Class Disruption – One bad apple can spoil the bunch

I read this post by Clay Burell at Change.org this last night. After reading the post I decided to let my thoughts marinate for a while. Clay wrote on a study showing how detrimental a single disruptive student can hold back a whole class.

from Change.org:

Obviously, if Teacher A has one or more disruptive students in a class, and Teacher B doesn’t, this study suggests that the effects of the disruptors in Teacher A’s class will degrade their grades come test time – and lead to Teacher A being labeled a “bad teacher.” Teacher B, meanwhile, by the luck of the draw, will suffer no such handicapping come test time.

I wrote recently about the French film, The Class, which follows a class containing a disruptive student for months, and then shows the same class after that student had been expelled. The night and day difference in time-on-task and learning atmosphere is enough to make any democrat uncomfortable: we believe in equal education for all, yet a single troubled troublemaker can create unequal learning opportunities for his or her classmates, while the neighboring classrooms have no such handicap.

I had such a situation last year. A couple of students who, when they chose to come to class, sometimes came on time, sometimes with their course materials and homework, sometimes not. I finally decided to bar them from the class and send them to the principal’s office for the duration, until they decided they could get their act together. I’m not saying it’s the perfect solution, but it at least let me and the rest of the class learn in peace.

Wow! That was my first thought that night. This study totally turns a lot of what I believe on education reform on its ear. Those who read my blog know that I favor clear expectations and goals for teachers and students, accountability for those goals, and flexibility on how we get there. Literally one bad (maybe disruptive is a better word) apple CAN spoil the bunch.

If we base teacher, school, and district assessments on student testing (or grades) alone one disruptive student can skew scores dramatically. This “domino effect” as Ed Week put it can drop a whole classroom’s scores, sending out a damaging ripple. That ripple can hit everything from a teacher’s pay and or retention to a district’s funding or a school’s chances of being open.

Aside from it’s association with testing, how do we solve this issue so that the kids who want to learn can? Some schools have become almost afraid to discipline children. Of course there is some well placed fear behind this. The real threat of being gunned down or knifed still exists in some schools. Let’s continue with the assumption that this threat as been dealt with and the school is already safe in that respect.

What lasting consequences are there of disciplinary actions? Is detention really punishment? Having had a few in my school career I would say no. You do you homework, read a book, brood quietly for an hour or so. Then you go home. Big deal. And anything save a Saturday detention or a suspension did not follow you along.

To begin, we must be clear with students what behavior is expected and what will not be tollerated. The punishments for inappropirate behavoir must be clear as well. Exceptions should not be made and the same punishments should follow the crime each time disruption occurs.

Punishments must carry weight. I’m going months back to a subject I advocated for a solution, civics education. Community service should be a primary way to pay for disruption. That could be within the community at large, or the community of the school. This would serve a few purposes.

– Working in a community builds a sense of community. You are less likely to be disrespectful to your community when you have worked to keep it up.

– Others will see that you have broken the rules. Peer judgement is a huge factor to school age children. Few children will want their peers to see them being punished.

– You will get the community kept up. The improvements disciplined children are doing will help keep schools clean etc and encourage things to be kept up.

Is this a blanket solution? A magic discipline potion? No, I would never argue that about any reform. It is however a necessary step in the right direction.

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12 Responses

  1. heh. I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer and Marge are hauled into the school and are shown a diagram of the grades of students who sit in Bart’s immediate vicinity. In a set of concentric circles, grades go up as distance from the trouble-maker increases.

  2. heh. I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode in which Homer and Marge are hauled into the school and are shown a diagram of the grades of students who sit in Bart’s immediate vicinity. In a set of concentric circles, grades go up as distance from the trouble-maker increases.

  3. Someone needs to write the book “All I ever needed to know I learned from the Simpsons”

  4. Someone needs to write the book “All I ever needed to know I learned from the Simpsons”

  5. Now you’re starting to see some of what I was trying to tell you about why merit pay is unrealistic. Executing proper discipline/behavior management against the “bad apple” is not always an effective solution. In my 5 years of teaching experience, the “bad apple” is not always breaking the rules. Often, he/she just has a poor attitude, or has special needs that must be accounted for to the detriment of my ability to attend to the other students.

    Again, it’s all oversimplification. There might not be one “bad apple” in a certain classroom, but maybe there are three generally good kids who are shy or don’t work well with others. There goes my unit that centered around group projects. Maybe teacher A has a class in which five students miss a week of school because of a band trip, but teacher B has only one such student. Six people in Teacher A’s class (counting the teacher) now have to work significantly harder if they are to keep up with Teacher B’s class, which can pretty much continue as normal.

    Just to be clear: I’m not opposed to merit pay. I just consider it unrealistic because there’s no way for it to be fair in the reality we live in. Sort of like Libertarianism — yeah, the world might be a better place in a lot of ways if it looked like Libertarians want it to look, but how in the hell do you get to that point without nuclear holocaust or something?

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to write about this. Not enough people talk/think about education in depth.

  6. Now you’re starting to see some of what I was trying to tell you about why merit pay is unrealistic. Executing proper discipline/behavior management against the “bad apple” is not always an effective solution. In my 5 years of teaching experience, the “bad apple” is not always breaking the rules. Often, he/she just has a poor attitude, or has special needs that must be accounted for to the detriment of my ability to attend to the other students.

    Again, it’s all oversimplification. There might not be one “bad apple” in a certain classroom, but maybe there are three generally good kids who are shy or don’t work well with others. There goes my unit that centered around group projects. Maybe teacher A has a class in which five students miss a week of school because of a band trip, but teacher B has only one such student. Six people in Teacher A’s class (counting the teacher) now have to work significantly harder if they are to keep up with Teacher B’s class, which can pretty much continue as normal.

    Just to be clear: I’m not opposed to merit pay. I just consider it unrealistic because there’s no way for it to be fair in the reality we live in. Sort of like Libertarianism — yeah, the world might be a better place in a lot of ways if it looked like Libertarians want it to look, but how in the hell do you get to that point without nuclear holocaust or something?

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to write about this. Not enough people talk/think about education in depth.

  7. @chuck
    I’m starting to see the situation is far more complex than can really be solved by one measure. We can’t think that school is a factory line. Info in citizens out. There needs to be some outside the box thinking here.

    I’m not convinced Obama, Duncan, etc have it in them to approach the situation in this way. I like you, think there are ways so improve learning, use merit pay, etc. The execution at this point is just all wrong.

    It’s like Lee at Gettysburg. Everyone is telling him you know if we just packed up and flanked these guys they will leave their HIGHLY DEFENSIBLE POSITION. Lee just says, “naw let’s just cross miles of open ground and march straight up that darn hill.

    Check out this study Daily Kos just post on merit pay: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/5/14/731612/-New-StudyMerit-Pay-does-NOT-work

  8. @chuck
    I’m starting to see the situation is far more complex than can really be solved by one measure. We can’t think that school is a factory line. Info in citizens out. There needs to be some outside the box thinking here.

    I’m not convinced Obama, Duncan, etc have it in them to approach the situation in this way. I like you, think there are ways so improve learning, use merit pay, etc. The execution at this point is just all wrong.

    It’s like Lee at Gettysburg. Everyone is telling him you know if we just packed up and flanked these guys they will leave their HIGHLY DEFENSIBLE POSITION. Lee just says, “naw let’s just cross miles of open ground and march straight up that darn hill.

    Check out this study Daily Kos just post on merit pay: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/5/14/731612/-New-StudyMerit-Pay-does-NOT-work

  9. Can’t see the whole link.

  10. Can’t see the whole link.

  11. Let’s try this
    dail kos merit pay

  12. Let’s try this
    dail kos merit pay

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