Transparency in Teaching (Stuff) Podcast

Transcript: Discipline, Mental Health and Chat GPT

As I was going through recent news stories, I came across this story about LAUSD Teachers who are not happy about changes to Discipline. This resonated with me because so many of my teacher friends are also not pleased. 

All of us in education are aware that discipline is probably the biggest key to making sure students can function in a classroom. If students are acting up or being disrespectful, it takes time away from lessons while the teacher has to stop and deal with whatever issue is causing the distraction. Then it’s time wasted while we refocus the kids while hoping that no one has unknowingly videotaped the whole incident so that it can be blown out of proportion on some social media websites that the news monitors.

LAUSD is a good example of how this is going in schools all over. LAUSD was the first in California to ban suspensions for defiance and roll out restorative justice as an alternative. 

Restorative Justice, MTSS (Multi-tiered System of Supports), and PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) are the buzzy new ideas that school districts have been adopting in order to change how the school reacts to discipline issues. It has been well documented that suspensions and other consequences that remove students from classrooms do not do much to change behaviors and are often used more on students of color and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

A study done by the American Institutes for Research showed findings that underscore suspending students does little to reduce future misbehavior for the disciplined students or their peers. Suspensions did not result in improved academic achievement for peers or their perceptions of a positive school climate. Plus, the more severe the exclusionary discipline, the greater its negative effects were on a student’s future academic performance, attendance, and behavior. LAUSD had a 90% minority enrollment rate, with 60% considered economically disadvantaged.

But to the teachers, research results do little to aid with the current problems associated with switching to different discipline requirements. The complaints are the common ones that plague most schools when they roll out something new. Not enough training!

With this new policy, schools are not allowed to suspend unless it is for things outlined under California Education Code 48900. Suspendable offenses are conducting violent crimes, possessing drugs or weapons, stealing, harassing, hazing, acting obscenely, threatening to inflict bodily harm, or destroying school property

Students can no longer be suspended for ‘willful defiance or disruption k-8, This includes removing a disruptive student from class to an on-campus supervised suspension.

So what are teachers supposed to do with students who are disrupting class and then tell a teacher to “fuck off” or “get out of my face”? This has happened to teachers, I know. What message are you sending to the rest of the class when the only thing a teacher can do in many cases is tell the student to sit down? 

Schools have to keep track of suspension rates and report them. But the numbers are dubious. What happens to students who are sent to the office? Some get sent home, and that doesn’t get reported as suspensions.  I saw this happen at the school I taught at. It just feels like the Admin is “cooking” the books to make it seem like things are under control when they actually aren’t.  Some schools are calling the police to handle things, but the police cannot do anything because “willful defiance is not a crime.” Wanna know if this type of policy is making things better? Go sit in classrooms or ask your teacher friends what they think. Because no one else is asking for their opinions. 

Teachers feel that the admin is pushing the burden of discipline on teachers. Just one more thing teachers have to do besides handling the curriculum.  And with little or no training, it’s no wonder teachers are not feeling all warm and fuzzy towards these new ways of handling discipline.

In LA, for example, there is a high amount of staff turnover of those who are trained. Some get let go because money runs out (take that Covid funding), and in one case, 10 of the 11 teachers who were trained for the restorative justice task force left the campus. 

Only 307 of the 900 campuses have received training on how to implement these new programs. Last year the district budgeted funds for five restorative justice counselors! How is this even enough to support the 500,000 students in the district? This year 20 more were added, costing $7.2 million. This only covers less than a ⅓ of LA’s schools. This stuff is expensive! That’s still not enough to support the number of students who need help. 

Look, we all want what is best for students, and yes, there are very silly, frivolous things students are disciplined for, but if we really want to change how we do things, then we have to go slow to go fast. Require training and pay teachers to attend. If they refuse, move them to another school or pay those who comply more. You can’t change the entire system overnight. If you don’t get buy-in, it will never work because this type of discipline needs a shared vision and consistency across the campus and support from parents too. 

Teachers have so much on their plates already. You can’t keep putting more straws on the already stressed-out camel’s back. You have to allow schools to do what works for them until the PROPER training can be completed and rolled out correctly. I feel your pain LAUSD teachers. 

What a Superintendent Told U.S. Senators About Student Mental Health (Nothing we  didn’t know already)

Joshua Garcia, the superintendent of the Tacoma district in Washington state, testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) on June 8, 2023, about students’ worsening mental health.  Garcia was one of several authorities who spoke to the committee. Another was U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who has declared that the worsening mental health of the nation’s youth is the “defining public health issue of our time.

Garcia highlighted the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative. He shared how the district has found a way to sustainably work with students to continuously support their well-being rather than focusing on helping students only when a crisis occurs.

The severity of this situation can be seen in a 2021 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s regular Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey. The report noted that two in five high school students, including 60 percent of girls and 70 percent of LGBTQ+ students, reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless. And one in five students reported making a suicide plan

The blame is put on social media, which we know has been linked to loneliness, isolation, and lack of community engagement. There’s also the trauma many students deal with regarding family and other living situations, not to mention world challenges, such as climate change, gun violence, racism, political polarization, and economic instability. These are all considered significant drivers of the youth mental health crisis. Makes me think of how different the world was when I was growing up. Thank goodness cell phones were not a part of my life and the life of my kids. I really do believe they are the major cause of all of this nonsense.

To this point, Surgeon General Murthy urged senators to expand access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care for children and also work to tackle the causes of mental health problems, such as social media and trauma caused by gun violence.

It was suggested that schools could decrease the ratio of students to school psychologists and mental health workers by using federal funding made available during the COVID-19 pandemic. But then what happens when that money is no longer available? Do those mental health providers disappear, too?

The Education Department has said that the first round of Bipartisan Safer Communities Act grants dedicated to growing the school-based mental health workforce will add 14,000 school psychologists, counselors, and social workers. But that is still far from what is needed to meet student mental health demands, experts say.

It’s nothing new that Lawmakers have Suggested Social media is dangerous and needs to have more restrictions imposed.  They’d like to see that those under 13 do not have access to it at all, and those 13 – 17 have to get parental permission. They want Social Media to stop using algorithms that promote addiction and targeted advertising until users are 18.

I have no idea how these restrictions can be put in place in a way that will work. I’m telling you, kids are very savvy at getting around blocked apps. Right now, it’s as easy as changing the year you were born on the sign-up page. 

Sorry parents, but I feel this one is on you. (No politician is going to say that because it won’t get them elected). Parents, you have control over what your kids are doing. You’re paying for the cell phone and as such can control how much time kids spend on their phones and what they can use their phones for. (I’ll post a link to an article from Consumer Reports that helps explain what parents can do to have more control over what their kids have access to on their phones.) Bottom line, it’s your job to be nosy. Do your job. (Good thing I’m not running for office!)

Meet ‘Stretch,’ a New Chatbot Just for Schools

Get ready for “Stretch,” a chatbot currently under development specifically for K-12 educators.

The chatbot is being created by the merger of the International Society for Technology in Education (otherwise known as ITSE) and ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

These groups worked with Google and Open AI (the team behind ChatGPT) to create a chatbot informed by the same kind of large language models that power ChatGPT, persona bots, and other artificial intelligence tools.  BUT

Instead of absorbing information from the entire internet to train its artificially intelligent brain, Stretch is only learning from materials that have been developed or vetted by ISTE and ASCD. Eventually, the tool may include information from other education and tech organizations that ISTE partners with.

They hope that this will avoid the problems with ChatGPT and similar chatbots, which often include inaccurate or outdated information in their output. I’ve used ChatPGT to help with writing articles. I always double-check any stats or references it gives as I have on multiple occasions found that these often do not exist. It helps with writer’s block, but it is very undependable for research and fact-finding. It does, after all, pull from the entire web, and we all know how much junk and misinformation is out there. 

Stretch cites its sources, giving it another layer of accountability, developers said. And if it’s asked about something outside of its areas of expertise, it will respond that it can’t help with the question instead of making something up, like ChatGPT sometimes does.

Stretch is one of the first so-called “walled garden AI” tools. This means it’s trained on a limited, carefully curated pool of information to serve a specific community in education-related areas. 

Here’s a problem I can see coming. Since the information is going to be curated, It will just be a matter of time before someone starts complaining about the “biased” (air quotes applied here) materials the indoctrinators and the groomers are picking and choosing for students to see. Am I getting cynical? Hmmm, how can this be???

I hope you’ve learned something that will improve your teaching, and your attitude or give you something to share over a cocktail. Leave us your ideas about these stories and what stories you want to know about. 

Hosted by
Join the discussion

More from this show

Teachers deserve fair compensation.

Teachers deserve fair compensation for their invaluable work. This is not the first attempt to shine a light on the often overlooked and underappreciated nature of the teacher workload that...

Episode 11