This is a reprint of an article that originally appeared at Education Week.
by Ross Brenneman
A great deal of what's widely considered (or derided) as "education reform" over the last decade reflects a philosophy espoused by former President George W. Bush, in what is now a well-known piece of education rhetoric: Overcoming "the soft bigotry of low expectations." The thought is that a school can make its students achieve regardless of extenuating circumstances, and it drives policies ranging from teacher evaluation to accountability.
On the other hand, many push ideas that engage students on every front, from counseling to nutrition to anti-drug campaigns, under the belief that there are nonacademic reasons that students might not become proficient at math and reading.
Brickyard. Dogtown. Haines Street. Somerville.
For thousands of teens in Northwest Philadelphia, the names signify a potent mix of neighborhood loyalty, turf rivalry, and gang conflict that has been passed down for generations.
Take Dayton Melton.
The 15-year-old hails from Brickyard, in lower Germantown.
Melton says he’s fought kids from Somerville, on the other side of Chew Avenue, dozens of times.
After years of youth organizing groups making arguments against the District’s “zero-tolerance” policy, members of the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools achieved a victory in August.
The School Reform Commission voted to adopt a new student code of conduct, which gives principals more authority to handle disciplinary cases and puts more emphasis on intervention and prevention rather than punishment.
Briana Jackson said her life changed when Mastery Charter took over Gratz High School a year ago.
The self-described former troublemaker, now a senior, said that the transformation isn't yet complete; she still gets detentions now and then. But the person who was regularly suspended has turned into a serious student, athlete and student-government member with her sights set on attending Howard University and becoming a nurse.
The Notebook has a content-sharing agreement with Education Week, where this piece originally appeared. Last week, the School Reform Commission revised the District's Student Code of Conduct to prohibit the use of out-of-school suspension for several low-level offenses.
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday evening to adopt a revised code of conduct that gives principals more discretion in handling disciplinary cases and prevents some infractions from being punished by out-of-school suspensions.
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.
This guest blog post comes from Harold Jordan, Notebook board chair and staff member at ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Last week, the School District of Philadelphia settled a lawsuit filed by the parent of a young woman, a student at Harding Middle School, who said she had been subjected to an unlawful and invasive search by school police. I wrote about the case and about the results of state-funded audit of school security that was critical of police behavior at several high schools. In the case at Harding, the student said that a male officer had placed his hands in her shirt without justification. The District agreed to pay the student $35,000 in exchange for ending the suit. It did not admit guilt.
Although we may never know the full details of what happened that day, it is my hope that the lawsuit will force District staff to pay attention to how searches are conducted and to be careful that interactions between police and students are lawful and appropriate. In addition, students need to have a mechanism for complaining about instances in which they feel wronged and have confidence that those complaints will be properly investigated and acted upon.
Note: Following is Jordan's original guest blog post about the case, written in March.
A crowd of students, teachers, community activists, parents, and members of Youth United for Change rallied Wednesday afternoon to support YUC's new “Safe to Count on Me” campaign. Supporters gathered at Norris Square Park's basketball court and sported white, orange, and black campaign T-shirts to kick off the rally with an energetic chant: “It’s safe to count on me. Is it safe to count on you?”