What School Safety Reports Ignore: Reducing Class Size

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

Over the summer we have seen a glut of school safety reports. Local, state, and federal agencies have written possible solutions they think will thwart future school violence. Some suggestions might be well-advised, but others have created concerns about questionable student surveillance. It’s difficult to believe any solutions will be successful if no one addresses class size.

In the July report from Homeland Security, “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence,” they report:

When establishing threat assessment capabilities within K-12 schools, keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker.

There have been male and female attackers, high-achieving students with good grades as well as poor performers. These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular (p.1).

Most teachers understand that middle and high school students experience hormonal changes and rapid physical growth. It’s sometimes difficult to separate mental health difficulties from general teenage angst, moodiness, impulsivity, or a variety of other developmental factors.

The omission in the report is lowering class size. Teachers who teach the same students, get to know their students. But this is difficult to do when teachers have over thirty students breezing in and out of their classrooms daily. In total, that’s 150 students!

The plan includes forming a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, establishing central reporting mechanisms, identifying behaviors of concern, defining the threshold for law enforcement intervention, identifying risk management strategies, promoting safe school climates, and providing training to stakeholders. It can also help schools mitigate threats from a variety of individuals, including students, employees, or parents.

The report’s Table of Contents emphasizes attention to a variety of issues concerning students in school including:

  • Motives
  • Communications
  • Inappropriate interests
  • Weapons access
  • Stressors
  • Emotional and developmental issues
  • Desperation or despair
  • Violence as an option
  • Concerned others
  • Capacity to carry out an attack
  • Planning Consistency
  • Protective factors

They mention school climate but refer to a 2014, U.S. Department of Education Report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (p. 26).

Smaller class sizes are still not addressed. Teachers are better able to identify unusual student behavior if they know their students. When classes are smaller school feels more like home.

In the movie The Edge of Seventeen, a troubled student confides in her history teacher when life’s problems seem overwhelming. Students need to know that adults and other students in their lives care. But it’s unrealistic to assume this can happen with unmanageable class sizes. Teachers need time to connect with students. Students need smaller class sizes to connect with each other.

School reformers fight against lowering class size. They demand proof that it raises test scores. But lowering class size involves other benefits that are far more important.

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

While reducing class size may seem expensive and unattainable, giving students some smaller classes should be a reachable goal. School and school district officials should work towards that end.

-Nancy Bailey

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Schools as Sacrifice Zones & The Gates Foundation’s Avoidance of the Toughest Question

Kinder egg ban-not assault weapons

Here’s my toughest question for Bill and Malinda Gates:

What are you doing to end school shootings in the United States?

What is your plan – given your immense power and influence –  to create safe, humane learning environments for America’s students.

Schools which don’t require invasive surveillance technology, or divestment in school buildings through online learning or other outsourcing schemes AND avoids the militarization of campus.

Schools which value each individual student for who they are and respects their personal, cultural, and intellectual boundaries.

For the last couple of years I’ve had a very small part-time job in a public school. Every morning before I leave for work my youngest says, “Don’t die today” and I respond, “I won’t.”

This is a ritual rooted in hopelessness and desperation. Both of us are painfully aware of the frightening reality that public schools are often sites of mass murder.

Ours is a comforting lie that makes us feel like we have some power over a situation which is completely out of control. Magical thinking is the last refuge for the abandoned.

We’ve also had plenty of practice preparing for the unspeakable: Lockdown drills and learning how to shelter in place. During these drills, there’s more than enough time to wonder: What if this was real. What would I do?

Practicing lockdowns are what fire drills used to be just a generation ago – with one subtle difference – it casts shootings in schools as a natural event, similar to earthquakes – which we also can’t control – but can prepare for.

The Toughest Question of All

One day before the student massacre in Florida, The Gates Foundation pushed out its Annual Letter which this year is titled “The 10 Toughest Questions We Get”.

Still reeling from yet another school shooting, I scrolled through the “toughest” questions. Guess what?  None of the “toughest” questions were about how to stop school shootings. How could this be? Especially for an organization that claims education to be one of its prime focuses.

Here’s my toughest question for Bill and Malinda Gates:

What are you doing to end school shootings in the United States?

What is your plan – given your immense power and influence –  to create safe, humane learning environments for America’s students.

Schools which don’t require invasive surveillance technology, or divestment in school buildings through online learning or other outsourcing schemes AND avoids the militarization of campus.

Schools which value each individual student for who they are and respects their personal, cultural, and intellectual boundaries.

Money is Power

Allowing the rich to void paying government taxes, while still controlling their wealth through foundations, has deeply undermined our democracy.

The idea of the government being accountable to the people through elections has been thoroughly discredited by the loophole foundations has created for the rich.

Foundations have the power to build their own advocacy organizations, think tanks, and leadership training programs. Now, with an LLC designation, foundations can have all of this unseemly activity shielded from the embarrassing public scrutiny of records requests.

Once the right politicians are in place, the wishes of a foundation can be planned and executed at “cabinet level” meetings between designated representatives of the foundation, elected officials, and heads of NGOs and other community partners.

Legislation, created as directed by these cabinet meetings, is usually rushed through the halls of government at state capitals or Washington D.C. – without testimony from the public, because ordinary citizens aren’t in the know.

We now have a government run by and for the benefit of the wealthy.

One Small Problem

So when Bill and Melinda Gates inevitably trot out the pat answer that stopping school shootings isn’t really their foundation’s thing, I have these words of warning:

In the abstract, people may have bought into The Gates Foundation marketing campaign that cheerfully reduces every aspect of life to a measurable economic unit.

Abstract units which can be enhanced though the interjection of science, big data, and the benevolent guidance of Bill and Melinda’s entrepreneurial wisdom combined with the magic of the free market.

But when it comes to willful silence over the mass murder of children in schools – you’ve lost us – and with it, any credible claim to a higher purpose.

Do the right thing. We’ll be watching.

-Carolyn Leith