it, you get a degree.

Probation/parole/bail jumpers

House arrest

Prison education is pretty common

Granted, not everyone can leave jail. But take a boarding school and a minimum security prison and you're getting pretty close to the same thing.

If you drop out of school, you simply don't get a degree. If you jump bail, you get more jail time. And you're reaching to consider house arrest the same as home schooling. As for prison education, that's commonly available, but far from the purpose of prison. And boarding schools are private, there is only one public boarding school in the US, and it only has 80 students.

So your analogies don't exactly work. I would suggest reading the work of John Taylor Gatto, A.S. Neil, Francisco Ferrer, and Paulo Freire, though, if you're interested in critiques of education systems and their alternatives.

"Schools are jails for kids." -- John Holt

Oh man... I would have totally failed at this school, I never bothered with homework, just did the tests. Also, some bits where I missed the coursework I was allowed to do extra tests. For now my career has been fine, but if I'd have gone to the school your designing I wouldn't have got into college and would be basically fucked.

QFT "Never underestimate the motivating power of boredom."

Make attendance voluntary by abolishing truancy laws

I didn't downvote you, but I strongly disagree. I personally don't want to live in a society full of kids (did you see his percentages - up to 25%!!) that are considered unmanageable at age 12. If they are unmanageable at age 12, what do you think they are going to be at age 25? Angry, illiterate, jobless oh and yeah, still unmanageable. Or, in jail and unmanageable. Can you build enough jails for 25% of the population?

There are no easy answers to the problems of universal education, but let's not forget why it is there in the first place.

I agree. I suspect the problem is these children were disruptive at age 8 and no one did anything.

I don't think letting a 12 year old decide they don't have to go to school is the answer. But I do think they should not be allowed to disrupt the education of others.

There are some intereting alternative schools that may be a way to tackle the issue. It's not an easy problem.

With that said, I think what this essay addresses, while seemingly obvious, is one of the biggest problems we face, and education reform generally doesn't mention it.

And I do speculate it hides one of the reasons why places like Promise Academy do so well. The students, even from broken homes, who go there are strongly pushed by mothers (or grandmothers) that this is special place. The expectation of good behavior is much higher there.

None of the students at Promise Academy have supportive fathers or grandfathers?

For a poor black child to have a father in the home is currently atypical: http://www.theroot.com/buzz/72-percent-african-american-chil...

As an addendum, that's an issue of the parents failing, not the school. The primary responsibility for a child's welfare should fall to the parents, not the schools. Schools are secondary. If schools take the primary initiative, there's even more incentive for parents who are on the decision margin to offload that responsibility to the schools and instead focus on other (potentially, but not necessarily, more selfish) things.

Children will attend regardless of truancy laws. See Mary Ruwart easy answers (http://server.theadvocates.org/ruwart/questions_maint.php?Ca...).

"... In the early 1800s, a survey in Boston found that 90% of the school-age children were enrolled, even though attendance was not compulsory and public schooling was not widespread. (3) At that time, the U.S. was considered the most literate nation in the world! We learned more when we weren't forced to do so!"

Before you post a rebuttal, please read the link I've given. It has answers to six related questions in this area, so your questions may already have been answered.

You submit this as if mandatory truency laws will help them change between the ages of 12 and 25. The parent comment was making the point that if we're looking at a child whose parents and peer group don't care then they shouldn't be allowed to negatively affect the rest of the classroom.

With parental involvement and peer group being such an enormous pressure on kids, taking away 1 of the 2 toxic influencers can do wonders for the other 75-85% of the kids.

If universal education was intended to solve these kinds of problems, it seems to me it has obviously failed. I strongly believe that social ills of this sort are FAR better addressed by trying to eliminate poverty than by trying to force kids to attend classes they are getting nothing out of.

That being said, universal education can certainly be seen as an attempt to eliminate poverty. The problem is that the cause of learning is not being advanced, for the majority of students, by forcing kids who don't want to be there to keep coming. All many kids are learning from this experience is to hate learning and to associate it with painful experiences. The ones who don't want to be there resent their teachers, and the ones who want to be there resent their classmates.

It seems likely to me, then, that we are making it more difficult to escape poverty, not less, by forcing school attendance on every student. Though the analogy can only be taken so far, I can't help but think of a lifeboat onto which everyone is fleeing as a ship sinks. Will we try to force everyone onto the lifeboat, in the name of egalitarian principles, even if that means that the lifeboat sinks and no one survives?

A false dichotomy and a broken analogy walk into a bar...

The choice isn't between universal access to education and easier expulsion. We need to find a better way to deal with the problem kids, and to improve our education system in general.

I understand that the analogy is seductive for you because it leads to a "throw them overboard" proclamation on utilitarian grounds. But it glosses over a facet of the school system -- it's not a logical necessity that failures are required for successes.

The purpose of universal education is to educate, not to provide free day care, much less to serve as a corrective institution for young people with behavior problems. Our education system is a failure because it is overburdened with non-educational mandates. In my very biased opinion, it is the most motivated students who are harmed the most by this. The difficult challenge of improving the behavior and attitude of angry and undisciplined individuals is not a goal the public schools should be given.

It very much is part of the purpose of our public education system to "serve as a corrective institution" for the behavioral problems of young people. A key reason we provide education is to ensure that children grow up to be contributors to society. It's folly to think that students that can't contribute despite public education would contribute without it.

The purpose of public education was child care and to teach children - especially countryside children - the idea of turning up at work on time every day, sitting quietly and doing as they were told.

It was a big problem in the industrial revolution - trying to get people to understand that they had to turn up at the same time in the summer and winter - which was a big change if you had been used to getting up with the sun for the previous 2000 years

I wouldn't want to see truancy laws abolished, but in many cases they have little effect.

Perhaps, from a certain age, a choice is given ; attend school, and don't disrupt, or end up in some type of system which is far less free than the school system. I'm thinking some type of national service system, in which the kids are away from their home during the week, have freedoms restricted (as in freedom to do what they want after hours) and have extra (skill gaining) tasks to complete outside of regular schooling. The service could be anything from national parks management to military service, at the students choice upon enrolment. The idea would be to locate them away from family, friends and influences, and work with people who demand respect and hard work.

There needs to be a credible threat to the bad behaviour. Getting told off, or threatening to contact the parents has no effect if the parents aren't on board.

I agree that you just don't want to release unmotivated kids onto the streets, bored and with no skills and no future. It's not good for society, it's not good for the student.

Ha. The pickle here is that we (the government, the bleeding hearts, those capable of compassion) have to acknowledge that these kids were dealt a pretty bad hand, and that they are, after all, still kids. So we owe them a fair shot and some patience -- it's not acceptable to give up on them as products of the system. Because in one way or another we're part of the system. And they're kids.

My sister participated in the New York Teaching Fellows program (similar to TFA) and worked in Spanish Harlem and her experience was much the same as the author's. So I'm not saying the current situation and the current programs are ideal or well managed, but there are interesting hope-inducing projects and people out there.

p.s. Go watch season 4 of The Wire and see if it tugs at your heartstrings a bit. It also paints a good picture of how screwed up the school system itself is in poor urban communities. Not to mention how pedogogical innovation is treated in the academic setting...

p.p.s. If you're curious about the role of academic philanthropy and the Broad Foundation which the author mentions, have a read: http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=3781 . I haven't read a counterpoint to that piece yet, so I'm not sure how well the criticisms stand up.

If some people paid by other people want me to sit and listen to them all day and to think about what they want me to think about then it isn't "giving up on me" to let me go and do something else if I would prefer to do so.

It's simply acknowledging my status as a human being.

So, pray tell, what would you do as a troublesome young bloke hanging out in Harlem or Kansas City today?

I'll submit that some aspect of keeping kids in school is an attempt to keep those kids out of small trouble now and big trouble later. Paternalistic laws/rules very often rub the most responsible members of society the wrong way when they apply them to themselves. Moreover, applying rules for children to adults will also push your intuitions in a certain way.

Believing in a kid's potential to be a productive member of society, I'd argue, is an even more edifying way of acknowledging their status as a human being. Your version when applied to poor city kids is basically, "sure, it's cool if you want to go become a vandal/drug dealer/future inmate; whatever."

Also, you're giving kids too much credit. Kids will almost always maximize short term payoff at the expense of long term success (hyperbolic discounting?). And good parenting is about balancing those inclinations. In the absence of good parenting, schools can pick up some of the slack.

> "it's not acceptable to give up on them as products of the system."

But what about moving them to an alternate system that addresses their basic, fundamental issues with school and education?

It seems backwards to allow the minority to prevent learning for the majority. It also seems backwards to address these kids' issues in the same way as kids ready to learn.

Up to what age do you consider them "just kids"?

Just because the line is fuzzy doesn't mean there isn't one.

(I'm not sure if you're trying to weaken my argument by challenging the idea of childhood altogether (which would be weird), or if you're just curious. If it's the former, we're probably not going to have a productive discussion. If it's the latter, I'm open to suggestions, though it probably deserves the attention of an educational psychologist or someone like that.)

Its the later (if I was challenging your argument, I would have stated my reasons). I think their is a huge difference in strategies / reason between the 12 and under set and the 13+ set. The article seemed like it was talking about 12 and under, but I wasn't really sure what your use of "kid" referred too.

Came here just to chime in about Season 4 of The Wire. For those who haven't seen it, a large portion of it focuses on a new school initiative where disruptive students are removed from their classes and isolated in a smaller, more focused setting to work out their issues (if at all possible). The controversy is the perception it gives of putting the troubled kids through a lesser education, which is ironic considering the sort of education they could get would be qualitatively different and better for them overall.

Just proves "what's old is new again" in education. With all the new rules and zero-tolerance policies your, your options as a teacher are to either let the kid continue or have him kicked out of school permanently. Gone are the days of detention, sitting in the VP's office, or student-parent-teacher meetings.

The breakdown of the family is what I consider the largest contributor to failing students. It's already hard enough to work and come home to do more work. Add in the guidance a kid needs and you are too tired to provide. You have a good chance that your kid is being raised by their friends and not you. Even if most of your kids friends are good it only takes one to spoil them all.

> The pickle here is that we (the government, the bleeding hearts, those capable of compassion)

Cute - anyone who disagrees with you is incapable of compassion....

It doesn't matter what your intent is or how good a person you are. The system, which is largely driven by folks like you, is largely a disaster, and an expensive one at that.

That's on you.

"My solution? Make attendance voluntary by abolishing truancy laws."

I agree with you in theory, but in practice this doesn't seem to work out so well. Look, for example, at the chapter in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational: about prebinding commitments and universities. In one experiment, he (and his co-authors) took a group of similar classes and divided them in threes: one group was told that it could turn in three papers whenever each member wanted; another group was told it could pick due dates; and the third group was given conventional due dates spaced over the course of the semester. The last group did the best, gradwise; the second did reasonably well too, since most students picked conventional due dates; and the first did by far the worst.

The lesson: people are often bad at committing to things.

I've observed the same effect teaching freshman composition at the University of Arizona. I used to conduct many more experiments by ranging the number of mandatory drafts: sometimes I'd require as few as one, and sometimes as many as five. The more drafts, the better papers tended to be. Even when I only required one, I would tell students they should do at least four to five on their own, with editing from other students, the writing center, etc. Few did. They (mostly) got bad grades and then resented me for it. Solution: require more drafts.

EDITED TO ADD: I would also say that it's relatively easy to advocate no truancy laws on Hacker News (and don't such laws only apply up to 16?); if you were actually a school principal or district superintendent who did, you would probably be fired or voted out of office if such a policy were implemented and you or your community had to face the consequences of it.

Just what are these supposedly negative consequences of abolishing truancy laws? The disruptive students mentioned in the article didn't learn anything in school.

The negative consequence would be to have these teenagers free to go about town during the day raising hell.

Clearly not a problem for the school itself. But it suddenly reminds everyone else that these kids exist, and we can't have that, right?

Nobody can be forced to think, but they can be forced to do structured exercises that build knowledge and cognitive skills, which is what school is actually for. The kids from rich suburban schools who learn to read and write and get into selective universities aren't any more intellectually curious than other kids; they just accept the need to jump through hoops at school. They might seem a little more intellectually curious because their hoop-jumping gives them the intellectual tools needed to appreciate a broader variety of interesting things than their poor inner-city counterparts do, but it is all based on years of spending hours a day doing exercises that on any given day they would choose not to do if they were not driven by parental expectations and school discipline.

I didn't downmod you, but it wouldn't work. It's a typical engineer's solution, you know? Sure, if you have 1 bad nut in a collection of 10 nuts, you just throw it away. But that's politically impossible with humans. The newspapers and the electorate would destroy anyone who tried it. At best you might be able to steer the no-goodnicks into the basement for "special" classes, but you could never, ever make your real intentions known, and so you could never have a genuinely effective system for filtering.

The old-style solution was much simpler: The principal beat the kid. The kid would go home, and father would beat him a second time. This also doesn't work for similar reasons.

I was paddled in public school and I'd say that works pretty well for maintaining order.

I am sorry to hear you had that experience. I do not approve of running a school, or any organization, based on fear, much less the threat of physical violence. Is this something that would be appropriate for the adult world? I don't think so. We shouldn't beat children just because they're smaller than us and can't fight back.


While I never received physical punishment at school (I do believe it occasionally happened at my elementary school, I never got into that level of trouble there), I was occasionally spanked by my parents when I acted rotten. I don't resent my parents for it, in fact I think they're great people and love them very much. I knew at the time why I was receiving that punishment, and I'm mature enough enough now to respect them for it.

"I do not approve of running a school, or any organization, based on fear, much less the threat of physical violence." You've made a leap here that I don't think holds up. The fact that I could have received a spanking at school or that I did receive spankings at home doesn't mean either my school or my home was run "based on fear" or "the threat of physical violence." A spanking is essentially a last resort, and you know it. That's hardly "basing" anything on fear.

"We shouldn't beat children just because they're smaller than us and can't fight back." The line between basic corporal punishment of a kid who refuses to be reasonable and beating a child is a broad one. Equivocating may make your position feel superior, but it's not accurate.

That's not to say corporal punishment in the schools is a grand idea... in part because there are people out there who would enjoy hitting kids, and so screening for that kind of trait would be important. I don't get the feeling your statement was really based on any sort of reasonable accounting of those odds, though. I'd love to hear how you've arrived at your opinion regarding corporal punishment, though. It's not an unpopular one, so I don't think you're some kind of weirdo or something, I'd just be interested in knowing what kind of background you're coming from.

The problem with corporal punishment (in an Indian perspective) is, the highly underpaid teachers don't quite know when to stop beating the child. Almost every month, I hear about kids being beaten to death in schools in rural / semi-urban India, and the helpless parents can only wail as the justice system is so screwed up.

Seriously? It seems pretty easy to know how not to beat someone to death. It's very easy to inflict a lot of pain with only superficial injury - with a cane or paddle, for example.

It may be easy for you or for me, but there's not shortage of deranged teachers in rural India.

That really sucks if true. Like ericd says, however, I don't think you can beat someone to death when administering corporal punishment just because you "didn't quite know when to stop". I think you're giving the beater too much leeway.

I'm not really advocating the return of corporal punishment in American schools. It's such a political issue, and potential liability, that I have a hard time seeing it ever making a return.

Ya, this is definitely true. I can't attest to children being that beaten badly in India, but when I taught at an elementary school in the Himalayas beating the students was common place. The first day I walked into a classroom I was given a bamboo stick by the child in charge of the class.

First I tried not resorting to the stick, then I would scare the students with the stick (by swinging at them and missing or stopping just short or their body), but eventually they learned I wouldn't actually hit them. The class would occasionally get so bad that the child in charge of the class would go around and hit his own classmates.

Unfortunately they responded to the abuse and would quiet down.

I think it's all the culture. It goes back to how the parents discipline the kids and how primary school teachers discipline the students.

I don't believe in corporal punishment in any school, I think this problem can be solved in

"Is this something that would be appropriate for the adult world?"

Yes. We call them police, but instead of paddles, they have guns.

(Well, I guess in the U.K. they have a grown up kind of paddle?)

The fact that order is ultimately enforced with violence is an unpleasant constant of human societies.

In what fantasy-land do you live where a large majority of your life is not defined by the threat of physical violence and involuntary confinement?

Actually, you shouldn't beat children because they /can/ fight back. If you re-instated corporal punishment, schools in bad areas would be ridiculous almost immediately, and as soon as you get an out-of-control adult or a victimized-feeling student, someone is going to get a gun from their older cousin.

Besides, when was the last time you were in a high school? The teachers are mostly older women, who most definitely cannot afford to play a game of physical escalation with teenage boys.

Actually I'd be curious to see what would happen if corporal punishment was re-instated. I think your scenario derives from a hyperbolic world presented to us by a hype-machine media. I'm not sure it's really accurate. My hypothesis would be that it would in fact cut down on problems, though I won't deny that one or a few incidents like what you posit could happen. Truly "rotten apples", few in number as they may be, are in every part of the population. This is also why re-instating corporal punishment would be extra-hard -- there will be "rotten apples" doling it out, too.

Also, to address your second point, when I was in elementary school and a few kids did receive corporal punishment, it was always meted out by a principal, and not directly by the teacher.

I went to a public high school less than ten miles away from Richmond High (http://articles.cnn.com/2009-10-27/justice/california.gang.r...), I may have a slightly skewed perspective. But on the other hand, I don't think corporal punishment would ever be an issue in richer school districts.

The part that scares me the most isn't the students though, it's the `adults'. The amount of evil and incompetence from the school board level down is astonishing. I wouldn't trust those people to take my order at a fast food restaurant.

Is this something that would be appropriate for the adult world?

Uhm, yes, except we call it the death penalty or, alternatively, life in prison.

I'm glad then that teachers don't go into engineering.

Another plane crashed today - one of the turbine blades was cracked but we decided to give it sensitivity training to get in touch with it's inner strength rather than callously replace it.

It's an interesting position, but may still leave you with the same problem. A fair proportion of the disruptive students actually want to be at school (since that's where everyone else is) -- so even if you make it voluntary you will still get students being disruptive. In the end you still come to the conclusion that you have to enforce the rules to make education effective. (Also, anyone who's ever watched a normally well-behaved classroom in the hands of an inexperienced substitute can believe that discipline makes a difference!)

I must respectfully disagree, for a few somewhat related reasons.

First, for a democracy to function, the voters need to be at least sufficiently educated to understand the issues.

Second, for an advanced capitalistic society with heavy automation to function, the work force needs to be at least sufficiently educated to handle nontrivial jobs.

And third, minors, lacking in experience, often make decisions that their older self would regret. Right or wrong our society tries to protect them against at least the worst of these bad decisions. This is precisely why we permit minors to rescind contracts (under most circumstances).

Now, with all that said, I think our society might benefit from offering trade schools/apprenticeships more readily and earlier in the educational system then it currently does, given consent of both the minor and the gaurdian. This may prove more useful to many of them then an academic course that is largely geared towards the college admissions process.

Your first point is key, and is what ultimately took me off the fence as to whether or not compulsory education is necessary. I feel like kids also don't need to be in school for 12+ years to only be qualified to work at Walmart. Let's shorten the tube and let people feel valuable to society at an earlier age.

While I agree that attendance should be voluntary this solution doesn't address the whole problem.

Part of the problem is that education is not valued - neither by the kids, nor their parents. As a culture we need to make sure education is valued across the board.

Another part of the problem is that once these kids are out of school they'll be causing trouble at home or in their neighborhoods.

I think a better plan would be the following: - Make attendance voluntary, but put programs in place that allow people to return to school and learn regardless of their age.

- Put trade schools in place that teach practical skills quickly. This way even if you're not cut out for school, at least you can learn a skill that can make you some money. A lot of these kids are coming from low income families.

- Make parents responsible for their kids. Right now a lot of parents treat school as daycare for their kids, they don't care what happens there as long as the kids aren't at home. Schools need to be able to expel and discipline kids without being fiscally punished. (either by lawsuit or losing funding because of poor performance)

Long term maxharris is absolutely right, you can't teach someone who doesn't want to learn. It doesn't work. We need a cultural shift that places education at the top of the list. And we need political leaders who are willing to risk their necks and hold parents accountable instead of throwing money and bad policy at the problem.

> Make parents responsible for their kids. Right now a lot of parents treat school as daycare for their kids, they don't care what happens there as long as the kids aren't at home.

Absolutely agreed. There's very little that a school can do for a kid if the parents don't care what the kid does at school. I'm not sure the solution needs to involve expulsions, but parents definitely need to have a greater responsibility in their children's education. You can't just drop your kid off at school and mind your own business.

If greater parental involvement in education means that one of the parents can't have a full time job and save money for college, so be it. Especially if you're already middle-class! I'd much rather have a caring parent than an extra vacation. Well raised kids should be able to pay for college on their own, anyway.

In most Teach for America schools, the choice for some families isn't between parents working to pay for college vs being involved in their child's school. It's a choice between parents working vs the family not eating. When the parents are struggling with subsistence, it's not surprising that they're less concerned with their kids grades.

Although the article only talks about TFA schools, the problem of parents treating school like daycare is not limited to poor neighborhoods. Too many parents seem to think that they're somehow absolved from all parental responsibility as soon as they drop their kids off at school. A large percentage of those parents don't have subsistence as an excuse.

In these cases it is important for families to pull together. I would rather see the children get jobs and help feed the family than waste away in a school learning nothing because the parents are fighting off starvation.

I couldn't concur more; some students are just not mentally or emotionally prepared for school. Forcing them to attend is stressful for them and for the people around them. The ideal solution, to me, would be two-pronged:

1. Stop forcing people who don't want to go to school to be there.

2. Make it easy for people to change their minds and return to school later.

I think #2 is absolutely necessary if #1 is to be implemented. Appropriate programs would have to be available for older students to continue their education, and they'd have to be available on a subsidized basis.

My only concern about this whole line of thinking is the issue of parents forcing their children to leave school against their will and work instead. I haven't been able to come up with a convincing solution to that problem yet. I feel certain that the current system is undesirable, though.

There is no valid solution for #2. Even for someone with a genius-level IQ and a desire to learn, making up for a few missed weeks of school is challenging. Making up a few months is basically impossible, especially if you're the type who was pre-disposed to drop out in the first place. With intensive one-on-one tutoring maybe, but that's not realistic budget-wise. And nobody is going to want to go back and be the 17-year-old in 9th grade with a bunch of 14-year-olds, because it's embarrassing (and if you think you can change the dynamic of teenagers teasing each other, good luck).

Students don't want to be there for a variety of reasons. I agree with you - if they don't want to be there, then don't force them. The solution isn't to kick them out, though - give them alternative environments for education. Some students are frustrated at the material, having a poor foundation. Allow these students a gracious way of catching up, out of sight of their peers that are ahead. Some students would rather learn something hands-on. Let these students build something with their hands, and learn a trade.

I'm certain that I'm mischaracterizing why kids are misbehaving in class, but what I am sure about is that the standard method of bucketing 30 kids into the same class, and expecting them to learn the same material at the same pace does a disservice to them and the teachers. I was a math tutor in my younger years, and all too often I saw how many kids were left behind (even in the suburbs). Alternatively, many kids were ahead of their grade level and boredom became inevitable.

In what way would it help society to have more uneducated young people hanging around?

It doesn't seem obvious to me at all that forcing kids to attend school against their will results in them becoming "educated" in any meaningful sense.

Forcing them to attend school doesn't educate them, but it does reduce the number of young people "hanging around", which probably has benefits all on its own.

That's true, but mixing daycare and schooling often shortchanges the latter.

I agree--especially when you're talking about forcing bad kids to attend school against their will. The bad kids in urban schools wind up not learning jack, even if they don't drop out. I know this because I've taught 12th graders in a failing urban school where the graduation rate < 50%.

Even worse, forcing bad kids to attend school against their will diminishes the quality of good kids' educations. The good kids are the ones whose powerful minds actually stand a chance of improving civilization in big ways.

Not saying I was a great, great student (I was in the top 3% of a huge public HS, but plenty of other kids were smarter than me), but if I had known how badly I was getting screwed over by taking classes with bullies/people who did not want to learn anything in school except that Jesus is God and every non-Christian is going to Hell, I would've tried to switch schools at a very young age. If I only knew then what I know now...

It does mean, hopefully, that they continue to be exposed to new information and new people and that they may, should they choose, decide to take education seriously at any point with relatively little difficulty.

Dropping out makes it much, much more difficult to return, or even to decide to return.

While I don't agree with the OP's original premise entirely, removing disruptions in school would almost certainly improve the quality of education for the students that want to be there, and would potentially result in more complete education of a segment of the population in question.

How are kids that crumple assignments, throw things at teachers when their backs are turned, yell in the classroom, etc., getting educated?

And what does it mean for something to be in "society's interest," anyway? I'm honestly unsure of what that means.

Just to play devil's advocate, if you remove truancy laws, aren't you effectively turning disruptive students in a semi-controlled environment into disruptive people at large? It's not as if most of these kids are full of potential and just aren't getting reached by their teachers or schools. I bet that the kid who threatens to beat his teacher's bitch-ass is probably going to continue to behave unacceptably outside the classroom if you remove the expectation that they have to stay there. How do you manage this new source of unacceptable behavior that was previously contained in schools?

Do kids who would have been truant give up some of the legal protections they enjoy as minors? Do we set up some sort of public "work camp" in lieu of schools for kids who aren't manageable in the classroom? It's not as if these kids have parents who will take responsible custody for them - that's a huge part of the problem. I'm not sure what the best answer for society is, but I'm not sure you're quite there with your suggestion.

I'm not saying that your idea doesn't have some merit, and I agree that there are good kids getting screwed because they are stuck in crappy schools. But I think that unleashing the worst of that demographic from the only "responsibility" they might have is a dangerous idea.

I don't believe making it voluntary would be the solution, though it would for sure unmask the root problem better.

The unfortunate thing about this situation is that I don't believe there is an easy and quick answer. I believe the bad behavior is largely caused by 2 things:

1. Bad influences from the community - parents, siblings, friends, and possibly surrounding media/entertainment.

2. The school system. More than for anyone else, the way the school is structured is (clearly) ineffective for these struggling students.

Even if there were real disciplinary actions taken, the methods of disciplining (that I have observed anyway) are often out-of-date. Our understanding of behavior change has increased greatly in the past several years and needs to be more widely understood.

Solutions I see:

a. Quit making a large part of school so incredibly boring and seemingly pointless. Spend A LOT more time focusing on topics closer to what students care about (and should care about).

b. Behavior issues will happen and are normal. Work on changing bad behaviors by understanding how the environment shapes behaviors. Understand that behavior change is more likely to happen when new behaviors are supported/introduced/allowed to thrive, rather than continuously trying to suppress current behaviors -- there's a reason for those bad behaviors existing in the first place, you can't ignore them. Understand how incredibly ineffective abstract commands are ("don't be bad" as an extreme example), and fear tactics.

c. Bad behaviors are often caused by bad influences in the community (issue #1 from above). Changing the community behaviors changes the student behaviors (perhaps over long periods of time). I realize this is difficult, however very essential.

I disagree. Schools do function as low-security prisons, and that is important to society (This point can be disagreed on, but I do not want to make a long post about why this is my stance and, I think, the better one.).

To stop disruption, one should look at streaming by achievement as an option. This is already widely done in High School, and could be expanded to middle school with enough ease. Kids who are overly disruptive will disrupt only other disruptors ( and those who do badly in their classes... these people will be failed, but I look at it as for the greater good.).

Actually, my home province has this- to some extent. It's called the "Knowledge and Employability" program. I don't know much about it, but it seems to have been moderately successful.

The problem is that some students could do fine in a structured environment - but at the age of 13, would you have voluntarily chosen to go to school? I'd be sitting at home, learning to program and losing what little social development I had at school. :)

I'd keep attendance compulsory but allow a teacher to remove someone from class for mucking up. I don't think removing them from the system completely is the answer but I equally don't think most of teachers time should be taken up dealing with the trouble makers. I'd say if a teacher felt it necessary remove as many in the class as they had to to make a goo learning environment, these could be just for the lesson but could be longer breaks if the kid continued to play up.

I don't agree with the notion that classroom discipline is the teacher's responsibility. If a child needs discipline, the child should be sent away to receive it. A teacher should be responsible for teaching, period.

Also, if a child commits a crime in school (vandalism, verbal assault, physical assault, disturbing the peace) and is found to be a threat to the learning environment then they should be suspended. It's simply a matter of giving some power back to the authorities. Right now the children know that the teachers are their bitches. Until that changes the fight can't be won. Especially in children who have a gang member mentality.

Definitely. When classroom discipline is solely the teacher's responsibility, the teacher ends up spending all their time enforcing discipline and no time teaching. My girlfriend did Teach for America in the bad parts of Washington, DC and there were veteran teachers there who didn't have as much trouble with discipline because they were basically glorified babysitters. They didn't really teach anything, but they made sure students showed up and didn't kill each other. Works great for keeping things under control, but the kids are completely screwed as far as their education goes.

I don't think the commenters saying that discipline is the teacher's responsibility understand the circumstances involved in some of these schools. We're talking about kids pulling knives on each other or throwing desks, not passing notes in the back of the class.

The teacher also has no control over how much the parents (or in many cases grandparents) will help. My girlfriend had one kid who had to be suspended for throwing a chair at her. When he came back, he said that while he was suspended his dad took him out on a boat and got him ice cream. Suspension was more fun than going to school, so is it surprising that his behavior never changed?

I agree about the first part; a teacher should be responsible for teaching, and other administrative staff for disciplinary issues. However, this requires (naturally) that there be funding in place for the necessary staff positions. As long as school funding is tied to local property taxes, there are going to be huge variations in the amount of spending per pupil, and staffing follows suit.

As for your second point, I think it is a gross simplification to say "It's simply a matter of giving some power back to the authorities." We do need to give some power back to the authorities, but there's nothing simple about it.

I blame the parental situation, for two reasons. First of all, if my parents got a message on their voicemail (and schools have parents' phone numbers) or on my report card comments saying so much as "Zach can be slightly disruptive sometimes", then they'd darn well make me behave myself. Which brings us to the second reason - a lot of parents seem unwilling to lay down the law and make their children respect their authority even slightly. I'm not suggesting we go back to beating kids with switches or anything, but I think there's a fundamental link between whether or not you make kids eat their vegetables and whether or not they'll listen to the teacher.

Now I'm sure there are a lot of mitigating factors on the parental side, in terms of having to work long hours to put food on the table, but in the end, discipline and respect begin at home.

If you want a more visceral account, "The Corner" by David Simon is a non-fiction chronicle of the Baltimore drug culture's effect on the people who live in it. Simon spent about year (~1993) following and interviewing the people who lived on a specific drug corner in Baltimore; one of those he followed was a high-school-age kid whose description is much like this teacher's description of M.W.

There's also an HBO miniseries based on it (which I haven't watched, so I can't vouch), and Season 4 of The Wire is partially about a Baltimore inner-city school (The Wire is fantastic). Simon also spent a year embedded with the Baltimore police homicide division, which became a book, a TV serial (called Homicide), and informed much of The Wire.

Some people are commenting that the solution to the problems at these schools is to completely give up on the troublemakers; I don't think it would be that clear-cut for you after you read or watch these. The kids you give up on are the ones lost to the hardcore drug culture forever. Those same kids are the ones that perpetuate the problem- there's a terrible feedback loop going on.

HN seems to have decided I've commented too much in this discussion, and that's probably true, but I want to make one more post to clarify my views before I leave this debate for others to carry forward.

In response to jmm, who suggests that by allowing kids to decide freely whether to go to school I am advocating, as he says, throwing some of them overboard: I really don't feel that that's an accurate description of my feelings about this topic. I think that kids are people, not slaves of the state or of their parents. I am not advocating simply abandoning kids who are not interested in attending school; instead, I'd like to see a variety of educational, vocational, and artistic services available for them, free of charge, which they can take advantage of whenever THEY come to the conclusion that they want to do so. I'd like those services to be easy to access, with no red tape involved, and I'd like them to be well publicized and well known within the community.

I simply don't understand how allowing kids the freedom to make their own decisions about what they want to learn and when they want to learn it can be anything but a good thing. Must everyone be subject to coercion and force from the earliest ages? Do we have to crush the genuine love of learning most children are born with under the boot of an oppressive school environment they have no choice but to be a part of?

My views on this topic are derived in part from my own experience, but they have also been shaped a great deal by the writings of John Holt. For those who are interested, I'd recommend How Children Fail as a great book to start with; it has really been influential in my thinking about education and the nature of school.

What I don't understand about all this is why there isn't a way to use these clearly failing schools for experiments in alternative styles of education. Say what you will about things like voluntary attendance, but when your school is descending into anarchy, it just seems like there's too little to lose not to go out on a limb.

The school my mom used to work at was rampant with corruption and ineptitude. It was taken over by the state BOE and three years later, nothing has changed. When the school falls into dire straits, why not offer it up as a test case for passionate researchers?

> What I don't understand about all this is why there isn't a way to use these clearly failing schools for experiments in alternative styles of education.

As a resident New Yorker, I can answer this one: entrenched interests. There are a lot of people who have bought a lot of influence to achieve the status quo, and they don't really see what the problem is.

That's fine in very high population density urban areas, where there are a variety of schools and easy transportation between them.

It doesn't work in lower density areas. That was one of the most horrible provisions of NCLB, trying to make generalizations that could be applied equally well to an area where there are a wide array of schools and communities where you have one school for 500 students and getting to any other school is a serious hardship for the students involved.

And in those circumstances, trying to improve the existing school is the only option, since doing worse is unacceptable. (We're talking about years of children's lives here, and the only real source of education these communities have.)

Sounds to me like the result of a lack of accountability. I see the same thing in many areas of the public sector in my country where responsibility is deferred in an infinite loop.

It's as frustrating to the those who use the system as to those who work in it.

I come from a family of educators & private school owners, and if a teacher cannot handle a disruptive class, then we change the teacher. Children are ALWAYS disruptive. It's the natural state of things. Some teachers can solve the problem, and some can't. If a teacher cannot solve the problem, it's not the fault of the Government, or the Community, or the Principal or the Students. It's the fault of the teacher. It's her job to learn the techniques to handle such situations.

In our private schools, we simply swap out the teachers. In such schools where the teacher cannot be changed, one can ask an assistant to sit in, or send the teacher on more training courses.

A teacher is to train students, and part of that is making the students respect education enough to sit down and listen. If the teacher can't do that, then sorry, but that's not a good teacher. If the teacher realises that a particular class constellation does not work, then he or she should do something about it, not blame an invisible 'system'.

Your disruptive is most likely different from this teacher's disruptive. Unless your private school has the same requirements and policies of the public school system I find it difficult to see how your comparison and opinion holds any water whatsoever.

Most private schools that I have visited don't admit or will expel any student that is disruptive on a regular basis which would mean the teacher has a way to enforce policy and rules which is different from what the author of the post has to deal with. On top of that most kids that go to private schools have a much different home life than urban schools. It's just not a valid comparison.

Apologies if I'm mis-reading your post but you sound incredibly confident that its always the teacher's fault for failing to handle unruly students.

Because, when I use the word 'unruly,' I'm including the 6'0" seventh grade 15 year old male student with behavioral issues physically threatening the 5'4" 22 female new teacher in my definition.

If a teacher is supported by the government, community, and the principal they can do their jobs effectively. If they still have disruptive class, then that is fault of the teacher.

But even the best of teachers will be helpless if the system doesn't support them. I highly doubt that criminally disruptive students are allowed to stay in your family's private schools -- so you're quite likely already doing exactly what this teacher thinks you should be doing! Your whole argument is disingenuous; the system isn't invisible, your family of private school owners are one such system.

I'm sure lots of people here has worked in a job that changed management and went from having a productive department to unproductive chaos (and vice-versa). The people doing the work on the ground didn't change.

Kicking a kid out of class is a teacher's nuclear option. If the students know that being kicked out of class will have no repercussions, then you remove not just that option, but the threat of it.

In a classroom, the teacher's authority derives from the school. If the school does not backup the teacher's authority, then the teacher has none. (Within reason - I don't want schools to backup teachers who make poor choices as to how to wield their authority.)

How many students in private schools throw rocks at teachers, and threaten to break their cracker ass in two?

Two part question, if I may - how many students have brought knives to class?

Most good private schools have very little time for disruptive pupils - they know that there is nothing like a "problem" kid for upsetting the classroom and they usually have a long queue of parents desperate to get their kids in.

Which ironically means that the private schools get to bleed the public schools of their positive influencers and can shove all the discipline problems right back on the public schools.

From what I've seen kids who have a problem in private schools tend to either simply get shuffled around to another private school or end up in very strict boarding schools (often ones with traditional connections to the military).

You are correct though about private schools taking positive elements from the state school system - when you look at who typically attends a private school here the parents are typically successful, extremely motivated people who tend to pass these values onto their kids.

A big difference between private schools and urban public schools is the level of parent involvement. I've seen both up close and personal. It's not just involvement in school functions but involvement in their kid's education before and after school as well. The kids that are acting out in school probably don't have parents who can/will be involved in their homework, who can take the call during school hours or come in to meet their kid's teachers.

If the kids are raised by single parents, parents who have to work long and underpaid hours or parents who have substance abuse and/or crime issues the best teacher in the world will not, in most cases, be able to have impact. Yes, there are exceptions. And teachers need to be accountable for what they do in their classrooms. But the pervasive problems can't just be blamed on the teachers alone, the problems need to be addressed by promoting family support systems, promoting teachers who care and school systems provisioned with resources.

In a private school, that's probably a decent solution. Generally, people willing to send their kids to a private school are probably the parents who (a) put a premium on their kid's education and (b) make their children behave at least somewhat civilly most of the time. That cuts out a lot of the problem cases of children who face no consequences at home and who have no incentive to learn. Private schools also get to select on competence in many cases. You're not going to have someone who's reading on a 4th grade level in your senior English class, as happens at public schools. And you can refuse hard discipline cases and/or expel them, which they can't do in public schools.

In that environment, a teacher should be able to control the students. But you can't expect a system that works in those conditions to work in non-optimal conditions.

I do not think it is as simple as you put it; there are situations in urban public schools where student behavior would be beyond the control any teacher or any single person really.

That being said I love your point about not blaming an invsibile system. Every teacher I talk to blames someone else for all the problems in his or her clasroom. The public school system in this country is far from perfect but I believe many of the problems brought up in the original article arise from teachers who are unwilling or unable handle their students appropriately. Stop blaming everyone else and start solving the problem on your own.

I'll bet that one of the reasons that children in honors courses (AP, IB, etc.) do better and learn more than children in regular courses has nothing to do with the curriculum or the teachers of those courses, but is just due to the fact that they're surrounded by other motivated students and there aren't any disruptive students.


The root cause in all of these issues is parenting. If the parents don't bother to care about their kid's education, it's already lost. The education and school system is part of the problem, but you can trace the child's inability to learn back to the parents.

1) Parents dont care about the child's learning

2) The child realizes the parents dont care and so they mess around in class

3) Teacher and school has no authority to really enforce learning. Meaning, you can assign homework, you can punish them for not doing them, but beyond that, you can't force them to sit down to read and learn.

4) Student fails.

5) Parent is up set at the school system so they complain to the principle, and the school district

6) School district pressures principle, principle pressures teacher to water down the curriculum

7) FAILURE of the entire system

While I'm sure your premise is entirely correct, blaming parenting is essentially punting on the issue. It might be entirely accurate, but it doesn't help any, because it is one thing that can't be changed by the teacher or school administrator.

OK, but if teachers and administrators can't do more than write nasty notes in files and make kids sit in the corner, and we can't expect parents to discipline their kids, then any sort of educational reform targeted at those kids is basically trying to push a string.

This idea that a teacher can stand up in front of the class and say something so inspiring that it magically makes the goof-offs and the slackers want to be A+ students is great for a Hollywood movie, but completely unrealistic. On a 1-on-1 basis, sure that's probably possible if you're really good, and really can take the time. But if teachers had the power to inspire and move those troublemakers en masse with the power of their words without taking half their class time, then they wouldn't be teachers, they'd be world-class salespeople or winning politicians.

I completely agree with you. When I talk to people about the education system, little or no mention is made towards the parents. When it is in fact the parents that can actually do something. Meaning checking to see if your child is learning, how is he learning, where does he have dificulties, and why.

When a parent can understand at what level their child is at in their educational path, then they can make an impact. Meaning, if my child has problems just sitting down and absorbing information, they can go out and find answers.

One large part of why the educational system is so bad right now, is that parents are not taking responsibility for their child's education. They blame it on others.

Again, I think I am in total agreement with you and ZachPruckowski... I just don't see how we could make parent involvement part of the system as a whole.

I mean, maybe that really is it -- we have truancy laws where a parent can get in actual legal trouble if their kid doesn't go to school, perhaps there should be laws where a parent can actually get into trouble if their kid is a disruptive student. I have a hard time seeing such a system actually working, "can't legislate morality" and other platitudes, but it's a thought, I suppose.

It's not even that hard. It's not like we need them to check their kids' homework and go over it with them (though that'd be great). It's a mindset issue. If you can instill in your kids that learning is important and getting good grades is crucial and respecting parents and teachers is non-negotiable, that's like half the battle right there.

I'm not saying that all children should mindlessly obey whatever they're told by authority figures, but I think we can all get together on "shut up while the teacher is talking"

As someone from Kansas City, the alleged ineptitude of the school district in KCMO is widely-known. In fact, I would say the problems with the school district impacted the decision of my wife and I more than any other to buy a house across the state line in Kansas. We both continued to work in KCMO, we just knew we couldn't live there once we have children.

The solution is simple - increase teacher salaries and have more computers in schools. It's worked for the last 30years

Sadly, no.

See, eg, [1] for a chart of teacher salaries vs inflation over time. Quoting the article: "[...] we also find dramatic erosion in relative teacher earnings since 1960." See also figure C, "Real weekly wage trends for teachers and others, 1979 - 2006". In short, teacher's have been taking a hit in the wallet for the privilege of teaching for 30-40 years. In fact, if you're familiar with employment in America, you'll know the quality of teachers has fallen as women have been able to find alternate careers; we used to have a surplus of talented, skilled women who entered teaching because they were unable to pursue alternate careers.

A big part of this is no doubt due to Baumol's cost disease [2], but the trend in wages is real nonetheless.

I'm not sure why people on HN in particular, with an IMO more entrepreneurial mindset than most, are surprised that quality tends to follow wages. In this case, away from education.

[1] http://www.procon.org/sourcefiles/epi-teacher-pay.pdf

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baumols_cost_disease

That wikipedia link should be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baumol%27s_cost_disease .

When I was in school and played cards on the bus, sometimes we played capitalisim, a fun game if you were on the top of the heap. Invariably the lowest status role was named teacher. Next up was garbageman.

< looks up > whoosh < / looks up >

I think the most immediately obvious solution to the problem of disruptive students is to separate them from the other students, and put them into a separate class. However, someone who enters that class at age 10 isn't going to learn anything, as the entire class is full of disruptive students, and they'll be stuck in the disruptive class for the rest of their schooling, after which they'll be released into society with few useful skills and a lot of problems. Also, very few good teachers will voluntarily work with the disruptive class.

One solution is to create a separate school with an educational model tailored to the problem, such as a military academy. This only works if there is a high enough population density to fill that school, the educational model actually works, and parents are willing to admit the problem and send their kids to that school.

There are a lot of disruptive students who are best served by going through the normal school system with a moderate amount of discipline when they act up. Many of these kids don't want to be in school, and would prefer to be at home playing video games, or barring that, in an easy, low-effort class. Allowing these kids to skip school, take easy classes, or putting them in a separate system risks allowing them to jeopardize their own future because of the impatience and short-term thinking common to almost all teenagers.

I think this is where all the zero tolerance policies come from. If there is any disciplinary decision that is made where there is discretion by an administrator, there is an opportunity for a lawsuit. With zero tolerance, you remove discretion so you avoid lawsuits at the expense of unnecessarily disciplining students.

I am not a lawyer, but I do no think having the policy would in any way protect against a lawsuit. If anything, I would suspect it could make it easier for one to succeed because you could show that no due process was provided when a state actor delivered a non-judicial punishment to a minor.

You throw kid A out of the class for behaviour, but you don't throw kid B out because he is usually OK.

But then kid A's parents get mad - or think they can make some money - and it turns out that kid A is belgian/green skinned/three eyed/an FSM worshipper and you have a lawsuit. Or at least the threat of a lawsuit which can go away with a large enough payment.

Throw out all kids that break any rule and you have been perfectly fair

So the poorest parents in the whole school have a huge incentive to get their kid kicked out of the school for disciplinary problems, especially if they are a minority and can sue for a big settlement. Some people perceive that their most valuable commodity is to be damaged, such that they can sue for it.

In a poorer minority neighborhood near where I used to live I remember reading a report about a super market closing down a few years back -- when times were relatively good. They cited shoplifting and numerous slip and fall lawsuits against them as reasons for shutting.

Honestly, looking back at myself in highschool, I was a little shithead. I became rebellious at a pretty early age due to my school district having incredibly strict policies, mostly because it was run by fundamentalists. The class where I believed I was the biggest cunt was my chemistry class, where my teacher would often push his evangelical beliefs into the curriculum : Earth is 6000 years old, evolution is a myth, stars are only there to corrupt people into evil, etc. The list goes on.

I'd often interrupt class and get into arguments with him because I called him out on this bullshit pretty regularly and frankly I just couldn't take him seriously even at that age. This was in a public school system in a small city in Texas, so I suppose it's kind of expected.

I agree with the author. The problem that's unstated here is that schools have become state run low security prisons for children and adolescents. The idea that academic acheivements are the current focus of public schools is false. It's compliance training.

I was talking to an Indian friend in grad school when he explained why schools in India were better than those in the U.S. He said it had to do with how our kids learned the alphabet with a song. He learned it by memory forward and backward. He later mentioned how a teacher in India might cane a child who didn't pay attention. That's when I became enlightened.

The elephant in the room was race. I'd bet 90% of the problems were caused by kids of a particular race. Unfortunately many public discussions involving it devolve into demonization of the messenger or blame gaming.

My second point was that I suspect the easiest fix would be to adopt a zero tolerance policy or three-strikes-then-expelled. The harder solution, though it is better in the long term, is to do something that ensures that the parents take more responsibility and make better life choices and set a better example both for their own kids and their neighborhoods. Ultimately, solving this is not rocket science. Folks are just choosing, explicitly or implicitly, to not implement them. They then reap what they sow.

My third point is that it may be that some percentage of kids can never be made to behave properly (short of brain surgery or cognitive drug therapy, for example) and so we may have to adjust our system to accomodate. Arguably, we already have. If a child misbehaves enough they tend to end up dead or in prison.

"The elephant in the room was race. I'd bet 90% of the problems were caused by kids of a particular race. Unfortunately many public discussions involving it devolve into demonization of the messenger or blame gaming."

When 90% of a specific race statistically have a broken family with no father figure around, it's no wonder that the kids turn out the way they do. It's a vicious cycle.

Another problem is that because the kids are getting nothing at home, they would need tons extra attention in school. How can a teacher possibly fill the role of parent when she has many other students that also need the same kind of attention?

Until we can come to terms with things like this, the problems will never go away.

"The harder solution, though it is better in the long term, is to do something that ensures that the parents take more responsibility and make better life choices and set a better example both for their own kids and their neighborhoods."

This is the problem right here. It's the parents at home, but you can't force parents to do anything...and you probably won't ever be able to, unless we were under some sort of totalitarian dictatorship.

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