Zero tolerance and teachable moments

October 17th, 2011


      Kevin Seiff’s Washington Post article, “Arlington to offer second chance for teens caught using alcohol or drugs”, addresses the ‘zero tolerance’ policies in effect in public schools. A ‘zero tolerance’ policy is “generally the term means that a harsh predefined mandatory consequence is applied to a violation of school rules without regard to the seriousness of the behavior, mitigating circumstances, or the situational context” (APA, 2006, pg. 1).  In this particular district, when a student is caught with, or under the influence of, drugs or alcohol on school property they are suspended and criminally charged. Opponents of this policy state that this drastic and “life-altering” punishment prevents people with substance abuse problems from coming forward for help. Also, these punishments “… like suspension and court involvement, are overly punitive and do little to change behavior” (Seiff, 2011, pg. 1). Instead, for first time offenses, the school district is offering a three day, guardian attended session on drug and alcohol abuse. They want to promote early intervention, prevention, and education instead of punishment.

See article here:

‘Zero tolerance’ policies have been around for a while. According to Skiba and Peterson (1999) these policies began in our military with drugs and then expanded to our public school in the late 1980s and by “… 1993 zero tolerance policies were being adopted by school boards across the country, often broadened to include not only drugs and weapons but also tobacco-related offenses and school disruption.” (pg. 2) Many of these rules came into effect as a response to the rise in school violence, particularly in the case of guns in schools following the wake of school shootings that happened in the 1990s.  According to our text, schools should be a safe, substance free environment for students. One of the primary jobs of teachers and administration is to ensure that environment. However, these ‘zero tolerance’ policies in schools sometimes unnecessarily hurt where they mean to help.  

 No one debates that a gun does not belong in the class room. It is even reasonable that having a toy gun could create a panic that would endanger the lives of students. Therefore schools are enforcing these tougher rules. Hymowitz (2001) states that the results of ‘zero tolerance’ policies, “ …do suggest that the decline in school violence may have more to do with students being quicker to report suspicious classmates and authorities taking those reports seriously” (pg. 1). So while expulsion may not be a deterrent to a would-be shooter, at least students and authorities are taking steps to realize potential problems before they arrive at that point.  This is a clear benefit of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

However, these policies are controversial. Peterson (2008) states, “Zero tolerance is incompatible with the principle that the punishment must fit the crime, and that the severity of the crime and the context in which it occurred should be considered in determining the punishment.” (pg. 1).  Over the years, “… increasingly broad interpretations of zero tolerance have resulted in a near epidemic of suspensions and expulsions for seemingly trivial events” (Skiba, 1999, pg. 3-4).  Children are expelled or suspended for sharing mints, cough drops, bringing a beeper in for show and tell.

For a list of examples of controversial ‘zero tolerance’ punishments see this article:

Is there a balance between effectively using punishment and it going too far? Arlington clearly has that debate on its hands. Their battle is not with guns or violence, arguably easier offences to find immediately punishable, but with the effects of drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are addictive substances; dangerous to students at a much slower, and more reversible, rate than guns.  I believe, like Arlington schools, a ‘first offense’ policy might go much farther than immediate punishment.  Students who are involved with such things are not gaining anything by being forced out of the school system. In these first offense cases there is a wonderful opportunity for a ‘teachable moment’, which Arlington seems to be taking advantage of.



American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force (February, 2006). Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from:

 Hymowitz, K. (2001). Zero tolerance is school’s first line of defense. Newsday Inc. pg. 1-2.

 Peterson, R. (2008). Fact Sheet 3: Zero tolerance policy in schools. Muncie, IN.: Consortium to Prevent School Violence

Skiba, R., Peterson, R. (1999). The dark side of zero tolerance: can punishment lead to safe schools?. Retrieved from:

 Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

Seiff, K. (2011). Arlington to offer second chance to teens caught using drugs or alcohol. Retrieved from:



Separate but Equal?

October 10th, 2011


Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren famously stated, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” In 1954, the Supreme Court reached a decision in the landmark case Brown vs. The Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas and proceeded to integrate black and white students into the same schools. Today, of course, we don’t have the blatant separation of schools by color or gender. However, are our schools segregated in another sense, by funding? According to our text, the Supreme Court case of Serrano vs. Priest argues that the reliance on local funding to determine school budgets created “unconstitutional disparities” in school’s spending (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek. 2011. pg. 245).  The success of that case, in addition to others, brought change to the system of funding schools. However, how successful have we been and how much further do we have to go?

There can be little argument that there is a difference in attending one school district to another. Being a child of the military I often heard my parents debating new neighborhoods based on what schools we would be attending. The Teach for America website (2011), further proves the existence of disparity between schools with their mission statement; “all kids – no matter where they live, how much money their parents make, or what their skin color is – deserve access to a great education. But in our country today, a significant achievement gap exists between low-income children and their wealthier peers” (pg. 1). The American Physiological Foundation (2011) agrees, “Inadequate education and increased dropout rates affect children’s academic achievement, perpetuating the low-SES status of the community” (pg. 1).

Why is there such a difference in public schools in this country? Even ones that are separated by little more than a short car ride? One way is to take a look at where the money is coming from. According to the National Center for Education Statistics “… states use a combination of income taxes, corporate taxes, sales taxes, and fees to provide about 48 percent of the budget for elementary and secondary schools. Local districts contribute around 44 percent, drawn mostly from local property taxes. And the federal government antes up approximately 8 percent of state education budgets” (pg. 4).

Our text lists the major income sources in the following order…

On the local level:

1. Property Tax: This is where the majority of the school’s money comes from. Homes in the school districts boundaries are charged tax on their market value. This creates a problem all in itself. Areas where higher income families live will have more expensive homes to begin with. Also, the market value of a higher income area will be much greater as market value is affected by safety, location, and access to schools. Children who come from lower-income areas are suffering as the money generated from their property taxes is much less, leading to an under-funded school system.

2. Special Revenue: These monies come from a variety of areas; user fees for special services/facilities, traffic fines, or sometimes product contracts. This is a different beast than the property tax. On one hand it is not based on the persons income. The property tax is almost cyclical; poorer families go to poorer, sometimes substandard schools, and then, in some cases, lack the skills to leave that socio-economic group. Special revenue can come from outside influences.

The ‘Take Issue’ in this chapter concerned product placement in schools. In some ways, I feel like this has potential for beneficial results. However, it would take a lot of careful planning. Product placement in schools is nothing new. In the 90s one example of product placement included students using software to type sentences like “I like to eat McDonalds” and “I like Pepsi” (GMV Counseil, 1998).  In the era of the fight against childhood obesity, these slogans would most likely not be acceptable. However, even the office of the First Lady, as part of their ‘Let’s Move!’ program, supports “work with local retailers to improve product placement of healthier food and beverage choices” (Schepper, 2011. pg. 12). Product placement of items promoting healthy lifestyle, integrated into lower income schools, could provide the double benefit of improving funding and the quality of life of the students.


On the state level:

 1. Sales Tax: Seemingly one of the most useful sources of income. It adjusts itself to the economic times and affects the purchaser equitably according to their ability to buy. 

2. Personal Income Tax: This is another way of collecting based on ability to pay. Those who make more will give more. However, in difficult times, much like the last 10 years, this revenue is unstable as unemployment grows.

3. Other:  States can also choose to tax on liquor, tobacco, lottery, estates, gifts, or corporations and use the money for schools.

The means the states use in acquiring funds is not so much of a problem as on the local level. Money comes in from the higher income families as well as the lower income families. It is more of an issue when it comes time to distribute the funds. Our text modeled four plans to distribute the funds. The worst of these seemed to be the ‘flat grant model’, the number of students multiplied by a fixed amount. According to Augenblick, Myers, and Anderson (2007) the ‘flat grant model’ could mean “… a wealthier district that was able to provide smaller classes would actually receive more state aid per student than would a poorer district with large class sizes” (pg. 64).  Students cost different amounts to educate. Special needs students require specialists in class, OT or PT specialists, counselors, speech therapists, and social workers. School districts with high immigrant populations require ESL teachers. Low-income areas require more funding for meals and transportation. The ‘weighted student plan’ takes into account these conditions and includes them in the math.


On the Federal level:

1. Categorical grants: provides money from Federal sources to specific groups and purposes.

2. Block grants: money given to a general purpose without a specific designee

The biggest debate in the federal realm of funding seems to lie in the increased demands on schools by the NCLB act without an appropriate increase in funding. The introduction of standardized assessments, teacher qualification requirements, and AYP has been a burden on school budgets. In addition, schools that lack adequate funding are not meeting the requirements of AYP and suffering because of it.

The funding of schools in America is most likely a debate that will be occurring for the majority, if not all, of our lifetimes. The advent of IDEA and NCLB signal an increase in importance for education; which is our country needs to consider important. However, without changing the way we handle money and resources, it may be an unattainable goal. It is easy to pontificate on the need for equitable distribution of funds however; few are able to say that they wouldn’t mind increasing their taxes for students they are not related to or even near.


U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. (2010).  Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2007-08. Pg. 4.

(2011). Earl Warren Quotes. Retrieved from:

Teach for America. (2011). Our Organization. Retrieved from :

American Physiological Association. (2011).  Education and Socio-Economic Status.  Retrieved from

Augenblick, J. Myers, J. Anderson, A. (2007).  Equity and adequacy in school funding. Future of Children, 7 (3), 64.

GMV Conseil. (1998). Marketing in Schools. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

Schepper, R. (2011). Let’s Move Cities and Towns. Washington DC: Office of the First Lady.

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.



Inclusion classes

October 2nd, 2011

Classrooms with special needs students take the phrase “no two children can learn alike” to a whole new level. These classes include not only the different levels of “general-education” learners but also an abundant variety of children that are classified LD, OHI, ED, or any of the other monikers. LD alone can include children who have any “cognitive, neurological, or psychological disorder that impedes the ability to learn, especially one that interferes with a person’s communicative capacities and potential to be taught effectively” (Willis, 12).  It is a broad term. It can include children with difficulty with reading comprehension, math fluency, or cognitive reasoning, among others. Then you add in your OHIs; this can include children with anything from cerebral palsy, seizures, to ADHD. You have dyslexia, ADD, autism, or those with emotional disturbances (ED). All of these children receive an individualized education program (an IEP) or, at least in our state, a 504 plan, if an IEP is not warranted. On top of those you have your SST (student support team) students who receive select accommodations. Accommodations include everything from copies of class notes, adjusted tests and assignments, special manipulatives, access to a word processor, read aloud and small group testing, to extended time on assignments. Keeping track of these children in a class of thirty is almost mind-boggling. What is the best way to integrate these students into a general education class without them feeling either left behind or singled out?

Since I work daily in inclusion classrooms, I’ve noticed a great deal between teachers who work well in the inclusion setting and those who find it harder to reach the inclusion students. The first, and often hardest step, is finding the balance between being attentive to needs and embarrassing the student. In my experience, most students, at least on the middle school level, do not want unnecessary attention being drawn to their difference from the crowd. Wagaman (2009) states, “It is important for teachers to understand this and work carefully to build self-esteem and provide simple ways for students to get help without making a big deal about it to the class” (2). However, with accommodations like small group and read-aloud it is almost impossible to not distinguish the inclusion population from the mainstream. The best teachers I’ve worked with vary lessons to draw on strengths from every group in the classroom. If student X is a great artist or enjoys reading, an assignment is drawn up to showcase that skill. The more confident a student is in their ability to succeed; the more inclined they may be to work at more difficult assignments. Willis (2007) states, “Stereotypical academic success no longer becomes the only standard for who is “smart.” Students who learn about their own and their classmates’ multiple intelligences and unique abilities begin to shed previous negative attitudes or preconceived notions about LD students” (1). It also provides them a more equal footing amongst their peers. Positive attention to student achievement also goes a long way. The best inclusion teachers believe in the abilities of their students, no matter how frustrating it may be at times.  Our classroom features a board for successful papers, a prize box for consistent hard work, and a wall for student artwork. One student turned to me the other day and told me she had never gotten an A in History before. Reinforcing that ‘good’ feeling inspires continued success.

However, along with that belief in the student, there is a need for high expectations. It often seems easier to do the work for, or excuse the work of, a slower student.  No growth happens for the child when that is the answer.  Teachers must be on top of prompting work, refocusing, and sticking to accountability.  Keep a chart of what should be in the binder, do agenda checks, make homework folders, and set up a routine they are expected to follow. This is true for the general education students in the classroom as well. Research has gone far in debunking the myth that gen-ed students suffer from the slower pace of the inclusion classroom. A study done by Hollowood, Salisbury, Rainforth, and Palomboro (1994) indicated, “the presence of students with severe disabilities had no effect on levels of allocated or engaged time.” (250).  In addition Staub and Peck (1995) identified five benefits that the gen-ed students receive,  “1) reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased awareness, 2) growth in social cognition, 3) improvements in self-concept, 4) development of personal principles, and 5) warm and caring friendships” (36).

It is important to teach learning skills along with the lesson.  Binder organization is a huge component of many of the classrooms I work in. Teaching organization and responsibility saves students from a lot of missing homework and prepares them to be more self-sufficient.  In addition, warm-ups are designed to make students look back in the notes and information they have already acquired to review answers. Knowing where to look for information is a skill that prepares them for higher education and teaches problem solving for their daily lives. Interactive notes makes the student responsible for more than copying but lets them use simplified language that they relate to as well as giving space for visual cues; drawings, etc. This teaches them to take the high-level information and process it to an understandable level by picking out difficult words, redefining them, and then summarizing the context. Inclusion classes often have to move at a slower pace, but as these skills grow in the students they begin to adapt their pace to their academically higher classmates. According to Lewis (1994), students with disabilities in inclusive environments “improve in social interaction, language development, appropriate behavior, and self-esteem” (p. 72).

However, it isn’t always, or even often, that an inclusion student adapts fully to the general class’ ability. There are a multitude of tools that can achieve success for that student without compromising their learning. The best place to go for assistance in adjusting for a special education student is the special education department. It is the job of the SPED teachers to make sure that the student is receiving the accommodations required by the IEP. They are able to adjust tests, keep on top of organization, administer the read-aloud testing, small group instruct or remediate at a slower pace, and provide additional tools for the inclusion student.


Staub, D. & Peck, C. (1995). What are the outcomes for non-disabled students? Educational Leadership, 52(4), 36-41.

Hollowood, T.M., Salisbury, C.L., Rainforth, B., & Palomboro, M.M. (1994). Use of instructional time in classrooms serving students with and without severe disabilities, Exceptional Children, 61(3), 242-253.

Lewis. (1994). Kids count data book: State profiles of child well-being. Greenwich, CT: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain friendly strategies for the inclusion classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wagaman, M. (2009). Inclusion classroom tips for new teachers. Retrieved from

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