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Looking to reduce discipline disparities, House bill would ban preschool suspensions in Minnesota

Bernadeia Johnson
MinnPost photo by Taryn Phaneuf
Bernadeia Johnson, former superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, center, testifying at the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy committee hearing on March 14. State Rep. Ruth Richardson, the bill's author, is on the right.

Advocates working to address school discipline disparities in Minnesota want to ban the use of suspensions for the state’s preschoolers, saying removing young students from the classroom mars their relationship with learning.

The Minnesota Department of Education doesn’t report preschool discipline data, so it’s unclear how common suspensions are among the state’s youngest students. But in 2017-18 K-5 students made up nearly a quarter of all discipline incidents, including suspensions, exclusions, and expulsions, state data show. While introducing HF 1785, Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, pointed to a national survey from 2016 that estimated 50,000 preschoolers — that’s 3- and 4-year-olds — were suspended at least once in a year, while another 17,000 were expelled.

“Those who are not familiar with these statistics are often shocked to hear that students in preschool are three times more likely to be suspended than kids in K-12,” said Richardson, whose bill is one of several looking to reduce student suspensions and expulsions in favor of non-exclusionary alternatives.

Addressing disparities — from the beginning

Advocates concerned about disparities have worked with legislators for years to set limits on suspensions and other exclusionary practices, which are often levied unevenly among students by race and ability. Data has long shown that children of color or those with disabilities are far more likely to face discipline that removes them from classrooms or schools.

While black students are suspended or expelled three times more often than white students nationally, in Minnesota they are removed eight times more often, Richardson told the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee last week. Native students in Minnesota are expelled or suspended 10 times as often as white students. “Even without the preschool data, we have a real problem in Minnesota,” Richardson said. “There is no research that says American Indian students are 10 times more likely to be disruptive in class than others.”

Activists have drawn on those statistics to conclude that preschool suspensions are worth addressing at the state level. If nothing else, the state should begin tracking incidents, Marika Pfefferkorn, co-chair of the Solutions Not Suspensions Coalition, told the House committee. “We’re talking about young people who, at this time, are shaping and forming their relationship with education and learning. Because of that, we need to have them in the classroom.”


Bernadeia Johnson, a former superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools who testified in favor of the preschool suspension ban, said students suspended at such an early age are put on a negative trajectory. And rather than changing their behavior, the experience sours their view of schools. 

The suspension bill, HF 1785, was originally written to ban suspensions for preschoolers through second-graders, and to limit suspensions involving third-through-fifth-graders by permitting them only when students were involved in violent incidents. It was amended to include only preschool to meet a committee deadline.

Before Johnson resigned as Minneapolis superintendent in 2014, she banned suspensions for nonviolent behavior in pre-K through second grade. She did so because she believes the age range represents a critical window for teaching children how to navigate a learning environment rather than removing them for the kind of unremarkable “naughty” behavior she found cited in discipline reports she reviewed each month.

Minneapolis School District data show the district didn’t suspend any preschoolers last year. The data show three suspensions, two out-of-school removals, and 14 in-school removals during the 2016-17 school year. The district suspended 76 kindergartners last school year. That’s down from 355 in 2013-14.

“I know some behaviors can be dangerous,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen preschool kids out of control. I know it can happen. But I also know the beauty of redirecting children and helping them understand what’s appropriate and not appropriate. If you show a child school is not a place for you, then you get socialized to believe that’s not a place for you.”

School principals, however, have expressed concerns about the state mandating how schools deal with discipline problems without providing additional funding to support those alternative methods. “You don’t just get suspended: something’s happening,” said Roger Aronson, legal and legislative counsel for the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association. “I do think the needs of kids of poverty, homeless, that are coming from abuse, broken families — that stuff comes to school and their needs for dealing with that are really huge. We just don’t have the resources to do anything. I understand there’s frustration with that in those settings. How do we work on that?”

While there are models schools can adopt, Aronson said, they cost money schools don’t currently have. “We need that commitment,” he said. “We have no counselors. We are understaffed on assistant principals.”

A mother’s mission

Days after testifying in support of suspension bill in the House, Idil Abdull sat in the audience of the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee on Monday, waiting for a chance to support Gov. Tim Walz’s student-discipline policy proposals.

The Walz administration’s proposals are included in the House education policy bill making its way through committees in that chamber. The Senate is also considering it. The legislation, HF 1711 and SF 2116, would require schools to follow non-exclusionary practices before resorting to suspensions or other exclusionary discipline. They also require more accountability and transparency with parents regarding a child’s discipline.


The date Abdull’s son, who’s 16 and has nonverbal autism, was suspended from his Bloomington school last year is seared into her memory. His teacher had disrupted his routine. In response, he was crying on the floor when she came into his classroom, wondering where he was, since his teacher hadn’t escorted him out to the car. The next day, she got an email from the principal saying her son was suspended for five days.

She was baffled, then angry. “It hurt me. It didn’t bother my kid — he doesn’t understand it,” she said. “These are the people I trusted with my most precious gift from God. He is more important to me than every organ in my body. He’s profoundly affected by this disorder.”

Her son now attends a charter school in Minneapolis and she spends a lot of time at the Capitol advocating for new school discipline policies, and she agrees with other advocates that special attention should be paid to how schools address behavior among their youngest students.

“What could they possibly do wrong that you want to teach them at that age that they’re not welcome in school?” she said.

Comments (53)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/22/2019 - 11:34 am.

    Yes, taking a child out of the classroom mars their relationship with learning. But the reason children are removed from the classroom is because their behavior is marring the learning of every child in the classroom.

    A few years ago under superintendent Silva, St. Paul schools addressed discipline disparities by essentially ending student discipline. The result, as witnessed by my kids, was sheer chaos. Schools became unsafe for students and teachers. The message was that there were no consequences for bad behavior. Fortunately, the school board was replaced and Silva was fired, and sanity was restored to St. Paul schools.

    I would like to reduce/eliminate suspensions. But the answer isn’t to take away the power of teachers and schools to run their classrooms. Why were the elementary school kids suspended? Why was the 16-year old suspended? I think you need to know these things before you change the rules.

    • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/22/2019 - 12:33 pm.

      Removing the threat of a suspension is not the same thing as saying there are no consequences for bad behavior, just that suspensions are an ineffective and damaging solution that do nothing whatsoever to teach children about appropriate classroom behavior.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/22/2019 - 01:39 pm.

        Having lived through it in St. Paul, you are completely wrong.

        And suspensions are very effective – for the vast majority of kids who don’t have to have their education and safety impaired by a very small group of kids who don’t behave. And removing suspensions for the offenders teaches them there are no real consequences. It leaves them free fo disrupt class, to bully other kids, to sexually harass teachers and other students, to grope (essentially sexually assault) girls. These are the kinds of “non-violent” actions that lead to suspensions, and that for a short, disaterous period in St. Paul schools went unpunished. My concern is that the fundamental right to an education for the kids actually there to learn not be taken away by the kids who aren’t.

        I’m not sure what fantasy

        • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/22/2019 - 03:54 pm.

          The real consequence of a suspension being you get to take a day off of school?

          Again, not having suspensions isn’t the same as not having consequences. The state is trying to encourage schools to implement other (less exclusionary) strategies to deal with these students. It sounds like St Paul didn’t do that, and that’s unfortunate.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:00 am.

          We’re talking about 4 year olds here. Put your bias aside here and explain the utility of suspending children who literally do not understand the process, nor in all likelihood remember the offense much past a couple hours after it occurred. Its apples to oranges with your experience.

          • Submitted by Payton Powell on 04/16/2019 - 04:27 pm.

            You must not know many 3-4 year olds, they are quite capable understanding the consequences of their actions. Stop making excuses.

  2. Submitted by cory johnson on 03/22/2019 - 11:36 am.

    Banning the suspension of disruptive kids should make for a wonderful environment in which to teach and learn.

  3. Submitted by lisa miller on 03/22/2019 - 11:46 am.

    Please do not pass this without adequate funding for mental health support for the kids and families. Teachers are not always trained in how to deescalate, they are there to teach. The other issue is if one kid hits another then there is liability. I agree it’s a good age to teach new behaviors, but it takes the parents and mental health support. Also when the student enrolls, that is the time to review with parents behaviors and what works, what is the plan–that is the whole point of an IEP.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 03/22/2019 - 12:00 pm.

    Typical over reaction by legislators. Please explain how keeping 2-3 trouble makers in a class room, totally disrupting the learning of 25 perfectly behaving children, makes any type of sense? I guess it’s better to have 28 kids not be able to learn rather than remove the 2-3 problems and have 25 kids be able to learn.
    Unintended consequences are the hallmark of politicians, here comes another.

    • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/22/2019 - 12:39 pm.

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting they leave disruptive students in the classroom without any intervention, just that schools/teachers will need to be more creative in developing behavior strategies that don’t exclude students from education they have the same fundamental right to as their peers.

      • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/22/2019 - 01:29 pm.

        You’re wrong. I have to agree with the conservatives on this case. I worked as a teacher, and students who ruin the classroom environment due to behavior should not be allowed to return to the classroom unless the issues are fixed. It’s not fair to the students who do the correct things everyday, and by trying to please everyone, behavior policies alienate everyone. To be clear, it’s only a small fraction of students who exhibit these behaviors, but they are a clear impediment to the learning environment.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/22/2019 - 01:54 pm.

          For the record, its not just conservatives. I’m not a conservative. I’m just someone who put kids through public schools in St. Paul. The teachers who ousted the school board and superintendent are not conservatives. They are just people – like you were – who deal with this on a daily basis.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/22/2019 - 01:50 pm.

        Completely wrong.

        You assume that suspensions are the first step. That there aren’t creative behavior strategies employed first. Seriously.

        Should schools have more resources to deal with troubled kids? Yes, but they don’t. If you want to fix this, spend more money. Allocate the resources. But don’t impose rules on how teachers do their jobs. When you have 30 kids to teach, I’m not sure what creative strategy you employ with the kid who calls the teacher a b***h and a c**t every day.

        This kind of policy comes up when people who are utterly clueless about what educating kids actually entails decide to get involved.

        • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/22/2019 - 04:21 pm.

          What does a suspension do to rebuild the relationship between a student and the teacher they’re calling names? How does a suspension help them understand that people care about them, have high expectations for them, and believe they can do better? Keep in mind that in this case we’re talking about 3/4 year olds with non-violent misbehaviors, not fully grown high school students.

          They’re taking one tool out of the toolbelt, hardly ‘telling teachers how to do their jobs’

          • Submitted by Payton Powell on 04/16/2019 - 04:32 pm.

            Rebuilding that relationship takes a long time and a lot of trust, most of the kids being suspended have a lot of things that affect them outside of school and their behavior won’t change any time soon because of that. Teachers barely have enough time as it is to teach to standards, let alone focus the time and energy needed to rebuild the relationship with one child. Unfortunately the needs of the many take precedence over the that of the individual. Coincidentally, this is precisely why I will not be sending my children to public school. I went to MPLS public schools K-12 and the chaos, disruption, and quality of learning was appalling because teachers simply couldn’t handle the kids causing trouble.

        • Submitted by Kamille Cheese on 03/24/2019 - 05:04 pm.

          I am not a teacher, but agree with you except on one point–spending more money. If the parents of the child causing frequent disruptions in the class want their child in the class, they need to find the solutions for their child, and bear any cost, if any. When I was in school, at all ages, if I got in trouble at school, you can bet I was in double trouble at home. That may not work for all, but it did for me and my siblings.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/25/2019 - 01:37 pm.

            The problem is that the kids who can’t behave are the ones who lack good family structure to prepare them for school and whose families lack money. Its all about poverty.

            • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/25/2019 - 02:37 pm.

              Yes and no. Poverty, in my experience in the classroom, has the strongest correlation to behavior. But schools and parents are partially to blame to. Schools have placed so much focus on pleasing students and parents at the expense of everything. We’ve forgotten that you earn an education, as opposed receive an education.

              Also, phones have had a very detrimental effect on students. Very few schools and administrators actually want to deal with the reality that phones (basically interruptions) impair student’s abilities to concentrate. Administrators opaquely, and quite conveniently, then say teachers need to design much more engaging lessons. As if good teaching can simply be reduced to the teacher entertaining students.

            • Submitted by Payton Powell on 04/16/2019 - 04:33 pm.

              So why should those who come to learn and have good families suffer because those that don’t refuse to?

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:25 am.

          Fairly certain most preschoolers don’t know those words, and if they do, certainly not in context.

      • Submitted by Tim Milner on 03/22/2019 - 02:44 pm.

        Joe – I see this argument all the time – “a fundamental right to …. ” In your case, it is to an educations. Hate to say this, bit I have become what jaded to that thinking.

        Because does not every fundamental right come with some level of personal responsibility in a society? It does not take much imagination to see where, using this education example, that my fundamental right to an education could be disrupted by your fundamental right to do whatever it is you want to do in the classroom while getting your education. Who’s right is going to be respected and whose right is not?

        I tire of the whole disparity argument when it comes to behavior. A disparity exists ONLY if a subset of students, who committed the exact same action after receiving the exact same instruction/warning, receive different consequences.

        A contrived example: Teach tells the 30 students they are not allowed to chew gum in class. 6 students do it for the 1st time – 1 black and 5 whites. All get detention. Is there a racial disparity here? No. All students who chewed gum got detention.

        Now If 6 students chew come but only the black child gets detention? Huge disparity.

        But having tried to drill down on the disparity data reported in my district, I have to tell you that it is impossible to know what the circumstances were that caused each suspension. All that you find is raw numbers – no circumstance. Without the circumstances, how do you know or not know that each student was truly treated the same? In that case, there is no disparity.

        There are very few studies that attempt to address this issue in an academic way. Unsurprising to me, the few that try indicate that students who have raised in families with an observable disciplinary structure have less disciplinary issues in schools. If there is some truth there, we need to consider seriously reallocating resources toward better parenting to skills to help solve this discipline issue.

        • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/22/2019 - 04:08 pm.

          I wouldn’t hold your breath for that kind of precision in behavior reporting; there are no apples to apples, only apples to oranges, but there is still a growing body of research that says we observe, report, and respond differently to behavior incidents involving non-white students:https://www.brookings.edu/research/disproportionality-in-student-discipline-connecting-policy-to-research/

        • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/22/2019 - 05:18 pm.

          To you’re bigger point about students’ fundamental rights to education…both the student who misbehaves and the students who dont need to have their rights respected. The system must be designed so that both have equal access or we do a disservice to those students and society in the long run. The state isn’t saying you have to keep them in the room, they’re just saying you can’t take the easy way out and send them home.

          Your suggestion that we ignore the rights of misbehaving students is pretty appalling. It’s irresponsible to suggest that the only way to educate well-behaved students is to ignore the educational needs of those that mis-behave.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:23 am.

          Should we be holding 4 year olds to your standard of “personal responsibility”. Do you think they even understand the concept? THAT is the issue at debate here, not your general feelings on school discipline issues.

  5. Submitted by Alan Straka on 03/22/2019 - 01:50 pm.

    Just wait for the lawsuits from parents against schools for failing to provide a safe learning environment for their children because of the coddling of troublemakers. Let’s hope no one gets injured as a result of this misguided policy.

  6. Submitted by tom kendrick on 03/22/2019 - 09:14 pm.

    Pat and Joe, you are both right. But the bottom line is, if someone is repeatedly disruptive, they need to be removed, for the rights of the other 95% of the students. OK, but what about the offender’s rights? That’s a good and fair question. But the teacher cannot both work on strengthening his/her relationship with the off-task student AND teach the rest of the students. We need more bodies in the schools to talk to that child and get them reoriented to a constructive attitude before they are returned to the classroom. But where does that money come from? You CANNOT ask teachers to add relationship-building AND teaching simultaneously to their schedules. Teachers need much more support. We are spread too thin.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/25/2019 - 01:53 pm.

      In a perfect world, schools would be funded sufficiently enough to provide that support. In a perfect world, the poverty that leads to the discipline issues gets addressed as well.

      Its not a perfect world. And this isn’t a substitute for that. Its triage. One kid doesn’t learn. Or 30 don’t. And the one kid doesn’t learn in any scenario.

  7. Submitted by James Scanlan on 03/23/2019 - 02:02 pm.

    Minnesota state policy on school discipline has long been informed by the belief that generally reducing discipline rate will tend to reduce (a) relative racial differences in discipline rates and (b) the proportion African Americans make up of disciplined students. In fact, exactly the opposite is the case. Generally reducing discipline rates tends to increase (a) and (b).

    Below are links to the letters of May 14, 2018 and August 27, 2018 attempting to explain this to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
    http://www.jpscanlan.com/images/Minnesota_Department_of_Human_Rights_May_14,_2018_.pdf
    http://jpscanlan.com/images/Minnesota_Department_of_Human_Rights_Aug._27,_2018_.pdf

    Disparities in preschool suspensions receive a lot of attention because the aforementioned (a) and (b) tend to be comparatively high in pre-school. That is because suspension are comparatively rare in preschool. See Table 8 of my “Race and Mortality Revisited,” Society (July/Aug. 2014) (easy to find online).

    I explained the principle fairly succinctly in this 2014 Star Tribune commentary.
    http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/244080771.html

    • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/25/2019 - 10:37 am.

      Yes, and? In the absence of more money to spend and a lack of agreement on what to spend it on, what do you suggest the state does?

      And maybe you addressed it somewhere (sorry, I didn’t read everything you linked thoroughly) but if you stop suspending pre-schoolers entirely the disproportionality disappears, doesn’t it? They will probably, to your point, disproportionally receive other discipline measures, but not suspensions.

  8. Submitted by James Baker on 03/24/2019 - 04:29 pm.

    Students who are highly and consistently oppositional typically have seriously unmet emotional needs, poor self-concept, may lack a sense of belonging and almost always are locked in a self-defeating abnormally high stress response. (According to the American Psychological Association “background” stress has increased for all populations, nationally, so there is an implication that schools which add yet more pressure to children and adults alike would be advised to implement school-wide stress reduction practices beginning and periodically throughout each school day.)

    Much has been written about the conditions of vulnerable students (1), which are typically, though not always, associated with low income and minority status (2, 3). Afflicted children can seldom just be “taught” academically while essential human needs are unacknowledged; they must be nurtured, socially cultivated and trained to manage their abnormal stress levels. Of course, children with these conditions seldom understand their situation objectively, so they can’t hold a mature conversation with adults in charge—instead, they act out.

    Most teachers cannot attend to this level of need on the spur of the moment. Teachers, too, vary in their temperaments, affective resources and knowledge of special needs children. Even with 20 students, let alone 25 or 30!, a second trained adult is essential in most highly diverse classrooms if learning opportunities can even hope to be optimized for all students.

    I have worked in many classrooms where just one or two of these children command a large proportion of the teacher’s time, wearing down everyone in the process.

    In general, U.S. p-12 has not evolved to adequately meet the neuro-developmental, emotional and social needs of vulnerable children. Looking ahead at demographics, that is going to need to change. Those children are tomorrow’s citizens, for better or worse.

    Philosophically, to meet Minnesota’s changing needs, the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development will need to fulfill the intent of the latter 2 words of its name.

    Is the University of Minnesota’s Child Development Institute represented in this discussion? They should be. Faculty there know this science. Establishing an electronic corpus callosum with Peik Hall would be a good beginning.

    The debate doesn’t end with early childhood education, but it must begin there. Attending to the developmental needs of the whole child might not actually be that difficult. For example an initiative at the University of Wisconsin seems to be an efficient way to help vulnerable children get off to a decent academic start (4).

    References

    1. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child:
    https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/

    2. Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey—birth cohort
    https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/2009-52DisparitiesELExecSumm.pdf

    3. Reardon, S., 2013:
    http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may13/vol70/num08/The-Widening-Income-Achievement-Gap.aspx

    4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150126124447.htm

    • Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/25/2019 - 10:41 am.

      All of this is helpful reading, but you didn’t say whether you support limiting schools ability to suspend preschoolers for non-violent offenses.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:20 am.

        Like what, pitching a fit because a classmate won’t share their toy? Forgetting to use the potty? I REALLY, think you all are far too deep in the weeds on this one. Frankly, I am baffled that suspension is even utilized at all. The fundamental PURPOSE of preschool is to acclimate children, especially those who might not be particularly “ready”, into a structured school environment in preparation for kindergarten(the name of my son’s even includes “school readiness”). Wouldn’t suspension be a fundamental abdication of that purpose?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/27/2019 - 02:53 pm.

          Seriously, do you really think that is what is going on? Have you been around preschool kids in an impoverished neighborhood? You have no idea what the reality really is.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/28/2019 - 09:56 am.

            Yes, I have. The reality is that it seems the experience of some, regarding older children, bleeds into their decision making regarding ever younger age groups. You cannot treat a 4 year old as you would even a 7 year old, and certainly not as you would a 15 year old. It’s just not realistic. At what point are you going to just give up entirely and start warehousing poor kids from birth, on the off hand chance they MIGHT be disruptive towards the perfect angels of the rich.

  9. Submitted by Mark Voth on 03/24/2019 - 11:46 pm.

    Much of this discussion has wandered away from the article’s focus on very young children. Supposedly, one goal of primary education (Pre-K to Grade 2 or 3) is to prepare children to be active participants in their own learning. At this age level it should be possible to both reduce/remove disruptions to other students and to build a positive relationship to learning for the disruptive student, without resorting to suspension.

    Many suspensions are the result of under-resourced primary schools, as Roger Aronson of the principals association pointed out. The principal is stuck with a disruptive student whom s/he returns to the parent because the school can’t deal with the problem. At first glance it may look like there are plenty of staff: the teacher, a principal, school psychologist, social worker, and special education staff. But this masks serious workload, training and structural issues. Primary grade teachers are generalists, typically with a BA, teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, some music, some art, etc. A good elementary principal is already overloaded with school leadership, administration, parent relationship management, finances, staffing, and relationships with maybe 300 to 1000 students and 50 to 200 staff; dealing with disruptive students has to fit in somewhere there. The social worker and psychologist help some but can have similarly have high on-going caseloads. Readers will already know that special education has been underfunded, and hence understaffed, from its very beginning in federal law; and disruptive students often don’t meet requirements for their services anyway (these requirements can take months or years to establish). Useful interventions on a moment-to-moment basis are not built into the system.

    I’m no expert on disruptive students, but there should be professionals who are. If they don’t exist already, they need to be developed. These would be specialists with a pediatrician’s level of training in treating the social, medical, psychological, and developmental problems disruptive children have; the problem might be in adapting to school, seeking attention more appropriately, managing their emotions, changing problem behaviors, accommodating to problems at home, social relationships with peers, etc. This is too much to expect of teachers and principals alone. One more assistant principal isn’t going to solve this. And it may take removing primary education from the model of stacking 15 – 25 students in front of one teacher for nine months.

    The variety and depth of specialization in medicine is staggering, and so is the training. Humans are complicated beings. But nearly all front-line jobs in education are entered with a simple BA degree. If we want better results we will need much higher levels of specialization here too. The quality of research at colleges of education does not have a stellar reputation. We should expect more from them. Maybe the new U president can help here.

    Ideally, by the end of third grade nearly all students would be prepared to take on some agency in the challenge of developing their own lives, of course with plenty of supportive adults around them. For instance, kids learn to read so they can read to learn. But right now around 1/3 of all Minnesota third graders are not reading at grade level, teachers of upper grades have too many disruptive or disaffected students, our prisons are full of men who can’t read, we’ve just gone through the scandal in the teaching of reading (https://www.apmreports.org/story/2018/09/10/hard-words-why-american-kids-arent-being-taught-to-read), and the lack of respect for education in our culture is way too high. By reassessing how we do primary education, maybe we can make it effective for more kids and cut down some related problems in our culture.

    But do we really need the legislature involved with this? Isn’t there a way to turn education into a self-modulating institution that demands high quality and high performance? And figures out a way to achieve them. Why do we need a law about disruptive students?

    Thanks to James Scanlan who pointed out that it helps to understand an oddity in the statistics of disparities. As the overall quality gets better on a measure, the disparity number may look worse, this even though the number lagging behind is falling.

  10. Submitted by Joe Schantz on 03/25/2019 - 10:12 am.

    Under this bill suspensions would still be allowed for violent offenses

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:13 am.

      Yeah, because there are a lot of homicidal 4 year olds out there, sheesh.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/27/2019 - 02:55 pm.

        Maybe not homicidal, but violent for sure. Again, there is a huge gap between perception and reality here.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/28/2019 - 09:59 am.

          Please detail for us the violence a four year old is capable of, that which is not easily addressed by the adult in the room.

          • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/29/2019 - 11:57 am.

            I gave the example in another comment. It was a five year old who put a couple kids in the hospital. When a teacher has 30 kids in a class, it can take a few seconds to intervene in a fight. Well, not a fight, just a large out-of-control kid assaulting his classmates.

  11. Submitted by James Baker on 03/25/2019 - 02:36 pm.

    Replying to Joe Schantz and Mark Voth:

    The narrow scope of the article sheds light on a major problem in p-12—failure to acknowledge and design for the complexity and sensitivities of the aspects of the human operating system that determine how well a child fits into a structured academic learning context.

    As Mark Voth suggests above, colleges of education generally don’t attempt to provide deep enough training to launch teachers to effectively deal with abnormal childhood behaviors. Some districts have expanded “wrap-around services” to provide this support and it seems to help. Teachers need to conduct academic lessons—and establishing warm relations with their students is an important influence on how eagerly students enjoin that transaction. But needy kids who are aggressively oppositional can overwhelm a teacher’s capacity for warmth and kindness. They need different services that most regular ed classrooms can’t provide.

    Mark Voth:
    “I’m no expert on disruptive students, but there should be professionals who are. If they don’t exist already, they need to be developed. These would be specialists with a pediatrician’s level of training in treating the social, medical, psychological, and developmental problems disruptive children have; the problem might be in adapting to school, seeking attention more appropriately, managing their emotions, changing problem behaviors, accommodating to problems at home, social relationships with peers, etc.”

    That, essentially is what I’m saying. This is the realm of upper level studies and research in the scientific field of child development. But this field isn’t integral with teacher education (in general, in the US; in Finland, maybe).

    Also mentioning the APM reading wars article, Mr. Voth asks, “Do we really need the legislature involved with this?” My answer is, they shouldn’t need to be: At the University of Minnesota (Mpls) the Institute of Child Development (1) is literally right across the street from the main CHED building and the scientific curriculum and findings of ICD could greatly enrich teacher preparation at CHED (not to mention the Learning Sciences, “educational psychology” building right around the corner). But colleges of education in general have shied away from deeper, more rigorous evidence based curricula on child development (including rigorous training in evidence based reading instruction). The need for greater depth and intricacy of training has long been apparent, but it isn’t being provided so, given the high stakes for society, it sure looks like it’s time for higher level pressure from the state legislature.

    The simple answer to the article’s question is: when a child is acting out in a way that is substantially distracting other students’ attention and interfering with teaching and/or anybody’s sense of safety, the child needs to be somewhere else.

    Unfortunately, rather than providing needed services to help the child to acclimate at least somewhat harmoniously to the classroom, the referral is often treated and perceived as punitive, sometimes with a demeaning comment. The effect on a child’s self-concept and feeling of belonging—both of which may well be compromised due to Adverse Childhood Experiences (2) and might be at the root of the opposition—as I wrote in my previous comment, can further turn off the child to schooling, setting off or abetting a vicious cycle of deteriorating relationships with authorities and academic interest.

    So, failure to identify what’s really going on with oppositional kids, and to implement the best corrective measures at that level, allows the system to continue to grapple with trying to treat symptoms that will never go away—and we end up “pushing” kids out of the formal education system, usually to no good outcomes for them or society.

    References:

    1. https://icd.umn.edu/
    2. https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/adverse-experiences

  12. Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:10 am.

    Interesting commentary, odd that quite nearly all of it was addressed to topics other than that presented in the piece. These are preschoolers, not high-schoolers, not middle-schoolers, not even elementary age children. While all of your concerns might be valid, do any of you HAVE a preschool aged child? I do. The idea that he might be suspended for behavior that is quite literally normal for his developmental stage (tantrums, screaming, defiance, and boundary pushing) is comical. You would literally be ending preschool education. What exactly is it that you think these kids are doing? Thankfully his preschool educators are far more versed in their craft, and far more patient than the peanut gallery.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/27/2019 - 10:56 am.

      Have you worked in urban schools? I have lots of colleagues who teach in elementary schools, and the violence, hitting, destruction is mind boggling. I didn’t believe it was possible at first, but it is. Clearly those students didn’t learn that behavior on the first day of kindergarten.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/27/2019 - 12:37 pm.

        Again, have you spent time around any preschoolers generally? I think far too many folks suffer from either an idealized notion of how children are supposed to behave (never having been parents), or harbor nostalgic visions of a misremembered past in which THEIR children were never THAT bad, believing the stories they hear to be evidence of some mass shift of behavior in kids TODAY that must be addressed. My son has hit kids, been hit, been bitten, ridiculed, ridiculed others, screamed at the teacher, thrown tantrums, jumped out line, been unruly at lunch, and made up fantastical stories to explain it all. So has EVERY OTHER KID in his class, as we were reassured by his teachers when we expressed our concern at conferences. It’s normal. Punishing children, particularly minority children, with suspension for normal behavior is beyond self-defeating, its lunacy.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/27/2019 - 01:26 pm.

          Matt, we’re taking across each other and not to each other. I’ll take my share of blame for that. I agree, it is troubling that a preschool student can be suspended, and while I don’t think suspending those students is conduscive, I’ve spent enough time in education to not be surprised by anything. I’m sure there are some, though I wish none, preschoolers for whom redirections are not enough. The causes for this are many, and we each can assign our own thoughts to that. However, I’ve seen behavior snowball through education, and by the time that student reaches high school, they’ve been enabled to act poorly, and as a result their behavior is detrimental to academic achievements.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/28/2019 - 10:33 am.

            That’s the rub, though. We aren’t talking about “after the behavior has had a chance to snowball through years of education” we are talking about the literal beginning. What us being said to these kids is that at age 4, they are beyond hope, beyond even being present to attempt to correct the behavior which has occurred. What the hell kind of a message is that? Who is anyone to decide that someone is irredeemable at age 4? I don’t think anyone is saying there shouldn’t be ANY discipline, just that this method does not make any sense, and that it is disproportionately applied to kids of lesser means, especially those that are minorities.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/27/2019 - 02:50 pm.

          I have. Because my kids were that age once too.

          The behavior we are talking about is not what every kid does. Its behavior that goes well beyond. That disrupts class for everyone. That puts other kids in danger. And, in response to your other comment, I have seen homicidal 4 year olds (kindergarten, so actually probably 5) – we had a kid who put a couple others in the hospital with concussions and broken bones. He got expelled from SPPS altogether.

          The idea here is that preschool kids are too little to cause these type of problems. And if that were truly the case, we wouldn’t suspending kids. Look, I get that you have no respect for teachers and don’t think they should be able to exercise judgment over behavior in their own classrooms. But I do.

          • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/28/2019 - 10:09 am.

            I have the utmost respect for teachers, but if the only way they see fit to deal with a literal toddler, and normal childhood behavior (unless you’d like to claim that the 67,000 preschoolers cited in the piece fall into your homicidal maniac category) is removal from educational opportunity, something needs to change. Suspension is used as discipline because its quick and easy, not because it’s the most appropriate approach, and NOT because the behavioral situation warrants it. I understand that it’s easier to pretend that every incident has the potential to turn into the ONE case you cited, it’s far easier to groups kids into good and bad, focus on the former and abandon the latter, it makes teaching easier no doubt. That ain’t the job.

            • Submitted by David Lundeen on 03/28/2019 - 03:50 pm.

              Thanks for sharing your views. I’ll make sure my kids are never in the same school or class with yours.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/29/2019 - 11:54 am.

              I cited one case because that is the only case I am aware of. My purpose for citing it was to explain just how wrong you were in claiming that very young children are not capable of violence.

              I don’t know the circumstances of the other suspensions, and neither fo you. That data isn’t available. You are assuming that the suspensions aren’t appropriate. I trust teachers to know what is ok and not ok in their classrooms and act accordingly. You really don’t respect teachers if you don’t think that and are simply tossing problem kids away because its easy.

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 03/29/2019 - 05:05 pm.

                You’re the one who called the situation “triage”. One of the basic aspects of such an approach is that taking the time to diagnose the appropriate disciplinary measures for every situation isn’t possible, thus making the most expedient choice the preferred one. Which is it? Are teachers so harried that they cannot possibly be expected to delve into the problems of each and every disruptive student, OR are they poring over each case to make the proper call as a last resort?

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