There are many reasons why schools are persistently failing, but when students find out there are no consequences for their behavior, teachers cannot possibly teach their subject matter (“An Education Horror Show,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 8). The latest example is Providence, where only 5 percent of eight-graders on average scored proficient in math between the 2015 and 2017 school years. That compares with 21.3 percent in Newark, where students have similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
In fact, the longer that students remain in Providence schools, the lower their performance drops, according to a 93-page report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. Why that is so will be the source of heated debates in the months ahead. But I submit that the lack of discipline is the No. 1 factor. Students in Providence schools terrorize teachers in ways that are shocking. For example, one teacher was choked by a student in front of the entire class and yet that student was not expelled.
I attribute the situation to the student-rights revolution of the 1960s that effectively undermined the concept of in loco parentis. When I started teaching in 1964, teachers were authority figures. Students who misbehaved were subject to suspensions and expulsion, depending on the severity of their behavior. But once the U.S. Supreme Court held in Goss v. Lopez in 1975 that students had the right to due process, the authority of teachers was severely crippled. It was further weakened in 1976 when the high court decided in Wood v. Strickland that if teachers knowingly violated students’ due-process rights, they could be held personally liable for financial damages.
I’m not saying that factors outside of school have not contributed to the present situation. But without order, teachers cannot possibly teach their subject matter. I see little hope for things changing in this regard because reformers persist in blaming racism for the failure of students to learn.
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