Archive | Law, Policy, and Ethics RSS feed for this section

Suspended for a tweet?

Suspended for a tweet

In Michigan, a student was suspended for using ‘profanity’ in a tweet that encouraged his district superintendent to clear the snow in the school parking lot. In Maine, a high schooler was suspended for tweeting that poor student treatment by administrators meant that “they’re asking to be the next Columbine.” And in Florida, a student was suspended for ‘cyberbullying’ a coach with a single tweet that allegedly just reciprocated the same insult that the coach had called her earlier.

As these and other instances show, one of the more recent challenges for school administrators is students’ use of social media to express their opinions. As Deron Durflinger, Superintendent of the Van Meter (IA) Community Schools notes,

The world we live in today provides ample opportunities for everyone to express their opinions on a variety of topics through social media. The focus in our district is always on helping kids learn how to use the tools that they have at their disposal in the appropriate manner. We want them to share what they are thinking, but we want to help teach them the right way to do it.

What Durflinger describes is frequently a difficult task and it’s not altogether clear that we’re navigating an appropriate balance between school concerns and students’ constitutional rights, particularly when our youth express themselves off campus.

Private schools have it easier – their ability to regulate student and educator speech is governed by contract. If they wish to enact tighter regulations, they merely change the attendance contract and then families decide whether they wish to comply or go elsewhere. Public schools, on the other hand, must navigate a whole host of constitutional protections, state laws, and court decisions.

The general parameters are relatively clear for public school administrators who face student speech situations. The U.S. Supreme Court said in its landmark Tinker v. Des Moines decision that the default rule is that students have constitutional speech rights and that schools must respect those absent a ‘material and substantial disruption’ to the school environment. Later Supreme Court cases articulated some additional exceptions, saying that schools can regulate student speech if it is vulgar and on school grounds, part of the school curriculum, or advocates at a school-sponsored event for the use of illegal drugs.

The same speech that may result in discipline at school, however, often can’t be regulated if at occurs at home. For instance, a school can’t suspend a student for swearing in his backyard even though it could at school. Similarly, a student that expressed unhappiness with her teacher verbally to her friends at home wouldn’t be disciplined, so it’s unclear why putting the same statement in electronic form makes a legal difference. The requirement of a ‘material and substantial disruption’ still applies.

This doesn’t mean that students can say whatever they want off campus. Student threats to cause real harm – like the implied threat in Maine – typically aren’t protected. And sometimes students fall under codes of conduct that accompany extracurricular participation. But in general, students are allowed to have opinions and they’re allowed to express those opinions, particularly when they’re not in school. School leaders can’t suspend students for off campus speech just because they don’t like what they said or how they said it.

Accordingly, I’m not certain that the Michigan student should have been suspended. Yes, he could have been more polite. And, yes, he could have used different wording. But the ‘profanity’ he used was on the lower end of the offensiveness scale (we hear it on network TV, for instance) and there’s not any indication that he was being anything other than a cheeky youth at home. (know any of those? if so, do they deserve suspension?) The suspension of the Florida youth is similarly troubling, particularly if her coach had used the phrase about her first (double standard?) and since bullying typically is legally defined as a pattern of behavior over time, not a single incident.

There are many more examples worth mentioning. The school hockey team captain in Alaska who made racist and homophobic comments on Twitter on his own time. The Wisconsin student who tweeted “eat sh-t” to the state high school athletic association. The Washington student who tweeted the same to the school superintendent. The 20 Oregon students who were suspended for retweeting. And the 12 Colorado students who were disciplined for ‘liking’ a fairly innocuous tweet from a classmate. All of these raise important issues about the balance between school concerns and student rights.

Yes, we want to help students learn polite and appropriate communication. And, yes, we want to prevent bullying. But we also must remember that the First Amendment is intended to protect speech that is unpopular and maybe even upsetting. We must recognize that students have a constitutional right to free expression – sometimes even when it’s coarse, antagonistic, or hurtful – particularly when it is off school grounds. The Supreme Court said in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette:

That [schools] are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.

As school leaders, we must take seriously our obligations to comply with the law, educate our students and communities, and model democratic citizenship and the protection of Constitutional rights. As Durflinger notes, “We can’t get caught up in putting rules into place that not only might violate student rights but also really only apply to 1 to 2 percent of our students. In other words, ‘don’t kill a fly with a sledge hammer.’” If the moral / ethical / legal / administrative angle isn’t persuasive enough, consider also whether we wish to pay six-figure settlements to our students for infringing upon their legal rights.

Let’s advocate that our students be more thoughtful when they tweet. And let’s be more thoughtful too about our own responses…

[cross-posted at Front and Central]

Image credit: Twitter (via Cañon City Daily Record)

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate…

Radio tower

The teacher transmits information to the student.

The textbook transmits information to the student.

The online tutorial or learning software or YouTube video transmits information to the student.

  

The student’s role is to be the recipient of what is transmitted.

The student’s role is to regurgitate what was transmitted with enough fidelity that the teacher or software system can check off that the student ‘knows’ it.

The student’s role is to be obedient and compliant.

 

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is of interest to the student. 

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is meaningful or relevant to the student.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated can be found with a quick Google or Siri search.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated can’t be applied beyond the narrowly-conscribed classroom setting.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is forgotten by the student just a few weeks later.

 

What matters is that the student holds in her brain what was transmitted and regurgitated long enough to get the grade. We need to check the box. We need to move on. We have things to cover. Hopefully, enough of what is transmitted and regurgitated will stick – individually and collectively, across all students and all buildings – for those end-of-year assessments of factual and procedural regurgitation that we use to determine educator and school ’success.’

 

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate… Why do we believe that this model is adequate for the demands of a complex, global innovation society?

 

Image credit: Transmitting, Tim Haynes

Men behaving badly

Bang

Lindy West reports

the anti-free-speech charge, applied broadly to cultural criticism and especially to feminist discourse, has proliferated. It is nurtured largely by men on the internet who used to nurse their grievances alone, in disparate, insular communities around the web — men’s rights forums, video game blogs. Gradually, these communities have drifted together into one great aggrieved, misogynist gyre and bonded over a common interest: pretending to care about freedom of speech so they can feel self-righteous while harassing marginalized people for having opinions.

At the online video conference VidCon a couple of weeks ago, the feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian took the stage for a panel on women’s experiences online, only to find the first two rows of seats stacked with her online harassers, leering up at her, filming her on their phones.

Ms. Sarkeesian has been relentlessly stalked, abused and threatened since 2012, when she started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a series of YouTube videos critiquing the representation of women in video games.

In retaliation, men have threatened to rape and murder her, dug up and disseminated her personal contact information, called in mass shooting threats to her public events and turned their obsession with shutting her up into a competitive sport. All of this, they insist, is in defense of freedom of speech

And there’s GamerGate:

many people will still try to tell you that ethics in game journalism are all Gamergate’s really about.

The problem with that argument is that Gamergate’s biggest “protests” don’t appear to have any relation to ethics or journalism — not even a tangential one. Instead, anonymous hackers posted Quinn’s personal information, including her address and nude pictures, shortly after her ex’s blog went up. Conspirators on Twitter purportedly made sock puppet accounts to spread the “scandal,” then bragged about it on 4chan. Some of the people sent Quinn death and rape threats so specific, so actionable, that she fled her house and called the cops.

Meanwhile, the male journalist whose ethics were (purportedly) at the center of the whole kerfuffle is still writing for Kotaku — which, for the record, ruled that neither he nor Quinn did anything wrong.

Initially, the “movement” appeared to be about Quinn — or at least about what she represented to a band of angry, anonymous gamers. But within days, Gamergaters had also attacked Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and media critic, after she posted a new video in her ongoing series about women and gaming. She, like Quinn, was forced to leave her home.

Shortly after that, two other women who wrote about Quinn and Sarkeesian — Jenn Frank, a gaming journalist, and Mattie Brice, a game designer — announced that they would withdraw from the industry over the resulting harassment they received. Frank articulated the real issues at hand in her essay for the Guardian, which would later get her bullied offline: Gamergate, she wrote, is less about ethics, and more about drowning out critics of traditional, patriarchal, dude-dominated gaming culture.

For the record, the “drowning,” in this instance, wasn’t just run-of-the-mill Internet nastiness. In many cases, these women received highly graphic, disturbing threats — the stuff of “SVU” episodes. And in a few cases, anonymous Twitter trolls went so far as to include the woman’s address or an exact time of attack, making the message a “true,” i.e. criminally punishable, threat.

And there’s our own Audrey Watters:

some of the posts I’ve written have resulted in some pretty awful comment threads. When I write critically about Khan Academy or Apple, I know I’ll hear an earful — and it isn’t simply an earful of disagreement. The comments get incredibly hostile, the attacks personal. 

And there’s the ongoing problem of female harassment in technology companies:

a string of revelations about how venture capitalists have mistreated women entrepreneurs over the years, an issue that was in the past largely swept under the carpet. The disclosures gained momentum after the implosion last month of a small venture firm, Binary Capital, whose partner, Justin Caldbeck, apologized to women after several spoke on the record about his behavior. . . . more than two dozen female entrepreneurs who described unwanted advances, touching and sexist comments by investors. . . . some venture capital firms are privately grumbling about having to deal with the issue, said some investors. “Some men have the feeling that the conversation has turned into a witch hunt,” said Aileen Lee, a founder of Cowboy Ventures. “They’re asking when people will stop being outed.”

And much, much more… It’s incredibly dismaying. And frightening.

It’s easy to dismiss these incidents as concerns that occur outside of school. But we ‘educated’ these men. And as much as I’m a speech advocate, I think we bear at least some responsibility. We can be for free speech and also stand against hate. So here are some questions worth pondering:

  • As digital tools and online communities continue to proliferate, what are our schools doing to have conversations with our boys – particularly the older ones – about the fact that these behaviors constitute misogyny, hate, and sexual intimidation? 
  • How are our secondary schools fostering meaningful discussions with our young men about online respect, digital citizenship, and face-to-face treatment of girls and women that result in actual conversations and reflection, not just trite slogans, hectoring, and finger-wagging from adults? 
  • Does anyone think that their school is doing a good job of having these discussions with its young men? If so, what are you doing?
  • How do we start stemming this ongoing problem of men behaving badly? (see some ideas from danah boyd)
Image credit: Bang, Nicholas Erwin

Judging school success by test scores. And only test scores.

John Merrow said:

Apparently it’s pretty simple for the folks administering the Broad Prize in Urban Education: Successful School Reform boils down to higher test scores. There is no public sign that anyone at the Foundation is questioning whether living and dying by test scores is a sensible pedagogy that benefits students. There is no public evidence that anyone at the Foundation has considered what might happen if poor urban students were exposed to a rich curriculum and veteran teachers, which is essentially the birthright of students in wealthy districts. Just the dismal conclusion that traditional districts are incapable of reform, followed by its decision to double down on charter management organizations, despite the truly offensive record of some of them of excluding special needs children and driving away students who seem likely to do poorly on standardized tests.

via https://themerrowreport.com/2017/05/12/the-canary-in-the-mine

Where do we set the bar?

A few weeks ago we were talking about school ‘accountability’ in one of my classes. I mentioned that I didn’t think that most schools were yet producing ‘future ready’ graduates. If they were, we would see more school environments that immersed students in deeper learning, student agency, authentic work, and rich technology infusion opportunities.

10 building blocks 003

[Download this image]

There seems to be fairly wide agreement that schools that aren’t achieving minimum levels of proficiency on standardized tests of lower-level – or, for PARCC & SBAC fans, arguably mid-level – knowledge are ‘failing’ or should be ’turned around.’ But even broad, schoolwide success on most current assessments is still a pretty low floor for how we judge the efficacy and success of our schools. If we raised the bar up to preparation for true life readiness, wouldn’t most schools do pretty poorly on the four shifts noted above? (and other fronts, like information literacy and global awareness) When do we as a society care about and have a sense of urgency about that?

Who uses computers for math drill and practice? [SLIDE]

Thought I’d make a slide out of one my favorite digital equity reports. Anyone have more recent data?

Download this slide: .jpg .key .pptx

Source:

Reich, J. (2013). Shockingly similar digital divide findings from 1998 and 2013. Available from Education Week at
www.edtechresearcher.com/2013/06/shockingly_similar_digital_divide_
findings_from_1998_and_2013

See also: Economically-disadvantaged students learn to do what the computer tells them

Some questions for Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post collected some questions from educators for Betsy DeVos, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. Here are a few of my favorites:

Would you please state, concisely, any relevant experience you have had in public education, either as a student, a teacher, a school leader, a public school board member, a parent of a public school child, a PTA member, a volunteer in a traditional public school or as someone who once drove past a public school?

AND

What will you use as a basis for your initiatives and policy-making decisions regarding pedagogy and best practice, having neither studied nor worked as a teacher or principal in any school? From what, where, or whom will you draw expert knowledge on the art of teaching and learning?

AND

What if parents’ first choice, as it is for most American families, is to send their children to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally-staffed, local neighborhood public school? How would the voucher and charter school schemes you advocate support this kind of choice?

AND

What will you do to gain the trust of public school teachers?

AND

How will you attract teachers to the profession given the unrest and uncertainty of public education right now?

Promoters of school choice are unwilling to ensure equal access in regular public schools

Derek Black said:

[C]harters, vouchers, and other choice-like reforms are insulting substitutes for equal access to learning opportunities. They espouse the premise that all students are entitled to equal learning opportunities and reason that since students are not getting those equal opportunities in public school, they should be allowed to go elsewhere. The irony is that the people promoting these policies are so often unwilling to do much of anything to ensure students get equal access to learning in regular public schools. Likewise, they are unwilling to place oversight on vouchers and charters to determine whether opportunities are equal there either. In other words, they are pursuing choice for choice’s sake…

via http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2017/01/the-us-department-of-education-needs-serious-disruption-but-betsy-devos-will-not-bring-it.html

Is the emphasis in your school on punishment and compliance or autonomy and dignity?

Deluxe teacher grading kit

When I was in high school, we didn’t have an ‘open campus.’ We were supposed to stay at school and eat our lunches in the cafeteria. Many of us would drive off anyway, hoping that we could make it back in time for our next class. We often were late because of the distance between our school and the fast food joints. But since I ran with a crowd of ‘good kids’ who got high grades and were heading off to college, we could stroll into class late – sometimes with coffee or an ice cream cone for our teachers – and suffer no adverse consequences. At the time I was blissfully unaware of the privilege I enjoyed simply by being a white, male, middle class, high-achieving student (or that I ‘earned’ by being mostly compliant).

Fast forward thirty years… Today we see a number of ‘no excuses discipline’ schools – particularly in urban school districts – that punish students for the slightest noncompliance. Tardy to class? Shoelace untied? Not walking quietly enough? Failing to follow the taped line in the hallway? A stripe on your sock? Slouching? The wrong color undershirt? Not raising your hand with a straight elbow? Rolled-up sleeves on your school uniform? Not tracking the speaker with your eyes? ‘Willful defiance,’ however arbitrarily defined? Yelling, shaming, assignments that get ripped up, public tracking charts, demerits, detention, suspension, expulsion, and numerous other academic and disciplinary punishments await…

Critics of these schools note that the children who attend them invariably are ‘other people’s children.’ They’re not the children of the white middle class. They’re typically black, brown, and poor. And the folks who often are the strongest advocates of these kinds of schools would never, ever send their own children there. But, you know, ‘those children’ need more structure. ‘Those children’ need that kind of discipline because they don’t get it at home. Hey, don’t blame us, those parents ‘chose’ that kind of environment for their children. And so on…

But here’s the thing: educators and parents who are aghast at these ‘no excuses’ schools need to recognize that most traditional schools aren’t much better. The discipline may be slightly less draconian for most students, but the heavy emphasis on punishments and rewards remains for virtually all students. In most schools students lack significant agency, are told what to do nearly every minute of every day, rarely have meaningful choice or input into their own learning environments, and are punished by teachers and/or administrators if they don’t comply with whatever is demanded of them. Students can tell you how disrespectful, disempowering, and apathy-inducing these environments can be. It’s pretty stifling to have so little choice in what you learn. And it can be soul-killing to be 17 years old and still need permission to use the bathroom. So, yes, like for myself, the ‘good kids’ may be afforded a smidgen of leeway and autonomy that seems utterly lacking in the ’no excuses’ schools. And, yes, traditional schools – back in my day and now – may be a little less worrisome because the penalties usually are slightly less severe. But when it comes to our disciplinary practices, we need to climb down from our pedestals because the differences are mostly a matter of degree, not orientation.

My University of Colorado Denver faculty colleague, Dr. Manuel Espinoza, has been talking with us about the concept of student dignity – about the idea of affording students basic, inalienable rights of autonomy and respect. Not because they comply with our demands. Not because we bribed or forced them. Not because the economic need for self-directed workers has never been higher. But simply because our children are human beings – precious, unique individuals – who deserve to be cherished and treated as such rather than as mere objects of our desires for control and order (no matter how well-meaning our motives are). To quote Manuel, “What would it mean for schools to treat children as if they were of supreme value, of invaluable exchange?” And, no, this doesn’t mean chaos and anarchy in our schools…

Learning environments that empower students as meaningful contributors and choice-makers – that recognize and treat students as worthy of basic dignity – look very different than those that view students as unable or unwilling partners and/or problems to be managed. Which views predominate in your school system? And before you answer, ask yourself 1) what alternatives to punishment/reward disciplinary systems do you see around you, 2) how many times a day and in how many ways is a student’s basic dignity disrespected, 3) what happens when a student disagrees or doesn’t comply with a classroom or school behavior policy, and 4) who gets to make and enforce the policies in the first place.

The importance of watching and naming

Watching you

This past weekend our minister asked us to consider what it meant to be ‘present’ within a community. Among other actions, she articulated two concepts – watching and naming – that she thought were particularly important for members of a community who wish to be deeply involved and fully present.

Watching includes the acts of staying informed and of being a participant observer. Naming includes the willingness to label things as they really are. The example she used was the so-called ‘alt-right.’ She exhorted us to be vigilant against both hate and discrimination and to be aware of their existence in all of their numerous, varied, and often-hidden forms. She also reminded us that whoever controls the rhetoric controls the mindspace and that we need to call the alt-right for what it really is: a white nationalist movement based on bigotry and hatred.

I think that the concepts of watching and naming are relevant to educational contexts as well. Educators are losing political battles all across the country because they’re not able to influence the overall mindspace of policymakers or the general public. Whether it’s anti-union rhetorics or pro-voucher rhetorics or grade-level retention rhetorics or ‘no excuses’ discipline rhetorics or statistically-invalid ‘accountability’ rhetorics or any of several dozen other antithetical rhetorics, we see firsthand that the end result of educators’ inability to substantively impact high-level conversations is policy that harms children and schools. Despite the heroic efforts of bloggers and school advocates, many educators STILL continue to be unaware of how think tanks, private foundations, corporations, astroturf groups, and government actors work together – often behind the scenes – to formulate harmful laws, policies, and advocacy campaigns. Many educators are woefully ignorant of how state and national policy is made and/or feel completely helpless to positively impact policy conversations. We need more educators to follow educational reform conversations and to read more actively than an occasional mainstream news story and/or association newsletter (hint: social media can be a great way to accomplish these goals). We also need more educators who are willing to speak up – publicly and visibly – and name things for what they are. Right now fierce conversations are occurring around terms like ‘personalization’ and ‘pro-children’ and educators are losing.

Watching and naming are relevant concepts inside a school too. Are educators within your schools paying attention to transformational societal trends? Are they watching with a keen eye and critically interrogating the instructional practices that occur within their buildings and classrooms? Do they even see existing inequities? Are they willing to identify and call out outdated or ineffective school mindsets, structures, and processes?

How might you utilize the concepts of watching and naming to enhance your own policy and/or instructional work?

Image credit: I’m watching you…, Christine Krizsa