Toki Middle School gives evidence to any negative notion one may have about the condition of the Madison Public Schools under its new discipline policy. I spent the year there as a special education assistant, and witnessed daily the failures of this policy, which was first implemented this past school year. The Behavior Education Plan is intended to keep students in the classroom — learning — by reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. But the result is that classrooms are out of control, and so very little learning can take place. Teachers can't teach when they're constantly dealing with behavior problems. Toki is on its knees, and if things don’t change it will soon be on its back.When a paid-up member of the education establishment suggests the new policy is enabling dysfunction, perhaps people will pay attention.
Toki is not a bad school because it has bad kids. Our aim should not be to blame the students, but to protect them. The students are not the reason a school fails; they’re the ones damaged by its failure. Toki’s students are suffering from a lack of boundaries. Kids who are already in trouble — or moving steadily toward it — are learning that their actions do not have consequences.What's either disturbing or, in a perverse way, amusing, is that the young hellions know enough about proper behavior to recognize that they're being enabled.
There are so many fights, so many kids skipping class and running around the halls (and we know the success of a school can be judged by its hallways), that most bad behavior is overlooked. Bad behavior is the norm. And so the conduct of these students is only occasionally addressed at all.
You won’t hear a Toki student say, “You better stop; a teacher’s coming.” It doesn’t matter that a teacher’s coming; there’s nothing the teacher can do.
Toki’s atmosphere is tense with violence. When young people in crisis are in a place with no control, no discipline and no consequences, violence does happen. I believe that if things don’t change soon, fatal violence will occur in that building. This is a dramatic statement, but not an exaggerated one.
I asked a number of students at Toki, students who were regularly behaving very poorly, what they were going to do when they left Toki, when they could no longer get away with everything. They told me they would be better when they weren't at Toki. They said they acted the way they did at school because they knew they could. These students will be as good as we expect them to be, and we're doing them a disservice, preparing them only for failure, when we allow what is bad in them to choke out what is good in them. We must provide boundaries. We must teach them, lovingly and graciously, that actions have consequences. If we really believe they are capable of goodness, then we must hold them to that standard.I hope the author is right. More likely, we're seeing the future cohorts of flash-mobs rampaging through malls in training.
Madison's Capital Times investigates the school system's indiscipline policies. The fingerprints of Pacific Educational [c.q.] Group or some similar foolishness are present.
Reflecting a national trend, the Madison School District revamped its discipline policy to move away from “zero tolerance” policies in an effort to stop practices that pulled too many students out of the classroom. A disproportionate number of those students suspended and expelled were African-American.Those are the good intentions. The outcomes, not so much.
The new discipline policy emphasizes fostering emotional growth instead of punishment. The policy prescribes a series of progressive “time-out” procedures, which critics say does not stop problem behavior.
“It’s important we don’t divorce schools’ instructional work from the work they are doing to respond to student behavior –they go hand in hand,” she said. “The more students are engaged in high quality instruction that is relevant to their daily lives, the fewer problems we have.
Toki principal Nicole Schaefer said she has been working toward a less punitive method of dealing with behavior issues since taking the reins of the school eight years ago, so adoption of the new plan district-wide did not mean big changes at her school.That's the spin from the office. In the halls, there's a different reality.
Some teaching veterans say the relationship between students and their teachers has changed dramatically in recent years.It's Madison, though, and there are people not yet prepared to be mugged by reality.
That’s what Marguerite Ward, who worked as a special education assistant at Toki for 23 years before retiring this year, said she observed.
“I can’t even explain how it deteriorated so badly,” Ward said. “When I first started, no student even thought of swearing at an adult. When I left, it was a common everyday occurrence and nothing ever happened.”
Ward said that the response to misbehavior at Toki changed when Schaefer became principal, and consequences for misbehavior are no longer sufficient.
“It’s very unrealistic not to have consequences. It leaves kids really unprepared for the real world, where if you come in late every day you lose your job, and if you swear at your boss, you lose your job,” Ward said.
At least some students have noticed a difference in the classroom environment this year. Angie Hubbard, president of the Toki PTA, reported that her 8th-grade daughter asked her why some kids were allowed to disrespect the class and teacher by using their phones without consequences, like having to leave the room.Elsewhere around the school system, there are some success stories, and some genuinely scary behavior.
“I think she felt the school didn't have enough money to do something about them. She ultimately felt sorry for those kids because she felt they were not going to do well in high school,” Hubbard said. “I am happy she wasn't influenced by their behavior as she may have been if she were younger.”