New research indicates suspending young boys doesn’t change their behavior

A new study out of the University of Michigan finds that kindergartners and first graders who are suspended from school are likely to be suspended again in elementary school.  The trends are especially elevated for African American male students and call into question the effectiveness of suspending young children in order to change future behavior.

Researcher Zibei Chen of the University of Michigan School of Social Work says suspensions in the first two years of school can begin a downward trend that is difficult to correct:  “Not only are children who are suspended at a young age missing out on time spent in early learning experiences, but they are also less likely to be referred to services and supports they need to thrive in later school years.”

Key findings of the study:

  • Boys rated by teachers as aggressive, defiant and disruptive are more likely to be suspended than girls. They are also less engaged in school.
  • Girls rated by teachers as disruptive and lacking in parental school involvement are more likely to be suspended.
  • Significant predictors of suspension in kindergarten and first grade also predicted suspension one and three years later.
  • Boys and African-American students are more likely to be suspended than girls and white and Hispanic students, respectively, the study indicated.


Researchers suggest that schools look at predictors of early elementary suspension and develop interventions to address them.

As Hurricane Florence approaches, Charlotte-area children get a real life lesson in empathy

emergency shelter, East Meck High School gymnasium

Yesterday I found myself, just like all the other teachers in my school, leading a monthly character lesson.  This one happened to be on empathy. My students and I talked about the novel Wonder and the importance of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those in need of support.  We discussed how we can make the world a better place through how we choose to treat others.  Students dutifully participated in the activity, but it felt very theoretical—probably because it was.

Just a few hours later, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced school closures for Thursday and Friday in response to the threat posed to North Carolina by Hurricane Florence.  The statement opened by saying “ Together, we can be the neighbors we teach our students to be.” It continued

Hurricane Florence has forced evacuations to emergency shelters and we must consider safety in new ways. CMS is proud to serve our state and region by opening several CMS school campuses as emergency shelters led by the Red Cross in partnership with other agencies. Emergency shelters opened today for evacuees at CMS high school campuses including East Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, Olympic and Ardrey Kell. Emergency shelters at additional schools may be opened.


These emergency shelters are staffed and provisioned by the Red Cross with support from partner agencies to meet shelter, medical, nutrition, comfort, safety and security needs. CMPD and CMS-PD are supporting shelters with officers, equipment and communications assistance.


CMS believes that supporting our neighbors in need is the right thing to do for our state, community and people affected by Hurricane Florence

Parent reactions to CMS’s decision were predictably mixed, with some praising the move but others choosing to see the issue only in terms of the personal inconvenience posed by unexpectedly having to take care of their own children:

This morning I took my son and daughter to East Meck High School under sunny blue skies to see shelter preparations first hand.  On the way there we talked about what 30+” of rain and winds over a hundred miles an hour can do to your home, of the destruction caused by storm surge and flash flooding, of the implications of living with no electricity or clean water for days on end.  

When we got to the high school, evacuees had just begun to trickle in.  In the gymnasium, dozens of cots with Red Cross blankets on them lined the floor in neat rows.  A handful of kids sat playing games and coloring at a table and a gentleman sat alone in the bleachers reading his Bible.  An enthusiastic group of volunteers stood ready to welcome some of the more than one million people expected to evacuate coastal areas of the Carolinas.  It was a powerful lesson for my kids in the importance of identifying with how others are feeling and providing support when we’re able to do so.

emergency shelter, East Meck High School gymnasium

I’ll grant you that there probably aren’t a lot of CMS students complaining about having some unexpected days off school, whatever the reason.  But let’s not miss the opportunity for them to learn an essential, real-life lesson. Our kids won’t learn to be the people we want them to be through hearing us talk.  They’ll learn it through watching our actions. And today I’m very proud of the actions that my school district and community are taking to provide help to those in need.

East Meck High School

Berger’s education claims are lipstick on a pig

As official public school test results were released this week, Senator Phil Berger sang the praises of North Carolina’s Republican legislature’s education policy.  The new batch of GOP campaign graphics he tweeted spoke of effective ‘major education reforms’ which have strengthened student literacy, among other things.

Time for a little fact checking.

Berger’s major education reform when it comes to literacy was the Read to Achieve initiative.  When Read to Achieve was passed in 2012, the legislation was intended to end social promotion and help 3rd graders avoid what Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger called the “economic death sentence” awaiting students who are unable to read proficiently. The initiative attempted to improve reading by increasing the volume of assessment in grades K-3 and ratcheting up the threats of retention, essentially punishing children for not being able to read well enough in early grades.  That’s not the approach an effective teacher would take. A good educator works to understand where the child is coming from and develop unique supports that best fit his or her individual circumstances. A good educator knows that punitive measures seldom result in long term success.

Take a look at how Berger’s education reform has really impacted student literacy:

Apart from a 0.1% increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, third grade reading proficiency in North Carolina has declined every single year since Read to Achieve was implemented and is down a whopping 5% overall, with last year’s test results showing the sharpest decline.

The data is clear that Berger’s Read to Achieve initiative has completely failed in its goal of strengthening student literacy.  It’s dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of North Carolina voters to claim otherwise in an effort to gain political support.

We’re two months away from the most important elections in recent memory, and Berger is opposed by Jen Mangrum, an educator with her own ‘major education reforms’ in mind.  Those reforms include substantial teacher pay raises, a reduction in the avalanche of standardized tests our children are subjected to as a result of Read to Achieve, and measuring school success in a fair and equitable manner.

Public education in North Carolina is in critical condition as a result of the GOP supermajority’s policies.   We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  And we need to hold our current leadership accountable for their failed policies, especially when they try to spin them as successes.

After all, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.


Senator Jen Mangrum would be a game changer for education in North Carolina

Jen at May 16 Rally for Respect in Raleigh (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Jen Mangrum, a UNC-Greensboro professor in teacher education and first time candidate for office who is running for the Senate seat currently held by the most powerful man in North Carolina–Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.  

Jen told me what makes her tick, what concerns her about trends in education in NC, and how Phil Berger’s rise to holding a virtual monopoly on political power has weakened democracy in our state.  I offer up much of our conversation here in the hopes that it will be useful as North Carolina voters educate themselves ahead of our most critical election in years.

Jen always knew she wanted to be a teacher.  She was raised by two educators–her mom was a kindergarten teacher who taught Jen through her example to be ready to stand up for what you believe in.  Early in her career she fought for female teachers to have the right to wear pants to work since she often found herself sitting on the floor with her students.  Another time, there was a child in the community named Buddy who had cerebral palsy, and the school’s administration didn’t want to place him in a mainstream classroom because of the difficulty dealing with his special needs.  Jen’s mom fought for him to be allowed to be part of her class. He was admitted and later became a pediatrician.

Jen’s father was a career Marine, fighting in World War 2, Korea, and Vietnam.  He retired in 1967 and decided to become an elementary teacher, earning first his GED, then his associate’s degree from the local community college, then graduating from UNC-W and becoming a fourth grade teacher at high-poverty Bell Fork Elementary in Onslow County.

When Jen’s mother was 49, she was getting ready for school one day and had a massive heart attack that ended her life.  Not knowing where to go when her father left in the ambulance, Jen went to school. She knew that her teachers cared about her and that it was a safe place to be.  It comes as no surprise that a child who would seek out her teachers on the worst day of her life would later feel called to become a teacher herself.

Jen reading to kindergarten class (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

Jen’s favorite part about teaching is being part of the community and being close to the families that she serves.  She loves staying connected with those students and families over time and seeing years later the adults that the kids she taught in third grade have become.  Her belief that education has the power to lift people up and transform their lives is a big part of why she’s so troubled by trends in North Carolina’s public education system under the current supermajority and under the Senate leadership of Phil Berger.

Many of the problems we see in public education today can be traced back to the No Child Left Behind Act, which ushered in our current era of high stakes testing, shifted the way teachers worked, and paved the way for the privatization of education.  Jen notes that when there is money to be made, it changes the primary goal to pursuit of personal profit. Public education is the heart of democracy, and our goals need to remain preparing students to be informed citizens who are in a position to lead happy, high quality lives.  Instead, we have a current system in our state where we stigmatize schools that suffer from high poverty as failing schools, then move to turn them over to private, for-profit entities instead of trying to deal with the root causes of poverty. We have high teacher turnover in our state and continue to struggle to attract students to our universities’ teacher preparation programs.  We’ve long since lost the status we once held as a national leader in public education.

In terms of her opponent’s role in the downward trend we’ve seen in education in North Carolina, Jen points out that Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger holds all the cards, and everyone must fall into line behind him by virtue of his position or risk his wrath.  Because of the power in his authority to bring bills to the floor, Berger is able to single-handedly prevent legislation from moving forward, even if every single member of the Senate is in favor of it. For example, NC Senator Jeff Jackson has attempted to close a loophole unique to North Carolina law which prevents individuals from revoking consent after a sexual act has begun, even if the encounter becomes violent.  It’s a common sense move that should have broad, bipartisan support.  Although nobody has specifically come out in opposition to the bill, it has mysteriously stalled in the Senate Rules committee.  When interviewed by the Fayetteville Observer last year after Jackson’s third attempt to amend the law, Senator Berger said, “There are a lot of times that folks will come to us, and want us (to) ‘Change this law now!’  And I just don’t know that’s the way we need to respond to things when you’ve got a period of 30 years where apparently the law has been unchanged, and no one has brought this to anybody’s attention. At least, I’m not aware of it.”  No one except for maybe Jeff Jackson. Three times.

In the most recent short session, proponents of public education were eagerly waiting for the General Assembly to take up a proposed $1.9 billion school bond for inclusion on the November general election ballot.  The bond would have helped address $8.1 billion in statewide capital needs identified by the Department of Public Instruction in 2015-16.  It enjoyed bipartisan rank and file support and sponsorship by chairs of education committees in both the House and the Senate. Again, Phil Berger would not allow the legislation to move forward.  It’s incredibly frustrating that one individual who doesn’t share the values most of us have can prevent much-needed progress, but Jen reminded me that voters ultimately decide whether he keeps that power or not.

In terms of her own vision for education in North Carolina, Jen supports paying teachers fairly to demonstrate that we value public education in our state. She would like to see masters pay reinstated as well as the full Teaching Fellows Program which was eliminated by the General Assembly in 2011.  She would like to see a reduction in the testing volume which is currently not developmentally appropriate and narrows the curriculum, leaving less time and attention to the arts, the sciences, and social studies in the elementary grades. She supports moves toward determining the success of our schools using multiple measures, trusting teachers as professionals and giving them the creative freedom that they need to do their jobs.  Jen wants to see North Carolina known nationally for its birth to pre-K, k-12, and higher education continuum and believes that electing pro-education legislators is the key to seeing that transformation come true.

Jen teaching at UNC-Greensboro (photo credit Jen Mangrum)

There is so much at stake in the 2018 election.  We need to vote for candidates who believe that public education is the cornerstone of building the society that we want in North Carolina.  But as we look for candidates who meet that description, it’s equally important that we carefully review the work of our current leaders and decide whether or not we want to take away their power.  In the case of future Senator Jen Mangrum, voters are in a position to both elect the strongest pro-education candidate imaginable and remove the greatest obstacle to progress in our state.

Interested in supporting Jen’s campaign?  You can find her donation page here