Tuesday, September 27, 2011

School board chair: Rewards are unnecessary gimmicks

Our school board tonight elected Marla Swesey, the top vote-getter in the recent school board election, as its new chair. In response to my candidate questionnaire, Swesey, who was a teacher here for twenty-six years, had this to say about using rewards in school:
I have never been a believer of stickers or prizes used to reward students for good work or behavior. Students should be motivated to feel the intrinsic worth of doing a good job on their schoolwork or doing a good deed. Students are capable of feeling pride in their accomplishments without prizes. Students are naturally curious and should get excited about learning without all the gimmicks. There are times when classes need to celebrate in some way for accomplishments or great deeds that the class achieves. But these celebrations would not be done on a regular basis.
Yes, she did go on to say that “this is not a decision for the school board to make but it certainly can be a discussion with the Superintendent so that he can pass on the discussion with the school principals, who in turn can discuss the issue with the teachers.” I think even that approach would be a step in the right direction. Not that long ago, it was probably true that the district itself had no policy about rewards, and the practice probably varied a lot from school to school and teacher to teacher. But I wonder if the new chair realizes that that’s no longer the case, and that the district is now requiring schools to use rewards extensively, and whether that would affect her conclusion about whether the board should have some say in the matter.

I won’t get my hopes up that anything will change, but nonetheless it’s nice to hear someone connected with the school system -- the school board chair, no less -- talking sense about the use of rewards in school.


Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Do you think that all stickers, prizes, and rewards should be banished? or just in some schools?

I ask because there are some kids who do not have ideal home lives. They are not as excited about learning as some of their peers. They are worried about being home alone because mom has to work and dad is in jail, worried about where their evening meal will come from, and worried about having a winter coat to wear now that it's getting colder outside. A growing number of kids in the ICCSD have those kinds of issues. When a kid is worried about that kind of stuff it is really hard to be motivated by the intrinsic worth of doing a good job in school. In an ideal situation, all kids would be intrinsically motivated. But in the real world, some kids need something extra to get them hooked on school. What do you suggest teachers and schools do for those kids?

My own kids attend a high poverty school in the district. They are intrinsically motivated to do well because my husband and I have instilled in them the value of education. But many of their friends are not so fortunate. They don't have 2-parent households, get meals outside of school, have help with their homework in the evenings, or get new clothes when they need them. Many of my children's friends are kids who respond well to initiatives like PBIS. I know that it helps them and there is research (both locally and nationally) to support PBIS. I also know that my kids will not lose their intrinsic motivation by receiving periodic rewards or exposure to PBIS in school. You can't remove their intrinsic motivation by giving them a sticker. It stays with them because we have taught them to value doing what is right. But not every kid has been taught that by his/her parents. I personally don't have a problem with something that does not harm my kids while helping many of their friends to see something of value in school. The temporary value they see may lead them to see a more permanent/intrinsic value some day.

FedUpMom said...

Actually, you can remove intrinsic motivation through rewards. Alfie Kohn has done a lot of work on this issue. Among other things, it's clear that giving kids grades makes them less interested in learning.

Chris said...

Jen -- Thanks for commenting! If I just thought that using rewards was unnecessary, but didn’t really do any harm, and might help some kids, I might feel differently about it. (Though I’d still wonder why we would use it on all kids, if most of them don’t need it.) But there’s a lot of reason to think that using material rewards is actually harmful, and maybe even especially to kids who don’t have as much support or as many resources at home and your kids and my kids may have. And though I’d like to think that my own kids are not affected by PBIS, I’m not actually so sure, and I really don’t like having to spend time and effort counteracting the bad messages they’re receiving at school all day long.

As I posted about at more length here, PBIS sends a lot of messages that I wouldn’t want to send to any kid, and models a way of interacting with people that I don’t think we should be modeling. I don’t doubt that something like PBIS can “work” to get kids to comply with rules and expectations in the short term, but I think we can’t just stop there -- after all, beating the kids might “work” to do that as well. I think we should be looking at all of the effects of any proposed practice, both short- and long-term, as well as at whether the practice is consistent with our own collective values.

We got into a similar discussion in the comments to this post. My feeling is that PBIS, and its corresponding over-emphasis on obedience and compliance with rules, presents a picture of what school is about that does a disservice to any kid. You and I may be able to counteract that picture, and model intellectual engagement and enjoyment, at home. The kid whose parents are less engaged, or whose parents work two shifts, or whose parents just don’t emphasize or model intellectual enjoyment, is just that much more likely to learn from PBIS that school is drudgery that you would only endure if you’re paid to. This isn’t going to get them hooked on school; it’s going to get them hooked on the toys and candy that the school holds out as what’s really desirable.

(continued in the next comment)

Chris said...

We’re constantly being told that PBIS is supported by empirical research, but the people who are telling us this never seem to actually cite any research, and seem just to be repeating what they were told by someone higher up in the school hierarchy. This seems like a good opportunity to model the kind of critical thinking we hope our kids will be able to do some day when they read claims about what “studies show.” I’d love to take a look at some of the studies that are being used as the basis of those assertions. What are they using as measures of success? What alternative approaches are they comparing PBIS to? What long-term consequences are they measuring? What long-term consequences aren’t they measuring?

As FedUpMom points out, Alfie Kohn has written extensively about the use of rewards, and devotes a lot of space to reviewing empirical studies on the consequences of using rewards to “motivate” kids. I haven’t scrutinized the studies he cites, so I’m not in a position to say that he is definitely right or wrong. But his writing certainly raises a lot of concerns that I don’t think can be disregarded just because someone asserts that PBIS has been “proven to work,” or even cites an empirical study in its favor. Any evaluation of the consequences of PBIS would have to take into account all of the research, both pro and con, and would not be nearly as simple an exercise as people seem to be portraying it to be.

A good way to get a sense of some of the arguments Kohn is making is here. Among his conclusions:

“The implications of this analysis and these data are troubling. If the question is ‘Do rewards motivate students?’, the answer is, ‘Absolutely: they motivate students to get rewards.’ Unfortunately, that sort of motivation often comes at the expense of interest in, and excellence at, whatever they are doing. What is required, then, is nothing short of a transformation of our schools.

First, classroom management programs that rely on rewards and consequences ought to be avoided by any educator who wants students to take responsibility for their own (and others’) behavior--and by any educator who places internalization of positive values ahead of mindless obedience. The alternative to bribes and threats is to work toward creating a caring community whose members solve problems collaboratively and decide together how they want their classroom to be (DeVries & Zan, 1994; Solomon et al., 1992).”

I’m sure it’s true that some kids start school with less intrinsic motivation than others. But it does seem like wishful thinking to suggest that dangling external rewards in front of them will somehow help them develop intrinsic motivation. Instead, it sounds more like a way of writing off the possibility that those kids are capable of intrinsic motivation at all -- of giving up on them, all for the sake of maximizing compliance with school rules and cutting down on office referrals.

PBIS treats kids like nothing more than a collection of behaviors that can be triggered by various external stimuli. Rather than try to get the kids’ compliance by offering material rewards, I’d like to see the schools trying to engage their minds on the subject of right and wrong and how to treat other people -- reasoning with them about why they should or shouldn’t act in certain ways, and not just dictating answers but actually listening to what they have to say. I think that is probably similar to what Kohn means by developing a caring and collaborative community. To me that would be much more consistent with the schools’ educational purpose, even if it might take longer and even if we had to tolerate a little more disorder in the meantime.

Suburban Chicken Farmer said...

It sure oughtta motivate um! "Your Daddy's in the pokey, winter's comin- act right and you'll collect enough stickers to make a coat out of!" Just think how jealous all the other poor kids will be when they see your kickass positive behavior sticker coat. Maybe you can line it with toilet paper from the girl's washroom. But shhh, be careful.... that's not what was taught during the proper bathroom procedures lesson.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Thanks for your response, Chris. You raise some very interesting points that lead to a lot of thoughts...hope you can bear with me here! You seem very passionate in your views and I don't expect that any amount of research, data, or classroom experience will change your mind about the use of PBIS in schools. But I do hope that you can maybe understand a little bit of a different perspective from me. I too have thought long and hard about PBIS, and won't tell you that I blindly subscribe to it because some higher ups mandated the curriculum. Here are my thoughts:

First, here is some data from the National Association of School Psychologists. NASP looked at all studies published about PBS after IDEA '97 recommended that schools implement a system of behavioral supports for students with disabilities. Many studies were completed and then reviewed by NASP. Data showed that in more than half of the studies completed across the country, schools using PBS saw a 90% reduction of behavioral problems for both students with and without disabilities. (See the fact sheet here: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/pbs_fs.aspx) There is a lot more data available on the Safe and Civil Schools site and at PBIS.org that includes similar statistics in urban, suburban and rural school districts.

In our society, we have a framework of laws that establish the parameters of acceptable behavior. We have a common language to discuss those laws. Most laws do not limit a citizen's ability to collaborate with their community or to be a creative thinker. They simply set some structural boundaries. PBIS aims to do the same in schools. It gives staff and students a clear picture of expectations--a framework within which to work.

As far as the reward system--it too reflects the real world. You yourself have blogged that you cannot homeschool your children because of your job. Do you work your job only for intrinsically motivated reasons? Or does the lure of a paycheck have something to do with it? We are all externally motivated. Even Alfie Kohn--who was a keynoter at a conference sponsored by the IAAE (an education organization in which I am a board member.) He is very driven by the lure of monetary reward and refused to collaborate with a room full of educators out of any intrinsic sense of duty to help kids or schools improve. He was a very expensive speaker to procure, and he had some interesting/expensive demands regarding compensation for his appearance.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Schools cannot pay students monetarily for attending, but they can offer them things of value (a kind word, a pat on the back, a treat or trinket, recognition at an assembly or in a school-wide announcement.) These rewards are part of life in the adult world. It is why we go to work, get paid, and buy things ( like treats, trinkets, and trips, etc.)

I've been teaching for 15 years. You blogged that teachers with experience should be trusted sometimes even if they don't have the data to prove that their experience is correct. My experience tells me that the most effective practices in the classroom are those that mirror the real world. In the real world, there are behavioral expectations in the community at-large and on the job. Employers give each employee a handbook that outlines those expectations, and if you meet them you not only keep your job, but you may even get raises, your name on a plaque, or recognition in an employee newsletter. In the real world, we are rewarded for our work. Does your paycheck interfere with your ability to think creatively or to collaborate with your community? Does your employer's expectations for your attendance/performance diminish your ability to learn? In my own case, I can assure you that my paycheck allows me to do more collaboration and creative thinking, because I am not worried about providing my family with basic needs. I collaborate with my community, am an active citizen, and model for my children what their school also tries to model- that hard work earns rewards; that choosing to meet certain behavioral expectations keeps me safe; that if I continue to behave as expected (showing up to work on time, not breaking the law, etc.) I am able to keep earning those rewards.

The goal of PBIS is to offer structure, common expectations, and a system of rewards that mirrors the real world. Maybe that is not how PBIS is being enacted at your children's school...but it is the goal of the program overall, and the reason why it is considered a solid, research-based practice by many, many educators across the country. I would encourage you to look into whether or not PBIS at your school is being carried out with integrity to the original program. If staff is not adhering to the research-based practices with integrity, they will not have the same results. I don't know much about how the ICCSD has trained staff in use of the program. Like everything else in the district, implementation of programming seems to vary from school to school. At the school my children attend, implementation has been pretty uniform and staff seem very well-trained and consistent in their approach to PBIS. This is the start of their 5th year as a PBIS school and they are just starting to look at data to judge the effectiveness of the program. They have definitely seen a reduction in the number of office referrals and disciplinary actions--which is one of the primary reasons to implement PBIS. I'll be looking at end-of-year data with interest, to see if outcomes are similar to the data collected nation-wide (avg. of 50% reduction in disciplinary referrals in schools with PBIS.)

Chris said...

Jen -- Thanks again for commenting. I’m glad to finally have someone making some articulate arguments in defense of PBIS here in the comments. I’m not sure I can respond to all of your points right away (this blog tends to move at a glacial pace), but here are some of my initial thoughts.

Would any amount of research, data, or classroom experience change my mind about PBIS? Well, if the data showed conclusively that my kids would end up as crack addicts without PBIS, I’d sign on. Whether social science is ever going to be capable of measuring the things about school that I most care about, though, is another question. If it isn’t, I don’t take that to be a comment on my stubbornness; I take it to be a limitation of social science.

I’m perfectly willing to believe that PBIS may result in fewer office referrals and disciplinary actions. My problem is that I’m concerned about many other possible effects. Would you say that you would favor PBIS as long as it shown to decrease office referrals and disciplinary actions, no matter what other effects it might have on the kids, in either the short- or long-term? If not, then how can you be satisfied with research that is so narrowly focused?

The use of candy as a reward provides a good comparison. If evidence showed that it reduced disciplinary referrals, would anyone argue that we should go all candy, all the time? In that scenario, I assume virtually everyone would want to know about the other effects the practice might have. Why doesn’t the same logic apply to rewards more generally?

Then there is the question of values. Instituting corporal punishment might also lead to fewer office referrals; that can’t be the end of the analysis, can it? Many of my objections to PBIS are based on my feeling that it is a dehumanizing, objectifying way to treat children, one that models values that I don’t want my kids to learn. Its potential for reducing office referrals does not outweigh that concern for me.

(continued in the next comment)

Chris said...

(continued from previous comment)

I have to admit, your arguments about the parallel between employment and school are escaping me. Because Alfie Kohn won’t do unpaid work for you, we somehow know that rewards are not harmful to kids’ intrinsic motivation? If he caved in when you threatened him with physical violence, would that prove the rightness of corporal punishment?

As far as I know, no one, not even Alfie Kohn, denies that rewards can increase short-term compliance. It is their other effects, including their effects on kids’ intrinsic motivation, that we’re concerned about. When I raise that concern, PBIS’s defenders, who are always asserting how “evidence-based” the program is, seem to leave evidence far behind. Why?

I do think that a teacher’s experience is a valuable thing to consider. But, of course, there are teachers who dislike PBIS, too. We have no way of knowing how teachers, on the whole, feel about PBIS, since many would understandably hesitate to speak up against a program that their employers are requiring them to use. It does seem, though, that the rise of PBIS has coincided with the decline of teachers’ influence over educational policy. (And for what it’s worth, I’ve been teaching law school students for twelve years, and I’ve found that the less I emphasize grades, the better they learn.)

For all the focus on evidence, I suspect that the main difference between you and me is not our assessment of the data, but our educational values and philosophies. I would prefer a school that tried to engage the students’ minds on the subject of right and wrong, and that encouraged them to think for themselves about how to act, rather than one that tries to achieve a high level of rule-obedience by dangling material rewards in front of them. To me, encouraging a thoughtful and autonomous approach to one’s interactions with other people is of the essence of education, and is not worth sacrificing just to get disciplinary referrals down.

There’s no way to prove that my values are right and yours wrong, but that doesn’t mean that every invocation of values should be a conversation-stopper. Let’s keep talking about it.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Chris, this is a great discussion! First, we don't share dissimilar values. I want my children, my students, and all children to think for themselves, too. My own classroom teaching has one overall goal--getting my students to question authority (mine, the medias's, their parents, etc.) But I want them to know that if the thinking they do for themselves leads to being late for work every day they won't have a job. That's a reality. You have to be at work to earn your pay. There are behavioral expectations that supply the structure for our learning. I don't give them candy (nor is that the only reward in my kids' school. They get name recognition during announcements, they get hugs, pats on the back, and awards at monthly assemblies. They also feel good about making good choices. In fact, at their school, teachers rarely give candy for PBIS related things...only for homework completion...and that's another story.)

Before PBIS in schools, not meeting a behavioral expectation meant one thing--an office referral. Students would either be sent home or forced to sit in the office missing instructional time. Here is the fact in ICCSD (and other school districts across the nation): a disproportionate number of minority students were (and still are) receiving office referrals, detentions, and suspensions. There is a direct correlation between ethnicity and poverty at schools in the ICCSD enrollment report for 2010-11 (on the website). There is a direct correlation between poverty the likelihood of going to college, which is also related to future earning power. Ethnicity data show that there is a rather large achievement gap in schools in the ICCSD (not on the website, have to ask at each individual school for DRA data that is disaggregated by ethnicity) between the number of white students who are proficient and the number of minority students who are proficient. Limited as social science is, researchers believe that when a minority student is in the office for a behavioral issue and missing instructional time, that may lead to lower achievement. The same goes for students in special education--who are also disproportionately minority students both nation-wide and in the ICCSD. PBIS was designed after IDEA '97 was passed, mandating that all students in special education receive clear instruction on behavioral expectations. PBIS has one purpose--not to dangle carrots, not to threaten corporal punishment or to ruin kids' creative thinking skills. It is to reduce office referrals. That goal came about because most of office referrals were (still are) affecting students of color who are poor, causing them to lose instruction time. The loss of instructional time is creating a permanent underclass in the US. The Census data shows that by 2042 white folks will be the minority. Social scientists worry about a future where the majority of our nation's adults are less-educated and have a history of being disproportionately punished (both in school and in the penal system.) That's the BIG picture of PBIS. I am married to a black man. My children are biracial. In the long-term I don't know whether PBIS will harm them, but I suspect that it can't harm them any more than the institutionalized racism of our society--a society that will look at them and see them as black and thus judge them more likely to commit crimes than white folks, and less likely to achieve than white folks. PBIS aims to keep kids with disabilities and kids of color in the classroom learning so that they can begin to close the achievement gap. Overwhelming amounts of research says that it is good at meeting its purpose. When I see a white man argue so much against it, I worry that there is more than just a disagreement in our values about teaching and student collaboration. I worry that there is a definite difference in how much we value difference in people.

Chris said...

Commenter Doris has been trying without success (curse you, Blogspot!) to post the following comment, so I'll post it here for her:

Hi, Jen. I'm enjoying reading your posts on PBIS. I just have a question. Would you be willing to concede that PBIS might raise stress levels for some children? Here's why I ask:

Two years ago, when PBIS was first introduced at the school our younger daughter used to attend, she came home on the second day of school pleading with us to let her leave. Previously she had adored this school. She said that the school seemed "different"; all the teachers and staff talked about was "rules"; she felt like she was being "watched all the time"; she said it was stressful feeling like she "needed to be good all the time."

Seriously--this was our introduction to PBIS, a program that previously we had never heard of. Eventually she adjusted, sort of, but only after numerous visits with the guidance counselor and some trips to a private psychologist to develop strategies to deal with what is probably best described as PBIS-induced anxiety-attacks. There were, I'll concede, a couple of other factors at play in her distress, but the introduction of PBIS played a significant role.

Should that kind of outcome not be counted as a "cost" and weighed against the benefits you describe of a "reduction in disciplinary referrals"? The whole ordeal certainly took a toll in our household--and especially on our child.


Chris said...

As far as the idea that PBIS has a “solid research base,” here’s what I’m seeing. You start with some empirical support for the idea that PBIS reduces office referrals as compared to the exact same kind of school without PBIS. After combining that with a series of non-empirically-based assumptions about the long-term effect of having fewer office referrals, and disregarding other effects that it may or may not be having on kids’ attitude toward school, toward learning, toward authority, and toward themselves, you then conclude that PBIS’s overall effects are positive. That doesn’t strike me as very scientific.

You mention that you don’t use corporal punishment or candy as part of PBIS. But I raised those as hypotheticals. The question is, why don’t you use them, if you think reducing office referrals is the paramount concern? If you’ve concluded that disciplinary referrals have such a negative long-term effect on kids (and especially on minority kids), aren’t you disadvantaging those kids by not using every tool at your disposal to reduce office referrals? But of course few people would defend using corporal punishment or candy in that way. Isn’t that because you, too, are concerned with all the effects of a given practice, not just its effect on office referrals?

Those hypotheticals aren’t that outlandish. On the theory that what kids really need, to get jobs as adults, is a heavy dose of discipline, people have been proposing boot-camp style schools and even publicly created military academies, and those schools have been largely focused on poor, heavily minority, urban areas. Does questioning that trend really mean that I don’t value differences among people? Isn’t it possible to see that trend as not entirely beneficial to poor and minority kids? If our school system’s main goal becomes to produce quiet, obedient worker bees (or soldiers) who do whatever they’re told by their superiors and never rock the boat, is that really a victory for poor and minority kids?

Does it really benefit minority kids, or any kids, to teach them to do whatever is expected of them by the people around them? Or to teach them that their moral decisions should be driven by whatever is most likely to lead to material gain? I think you do kids a great disservice by teaching those things. (I am not a parent of minority children, but I do have three girls, and the idea that they’re being taught to do whatever is expected of them, or whatever will get them material gain, bothers me a lot. It is exactly the attitude I don’t want them bringing into their teenage years.) Moreover, it’s disrespectful. Again, it seems like a form of writing “some kids” off as incapable of engaging in real moral reasoning -- as incapable of ever being considerate of other people out of a genuine empathy for others or any sense of reciprocity or fairness.

(continued in the next comment)

Chris said...

You will probably say, We teach those things, too. But the two approaches are opposites. You can’t simultaneously say, “Think for yourself” and “Always do as you’re told.” You can’t simultaneously say, “You should do what’s right, even if you have to pay a price for it” and “You should decide what to do based on whether you get a reward.” You can’t simultaneously say, “I believe in you and in your ability to make good decisions” and “I know you won’t treat other people well unless I give you a prize.” Those are contradictory messages. Are you really so confident about which of those messages is winning out?

If you conclude that teaching obedience is the most important thing, because otherwise you’re afraid the kids won’t be able to get and hold jobs, that’s certainly a possible value choice. But I think you’d be deceiving yourself if you didn’t think that it comes with a cost, in terms of other values. That’s why I continue to think that our disagreement is primarily one over values, not data.

As for the fact that I’m white, are you contending that there are no black people who disagree with you? If not, then it just seems like an ad hominem argument. Would the same arguments I am making suddenly become more right or wrong if they were spoken by a black person or member of another minority?

Karen W said...

For those interested in looking at the numbers, proficiency data is available at http://www.iowaschoolprofiles.com/

You can create reports at the district or building level, although results are unavailable for groups with fewer than ten students in them.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Why is it all or nothing? Why is it that if you think creatively you cannot behave appropriately? I do not understand the logic in that thinking. In society there are laws to keep people safe. Laws set behavioral expectations. We are expected to drive the speed limit. Does driving the speed limit infringe on your ability to think creatively?

There are rules in my classroom. I ask my students not to call each other names. To come to class on time. Not to throw things at each other. As long as they meet those behavioral expectations, they have freedom to direct their own learning (and I mean they direct their own learning! I teach in an alternative high school program where SDL is the norm.) But if we don't have those clear behavioral expectations, then learning can't happen because we are dealing with kids who damage property and damage each other. Maybe they should know better than to call each other derogatory names, throw things, or vandalize property...but many of them don't. They need to learn that stuff first so that we can focus on things that require higher level thinking. Not everyone has parents at home who can devote time to what many consider "givens" when it comes to behavioral choices.

This is not hypothetical or outlandish. This is reality for MANY students in the ICCSD. My daughter's best friend is a girl who's dad is in jail for stealing. He stole because he was trying to feed his family after losing his job. Her mom works 2 fast food jobs. She tries hard to provide for her 3 kids, and is working for a better life but she isn't always there to supervise her kids. She can't help them with homework or attend school events. She can't advocate for her kids or blog about her frustrations. She can't monitor their behavior at school or follow through on concerns their teachers express because if she misses work they won't get to eat dinner at night or on the weekends. Parents are role models, right? What kind of messages are the kids in that family receiving about behavioral expectations? At home--not many.
That mom needs help to teach her kids behavioral expectations. It is NOT about blindly following anything! That is not PBIS! It is about making sure that kids learn basic behaviors that are expected in school. Your kids and my kids learn those expectations at home. They learn to wash their hands properly, that it is rude to talk when someone else is talking, and that there is a difference between inside voices and outside voices. Not all kids do, though. Maybe your school doesn't have kids who need clearer expectations set. Maybe they are all familiar with appropriate behavior and don't need additional structure. In my neighborhood there are elementary students who don't have that kind of support at home. They need someone to teach them that behavioral choices have consequences. I'd rather they learn that behaving well gets them a reward than learn that stealing will land them in jail. AGAIN: I do not want them to blindly follow anything! But they need to know that some behaviors are unacceptable.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

In football, there are rules to the game. As long as you follow the rules you still get to play. You can run any variety of creative plays that you can think of! But you have to follow the rules of the game. THAT is all PBIS is. Making sure everyone knows the rules of the game. If PBIS at Hoover involves staff ridiculing students, making them suffer from anxiety, and giving them candy all the time, then there is A HUGE problem there. That is not what it's supposed to be about. It is about making sure everyone knows the rules to the game so that they have the freedom to feel safe and comfortable enough to learn, think, and create. Don't you have to know what morals are before you can do moral reasoning? At elementary school we're not talking about teaching kids, "If your teacher says go rob a bank, you should do it because you have to respect authority." They are talking about teaching kids to do things that you and I learned from our parents--engage in polite conversation, wash your hands, don't call each other names. It is NOT blind obedience. It is learning the rules of the game called school--because not every kid is as lucky as yours and mine to have anyone at home to teach them those rules. In my own classroom, there are h.s. students who's parents never graduated from high school. They can't teach their kids how to succeed because they never learned how to do it themselves.

And AGAIN: PBIS is not supposed to be all about candy and material gain. Does Hoover give voice recognition to kids who do nice things for each other? Do you have assemblies where kids get recognized for being good citizens? That is what PBIS is about. Recognizing people who do good things instead of punishing those who do bad.

Based on what you and others say here about PBIS at your school, it sounds like they are not following the curriculum with integrity. Candy for behavior? Not part of PBIS. Making kids feel badly for not knowing the rules? NOT part of PBIS. IF there are no kids there who need clearer behavioral expectations and IF everyone is getting the kind of support at home that makes school a comfortable and safe learning environment for EVERY student, then you shouldn't have PBIS there. It is unnecessary and I wish you the best in having it removed from your building. Not every kid is as fortunate as those who attend your school.

Chris said...

Jen -- Am running out the door. Our basic disagreement seems to be whether you are, in fact, teaching authoritarian values to the children, and undermining their intrinsic motivation to learn, by using PBIS. You think you're not; I think you are. But your argument on that point is based entirely on your intuitions, and not on empirical evidence of any kind. Why does that not bother you? And why are so unconcerned about actual empirical evidence that (at least arguably) indicates that rewards do *in fact* reduce intrinsic motivation (of the kind discussed extensively by Alfie Kohn)?

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

PBIS is not just about rewards. I see our main difference in point of view as being that you focus on the rewards part of PBIS and not on the goals of the program as a whole. It is not a program designed solely for giving out rewards. It's purpose is to give every child knowledge of behavioral expectations.

IF I focus on the narrow topic that you are focusing on, I can tell you that there is plenty of scientific research stating that reward is a better option than punishment, which is how schools usually deal with kids who don't meet behavioral expectations.

"In children of eight and nine, these areas of the brain react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback." http://bit.ly/qVliry.

"when both options are available, reward leads to increased contributions and payoff, whereas punishment has no effect on contributions and leads to lower payoff." --http://bit.ly/rsJbUe

This study http://bit.ly/oS3S1R is specifically about the problem of punishment in urban schools with low-income students: Detention/suspension vs. recognition for positive contribution.

"Here, using an implicit motor learning task, we show that reward leads to enhancement of learning in human subjects, whereas punishment is associated only with improvement in motor performance." http://bit.ly/pdNGgl

Classroom management that works: research-based strategies for every teacher By Robert J. Marzano, Jana S. Marzano, Debra Pickering --> This is a book that discusses and quotes Alfie Kohn, who coincidentally also is against punishment.

Kohn is against both punishment and reward. Do you know: has he come up with a plan for educating our children that uses something different? Does he have suggestions for how to do things better? Or does he just tell everyone what they're doing wrong? When I saw him speak in person he lacked any constructive ideas. He is very focused on what is wrong with the both the past system and the current system, with no advice about how to make things better in the future.

Let's come up with a plan that decreases the achievement gap, creates an atmosphere where all students are cognizant of behavioral expectations, where all students feel safe and comfortable in their learning environments AND there are no rewards or punishments. What would that look like? How would it work? PBIS is supposed to do all of that, but it uses rewards. The only alternative in schools to this date is to use punishment for the same purpose, and punishment doesn't work. It doesn't stop misbehavior, it doesn't close the achievement gap, and it doesn't create safe/comfortable learning environments. So help me brainstorm--what program will meet the same goals as PBIS without the rewards?

Chris said...

Jen -- I looked at the research that you linked to, and I have to say I was underwhelmed. None of those articles (as far as I can tell from the abstracts; some of the articles are behind paywalls) are making any claims about the long-term consequences -- on learning or anything else -- of using rewards or of putting disproportionate emphasis on obedience. Moreover, why does citing four studies relieve you of the burden of considering the research on the other side?

When I said that your arguments were based on intuitions rather than evidence, I didn’t actually mean that in a negative way. I think there lots of valuable ways to think about policy choices that don’t involve empirical evidence, and that are actually more useful, given the limitations of social science. I’m happy to talk more about them, but first I wonder if we could agree that there are (at best) gaping holes in the empirical evidence on the effects of PBIS -- both on its use of rewards and on its emphasis on obedience.

Specifically, would you agree that there is insufficient (if any) empirical data on:

1. Whether PBIS, even if used as intended, will make children less able, or less likely, to think critically about the environments in which they find themselves, over the long term?

2. Whether PBIS will make children less likely to speak up and challenge authority figures later in life?

3. Whether PBIS impairs the development of kids’ moral reasoning over the long term?

4. Whether PBIS will make kids more likely to dislike school, over the long term?

5. Whether PBIS will make kids more likely to be susceptible to peer pressure, over the long term?

6. Whether PBIS, will make children more likely to be materialistic and/or less generous over the long term?

7. Whether PBIS makes school more stressful for kids who would otherwise have been well-behaved anyway?

8. Whether PBIS will make children more likely to support authoritarian social policies as adults?

9. Whether PBIS will make children less likely to participate in democratic self-governance as adults?

10. Whether PBIS will make children more likely to treat other people instrumentally, over the long term?

11. Whether PBIS will negatively affect children’s self-confidence and/or self-worth over time?

12. Whether PBIS has any empirical advantages over more collaborative, less authoritarian teaching styles such as those described here, or here, or here?

Again, I’m happy to move on and discuss the other arguments you are making about PBIS, but I think it’s important to distinguish between empirical arguments and non-empirical arguments.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

1. There is a 6th grade boy in my neighborhood whom I've seen wandering the streets at night on and off since he was in 2nd grade. By wandering, I mean wandering--without parental supervision. He has spent some time in my house and in the homes of other neighborhood moms. We all talk to him, feed him, and try to model acceptable/familial behavior. This boy has a history of behavioral problems at school, and in the homes he visits. I suspect (but have no proof) that when my son's xbox was stolen on a night that our back door was unlocked, it was this boy who took it. Yesterday, I pulled into my driveway with a van-load of groceries. This same boy offered to help me carry them in. He trudged up my stairs with arms laden a couple of times. After thanking him, my first thought was, "I wonder if they recognize kids for being good citizens outside of school?" I am going to ask. That boy has received a lot of negative attention from parent, peers, and other adults. I think it would be great to see him recognized for something good. reading student's names over the intercom for being good citizens is the kind of thing they do at our neighborhood school for PBIS. That recognition is a reward for making a positive behavioral choice.

2. Last year I volunteered at our school carnival and was asked to supervise the dunk tank. An attractive first-year teacher was in the tank and almost every 5th and 6th grade boy in the building lined up to see her get soaked. The line was huge and I was by myself taking tickets, handing out softballs, and running after the balls that ricocheted out into the yard. A third grade boy, whom I know spends a lot of time in the behavior focus room, volunteered to help. He asked me what he could do to make it easier for me, and then he did an excellent job of helping me keep the line moving. When my shift ended, I sought out a staff member and told her that he should be recognized for being such a great help to me. Everyone (except, perhaps, the teacher in the dunk tank) enjoyed the carnival more during that time because of his help. His name was read on the intercom (his PBIS reward) for being a good citizen.

There is nothing that you or Alfie Kohn can say that will make me believe that those rewards, those moments of recognition for positive behavioral choices, will damage those boys. Nothing. So I think we're going to have to agree to disagree here, Chris and leave it at that.

Incidentally, here is what School-Wide PBS publishes as their explanation of being research-based. http://bit.ly/nz108l The document probably won't prove anything to you or Alfie Kohn, but you can at least see why the ICCSD has invested time and money in the program. In our community of highly educated citizens, they cannot just implement a program without the research to show that it is worthwhile. It serves a specific purpose. And you think that its methodology harms kids. I don't. Thanks for the interesting conversation! I am always excited to have a civil conversation, but I have to get back to my life and stop obsessing about PBIS.

Karen W said...

Jen--the plan you're looking for might be Montessori. Classroom management involves, clear expectations, redirection, and modeling of appropriate behavior by the teacher and the other students (in a multi-age classroom, only one-third of the children should be new to the classroom each year). Children don't get gold stars or candy for good behavior--they get a peaceful and orderly classroom and the privilege of directing their own work.

Chris said...

Well, early on you were making claims about how the empirical data support PBIS, and suggesting that perhaps no amount of data would convince me of its value. Now you're evading the question of whether there is empirical evidence on any of the questions that I identified, relying on anecdotes, and admitting that no amount of data will convince you that there's anything to be concerned about. Seems like we've come a long way.

I've always conceded that something like PBIS can work to increase short-term compliance with school rules, and so am perfectly willing to concede that it might reduce office referrals. But the issues I laid out in that previous comment are exactly the issues that people who dislike PBIS are concerned about. So I'll ask again: are you admitting that there is insufficient empirical evidence about the effect of PBIS on those issues?

FedUpMom said...

I couldn't get past this part of Jen Marshall Duncan's comment:

Last year I volunteered at our school carnival and was asked to supervise the dunk tank. An attractive first-year teacher was in the tank and almost every 5th and 6th grade boy in the building lined up to see her get soaked.

Violence against women much? Why does anyone think it's OK to encourage 5th and 6th grade boys to dunk an attractive young woman in a tank? Aren't our kids exposed to enough of this already?

Just shaking my head ... I wonder what the attractive young teacher thought about this experience.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Karen--I just looked at a few Montessori sites and I think you may be on to something! Montessori behavioral expectations are almost identical to those in PBIS, but they also use collaborative multi-age classrooms. Providing a safe and comfortable learning environment is the goal where everyone knows what's expected is the goal--just like PBIS, but no rewards. However, the sites I looked at said that children who fail to meet behavioral expectations would be removed, put in in-school or out-of school suspension. Getting away from punishment is why so many schools turned to PBIS. I'd be interested in seeing how well African-American and Hispanic children achieve in Montessori, since the achievement gap is the other reason schools widely implement PBIS. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing both the Montessori idea and the link to the state's proficiency data.

FedUpMom: I am not a fan of the dunk tank. Our PTO president last year considered removing it from the carnival, and we will seriously re-consider whether it returns this year. However, no one was forced to sit in it. The young teacher in the tank volunteered, as did 3 other teachers--2 of whom are male. The dunk tank was not meant to be the purpose of sharing my experience. I apologize if it distracted you.

KD said...


Jen Marshall Duncan has written an interesting blog post about PBIS on her blog.

She posted a picture of a PBIS assembly at her kids' school. I don't know that I am strongly against PBIS, but I can't really see the need to devote so much time to it that an assembly is needed.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

KD: Thanks for stopping by my blog. The assemblies at our school are held on one Friday a month, during the last 40 minutes or so of the day. Not much instruction happens in any classroom during that time on Fridays and the assembly is a really positive experience! Parents and community members are invited to attend to celebrate positive contributions of students to both school and community. They start with a 5 min. talk from a community member: a h.s. student who graduated from our school, a Hawkeye team, local fire fighters, librarians, staff from our local HyVee, etc. The speaker is always someone kids could run into in our neighborhood, helping them see ties between school and community. The speaker talks about the pillar of character that is the focus of the month--i.e. citizenship. They relate the concept of citizenship to the real world by telling or showing kids how they themselves are a good citizen, and why they think it's important in their job, in their life. After the speaker is done, 2 kids from each classroom are recognized for positive contributions to school. They walk up, receive a handshake, pats on the back, and either a certificate and a button, or a school-logo'd dogtag on a chain. In between the awards, tickets are drawn from a big box. Kids who were given tickets for being caught in the act of being a good citizen are randomly drawn and recognized again for their act of good citizenship. Those who are drawn are scheduled for a lunch date the following week, where they take their lunch to the conference room and eat with the community members who spoke. It is the opportunity to get some one on one time with a local role model, to interact positively with a community member (something that many kids in poverty never get to do outside of school.) They don't get an extended lunch. No instructional time is lost.

Todd Whitaker is an educational trainer who spoke at an inservice I attended a few years ago. One of his main points for teachers and principals is that in a class of 22 kids when one kid behaves badly and the teacher yells, ALL kids end up feeling badly. BUT when 17 kids behave well and the teacher recognizes the 17 who behave well by thanking them, only 5 may feel badly. Recognizing kids who do good things makes everyone feel good, makes the atmosphere at school feel good. Recognizing only those who cause problems makes everyone feel negatively about school. PBIS is supposed to accentuate the positive.

Please note that there was no candy in the PBIS assembly. There are trinkets: a certificate/button or a necklace with the school logo. They are not junk, though, they are prize possessions for both parents and kids, many of whom have never felt like winners or achievers before.

Chris said...

Jen -- Given that your own blog post is all about how you can’t understand how parents can object to PBIS because of all the empirical evidence in its favor, you do seem conspicuously silent when I ask whether there’s any empirical evidence on the things that parents might actually be concerned about. It seems fair to assume that there isn’t, until someone (you?) points some out. In any event, maybe this comment thread gives you some idea of what parents are legitimately concerned about -- not just for their own children, as you suggest, but for all children.

I still do not understand why, given your penchant for making empirical claims, you are not more concerned about the possible negative effects of focusing kids on rewards. If it is true that rewards lead people to value the reward and to devalue the thing being rewarded, and impair the development of intrinsic motivation, then PBIS’s use of rewards may be seriously harming the kids, including the struggling kids who you are most concerned about. You seem strangely incurious about that possibility.

It is sounding more and more like you are not actually interested in genuine empiricism (“There is nothing that you or Alfie Kohn can say that will make me believe that those rewards, those moments of recognition for positive behavioral choices, will damage those boys”), but just want to cloak your own preconceptions with the authority of empiricism.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

I am posting these a second time. You never responded to them.
-The NASP Fact Sheet I originally posted presents data collected from all published studies the conducted over a period of 15 years. It's findings:
"All students, both disabled and non-disabled, can benefit from PBS." No mention of damage. http://bit.ly/pZjdac
http://bit.ly/p1AY8Y This document lists about 100 studies completed using empirical research, including randomized studies and experimental designs. All show the effectiveness of PBIS (which uses rewards) Every study supports the use of PBIS.

I had to search to find empirical evidence that PBIS, specifically, harms or damages kids. This is the closest I could find:
Lepper MR and Henderlong J. 2000. Turning “play” into “work” and “work” into “play”: 25 years of research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. In C Sansone and JM Harackiewicz (eds), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

“The use of extrinsic rewards as a motivational strategy has spurred a persistent and heated debate in the literature (Sansone & Harackiewicz, 2000). Generally, humanistic motivation researchers argue that offering extrinsic rewards has detrimental effects on existing intrinsic motivation and is morally problematic (Kohn, 1993). Behaviorist researchers argue that offering extrinsic rewards has either negligible effects on intrinsic motivation or that it actually contributes to intrinsic motivation (Eisenberger & Cameron, 1996). What emerges from the research is that extrinsic rewards have no universal effect. Rather, the effect depends on the meaning of the reward to the child. Research also points to varying effects of different types of rewards and of different standards for their administration. For example, rewards that are expected, contingent on engagement or on task completion, and tangible are more likely to be detrimental to intrinsic motivation than rewards that are unexpected, not contingent, and intangible (e.g., verbal, social approval) (Lepper & Hender-long, 2000). More specifically, when positive rewards are perceived to provide valid information on student's competence—for example, performance-contingent rewards or feedback—they are likely to enhance intrinsic motivation. In contrast, when rewards are perceived as controlling and as suppressing the student's autonomy, they are likely to interfere with intrinsic motivation.”

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

(continued from above)

If you are willing to accept this as empirical evidence, then maybe you can finally agree to disagree...because it argues that in systems of reward, the result all depends on how the reward is offered and perceived.

If at your school, rewards are offered and perceived in a way that is controlling, suppressing, and anxiety-causing, they will damage kids. If they are offered to provide valid information on student’s competence, then they enhance intrinsic motivation. According to the posts here on your blog, PBIS is not implemented with fidelity to its research-based program. If the staff is not using the program with integrity it will not be successful. I am lucky that my children attend a school where staff uniformly support PBIS, are well-trained in applying the program with fidelity to its research-based methodology, and see a great positive impact. I say again, for the second time on your blog: if the staff at your school are not doing the same, I wish you luck in having it removed from your school. If you can’t get it removed, maybe you should consider moving across town! We have an excellent staff and a beautifully vibrant and diverse student body that is absolutely thriving on school-wide PBIS.

Lastly, I need to respond to your most recent comment. Specifically where you say, "I ask whether there’s any empirical evidence on the things that parents might actually be concerned about"

As a parent, your statement offends me. I think you talk about the things that YOU are concerned about. I repeatedly offer you empirical evidence about the things parents in my neighborhood are concerned about: the way PBIS overwhelmingly proves to be an effective way of closing a growing gap in achievement; the way PBIS is effective in ending a failing system of punishment; the way PBIS gives kids in poverty, kids with disabilities, and kids who are minorities a greater chance at success. Why are you not concerned about those things?

Chris said...

Jen – I can agree that there is research going both ways on the issue of how and when rewards affect intrinsic motivation. I haven’t read all the studies, and I suspect that you haven’t either, so I have no way of knowing which side’s arguments are actually supported by the data. But it is simply not empiricism to cite one study that supports your conclusion and act as if you have engaged in an empirical analysis. You haven’t; you are just repeating things you have been told (and just repeating the ones that you happen to like). Nor is it enough to quote a study saying that all kids "benefit" from PBIS, without scrutinizing the study's definition of "benefit," and examining whether the study sufficiently considered countervailing harms.

Moreover, where is the evidence on the twelve issues I identified in the comment above? Will you agree that there is none? If not, will you identify some, and explain how it bears on those questions? I’m looking at all the links you’re giving me, and I’m not seeing anything about those issues. Is it enough to say that it’s effective at its intended purpose (reducing office referrals)? Thalidomide was effective at its intended purpose.

There is nothing even arguably offensive about me saying that these are issues that “parents might actually be concerned about.” If you took it to mean that I don’t think parents would actually be concerned about the issues you’re raising, then I’m happy to clarify that that’s not what I meant. But your evidence simply does not show that PBIS “gives kids in poverty, kids with disabilities, and kids who are minorities a greater chance at success.” You think it shows that because you have convinced yourself that “reduced office referrals” is a fair proxy for “success,” but you haven’t demonstrated that empirically. It is a leap you are making based on the hypothesis that missing “instructional minutes” is the cause of later disparities in income. It may or may not be true, but science is a long way from being able to demonstrate the long-term effect of instructional minutes, especially given the number of other plausible hypotheses one could generate as to why growing up in poverty might affect wealth disparities in adulthood.

I can’t help but notice that you are hunting around for evidence to support your empirical claims after making them. That’s not a sign of empirically-driven thinking.

Earlier, I asked whether you would support PBIS as long as it shown to decrease office referrals and disciplinary actions, no matter what other effects it might have on the kids, in either the short- or long-term? It’s sounding like your answer is yes. That’s where we disagree, isn’t it?

Finally, I continue to think it’s strange that you characterize parents who disagree with you as reactionaries who are selfishly concerned only about their own kids at the expense of poor and minority kids. The arguments I’m making apply just as much -- if not more -- to disadvantaged kids as to every other kid. Not everyone agrees that what poor kids need is more and better obedience training.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

How is quoting a research study that I found and read on my own different from you quoting Alfie Kohn? Did you conduct that research on your own?

Reverse the wording on your 12 issues and provide your own proof: specifically, prove that PBIS does any of the damage you mention. Can you find any evidence from someone besides Alfie Kohn? His focus is on on the culture of reward rather than on PBIS. Do you have empirical evidence to support the notion that those 12 issues do in fact occur because of PBIS? If you can prove it, I will throw aside all of my personal experience as a student, worker, parent, and veteran teacher. I will ignore every last study and I will actively seek the removal of PBIS from the ICCSD.

I am not someone who just sits and complains--I have walked door to door for issues I believe in, spoken publicly at events, and written opinion pieces for the Press-Citizen about causes I believe in. Prove that PBIS is damaging and I will take up the cause. I don't want my kids hurt by praise. If praise damages them, then the praise must end. Please start with your own personal experience. Please tell me about the damage you have suffered as a result of being rewarded. Because as Alfie Kohn might say: a pat on the back is a dangerous thing.

Chris said...

Jen -- The difference is that I am not the one making empirical claims, and you are. I have been clear repeatedly that I haven't read the studies Kohn cites and so I don't know whether they show what he claims they show. You're the one making empirical claims, and I'm asking you to back them up, and so far you can't. So I think you should stop making them. Is that crazy?

I'm perfectly willing to admit that there is no empirical evidence bearing meaningfully on any of the twelve issues I've identified. But, as they say, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. For that reason, I would never say that PBIS has been proven beneficial by empirical data.

My objection throughout this thread is that it's wrong to say that "PBIS benefits kids," when you're considering only possible benefits and completely ignoring possible harms. Again, thalidomide had real benefits (still does, for cancer patients), but to say "taking thalidomide is beneficial" is so misleading as to be outright false.

Your idea of the burden of proof sounds crazy to me. So if I want to inflict some crazy new program on a school-full (or country-full) of kids, the burden is on the parents to prove that it's harmful, rather than on me to prove that it's beneficial? In any event, it's a long way from "PBIS is empirically proven to benefit kids" to "you can't conclusively prove that what I'm doing to kids is harmful."

In the end, I think you and I have two very different ideas about what it means to think critically about what you read and about other people's conclusions.

Chris said...

Doris has been trying to post this comment:

I have thoughts:

Jen, where I think I most fundamentally disagree with you is in your efforts to distinguish the “theory” of PBIS from the “practice” of its implementation. Your foundational assumption seems to be that the theory of PBIS is good, and therefore any practice that is not good or that has arguably bad effects (e.g., a child made anxious about the prospect of being under constant surveillance) is simply not PBIS. It seems to me that I could just as easily argue back that the theory of PBIS is bad, and therefore any good effects you see to result from it (enhancement of self-esteem of children from struggling families) is a result of your own deviation from PBIS in practice.

You sound like a wonderful teacher to me—because you care passionately about the well-being of your students, you get to know them as individuals, and you believe in their inherent value and potential. I don’t doubt that the exposure to PBIS, with its emphasis on celebrating children’s achievements instead of berating them for their perceived failings, has given you ideas for how to implement those humanistic values more consistently. But when you look at the PBIS website, it’s just as easy to derive ideas for how to manipulate children into doing what adults what them to do. In fact, I do tend to agree with Chris that it’s actually easier to do the latter because of the origins of PBIS in applied behaviorism. Most centrally, it is everywhere assumed on the PBIS website that teachers and staff know in advance what constitutes “positive” or “appropriate” behavior. The failure to question this assumption is a central reason, I would assume, why Chris decries PBIS as authoritarian.

And this takes me to a related issue that I really want to pursue: I gather from reading information from the Southern Poverty Law Center that one of the problems that PBIS is intended to help remedy is that of teacher bias: teachers disproportionately identify working class children of color as “special-needs” learners, and they also send them to the office on disciplinary matters in disproportionate numbers. I agree that this needs to change. It does no one any good if a child whose parents have not been able to provide a nurturing home life is conflated with a child whose neurological system, for example, has developed in an atypical fashion. (Granted, there can be some overlap in the sense that the lack of good-prenatal care, exposure to environmental toxins such as lead paint, and the consumption of a non-nutritious diet can have detrimental impacts on the neurological systems of young children.)

(continued in the next comment)

Chris said...

(this is the continuation of Doris's comment:)

It seems evident, though, that PBIS alone has not been considered sufficient to remedy this problem; hence, one recent development in the PBIS world is the integration of “Culturally Responsive Classroom Management” (CRCM) with PBIS. Here’s a link and a sample paragraph from an interesting article on this topic:

"Culturally Responsive Classroom Management (CRCM) is an approach to running classrooms with all children, [not simply for racial/ethnic minority children] in a culturally responsive way. More than a set of strategies or practices, CRCM is a pedagogical approach that guides the management decisions that teachers make. It is a natural extension of culturally responsive teaching which uses students’ backgrounds, rendering of social experiences, prior knowledge, and learning styles in daily lessons. Teachers, as culturally responsive classroom managers, recognize their biases and values and reflect on how these influence their expectations for behavior and their interactions with students as well as what learning looks like. They recognize that the goal of classroom management is not to achieve compliance or control but to provide all students with equitable opportunities for learning and they understand that CRCM is 'classroom management in the service of social justice'” (Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke and Curran 2004, p.27).

The article goes on to discuss ways of integrating CRCM with PBIS.
I’m still not convinced that you can actually integrate the two models, but it’s nice to know that people are out there exploring alternatives. For the time being, if the school district here is going to continue to use PBIS because “some children” are perceived by teachers and staff to need it, I think parents have a right to be notified that their child is one of those “some children”—and why. As I’ve said before, as a parent of a non-neurotypical child, I would want to know whether practices derived from PBIS were being inflicted on the entire school in her name.
What sorts of solutions would I support instead of PBIS? I’d like to see an end to trickle-up economics, the systematic redistribution of wealth downward through progressive tax policies, substantial increases in the minimum wage, a reversal of the privatization of public education, and on and on and on. I would also replace No Child Left Behind with something akin to No Child Pushed Ahead—which is to say I would heartily resist efforts to use public education as a battleground for fighting “proxy wars” around global economic issues.

Chris said...

Jen -- I agree with Doris’s point about what is and isn’t PBIS. It reminds me of products liability law, where there’s a concept called “foreseeable misuse.” The seller of a product can be liable even if the consumer’s injury is caused by his or her own misuse of the product, if that misuse is reasonably foreseeable. I think it makes perfect sense to apply that principle to the “ideal” PBIS versus the way that PBIS is likely to be implemented in fact.

The use of candy as a reward is a good example. Assuming that you’re right that the official PBIS program does not suggest the use of candy, is it really that surprising that my own school would end up giving away candy as a reward? You yourself haven’t yet explained why you have any objection to using candy in that way, and have said that you support rewards because they reduce disciplinary referrals. If a school concludes that candy would reduce disciplinary referrals even more, is it so surprising that they would use it? It follows from the very logic that you’ve supplied for using rewards in the first place (and from your unwillingness to consider countervailing harms).

Again, PBIS is obedience training, unaccompanied by any effort to encourage kids to think for themselves about right and wrong and how to treat other people. Calling the lottery drawings “ceremonies,” and the prizes “moments of recognition,” and unquestioning obedience “good citizenship,” doesn’t change the nature of the program. It may well be that it feels good to be rewarded for obedience, just like it may feel good to be given candy, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

You’ve said that you are also teaching the kids to be critical thinkers, etc. (which inspired me to post today’s cartoon). As a teacher myself, I know that what teachers think they are teaching, and what students are actually learning, are often two very different things. But in any event, teaching critical thinking plays absolutely no role in the PBIS program. How confident are you that all teachers in schools with PBIS are teaching critical thinking like you are? If you think that it is happening consistently in our schools, you are looking at a very different world than I am looking at.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

Doris: Thanks so much for your comment. Have you heard the term “treatment integrity” before? That’s what I’m talking about with reference to schools carrying out PBIS as it was intended. It is the same concept as in medicine: doctors know that antibiotics are effective in treating bacterial infections. A doctor can prescribe antibiotics to a patient, but if the patient doesn’t follow the treatment plan and actually take the antibiotics, then the bacterial infection will not be treated. Contrary to Chris’s assumptions about me, I have read studies on PBIS. There is more 15 years of research supporting a very specific implementation of the program. If it is not implemented with fidelity, it will not have the same results. It is not just theory into practice, it is practice into practice. Not following the program as it was intended will create different results.

I absolutely love your ideas for system-change and hope that we can replace PBIS with an education system that leaves the global economy out of it. Did you know that the Occupy Wall Street movement has made its way to Iowa City? Starting tomorrow there will be demonstrations downtown. I sincerely hope that the movement picks up and begins to affect the changes system-wide that you speak of so rightly. Have you seen the governor’s new blueprint for education? If it passes the legislature in January, there will be big change coming to Iowa--all based on global competition. Check it out here http://bit.ly/qplU3J if you haven’t seen it.

Chris: I had to LOL after your comment because I most definitely do not work in the same world as you or many other teachers. All of my 16+ years in education have been in alternative education. All of my experience comes from a non-traditional system and all of my colleagues are in that system. The school my children attend has a staff of many wonderful teachers who have similar experiences, styles, and outlooks to my own, because they work with a very similar population as I do. But I know that not all teachers think the same way.

I can tell you that if you are looking for a school for your kids that will individualize instruction, foster collaboration and creativity, and make sure that any rewards offered are not damaging then you should seriously consider sending them to an alternative high school! Tate, for example, is a wonderful school with an excellent staff. They establish individualized programs of study, collaborate both in the building and in the community, and work together to think creatively with their students. Alternative education is a truly collaborative process where students lead the way in their learning and teachers are really just facilitators. Tate is a free public school and it’s near your side of town, too! I can point you to loads of research about alternative education, but I suspect that you would not send your girls to Tate even though it has the kind of educational priorities that you seem to be looking for.

Chris said...

Jen -- There's one thing we can agree on: If everyone in the school system was as willing as you are to engage in this kind of discussion, the world would be a better place.

Doris said...

Hi, Jen--thanks for the info. Demonstrations downtown, huh? Maybe I'll see you there!

Doris said...

By the way, Chris, not only did I enjoy your analogy to products liability law, but it also reminded me of a related concept from torts: the "eggshell plaintiff". You take your victim as you find her. The people marketing PBIS should be responsible for how it impacts all children, including ones who are particularly susceptible to harm.

KD said...

I wasn't sure where to post this, but I remember this post where a commenter mentioned that a community member comes in and talks about ideas that might be tied into PBIS

Well apparently they must do this at our school more than I realized.

You'll never guess who the "community member" was.....it was Ronald McDonald, yeah I mean that Ronald McDonald.

I just can't believe school officials would think this was a good idea in any way, to take kids out of class for Ronald McDonald.

KD said...

I'm not sure if my original comment went through, so I apologize if this is a duplicate comment.

I wasn't sure where to post this, but I remembered a post where a commenter talks about having community members come in and speak during an assembly, and this is tied into PBIS.

You'll never guess what "community member" came into our school for an assembly. It was Ronald McDonald....yes that Ronald McDonald. I'm just floored that anyone thought this was a good idea, or questioned it.

Doris said...

KD: If my memory is correct, you are in IC and have a child or children at a school with a fairly high FRL rate, is that right? And they brought in Ronald McDonald? Wow. If you can provide any more details, I'd love to know more about who concocted the idea, what happened during the assembly, etc. Thanks!

Chris said...

Here (and here) are a couple of links promoting the idea of having Ronald McDonald visiting your school as part of PBIS. We are reassured that "there is no reference or mention of any of McDonald’s products," and that "the show is not an advertisement" -- as Ronald appears in his full recognizable costume, including the big Golden Arches logo on his chest. "The students will retain the educational information because it is delivered sugar coated from one of the most recognizable characters in the world… Ronald McDonald!" The education in our school is already "sugar-coated" enough . . .

Here's a link about "McTeacher Night at Hardeeville Elementary School" -- wait, won't that cause brand confusion? -- in which teachers "were ready to serve up burgers, fries and a shake from 5-8 p.m. to anyone who walked up to the counter in return for a portion of the proceeds for the school" -- also tied in with PBIS. (The money raised goes toward products that students can buy with their "Cane Bucks" that they get "through showcasing good behavior.") Ronald's appearance was the highlight.

And those are just from the first page of my Google results . . .

KD said...

Doris, you are correct about my children attending/have attended a higher FRL school. It was part of a bullying program...looking at the links Chris provided..it looks like Ronald must specialize in these. I think it was organized by the guidance department. My own hunch is that the program was organized without anyone questioning whether it was a good idea.

I was really surprised that our schools would need to look to McDonalds to help them with such a topic.

KD said...

Here is an email to parents about PBIS in action at SEJH. I hadn't heard anything about it lately, but I guess it is still going strong. Kids get SOAR tickets at school which I am presuming they could use at the store. Do school officials really think gum and suckers are huge motivators for junior high kid?

"Hello wonderful SEJH parents! In the near future, you will be hearing about some great feedback from our students about our efforts to connect with students. Part of our success is attributed to PBIS and SOAR, with the SOAR Store being a positive (and popular) addition since last year.

The SOAR Store is every other Friday during lunch. The next Store will be Friday, Jan. 27. We would love to have some parents join us to help in the Store and see the process in action. Just email Mr. Behnke at behnke.lonnie@iccsd.k12.ia.us if you would be willing.

We are also always looking for merchandise for the store. If you happen to have any Little Hawk items at home that you would be willing to donate or perhaps duplicate presents you have received, gift cards you won’t use, etc., we would put them to good use. We also have a drawing for staff to recognize their efforts as well. We are always looking for gum, suckers and fun school supplies. Your help or donations will greatly be appreciated!"

Chris said...

Ha -- "Always looking for gum and suckers" -- I'll have to save that up for a post title.

Don't even get me started on the creation of "school stores" to reward kids for their behavior. Do school and shopping really have to be so intertwined?

Doris said...

Thanks for the information, KD. Yes, I looked at the links Chris posted, too. That's the biggest load of b.s. I've seen in quite a long time. Commercial free programming. Right. IC school board members, are you out there? Please step in and put a stop to this kind of thing.