Steve Murley: Well, I’ll pull back, I’ll do kind of a 50,000-foot view, which is, and having spent seventeen years in Wisconsin before I came here, it’s not an anomaly in Iowa City. This is something that you’re seeing across the country. PBIS [our district’s behavioral rewards program] was an initiative with the State Department of Public Instruction in Wisconsin and it’s an initiative with the Department of Education here in Iowa so, it – I don’t think it’s a – it’s not a Hoover issue, it’s not an Iowa City issue, I think it’s an issue you see that’s systemic across the country, and I think that the reason you see it out there, from my exposure in Wisconsin and down here in Iowa, is it is in response to issues that have been brought forward at the state level by concerns about whether behavior is an impediment to learning. That is, are incidents in the classroom arising to a level that is making it difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn?Full context here.
CL: Meaning that the behavior is worse than in previous years?
CL: Is there some limit, though, to what you can do as far as behavior goes?
SM: Oh sure, when you look at, between the time that a child is born and the time that a child turns eighteen, they spend probably twelve per cent of their time in public schools; they spend eight-eight per cent of their time somewhere else. And so, when you look at it from that standpoint, and I again, I’ll go from – I have more experience with the implementation piece in Wisconsin than I do here, because they went through the process of selecting it here when I wasn’t here, so it’s difficult for me to speak to that – but I know in Wisconsin, when they looked at PBIS, one of the things that they looked at are issues that do affect us here in Iowa City, and that I think you see in many urbanized centers, which is a significant change in stability and mobility – that is, there are more kids moving in and out of your district and more kids moving from school to school in the district, and part of the underlying theoretical background of PBIS is to provide more uniformity from classroom to classroom in a school, and from school to school within a district, and from district to district within a state, so that there is more commonality than differentiation as kids move from building to building. Right or wrong, that’s the underlying theoretical basis of that.
The superintendent thus takes his place in the centuries-long line of people complaining about how kids today are so much more ill-behaved than the generation before them. If we were to believe every generation that made that complaint, we would conclude that by now all children must be serial killers.
What has changed recently: the nature of children, or the nature of our educational policies? If the kids aren’t meeting the school’s expectations, is it possible there’s something wrong with the expectations, and not with the kids? Is it possible that No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on raising standardized test scores is forcing our schools to make unrealistic demands on children? Is it possible that kids are acting out because of the way the schools are treating them?
Don’t expect school officials to consider those possibilities. Yeah, sure, under No Child Left Behind, school is increasingly about preparing for and taking standardized tests, and school personnel are more and more stressed out and fearful for their jobs, and the kids’ behavior is scrutinized and managed like never before, and recess has been cut to a minimum (when it’s not withheld entirely as a punishment), and lunch is down to fifteen minutes or less. But if the kids are acting out, it must be because children are different now, or because their “stability and mobility” has changed, or because their families aren’t teaching them the proper respect.
I’d be acting out, too, if I had to sit through school today.