Friday, October 11, 2013

Why is Violence Against Teachers Being Covered Up?

Baltimore teacher Jeff Slattery struggles with fear every day. He literally has to force himself out the door as he heads to his classroom. In December 2010 at Baltimore Community High School Slattery stopped a student without a hall pass. The student got physical. Slattery let him go.

"He walked down the hallway, I turned around and went back to my classroom and he came up from behind me and once I was on the ground, he's basically standing on top of me. He struck me multiple times. When my jaw broke, I went unconscious and I don't remember anything after that." The Social Studies teacher later learned it took four teachers to pull the student off him. Slattery’s broken jaw was wired shut for weeks.[i]

Slattery's assault by a student was just one of seven hundred that school year in Baltimore City Public Schools where its own data shows an average of four school personnel were assaulted each day in 2010. That average has held true through the past five school years with a total of nearly four thousand assaults by students on personnel -- with increases in the last two years.[ii] Baltimore is one of the relatively few systems that have regular reports on such incidents.

Teachers across the country are experiencing alarmingly high rates of student violence and harassment while at school. Yet, there are surprisingly few studies of the numbers and frequency of these incidents. The reporting requirements at the school, local, state and national level are either non-existent or routinely ignored. The anemic official response to the increasing pattern of violence puts teachers in position of being victimized by the system rather than protected by it. In fact, the teachers’ union response to the Slattery attack in Baltimore was simply to encourage teachers to voluntarily fill out a form if they get attacked.

One of the few research articles conducted on this important topic was published earlier this year in the American Psychological Association's journal, American Psychologist.[iii] The APA research found only 14 published studies that have bothered to examine violence directed at teachers in schools. The APA study found that 80 percent of the teachers they surveyed reported being victimized at school at least once in the then-current or prior year. Of those, 94 percent said they had been victimized by students – including being physically attacked, harassed, or victims of theft or property damage at school.

Governors should lead the charge to demand more comprehensive and accurate reporting of this threat to teachers as well as prompt punishment for offenders in order to provide teachers and their students with a safe working environment. The teachers’ unions should be demanding action, yet there is mostly silence from those who loudly claim to represent the interests of teachers who are being assaulted daily in American classrooms.

Some reporting requirements are already in place but are obviously ineffective. School violence directed at teachers is grossly underreported, with “official” national records claiming only 7% of teachers have been subjected to threats or violence.[iv] Other reports indicate a number much higher -- in the 15-25% range. Even at 7% there would be about a quarter million teachers subjected to threats and violence each year!

Additionally, there is clearly an effort to hide the problem, whether it is the direct or indirect efforts of principals to discourage teachers from leaving a paper trail, the threat of reprisal that intimidates teachers into silence, or bureaucrats who reduce the number of reported incidents and then claim the threats and violence are receding simply because there is a lack of punishment. For example, in 2012 the Bibb County, GA school system dramatically reduced its use of evidentiary hearings that lead to expulsions, suspensions and other tough punishments for students with repeated discipline problems. One result is that more of these students remained in the classroom, often creating difficulties for teachers and other students.[v]

Bibb County claimed that the number of “evidentiary hearings” for student misconduct had dropped from 772 during the 2010-11 school year to just 116 during the 2011-12 school year and showed “progress” in protecting teachers. Expulsions dropped from 223 to 28, and permanent expulsion and corporal punishment were eliminated!

So things are better in Bibb County, right? Not according to teachers and administrators who say they have been discouraged from -- or even punished -- for sending students to the office or requesting disciplinary hearings. They are not just fearful of their students; they also fear retaliation from principals and school officials for speaking up! Safe Havens International, a consulting firm hired by Bibb County to evaluate school safety, determined there was a “pervasive” problem of underreporting the violence and threats targeted at teachers.[vi]

The numbers of reported incidents in Bibb County HAVE gone down.[vii] But is it because the schools are safer for teachers or because the actual level of violence is being covered up and underreported? The same pattern is seen all across the country…violence is up but the “official” reports tell another story.

Children cannot learn in an environment of fear. When the authority figures in our schools are abused and threatened with impunity, kids do not feel protected and lose their focus and their respect for the system that cannot even protect the adults. It is past time for our nation’s Governors to ensure that our schools are safe environments for learning, which means addressing this largely hidden crisis in our schools. Covering up the problem won’t fix it.


'Free' fees does not help poor attend Scottish universities

The abolition of tuition fees has not encouraged more Scottish children from poor families to go to university, according to an expert report that raised major doubts whether the flagship SNP policy is good value for taxpayers.

Researchers from Edinburgh University also discovered that there has been a slight increase in deprived youngsters attending English universities despite charges of up to £9,000 per year south of the Border.

They said the findings raised concerns that the SNP’s pledge to provide taxpayer-funded degrees merely serves to “concentrate resources on those who are already relatively advantaged.”

Alex Salmond has claimed the Scottish Government’s system means access to higher education is based on the “ability to learn, not the ability to pay”.

But the report found that English universities spent more than three times as much as their Scottish peers on financial packages for poor students, thanks to their income from fees.

Education academics from Edinburgh made the damning assessment in a report on widening access to higher education submitted to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

It came after Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the university principal hand-picked by SNP ministers to review higher education, said abolishing tuition fees has mainly benefited the middle classes.

John Lamont, the Scottish Conservative chief whip, said the findings confirmed that the main factor in whether a child attends university is aspiration, not finance.

“All the SNP’s approach achieves is a hefty bill for the taxpayer, which in itself hinders Scottish students in the long-run,” he said.

The report examined the admission records of English and Scottish universities in helping poor students win places while the fees policies pursued at Westminster and Holyrood have diverged markedly.

In 2008 SNP ministers abolished an endowment graduates had to pay after finding a job but the researchers said this “has not led to increased representation of students from more socially deprived backgrounds in universities.”

In contrast, they said “there has been a slight increase in the proportion of applications from students from poorer backgrounds” in England.

Although English students are charged up to £9,000 per year, they can take out a loan to cover the cost that they do not start repaying until they get a job with a salary of more than £21,000.

The lack of fees in Scotland has meant initiatives to widen access have had “lower priority” and less funding in England, the report found.

English universities devoted £371.5 million to helping the poor in 2010/11 compared to only £10.4 million in Scotland, with the report stating the former figure was “considerably more generous”.

The amount of grants available to poorer Scots has fallen and the funding packages offered north of the Border are virtually the same regardless of the student’s wealth.

The report said tuition fees were a “particularly important issue” when public spending is being squeezed. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The gap is closing between the most and least disadvantaged, however we accept that we need to do more.

“That is why we have taken action to ensure access to university is based on ability to learn, not the ability to pay and why we do not charge our students tuition fees.”


Australia:  Time for a quiet word about rowdy classes

EVEN the students admit it: Australian schools tend to be on the rowdy side.

About one-third of 15-year-old high school students say their class often ignores what their teacher is saying and about two in five characterise their classrooms as noisy and disorderly.

For almost one in five students, their classroom is so disruptive they find it difficult to work.

Among the 65 countries surveyed by the OECD group of industrialised nations, Australia ranks No 34, just above the average level of disciplined classrooms but behind the US and Britain as well as many Asian and eastern European countries.

Australian classrooms are slightly worse than the average in terms of listening to the teacher, as is Finland, which is one of the top nations in international literacy and numeracy tests including those run by the OECD.

In fact, Finnish classrooms are some of the noisiest in the world, with half the students reporting noise and disorder occurs frequently, bucking the trend that an orderly and quiet classroom is most conducive to high student performance.

The OECD's monthly newsletter focusing on findings from its three-yearly test of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science -- known as the Program for International Student Assessment -- says the test results show students in orderly classrooms tend to perform better. The impact is more marked for students from socially disadvantaged families, where a well-managed classroom can help students close the gap on their more affluent peers.

Teachers such as Reema Ali say the key to an orderly classroom is ensuring students are engaged in what they are learning.

A social sciences teacher at Randwick Girls High in Sydney's east, Ms Ali says a noisy and out-of-control classroom is more a reflection on the teacher than the students. "I thoroughly believe that classroom management goes hand-in-hand with a range of teaching strategies," she said yesterday. "I care for all types of students, and I adapt what I do for individual students. I try to meet every student's needs."

Some schools that have radically changed the way they teach in recent years, introducing open-plan classrooms enabling students to work in small groups on projects, have counter-intuitively resulted in quieter schools and better behaved students.

For Australian teachers, noise is not necessarily a bad thing; the distinction is between noise that is disruptive from students mucking up, and noise that is constructive from students talking about their work. After more than 40 years teaching, Parramatta Marist High School principal Brother Pat Howlett has had to adjust his expectations of acceptable decibel levels in the classroom.

"I used to think that a quiet classroom was a good classroom, but it gives you no earthly idea to gauge what they're learning," he said.

The deputy principal at Randwick Girls High School, Lance Raskall, agrees. "It's a fine line. You don't want a hush-hush classroom, and constructive noise is good. Engaged students are going to ask questions of the teacher and each other," he said.

Mr Raskall said the technological invasion of schools, particularly the introduction of laptops and interactive whiteboards, had improved students' interest in their lessons, but also raised noise levels.

"It's not chalk and talk anymore; students are exploring as they're talking, they're using the internet and finding out what you're talking about while you're talking," he said. "They're very engaged because it's very relevant and it's in front of them. It's immediate."

Mr Raskall said disadvantaged students were often the highest performers and best behaved, because they knew education was a way to improve their lives, while some students that came from private schools "have not been the best students in the class by any stretch".

The OECD survey is conducted among students who are mostly in Year 9, widely acknowledged as the most challenging year for managing student behaviour and keeping them interested in school.

To address this, Parramatta Marist introduced "project-based learning" in Year 9 about five years ago, in which students work in small groups on projects in their subjects or across more than one subject over a period of weeks. It has been so successful, the school has since expanded the approach to years 7, 8 and 10.


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