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Hite tells safety summit: Prevention, not punishment, is key to good school climate

By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 13, 2012 03:29 PM

Incoming Superintendent William Hite told a roomful of school leaders at the District's annual leadership summit Monday morning that enforcement of rules is just one piece of school discipline and that "zero tolerance" to him means "a preventive set of strategies," rather than a punishment tool.

"I concluded as a high school principal, a middle school principal, a superintendent, we can't arrest our way to high student achievement, we can't suspend our way to high student achievement, we can't arrest or suspend our way to safer schools," Hite said.

The theme of this year's three-day summit is school climate and safety, which School Reform Commissioner Lorene Cary said means "transforming school culture."

Cary said that is a deep process that requires engagement on many levels and the willingness of adults to "move from compliance to care" in their understanding and response to student misbehavior.

"Like doctors, we have to vow to do no harm," said Cary, a writer and college professor who chairs the SRC's Climate and Safety Committee.

The gathering of 500 Philadelphia principals and assistant principals started off with a challenge of sorts -- in the form of spoken-word poetry from three students reflecting on their experiences in school.

In her celebrated poem called "When I Become a Teacher," recent Science Leadership Academy graduate Sinnea Douglas said:

Instead of asking my students to adjust to my teaching style
Fawn in silent awe over my genius
I’ll ask them how they learn

I will teach my students inquiry
Ask them questions about the world around them
Their opinions on issues from health care to the Palestine Wall
I won’t talk at them, but with them
We’ll have discussions and debates
I will challenge them
Ask them how they would tackle issues like budgets cuts
Low reading levels
And school safety.....

Hite called Douglas' poem, which is on the U.S. Department of Education's website, "the perfect lesson plan."

Douglas and the other students work with the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement.

Zero tolerance, said Hite, "gets confused with enforcement and consequences. Those things suggest an action as a result of something. What I'm talking about is zero tolerance as a preventive measure and a preventive set of strategies, so we're actually creating an environment where we don't need to be looking at enforcement as our only tool in the toolbox to deal with student behavior."

Hite said he looks at zero tolerance as "construction of an environment where respect is the order of the day. I'm not suggesting enforcement is unimportant. ... It's just insufficient."

At a scheduled SRC meeting on Thursday, the student-led Campaign for Nonviolent Schools plans to advocate for a Student Code of Conduct that, among other things, limits the use of out-of-school and in-school suspensions, discretionary reasons for school officials to call police, and referrals to alternative discipline schools. The campaign is also advocating for a code that would require administrators to sign a pledge they will use suspensions as a last resort and "highlights that discipline should be done without removing students from their classes."

Over the three days at the summit, the principals will hear from a variety of national experts on transforming school culture, creating nonviolent environments, coping with trauma, and bullying and anti-harassment training.

Monday's session was held in a meeting space in the VIP section at Lincoln Financial Field. The summit will continue Tuesday at Fels High School.


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Comments (48)

Submitted by Not Rocket Science! (not verified) on August 13, 2012 6:40 pm

This is horsebleep! So teachers have to allow chaos because if sent to the office, the Principal will kiss the student's butt and send them back to class. The next time a student or group of students become disruptive lets get a pad and pencil and counsel them instead of teaching. There has to be discipline and structure for learning to blossom and that means there must be consequences. This is not 1990 and many of these students are hardened, have no rules at home and have adult responsibilities, therefore they believe they are equals. To me an important skill as an urban educator is making a connection as instructor and mentor with your student. In that role you must follow through with consequences to disorder, because sadly, today's parent is no help.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 13, 2012 8:26 pm

Hite champions Sinnea Douglas' poem as a model for lesson planning. Simultaneously, Mastery's drill/kill approach will be shoved down our throats. Dr. Hite - what gives? It can't be both ways.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 13, 2012 9:25 pm

Let the excusemaking begin. Neville Chamberlin is at the helm of the Philadelphia School District.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 16, 2012 12:58 am

In Philadelphia students are Hitler? Your analogy puzzles me.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 13, 2012 10:03 pm

I would love to see Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) adopted in schools with a climate that would allow it. I realize it wouldn't work for all schools, but for some schools, it would be the missing piece of the puzzle to cut down on nuisance behaviors as well as training teachers to adequately provide support to students with EBD. I would implement it in my 7th and 8th grade classrooms if I knew the rest of my school would follow suit.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 13, 2012 11:08 pm

I welcome Dr. Hite's belief in prevention instead of punishment. A great way to start the process of prevention is to help principals and teachers adopt and implement positive behavior supports (PBS) in each school. There is a great deal of research supporting PBS. A textbook about PBS written for teachers but based on research is Positive Behavioral Supports for the Classroom - 2nd edition by Brenda K. Scheuermann and Judy A. Hall.

Overuse of punishment makes people feel powerless. This lack of power then can encourage people to push back and react. I appreciate that Dr. Hite is trying to be proactive instead of reactive. Firm but fair authority--where teachers and principals respect students while also enforcing standards of behavior, as well as looking for the good in each child--is very important.

To address issues of poor parenting, the District may need to partner with outside agencies and organizations to provide parenting classes that will help parents create an environment at home which supports the environment at school. Unfortunately, far too many parents in Philadelphia use beating a child's behind or spanking as well as cussing out as primary means of discipline. Some people debate the merits of corporal punishment. Corporal punishment CAN have a place at home--when used sparingly and for the most severe offenses. Unfortunately, I have seen parents use it far too often, and often in public places such as on the sidewalk and on SEPTA.

Overall, Dr. Hite is on the right track with his emphasis on prevention instead of punishment.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 10:50 pm

Just out of curiosity as to how long it takes a comment to be posted, was my comment on PBS posted when you commented?

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 15, 2012 1:21 am

Yes, your comment was posted. It seems to take 2 to 5 minutes for posts to appear, although sometimes they reappear after one refresh or one click on another page.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 12:49 pm

Ok. I've always wondered how long it takes.

Also, I (obviously) love the idea of PBS being employed, but I do not think it would have an immediate effect on the most troublesome schools because I really doubt that everyone (adults) would buy in to it. I would like to see it used as a 3-year trial in 30-40 schools, so people could see just how well it can work.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 2:38 pm

There needs to be serious consequences for consistent disruptful, direspectful and violent behavior, otherwse, you and the 98% of the students who are trying to learn and do the right things become hostages to the 2% of students who have no intention of learning (YES, they are do exist). Look at the paper and the news, all these kids who are shooting each other, committing serious crimes--are in your classrooms. What makes anyone think that if the Police and the threat of jail time doesn't make them change their ways, that you saying "I feel your pain": will? There are some students who are repeat offenders and constantly disruptive that need serious consquences with some "teeth" to them or you are failing in your responsibility to the remaining 98% who play by the rules and want to learn.

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on August 14, 2012 1:47 am

I love when you comment Education Student!! You are going to be such an awesome teacher!

I don't know why parents are perceived as being poor parents? I try my hardest to be the best mom I know how to be, I read as much as I can, went to every birthing class offered when I was pregnant, attend mommies groups, read the what to expect, baby, toddler, etc, read every blog about diet, vaccinations, discipline, etc. Out of all my son's friends, there have been maybe one or two percent that have parents who have been referred to Child protective services for neglect, abuse, etc...sometimes you have to force the school to call and follow protocal, because these kids (I only am around elementary aged kids) act out, etc.

I am out an about every day around the parents in my neighborhood, in the park at little league activities and they seem normal, 'my johnny is perfect'

I think there is a problem with perception which may explain why I found my child's school was so hostile and mean to me. There was a profound (SP?) lack of respect, let alone civility towards me as a parent.

I would really like to see the assumptions about parents change, there are more of us than you know who don't beat or yell at our kids. We love them, want them to do better than us, we don't expect them to be adults, and we care about them learning. We may have had poor examples, but a little kindness and less looking down on us goes a looooooong way!!

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 14, 2012 1:39 am

Thank you for your kind words. I hope to be an awesome teacher!

I think that most parents do a good job. It's hard to measure good parenting and all parents make mistakes. It's the hardest and most important job that exists. However, there are some parents -- a minority of parents -- who do a very poor job. They may do a poor job because of stress, lack of maturity, or a variety of other factors. I have heard from numerous teachers and other school personnel that certain children and their parents make life very difficult. For example, if a child has a genuine behavioral issue, a parent sometimes may simply ignore the issues or deny it, doing nothing to provide help for the child. A young child may frequently use foul language at school, language which he or she learns at home. However, the parent may do nothing to model more child-appropriate language for the child. I was on the bu recently. I saw a mother and her children. Her son had not worn deodorant. The mother was cussing out the son, talking about how he was completely embarrassing to her. His rationale for not wearing deodorant was that the only deodorant at home was women's deodorant Although I am not a parent myself, I think that a better way of handling the situation would have been to tell the boy that it's better to wear women's deodorant than no deodorant. She could have said that body odor can be smelly to others and so wearing deodorant is the considerate thing to do. She could then offer to buy him another stick of deodorant. I have seen parents of various races and ethnicities spank and cuss out their children for minor offenses, such as standing on a bus seat instead of sitting down or walking too slowly. I've also seen parents give into their children when a child wants junk food or some other treat. The parent would rather give the child what he or she wants than say no or deal with the child pouting. I worked with a child who had frequent tantrums at summer camp because his mother babied him and gave him what he wanted at home. Then at summer camp, if he didn't get his way, this 6 year old child would cry or throw a tantrum as though he were in his terrible twos.

The 80-20 rule or something like it may be at work when it comes to parents. The majority of parents do a good job. However, there's a minority who do a poor job and it can make life a living hell for teachers and other people (e.g. social workers) who must interact with these parents.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 14, 2012 1:54 am

bus* (not bu)

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on August 14, 2012 2:21 am

you will be! part of being a teacher, social worker, etc is knowing that 20% of the parents will suck..but the other 80% don't want to be treated like the 20%.

One of the things I struggle with as a black parent is not being harsh. For my parents, there was fear of not listening...meaning if mommy says lay down on the floor and be silent or she will beat the spit out of you...the fear is, the klan is dragging out families and beating them and a little kid doesn't understand that, but they do understand mama will beat them for not listening..

I don't know if that makes sense, but that strictness was to save your kids life. I say that as a kid of parents who grew up in segregation and jim crow. My great grandfather was shot and killed in the front door of his house, my grandmother lives right down the street from Medger Evans and my mom grew up in Oklahoma, where in the 30's Rosewood where blacks were murdered and their houses were burned was the fear her parents had as they were properous and educated.

I carry that same fear when my child back talks or runs down the street after the ice cream truck ignoring my directions. I worry that when our lives are at stake, he because he's just a little boy, may not run to me when I call and it's all I can do to assure myself I don't live in those times, but understand where my parents came from. It also pops up when I have to leave for work. If he's having a rough time at school, like in first grade when he finished his worksheets early, the teacher made him put his head down until all the other students were done. No reading or getting more worksheets, he had to put his head down and wait. He hated that and it made him hate going to school, so he would do everything to avoid or run late. At six years old he wasn't able to articulate why he hated school and his teacher refused to meet with me or give him extra work unless he was gifted and tested as such. But again that fear struck me because at work they didn't care that my child was dragging his feet and stalling in the morning. Sometimes he would run away, crying and sobbing cause he hated school that much. The fear of losing my job and our only source of income, made me want to be like my parents who had zero tolerance for missing work for that kind of behavior. I would have been spanked because professional level jobs had just opened up to them (as college graduates) and they needed to be the best at what they did, never late, give 200%, prove that they weren't idiots who just got their jobs because of affirmative action. They believed in being over qualified which made them very harsh because they believed any sloppiness or lateness could ruin the little opportunity they had been given. My grandparents and great grandparents also had college degrees, but imagine what work was available to them in the late 1880's and early 1990's for educated black folk..

Just them opening their mouths and saying something in their schooled voices was enough to get them lynched...

What I experience even know from my parents is their struggle to watch me raise my child without that fear. I was even told that I needed to break my child a little, not enough to destroy his spirit, but 'heaven forbid if when I needed him to listen to me and he didn't...what could happen'. that was my dad who was worried...not sure if I make sense, and what I noticed in my own family doesn't apply to everyone, just that I understand why some parents are so over the top strict.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 14, 2012 9:08 pm

MBA to M'Ed,

Thank you for sharing your stories. I have heard stories similar to those of your family's from other African Americans I know. One woman with whom I attend church (she's in her early 60s) was raised in a suburb outside of Philadelphia by her grandmother, who was from Georgia. Her grandmother returned to Georgia yearly. However, she rarely took her granddaughter (the woman with whom I attend church) with her because her granddaughter would not know how to act "right" down South, such as drinking out of the colored water fountain, using the colored bathroom, always addressing white people a certain way, and so on.

The strictness of one's upbringing can be hard to break when it comes to parenting the next generation. Some parents may continue to be very strict or harsh because that's what they know. In addition, some parents may believe that the strictness of their own upbringing is warranted with their own children given the circumstances of life in many high-poverty Philadelphia neighborhoods--the high crime, the lure of the street life, the fear of police brutality, and so on. I have worked, attend church, shop, and spend a great deal of time in inner city neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Interactions with various people (parents, coworkers, people from church, and so on) have shown me that there are many parents and grandparents who continue to fear for their children due to crime, police brutality, the prison system, and the streets in general. Thus, the fear that was present for your family members who lived down South seems to persist although in a different environment and with the fear of a child ending up in prison or dead from a gun instead of lynching.

Until the cycle of violence stops, both due to institutional changes (e.g. legislation) and personal changes, many parents will continue to live in fear and parent their children in fear. It's a reality that Philadelphia's schools face. Unfortunately, I think that many in power--namely, in Harrisburg--would rather ignore the realities of our city's schools and communities or let Philadelphia fend for itself. Some in power benefit from the violence and "failing" schools because it means a school to prison pipeline with more inmates for the prison in their district, which means jobs for one's constituents and campaign donations from private prison companies.

I'm thankful that Dr. Hite is trying to take a new approach--one that seeks to address the underlying causes. Many legislators seem to like zero-tolerance or three-strikes policies, so it will be interesting to see how those in Harrisburg view his new framework for school climate. I am cautiously optimistic about his new approach. I am cautious because the District is nearly broke and because so many distrust the previous superintendents. I am optimistic because Dr. Hite seems to be very serious and convinced that a different approach is necessary. Hopefully, Dr. Hite will lead the District in a new and improved direction regarding issues of school climate.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 8:46 am

Congratulations to the Notebook on its new fiction section. I especially liked the science fiction story about teachers wearing electronic equipment controlled by non-educators. A story about students becoming junior Grover Norquists ---brilliant.

Lisa Haver

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 14, 2012 8:09 am

Sounds like it is right out of an Orwellian novel doesn't it? Just like the "newsspeak" term "Achievement Networks." Which really have nothing to do with achievement and everything to do with disguising the "privatization of the American schoolhouse.'

It's like "Everything public Baaaaaad -- everything privatized Gooooooood!"

Who benefits from privatization? Who benefits from public schools being governed democratically?

How do we assure that schools are run for the best interests of our students and their community?

The ones, beside their parents, who really care about the cognitive and affective achievement and growth of the children are the teachers who pour their hearts out to children everyday. The teachers are the ones who look intot the hearts and minds and eyes of the children. Without a loving and caring bond between teacher and child, there can be no effective teaching.

Positive reinforcement is wholly dependent on the reinforcement being "genuine and authentic." Children are real perceptive about that.

What Psychology 101 course did anyone attend that advocated that children and teachers be treated like Pavlov's dogs?

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 14, 2012 10:54 am

I wish students were not dragged into public teacher bashing. I winced as I read the poem about teachers asking students to "fawn in silent awe over my genius." I don't think the poet had all teachers in mind when she wrote that, but read to that audience, it looks that way, which is unpleasant and unfair. It's too bad that the organizers didn't take Dr. Hite's message warning against punishment into account when they allowed this student to do the dirty work of chiding teachers for them.

I agree that punishment isn't a very effective tool. I think suspension should be reserved for severe infractions. When suspension is routine, it loses its power to shock. Sometimes, however, we have so few tools to promote prosocial behaviors in the classroom that punishment seems to be the only possible response. As we discuss punishment, let's remember that teachers don't suspend kids. Principals do. And they frequently do so because they have so few resources to provide alternate interventions. I'm all for exploring other options, but I suggest we get over any pie-in-the-sky ideas about how easy it will be to do so.

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on August 14, 2012 10:15 am

the student I tutor who is in highschool was actually suspended by her advisor who teaches African American history. She was suspended 3 times by this teacher until I realized the teacher was just bullying my tutee (? ) and her mother, but hadn' t actually processed the paper work and the student was actually being marked absent. The teacher on her last suspension actually walked her advisee (my student that I tutor) to the front door and told the school police officer to not let her back in until she came with her mother.

Humliated, the student stayed home until her mom's could schedule a day off of work and bring her daughter to school. This was the 3rd time that year the advisor had done this to the girl. This time however the mom knew the'real deal' and that was the last time the students advisor 'suspended her'.

Maybe that happen only once in the school district, but it was another teacher who helped me learn what the actual suspension process was and that helped me and the students mother realize that her daughter who is a delightful child but has been the target of bullies at times, was being 'fake suspended' by her advisor.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 12:56 pm

The adviser in high school is the homeroom teacher. Suspensions have to be signed by the administration. While the adviser might have a "game" where s/he told the students s/he was suspended, an official suspension goes through administration. Some principals avoid having a "high" suspension rate by telling the students they can't come back without a parent/guardian. This is not listed as a suspension. Sometimes, the parent/guardian comes to school and other times a neighbor, family members, etc. comes. (I've known students to bring an 18 or 19 year old "cousin.") That said, I don't know the situation but suspensions have to be approved by administrators. The parent should call the principal if there are questions. (Not all principals are responsive but it is the "chain of command.")

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on August 14, 2012 1:50 pm

Thanks. That was my understanding of the 'game' also. After taking off from work twice from her $11 an hour job to bring her daughter to school just to be told by the advisor that she did not need to meet with her, once the advisor wouldn't even come down to the office to meet with the mom, the mom was furious but with 3 kids and a job and a sick grandmother to care for all on her own, the third time it happen she couldn't risk taking off from work again, just to show up in the office and be told she didn't need to be there. The advisor with her 'game' was actually taking money out of the household which fed and clothed the 3 kids. So her daughter missed a week of instructional time and had a week of unexecused absences (for which she later received a 'real' detention) until it was the mom's day off from work, and then she took her daughter to school and watched the same 'game' unfold. This time though she knew what the truth was and said as much to the advisor because the mom had my support. The mom was nice about it because she didn't want drama, but she wanted the abuse by the advisor to stop. It was hurting and humiliating to her daughter who was only 14 years old at the time.

The advisor has not 'fake suspended' the student again...but she may have found a new student to pick on sadly. And the fact that the school district is aware and tacitly allows this kind of bullying to go on, makes me sad. You need to out these teachers because even one bad apple sours the perception of you all. The fact that your coworker does this in front of other teachers and no one tells on her, makes me as a parent think you are all like this. (I know you aren't but it really does sour me on the Phila SD.)

let's work to improve the districts image by outing the behaviors that hurt the kids and teachers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 4:44 pm

I'm not aware of any teacher (homeroom adviser) doing this where I teach now but the principal and assistant principal did it at another school because they didn't want any suspensions. The principal gets a better evaluation with lower suspensions. (In-house suspensions don't count against the principal - only out of school suspensions.)

I'm also a parent of children in the School District of Philadelphia - I know how hard it is to get consistency from some administrators. It is sometimes harder to be a parent than a teacher in this district if your kids aren't "perfect."

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 14, 2012 10:51 pm

One problem with out-of-school suspension is that often a child likes the suspension because he doesn't have to go to school. The suspension is actually a reinforcer. Better to do an in-school suspension in a location out of the regular classroom.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 6:19 pm

Sounds like a good solution, but my school didn't even have enough teachers to provide special education students with the services they were required to get by law. So, who will be paid to monitor in school suspensions. We were supposed to provide our students with the Peace for Kids program. Once again, we didn't have enough staff to provide the program. It's really a shame. All these things sound great, but cost money.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 16, 2012 12:40 am

It sounds like someone at your school should have notified your district or the PDE that there were not enough teachers to provide students with special needs with the free and appropriate public education to which they are entitled. I imagine that there is probably a way to do it anonymously to avoid retaliation or possibly there may be whistle-blower protection. Otherwise, it would be up to the parents to be making sure that their children were receiving adequate services.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 9:50 am

That's very nice of you, Joan, to bash a teenager and make assumptions like that. My interpretation of the poem was that, rather than be a teacher in the manner of her slam poetry (which requires a silent audience), Ms. Douglas realized that being a successful teacher required a very different approach.

Submitted by Joan Taylor on August 14, 2012 10:12 am

I think what you mean is that it wasn't nice of me. My sense is that you probably don't actually teach and therefore don't realize the toll that constant and unmerited teacher criticism takes. America's teachers do much better by our children than our critics will ever acknowledge.

Unlike the countries to whom we are compared, we test all children, and when we control for poverty, our students excel. Too many of us work too hard, spend too much of our own money, and lose too much personal time to worries about our students to have to take negative comments without any response.

How many classroom books have you purchased for students? I've bought thousands of them. Get back to me when you've done the same.

Submitted by MBA to M'Ed mom (not verified) on August 14, 2012 11:21 am


Thank you for buying our kids books. This parent appreciates it greatly!

Sadly I have seen the type of teacher the student was referring to. It is my opinion that this school district has too many of those type of teachers and not enough of teachers like you. I am sure you have at least one coworker who is that type of teacher. We need to pressure the district to remove them.
Their behavior harms all teachers and kids.

Again thank you for caring about the kids, as a parent who turns over her most precious love to you, thanks.

: )

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 2:04 pm

Yes, Joan, that was sarcasm. I understand the attacks teachers has been under and the hard work that they do. I am saying you were far too quick to lash out at a child concerning a poem subject to interpretation.

You are under stress and, though you may not realize it, your response is benefiting the PSP trolls that have set up shop on here more than your own argument. Step back for a moment, breath and realize I'm on your side and examine your reaction.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 14, 2012 3:36 pm

It is nonsense, Prevent do not enforce the the rules?? The kids in my school act in totally inappropriate ways which leads to their involvement in the legal system and their ultimate incarceration.
Instead of pretending they are operating under different more lenient rules then the ones productive people abide by, we should be drilling into their heads that if you act the way that is acceptance in in Philadelphia High school you will end up in jail because normal people do not tolerate this behavior, But that would involve moral judgement and work so Philadelphia cannot do it because it is incapable of making real moral choices, it just want everyone to fell good.

Submitted by J (not verified) on August 14, 2012 5:47 pm

AMEN Anonymous!

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 14, 2012 10:28 pm

We cannot control students. In addition, in some communities, prison is a right of passage, so it's punishment but it also gives one "street cred." Many of the students in Philadelphia come from poverty. They feel powerless already because they do not have the same opportunities as other children. It's very important for adults to try and develop positive relationships with students from an early age. It's important to acknowledge that some of the children in Philadelphia's schools come from very difficult circumstances. They do not have equal opportunity to succeed as other children from more affluent families. There may be a sense of hopelessness in their community about the future.

The reality is that in some neighborhoods, there are very large numbers of people who have had contact with the criminal justice system. Black males are the most incarcerated people in our country and it is no accident. From drug sentencing laws recommending sentences for crack 100 times as harsh as for powder cocaine, to the proliferation of illegal guns, to racial profiling and police brutality, these circumstances are real. When ex-cons come back into the neighborhoods, they bring the prison culture with them. The prison culture is prevalent in many neighborhoods in Philadelphia. It's not the fault of the kids, and unfortunately, the problem is much bigger that the schools. I recommend the article "Going Straight
The Story of a Young Inner-City Ex-Convict" by Penn professor Elijah Anderson to understand the culture of inner city neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The research took place in Philadelphia (

School counselors are very important because they can try and understand a child's mentality and worldview. Everyone wants to have some control over his or her own life, but for some children, everything seems out of their control. Maybe they are not receiving enough attention at home and so they act out to receive attention. Maybe they are used to being "bad" so they act "bad" because that's what people expect of them.

I've worked with kids who come from low-income and working class neighborhoods in summer camps and in field experiences. Maybe I'm a bit naive because, no, I have not had my own classroom in Philadelphia. However, I think it's important to try and look for the good in each child. Everyone wants to feel that he or she can succeed in something and do well. It's important for children to have the opportunity to use their talents and to have a sense of agency and self-determination. Also, children need to know that adults care about them. I think it's very important to look for the good in children and to expect good things from them. Inevitably, they will fall short sometimes, but no one is perfect. Using reinforcement is a much better method than relying on punishment. Behavioral research is very clear about this. There are a select few kids who are exceedingly difficult and violent. These children are a small minority. But even these children need caring attention and support from adults.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 3:25 pm

As a former Charter School administrator, I gave new teachers a copy of "Code of the Street," by Elijah Anderson. If you wanted to teach in my Philadelphia school it was a must read. It was one of the most powerful tools I could arm them with. It allowed my faculty to recognize that the maladaptive coping mechanisms that our students demonstrated in a school, were really quite appropriate and effective in surviving their neighborhoods.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 7:57 pm

Thank you! I taught Special Ed. for 15 years, including a classification that no longer exists, Socially and Emotionally Disturbed. I learned that once you have learned about a student's circumstances their behavior becomes very clear in terms of coping with a hard living situation. This does not mean they should be coddled or their behavior excused or tolerated. It does mean that as a society we have an obligation to provide a setting, away from the regular classroom, where they can get intensive counseling and social supports. "Locking them up" is not the solution to students who have already been born into and are still dealing with difficult circumstances.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 16, 2012 1:19 am

I have heard of "Code of the Streets," although I have not read it. (I'm about to read it right now.) From what I know about "Code of the Streets," it addresses many of the same issues as "Going Straight." Your point about coping mechanisms is very important. Some of the aggressive behaviors which are prevalent in our schools are quite adaptive and even necessary in order to survive in many of Philadelphia's neighborhoods. Understanding the purpose of these aggressive behaviors allows us as adults and educators to address them instead of labeling the kids as deviant or "bad" kids. Access "The Code of the Street" here:

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on August 16, 2012 10:01 am

Thanks for the link. I'm going to print out the article and bring it to school when we return in September. Everyone who teaches in an urban setting should read this. Now, some of the interactions that I've had with parents make a lot more sense.
Although I'm grateful for the new insight, I'm frustrated that we, as educators, can do little, if anything, to change the "Code of the Streets" culture, but yet we are held accountable when classroom management goes awry because of it. I can only imagine how living with this mindset impacts a student's motivation to learn. The implications are far-reaching, and I'm feeling a sense of sadness now, for all of the children who've been lost to this code.
For all of you out there, who will continue to fight the good fight for the children who need you, in spite of the obstacles thrown in your way, I wish you peace in these last few weeks of summer. Now I'm going to get off of this site, shake off my sadness, and enjoy this sunny day :)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 16, 2012 12:39 pm

Don't be sad. Printing out a copy of the article and sharing it with your colleagues is exactly how we can have a positive impact on Philadelphia education. May I also suggest you read, Ruby Payne, a framework on Poverty.... just google, it the PDF will pop right up. We may not be able to significantly impact the struggles and challenges our students face in their everyday lives, but we can understand and manage our reactions and responses to their fears and pain when it is manifested in our classroom as anger.
Keep Fighting the Good Fight.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 16, 2012 1:19 pm

Thanks for the lead. Also, thanks to the person who provided the link to the Elijah Anderson's article.
I could not find a comprehensive article by Dr. Paine. There are a lot of articles "debunking" her. She seems to be controversial. I guess, I have to read her book in order to understand, what this is all about.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 16, 2012 3:46 pm

One major criticism of her is that most of her books are self-published, therefore not putting them under peer review ( Also, her articles are not published in the top journals in sociology and education.

I would question the research of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, based on the statement from Dr. Payne's own website:


Understanding Poverty 
environments. It 

 behaviors. It 
clean methodology.

Here are some criticisms of her:

I'm not very familiar with her work, but my understanding is that she doesn't place much focus on the institutional and structural reasons for poverty, such as government policies. Instead, she focuses more on culture. I will have to read her work before I can make a comment on it.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on August 16, 2012 3:33 pm

In regard to changing the "Code of the Streets," the way to change this would be to improve the trust of low income residents of inner city neighborhoods in the police and criminal justice system. In order to improve the confidence, there needs to be systematic changes in order to combat institutional racism in the police force and criminal justice system. The "Code of the Streets" is an adaptation to an environment. When there are better jobs available, less of a pipeline to prison, and more trust of the police in inner city neighborhoods, then the situation may improve. But it is a complex problem.

As a future teacher, I believe that I need to be cognizant of the realities of students. I happen to live near many neighborhoods where the "code of the streets" is prevalent. I also frequently use public transportation so I spent a lot of time in inner city neighborhoods. I realize that knowing the "code of the streets" is a survival skill for children living in the inner city. As a future teacher, the key is not to rid my students of this code, but to teach them the mainstream code as well as how to code switch so that they use the appropriate code in the appropriate situation. There may be a culture of poverty in many neighborhoods in Philadelphia, but it's not due to just the people. It's also due to systematic racism, classism, and policies which continue to squeeze the poor and their ability to make a living.

Submitted by Deja Tu (not verified) on August 14, 2012 11:00 pm

It's not a poem, just more liberal propaganda. Bring in 3 strikes. Third serious offence and you go to the Orwell School where you will take online classes under the watchful eye of the Big Brotherhood. Leave your seat without permission? You get zapped! with a Taser. Cell phone out? It gets tossed in the grinder. Homework not done. You stay till 6 to complete it - and there ain't gonna be any school bus waiting..
Word will get around. Students will behave. A little fear never hurt anyone.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 7:07 am

Seriously, why is that here in US we can never find a middle ground? Liberals want to cuddle kids all the way until they are ready to retire. Conservatives want to beat everybody into submission. Why not to use some balanced approach: we give you all the supports to succeed: counselors, small classes, enrichment curriculum, extracurricular activities; but then we demand responsibility, and you disrupt classes continuously, you are out. Yesterday I heard that from now on "suspensions are not an option", that we have to "come up with ways to relate" to the disruptive kids. Are you serious? ASPIRA (and probably other charters) take them out of the classroom immediately, and lets the teachers teach. And I am required to play games with 16-18 year olds?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 8:02 am

Mastery at Gratz does the same as Aspira at Olney and Stetson. Disruptive and disagreeable students are removed to a separate program. Will the SDP provide funding for THEIR schools to do the same thing? I won't hold my breath...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 15, 2012 12:19 am

I found it interesting that on one hand they emphasized,"transforming school culture, creating nonviolent environments, coping with trauma, and bullying and anti-harassment training." and on the other have laid off and cut over 100 counseling positions. One of the best ways to have a positive school culture is to have a proactive comprehensive guidance program to help promote character building and bullying prevention. That becomes impossible when there is only one counselor in the school. Give our schools the resources to truly help these kids and behavior will improve.

Submitted by Education Graduate Student (not verified) on August 15, 2012 12:42 am

You are completely right. At smaller District schools (less than 400 kids), 1 counselor might suffice. However, at medium-sized and larger schools, there need to be additional counselors. School counselors could also be very helpful for implementing and monitoring positive behavior supports. Unfortunately, the schools are cut to the bone. Test scores matter for AYP, so school culture takes a back seat to academics, even though a good school culture provides the foundation for a positive academic environment.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 17, 2012 8:36 am

And let's not forget that even in a small school, where the special ed population is substantial, counselors often get mired in special ed meetings and paperwork, so that there is little time for actually "counseling" students. In NJ, where I grew up, there are "child study teams" with social workers and psychologists that work at one school- not split between 4. I think that they do a better job than we do, but you get what you pay for... Also something that their current governor doesn't seem to understand. This is most definitely a problem best addressed by staffing. I sincerely hope that our new Superintendent will see that and act accordingly.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on August 15, 2012 9:39 am

There's no money in that for the crooks and that's what it's all about. It certainly NOT about poor, inner city, kids of color whose parents don't vote.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 16, 2012 5:43 pm

Is this really a problem in Philly public schools that there is too much intolerance of disruptive anti-social behavior? Seriously.

My perception as a parent of young children is that the problem is exactly the opposite.

Reading this makes me think the Philly school system is hopeless. A big city ed bureaucracy seems unwilling or incapable of providing a disciplined environment.

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