As readers of this blog know, I’m concerned about what these discipline and behavior policies are teaching the kids, and about how they’re affecting the kids’ experience of school. Are the kids learning unquestioning compliance with authority? Are they learning mindless conformity to the “expectations” of those around them? Are they learning not to think for themselves about right and wrong? Are they learning that the reason to be well-behaved is to get material rewards? Are they learning that good behavior is about acquisitiveness and competition with their classmates? Are they internalizing increasingly authoritarian values? Are they learning that “being good” in school is primarily about being quiet and obedient? Are they experiencing school as the place where their behavior is constantly scrutinized, judged, and micromanaged? Are they learning to scrutinize, judge, and micromanage the behavior of their classmates? Are they learning that there is no sphere of life that the authorities cannot rightfully monitor and manage? Are they learning that it’s okay to punish everyone whenever it’s too hard to sort out the innocent from the guilty? Are they learning that it’s their job to monitor and report on the misbehavior of their friends and classmates? Are they learning that education is a chore that no one would engage in without constant coercion and manipulation? Are they learning that school is a big drag?
Nowadays, school policies are often defended as being “evidence-based,” so I wanted to know whether the district is assessing all of the effects of these policies, or just their effects on test scores and the rate of office referrals. In my view, adopting a policy based entirely on the assessment of one or two effects is like prescribing a drug without having any idea what the side effects are. So in my Q&A with the district administrators, I asked about how these policies would be assessed:
CL: Well, how are you going to assess whether it [PBIS] is working?Full context here.
Superintendent Steve Murley: They’re doing the same thing here that they were doing in Wisconsin, which is gathering data. We send lots of data to the state –
CL: What’s the data measuring?
SM: Well, it’s purportedly supposed to measure incidents that arise to a level at which some type of action is taken by the school.
CL: Where’s the measurement of whether that has any effect on learning?
SM: Well, again, at the state level, their intent is to gather those and then to do the correlations with the state-level test data, and –
CL: Test data is going to be all it is?
SM: That’s, that’s what they work with.
CL: Is there going to be any attempt to assess attitudes toward learning as a result of changes like this?
SM: There is in Iowa, though I don’t know that they’re going to do the correlational analysis with it, and that’s – we do the Iowa Youth Survey, and that’s designed to gather information about the climate of the school and how kids feel about the time that they spend in school. I don’t know if they’re making, if they’re doing that correlational inference with, with that data.
CL: Is there any attempt to assess what effect is has on things like curiosity, skepticism, skepticism toward what they’re told, the ability to think for themselves – You’re shaking your head no, just for the record –
SM: No, no.
CL: Doesn’t that concern anybody?
SM: Oh sure, but they don’t do a very good job measuring those things in general, so there’s, there’s –
CL: But it seems like those are what people’s objections are. If you don’t measure the objections, how can you assess the program?
SM: Understood. Again, I look at it – my goal is to tell you what I understand about what they’re doing at it from the state level, and the assessments they have available to them are the Iowa assessments, and –
CL: But –
SM: I guess I would argue that they don’t, they don’t measure skepticism and curiosity and some of those types of things.
CL: I would argue that too.
. . .
CL: I guess I’m still wondering how you will assess whether these changes in discipline and behavior and all that are solving more problems than they are causing. I’m just not sure how that’s going to get examined.
SM: Those kinds of research are tough to do in schools. And one of the reasons they’re difficult to do is we don’t do controlled experimentation. We don’t do something here and not there, and so it can be very difficult for us to actually assess causation. Sometimes the best we can do is correlation, and in some cases we can’t even do that.
CL: Well, I agree with what [Assistant Superintendent] Becky [Furlong] said, that that’s what judgment is for. But this focus on numbers, numbers, numbers seems to be a recipe for ignoring judgment.
SM: And depending on what the numbers are, some of that comes to us as part of our mandated state reporting process.
The upshot: Nobody cares. The district has adopted increasingly harsh, intrusive, infantilizing, and authoritarian behavior management and discipline policies. No one is making any effort to assess the full effects of those policies on the children. The district doesn’t care. The school board members don’t care. The state legislators don’t care. The Governor doesn’t care. And so on. Everyone is busily going about doing whatever they are told to do by higher authorities without raising any difficult questions, and teaching the children to do likewise.