Publication Date: 2010-07-09
Getting all children to behave the same way may be another misguided way to get higher pass rates on standardized tests.
by Paul Bardis
At my son's school all 3rd, 4th and 5th grade children participate in a program designed in a way that has as many as 9 out of 10 children wearing a badge that states "Membership has its privileges!" This badge is worn or carried by the student all day long for an entire month, yet to receive the card which also identifies the student as "respectful, responsible and safe" the student did nothing more than get all homework in on time and receive no discipline referrals during the previous month. (The criteria for perfect attendance was removed in response to a New York State N1H1 policy.) By simply turning in one homework assignment late or getting one discipline referral during the previous month a child becomes one of the 2 or 3 in his classroom that clearly stands out from his peers because he has no badge to wear.
This program is labeled as a School Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (SW - PBIS, Office of Special Education Programs. http://www.facebook.com/l/e25a9-UzgIEqUB_FIBDA6g9wxGA;www.PBIS.org) program so its intent is to provide positive school wide recognition to children meeting the behavioral standards of being safe, responsible and respectful. I have no doubt that the adults in charge of my son's school and the district are all well meaning people and have only good intentions for children and that what they see is a positive recognition for students, but what I have been trying to get them to consider is that what they see also has other sides that are actually negative, harmful and counter productive to their goals for our children. Unfortunately, I have exhausted every official way open to me to share and discuss my concerns with those in charge only to have them refuse to engage in meaningful two way discussion. Finally two years after my first attempts to have discussion I spoke at the public comment portion of the school board meeting and even there I was cut off after 3 minutes. Fortunately, my friend finished reading my statement.
Although I am not a big fan of PBIS because I have seen how it can easily be misused and have unintentional harmful impacts, our local expert did confirm that this badge program is NOT in keeping with the guidelines or spirit of PBIS. There is no reward for the majority because almost everyone gets the badge. However, there is a social punishment for the minority of children because they visually stand out from the majority and live a less than normal life at school since the privileges of the majority are at the direct expense of them. This includes being at the end of the lunch line, behind on the way to recess, getting fewer books from the library and not getting to participate in as many civic opportunities. (I was recently told the lunch line privilege is to be removed because it was logistically impractical.)
At the top of the School Board's mission statement it says, "We will be advocates for change that creates a culture of openness and acceptance with foundations of integrity and accountability." These are good intentions. If they were followed I am confident my local community could see all sides of this and resolve the issues I raise. However, it takes understanding as well as good intentions, and understanding only comes about through open discussions. Apparently discussions are not going to take place without more influences from the broader community and world because despite the concerns I shared at the Board meeting ending up in a newspaper article, no one from the district has so much as approached me. Even the Board's own mission and the districts goals have not been revised since 1996.
If you share in these concerns and you want to help the children of my community be free of this type of exclusionary practice I would appreciate your help by considering joining a Facebook page called, EVERYONE A MEMBER AT PLATTSBURGH SCHOOLS, and/or sharing your views through the means listed below. This discussion is central to every issue that attempts to standardize our children rather than help each fulfill their maximum potentials. Thank you!
FACEBOOK PAGE - EVERYONE A MEMBER AT PLATTSBURGH SCHOOLS
Contact Information for the Plattsburgh City School District Board of Education
Press Republican - Letters to the Editor
The Burgh - Letters to the Editor (Identify that you want it to go in The Burgh, not the other Denton Publishing this form is used for.)
OTHER RELATED LINKS
Link to Jaguar Card at the Oak Street School site
Link to what was read to the Plattsburgh City School Board June 10, 2010
Link to the June 16 article in the Press Republican that reported on the school board meeting and issue.
The local newspaper did report on our recent comments at the Board meeting and that has resulted in at least some informal discussion throughout the area but no one from the district has so much as contacted me for further discussions. I am still being told by those in charge that there are only two or three of us that see this as a concern so there is no reason to have a broader discussion. One board member I have approached since the article had no questions but was willing to engage in answering some questions I asked. His response to my final question indicates to me just how unlikely the board is to see enough of this problem to ever initiate a response. I asked if a fourth grade child was living in chaos at home and was possibly being abused and living with alcoholism and divorce could it be justified that this child be one of the few who went around school all day without a card to wear simply because he turned in one homework assignment late during the course of the past month. His answer was "yes" and he explained that the sooner the child had to deal with this kind of reality we find in the larger world, the sooner he would work to find ways to function in it and the better off he will be. He is so sure he sees the entire issue that he dismisses the need to engage in a larger discussion.
I also suspect that in just the way many schools have felt a need to get children to pass our standardized high stakes state exams by having them all learn in the same way, this behavioral program is a way to get all the children to behave the same way. They are both attempts at getting enough children to pass tests to avoid the school being a "school in need of improvement", yet they both disregard an entire group of children that are unlikely to show that kind of school "success" which has little to do with real world success. Unfortunately, this approach hasn't even worked to achieve that goal in my son's school. Creating high stakes punishments is about conformity, not about helping children reaching their highest developmental potentials and not about facilitating caring communities, and not about helping children truly becoming the "safe, responsible and respectful" citizens the school claims it creates. To do that our primary goal would need to be to have every child feel unconditionally accepted as a "member" of our school community. That should be our top priority. Developmentally, meeting that need is the most important thing we can do if we want to optimize their potential to succeed in all the other ways we desire - emotionally, socially and academically.
We have a long way to go judging by what I hear of in our high school. Not unlike what I observed in high schools 20 years ago and more, many students still segregate themselves, bully, and exclude each other from peer groups. Bullying is often seen as the stereotypical student who blatantly threatens and harms peers, but it is found in each group of kids as they repeatedly re-establish who belongs. Others are self destructive. It all has the same source - a young person feeling like they are not accepted by the broader community. Our job should be to promote programs and practices that reduce exclusion and bullying and increase students accepting themselves and each other, rather than conforming to standardized behavior through peer pressure and shame.
I have found in the past that the people who think this way often have not had any experiences similar to the child who is most often card-less, have lacked an opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of a child like that, or were one of the lucky ones that climbed to a higher social status and so feel everyone else could and should. The type of understanding that is needed to see this issue begins with open discussion. There is nothing more important the Board, and every other Board, can do. It needs our insistence.