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Look deeper than hard numbers and you’ll see a punishing setting for learning

The editorial board’s call for data-driven policy-making and transparency in school violence reporting makes a lot of sense (“Getting the full picture of violence in schools,” Nov. 10). Reactions to horrific events can lead to bad remedies for exaggerated problems. But we have to be careful how we view that data, and your editorial itself is a good example of why.

The Globe equates 171 incidents in the Pittsfield public middle and high schools — labeled as “high-level” and “most serious” — with school violence, since they resulted in “emergency removal or suspension.” But this correlation is almost certainly inaccurate. Despite state law and recent instruction from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to exclude students only as a last resort, schools incongruously deny education as punishment for even minor infractions.

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In my 40 years as a lawyer for indigent students, I have yet to see procedures designed to ensure fairness offered in advance of punishment, notwithstanding research showing that schools where discipline is perceived as fairly imposed are safer. In fact, most school exclusions are termed “emergency removals” not for any genuine exigency but to avoid otherwise mandated pre-punishment due process.

Data are most useful when interpreted in light of how schools actually operate. In practice, exclusion remains the go-to discipline for nonviolent offenses and is the chief means used to push kids from school, particularly those of color and with disabilities.

Phillip Kassel

Executive director

Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee

Boston


Pandemic has changed students, yet we’re still using status-quo approaches

I agree that the absence of real-time data leaves room for dangerous assumptions and hampers the ability to understand what is happening in our schools and the best way to address any problems.

Everyone in our schools is struggling, and many parents and those working in the field predicted this was coming. Students are struggling with mental health challenges, school discipline, trauma, race-based bullying, and school avoidance, to name a few issues. More state assistance to schools is needed to address student behavior in a way that is supportive and trauma-informed instead of through surveillance and suspension. The pandemic has changed our students, yet our response to students has not changed.

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Adding more social workers and counselors in schools is a good first step, along with data collection, but we need to reframe how we view and respond to student behavior. Only through a trauma-informed lens and evidence-based practices will we be able to prevent incidents and begin to stop the disproportionate funneling of students living in poverty, students of color, and students with disabilities into the court system.

Marlies Spanjaard

Director of education advocacy

EdLaw Project

Boston

The EdLaw Project is an initiative between the Youth Advocacy Foundation and the Children and Family and Youth Advocacy divisions of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.


High-stakes testing, blanket curriculums must have taken a toll

I suspect that the cause of the recent upsurge in school-based incivility, including fights among students, attacks on teachers, and hate-based rituals in locker rooms, is multifaceted. However, as an educator who has observed K-12 classrooms for many years, I have to wonder out loud how the pressure of high-stakes testing and the use of commercial one-size-fits-all curriculums have affected student engagement and school morale.

I strongly recommend that we look at how the emphasis on unhealthy competition, as well as on the data-driven (as opposed to data-informed) approaches to learning implemented in the early 1990s, correlate with the anger, frustration, and bigotry inherent in all the well-publicized stories of school violence.

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Mariam Karis Cronin

Merrimac

The writer is a retired teacher.