Monday, July 02, 2007

K-12 Alternatives to Calling Police

July 2, 2007, 6:15, 7:30, 9:45 a.m. [times reflect additions to the entry -- for the benefit of those few individuals who check back occasionally during the day -- as well as reflecting the fact that what is called "life" occasionally interrupts blogging]

Add-Items: Senator Biden in Iowa City this evening;
Register (and me) on tax policy. See below.

In School: There Are Alternatives to Calling the Police

"The number of police calls to area schools has increased sharply in recent years, according to the Sixth Judicial District Juvenile Delinquency Annual Statistical Report.

The report, which includes Johnson County, shows that police responded to 563 complaints within the Iowa City School District."
Rob Daniel, "Police calls to schools on the rise; Report: 563 complaints in district," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 2, 2007

The column that follows was published in 2001. My commentary about today's school news, and why I thought of this old column in that connection, follows the column.

Smaller Schools Are Better
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, "Opinion," August 28, 2001, p. 9A
(available online here)

What do these prestigious organizations have in common?

Annenberg Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Center for Collaborative Education, Center for School Change, Gates Foundation, Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, Open Society Institute, Pew Charitable Trusts, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Smaller Learning Communities Program.

Give up?

Each believes smaller is better. Not smaller class sizes. Smaller high schools of 400 to 600 students each.

Many are willing to bet millions of dollars they’re right; $200 million from Gates alone. They have enough data to prove it that, says one, “it seems morally questionable not to act on it.”

In New York’s worst school district, an East Harlem secondary school is one of the city’s best. It graduates 90 percent. And it’s reduced violence without metal detectors. How?

Former Secretary of Education Richard Riley asked top security experts how to improve school safety. Question: Was their top recommendation metal detectors, more police in hallways, or video monitors? Answer: None of the above. It was smaller schools.

I graduated from University High School with 40 classmates in 1952. Then seven percent of high schools had over 1,000 students. Today two-thirds of all high school students attend such schools – including ours.

Smaller schools reduce students’ estrangement. They nurture a sense of belonging. And safety is only one of the benefits.

Smaller schools have better attendance rates, fewer dropouts, more academic achievement and extracurricular participation, more college-bound. Students feel closer bonds with teachers. Teachers with each other.

There are dozens of proposals for improving high schools. Even summaries require something closer to 650 volumes than 650 words. But smaller size is a good beginning.

John Carver says most school boards are incompetent groups of competent people along a continuum from micro-managing at one end to rubber-stamping at the other. All such boards can hope for is to do the wrong things better.

Competent and caring high school teachers confront a comparable dilemma. The system processes 150 students a day along a conveyor belt through their classrooms. They must function with a curriculum and classrooms designed to produce the assembly line workers of a bygone industrial age.

It is not teachers’ fault that, like board members, all they can hope for is to do the wrong things better.

They may be the best source of ideas on how to fix this system, but all the community’s stakeholders must have ownership. And decisions have to come from school boards and administrators.

Our superintendent, Lane Plugge, now chairs Iowa’s Urban Education Network. It’s just stepped up to the plate with a new book-length report titled Redefinition of High School – one of the 650 volumes anyone who cares about these issues ought to read.

The individual authors of its 12 chapters each focus on an issue. Waterloo’s superintendent, Arlis Swartzendruber, cites our school board’s contribution to concepts of board governance. Our own Pam Ehly and Bill Dutton propose “instructional strategies” that if read, understood and implemented would solve many high schools’ problems.

Many chapters note the value of smaller schools.

We’re not about to tear down City and West High and build eight new high schools of 400 each. So how can we gain similar benefits? It’s called “schools within schools.” Four teams of teachers in each. Four “schools” of students with their own portion of a building.

Athletic and music groups continue to draw from all four. Theaters and cafeterias are shared. It’s a best-of-all-possible-worlds win-win. Shared facilities and administration mean lower costs. Smaller schools produce better relationships and climate – and more learning.

Dr. Plugge has thrown an added starter into the board’s consideration of boundaries and educational opportunities: a redefinition, and possible physical redesign, of our high schools.

Architects need to know if clients want a cathedral or a tractor barn. So we’ve begun the process of redefinition.

Now every district stakeholder needs to participate in planning what will, hopefully, include the benefit of smaller schools.

Nicholas Johnson is an Iowa City School Board member. More information is available on his Web site

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The Answer is Blowing in the Cyberspace As the organizations cited in this column have concluded, the data is pretty convincing -- and support one's natural intuition -- that as high school size increases above an optimum (around 650 students) there is an increase in bullying, vandalism, teen pregnancy, graffiti, fights, alcohol and drug abuse, absenteeism and dropouts. It only makes sense.

Is manageable size a cure-all? Of course not. But it stands to reason that where a student is known by name by teachers and classmates alike, where adult mentoring becomes logistically possible, where everyone can participate in student activities (rather than just an athletically or musically gifted elite), that social constraints, rather than the presence of police officers, can be a major factor in controlling behavior.

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I'm a big fan of the Internet. It provides public access to orders of magnitude more material than most towns' public libraries can offer their patrons (in hard copy). It permits much more flexible and through searching than hard copy reference works. And it retrieves the material at orders of magnitude faster speeds.

Are there drawbacks? Of course. We don't do a very good job of training students (or ourselves) in effective Google searching techniques, so Internet research experiences are sometimes more frustrating and less fruitful than they could be. And just as everything in hard copy books needs to be verified and confirmed, so sorting through the Internet's content -- open as it is to submissions by anyone -- requires even greater sophistication by users.

During the three years I served on the local school board I wrote a column every two weeks for the Press-Citizen. The column above is one of them. (Links to the full collection can be found here.) Although I had first hand knowledge as a student in the University of Iowa's experimental schools (University Elementary and University High School in a building now called "North Hall") I never attended a College of Education. So I spent a lot of time surfing the Internet while looking for ideas for the columns.

And what I discovered was a variation on Ralph Nader's observation that, "This country has more problems than it deserves and more solutions than it applies." I finally concluded that, with 15,000 school districts in this country, it was likely that there was no problem confronting any given one of them that had not formerly been confronted by another school district (1) identified, (2) addressed, (3) resolved, and (4) written up and made available on the Internet.

When we were considering the $40 million bond issue I noted that the need for that money and additional buildings (at that time) could have been avoided by applying the concept of "cluster schools" for our elementary schools. (Such an approach would also have eliminated, or radically reduced, the problem of disparity in class size.) Had we followed the recommendations of the National Commission on the High School Senior Year for our high schools we could have instantaneously eliminated all of their "overcrowding" and any need for expansion. I noted at the same time the advantages, if additional high school space was to be created anyway, of building high schools for 650 rather than expanding the populations in the two conventional high schools we had. (Tate was deliberately designed for fewer students.)

[Alas, it appears that the National Commission's report is no longer available online. However, a preliminary report and summary is available: The Lost Opportunity of Senior Year: Finding a Better Way, January 2001.]

With "local control of schools" school administrators, parents and taxpayers have the legal and political right to ignore such advice. If they are willing to pay $40 million for the privilege -- and the result is not otherwise criminal or illegal -- they can do whatever they want with their money. And I support local control of schools -- even when it results in plans and policies more driven by their impact on our competitive athletic teams' records than the entire student body's academic records. That's the stakeholders' right.

But there are consequences to those decisions that go well beyond their financial costs.

And our district's school board and administration now confront many comparable decisions as they are coming into the millions of additional dollars to be provided by our local 20% hike in sales taxes.

Prevention is almost always cheaper and more satisfactory than treatment.

Call the cops if you must.

But it seems to me that once you've let things get to the point that you need an Iraq-like surge of additional police in your school it's already too late. You've already lost that battle.

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Biden. Although you wouldn't know it from the local papers, Senator Joe Biden is making two appearances in Iowa City today.


Home of Bob and Maggie Elliott
1108 Dover Street
Iowa City, IA


Givanni’s Restaurant
109 East College Street
Iowa City, IA

Taxes. I wrote at some length in May about the categories of issues involved in tax reform policy. Nicholas Johnson, "Taxes: Categories of Inquiry" in "UI Held Hostage Day 490 - Search & Taxes," May 26, 2007. This morning the Register editorializes on the subject, Editorial, "Iowa needs full-fledged tax reform; Sales-tax plan is a response to high property taxes," Des Moines Register, July 2, 2007.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

This blog began in June 2006 and has addressed, and continues to addresses, a number of public policy, political, media, education, economic development, and other issues -- not just the UI presidential search. But that is the subject to which most attention has been focused in blog entries between November 2006 and June 2007.

The presidential search blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. They end with Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 505 - Next (Now This) Week," June 10, 2007 (100-plus pages printed; a single blog entry for the events of June 10-21 ("Day 516"), plus over 150 attached comments from readers), and Nicholas Johnson, "UI Hostages Free At Last -- Habemas Mamam!," June 22, 2007.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each entry related to the UI presidential search contains links to the full text of virtually all known, non-repetitive media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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