School Discipline and the Common Core
Dr. David Sortino’s article in the Santa Rosa, Ca. Press Democrat (Zero tolerance or restorative justice?) got me thinking how the suspension of Reilly Austin, Amanda Quon and several of their classmates from Sebastopol’s Hillcrest Middle School (Sonoma County parents fight back after alcohol sip leads to students’ 22-day suspension), relates to the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). As creators of K-12 curriculum we use the standards as guides to develop progressive programs and their related supplements. We also use other sources besides CCSS such as Open Education Resources and the work of professionals, such as Dr. Sortino, as we focus on creating education products that will produce a 21st century education.
Dr. Sortino is an expert in child behavior and development. His belief in a restorative approach to student discipline is because of its positive effects on preventing future transgressions as opposed to the more negative effects of “zero-tolerance” probation.
The restorative approach is much more in tune with CCSS as it’s based on one of the prime focuses of the standards, “collaboration.” Inter-subject collaboration between teachers; between teachers and students; and between students and students. Collaboration is one of the five “c,” which also include “creativity,” “communication,” “critical thinking,” and “curiosity” that students need in today’s world.
In this episode, Reilly, Amanda and company thought the boy that handed them the alcohol laced soda was joking. The girls took a sip from the can out of curiosity. “Did the can really contain alcohol?” They found that it did and handed the can back to the boy. Reilly said the reason she didn’t report the incident was that she was scared that she was going to get in trouble along with everybody else and she didn’t want to be the reason everybody got in trouble.
If a student is “scared” to talk to a school administrator or teacher it doesn’t bode well for the common core which expects teachers to be become more of mentors than lecturers. How can we expect students to take more responsibility for their own education, a prime skill necessary in the 21st century, when they don’t get collaboration from the people that administer their environment?
In addition, there was no communication with the student’s parents before the suspension, just demands. If there had been some collaboration with the parents I’m sure a much fairer outcome would have been achieved. And how can we expect our students to use critical thinking when none was used by the school administrators? It was like the Army Core of Engineers that drained half of Lake Mendocino prior to seeing if a predicted drought would take hold. They were just following instructions in an outdated manual.
Fortunately, it looks like critical thinking is being applied by the community based on the overwhelming criticism of the zero-tolerance policy. Like many other school districts in California Santa Rosa City Schools is moving toward modifying the zero tolerance policy. A committee of teachers, coaches, parents, principals and community members is meeting to come up with a new policy. (Santa Rosa School District may ease student suspension rule) However, one Santa Rosa School Board trustee thinks that removing the 25-day rule would create ambiguity and treat every student differently. Well, isn’t that the whole point? Experienced educators should be able to adjust the discipline, along with the parents, to fit the infraction.
Although we are looking for a standardized “baseline” in K-12 education, discipline, whether it’s a parent-child at home or the U.S. Justice System standardized punishment is not feasible as there are too many variables to take into consideration. This is where common sense comes in. I think we need Dr. Sortino on this committee.