How to Save America’s Schools

August 30, 2010

Have you ever wished you could be Joe Clark and turn a tough, unsafe, out of control, low-performing inner-city school into a safe and productive school? I don’t have to wish, because I have done what Joe Clark did at Eastville High School. One scene in the movie Lean On Me depicts Joe Clark and dozens of police removing the bad “element” from the school auditorium stage and the school. My story is different because I had minimal to no help from the school administration or police of the school. I am no superman, but I believe I have built a better mousetrap.

The old proverb of “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” does not apply to education. I have devised a school discipline plan that works and no one is beating down my door!

I first used this discipline plan at Austin High School (AHS) in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). AHS made national news two years prior when the students staged a walk-out. The walk-out was a protest about their school situation and problems in the school. Two years later, the school was again out of control and unsafe. At the time, I was the chairman of the School Discipline Committee, right in the middle of huge problems. These huge problems forced me to develop a school discipline system that is efficient and effective. I have titled the system  Lecture & Pester and the Proactive and Persistent School Discipline System. Using this Lecture & Pester techniques and the Proactive and Persistent School Discipline System, the school was made safe and calm. This process of becoming a safe, calm, and productive school was accomplished in weeks, not months or years.

In the spring of 1996, The Teachers’ Union, with the approval of HISD, transferred me from AHS to Deady Middle School (DMS) for one month. DMS was experiencing large fights called “rolling thunder” that started at one end of the school and traveled the hallways throughout the school. Many innocent students were being hurt. Graffiti covered every square inch of the walls in the boys’ restroom, from more than twelve feet off the floor. Students must have stood on each others’ shoulders for hours to create this art work. The teachers were even afraid to go to the parking lot by themselves. For many, DMS was a hopeless situation. Two weeks after I entered DMS and applied the Proactive & Persistent Discipline System, the school was safe and under control and I returned back to AHS. Unfortunately, no one learned the techniques of the school discipline system, and two years later, a student was stabbed in the ear with a screw driver and died in the hallways of DMS.

These out of control, unsafe, and unproductive schools exist in every city and state in America. Would you believe me or label me crazy if I said every school in America can be safer, under control, and much more productive two years from now? Would you believe that eight parents trained in the this discipline system could tame a school in weeks? How can 4-6 Assistant Principals bring a major school under control in two or three weeks? The use of my school discipline can produce such results.

America, here is the rough blueprint and philosophy behind my school discipline system. The beauty of this discipline system is that it adapts to all issues and problems, while striving for new higher discipline goals.

The driving power behind the school discipline plan is called Lecture and Pester. Lecture and Pester provides the unpleasant consequences that will change 99 out of 100 students’ behavior. Lecture and Pester is the process of

  • Asking questions
  • Solving problems
  • Preventing transfer of blame
  • Using manners
  • Showing respect
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Establishing goals
  • Establishing self discipline

A student who is capable of changing his behavior and becoming self-disciplined should be considered a good student.  Lecture & Pester turns 99%of the student body into good students. Some students take a little longer to become good students. Students that don’t change their behavior find each new encounter with Lecture & Pester more unpleasant and frustrating. There are few consequences more unpleasant to teenagers than to be questioned, lectured, and pestered by adults about their discipline problems, time after time.

Here is one Lecture and Pester scenario to help explain the process.

Lecturer and Pesterer (LP): Excuse me, sir? (manners) Why are you in the hallway after the bell? (problem)

Student (STU): I’m just late to class. (minimizing)

LP: Well sir, just being late is not good enough. Just being late is not good for you or the school. Just is not good enough. (higher expectations)

STU:  What is your problem? Why are you doing this? This school is no good. Look at all the other people in the hall. (transfer of blame and responsibility for problem)

LP:  Well sir, we have decided to try and make the school better (establishing goals.) The first thing we need is to get everyone into class on time (setting goals and appropriate behavior). I can see there are a lot of people in the halls. I will be catching up to them, but I stopped you and you are tardy to class (school goal-personal goal). Can you get to class on time? (beginning the self discipline process).

STU:  Yes.

LP:  Excuse me sir. Yes what? Yes sir? (establishing manners and mutual respect- developing adult control)

STU: Yes.

LP: Yes what?

STU: Yes sir.

LP:  Thank you. Are you telling me that you can do this by yourself? (establishing self discipline)

Stu: Yes sir.

LP:  Are you saying that your word is good? Are you saying that I won’t have to deal with you again? (establishing goals for self discipline)

STU:  Yes sir, my word is good. (becoming self disciplined and accepting responsibility)

LP:  Okay.Thank you, sir, now please get to class. Do you need help getting into your class?

STU: No sir.

LP:  Okay, good luck. If you need help getting into class come see me. (problem solver)

Lecture & Pester has an infinite number of scenarios, but follows the same basic process. Lecture & Pester will change teenage behaviors when delivered on a consistent basis.

The school discipline plan that delivers Lecture & Pester on a consistent basis is called the Proactive & Persistent School Discipline System. The combining of Proactive and Persistent Discipline with Lecture & Pester will change the bad behavior of 99% of the student body. With patience and increasing persistence the remaining 1% of the student population can also change their behavior.  Highly effective and efficient discipline is created using Lecture & Pester Processes with the Proactive & Persistent School Discipline Plan.

Steps to Setting Up a Proactive & Persistent Discipline Plan In a School

First, someone must identify and admit to having a discipline problem in the school. For example, the tardy problem is a big problem in many schools. Therefore, let us solve the tardy problem.

Second, a group of Hall Masters are taught the Lecture & Pester techniques and Proactive & Persistent discipline processes. They will go through a few hours of learning and then to the hallways for hands-on  job training.

For example, It is time to solve the tardy problem. First we must establish adult control of the hallways. The first steps in establishing adult control are to become the big dog and the big voice in the hallways. The next step is to make students aware of bell system of the school. Therefore, five minutes before the tardy bell, with a big voice and a big dog attitude, start a countdown to the tardy bell. “Let’s go, let’s go, break it up over there…get off the wall…let’s get to class…four minutes to the bell…hurry, hurry…close that locker…say goodbye to your girlfriend…we want a better school, three minutes to go.”  Hall Masters work the countdown to the tardy bell.The bell rings and immediately, Hall Masters go into the Lecture and Pester mode. Tardy students are walked to their class as they are Lectured and Pestered about their behavior. Hall Masters walk and talk and put students into classrooms until the hallways are clear. After the hallways are clear, the Hall Masters have a quick meeting to discuss problems and to develop a proactive plan for the next period.

First period ends and five minutes before the second period tardy bell rings, the process begins again. Students are more aware of an adult presence and control of the halls. The hallways are becoming less of a comfortable place to hang out in. Students are becoming aware of the bell system. The bell rings and students are Lectured and Pestered again.

First period took fifty minutes to clear the halls. Second period hallways were cleared in fourty five minutes. Every hour, every day, every week, every month the hallways become more controlled by adults. In less than a month the classroom doors close, the hallways are clear and controlled, and there is no tardy problem.

The tardy problem was solved without sending hoards of students to the AP office. The massive paperwork, detention lists, detention halls and teacher duty stations associated with other discipline systems were completely eliminated. How and why did the school tardy problem miraculously disappear?

First of all, there are consequences that change behavior. Teenagers hate to be questioned about their behavior. They get tired of trying to justifying their wrong behavior. Each time a student goes through the Lecture and Pester process, the process becomes more difficult. As a history of earlier truths, lies, half-truths, and facts are mixed into the Lecture and Pester process, students run out of arguments, excuses, and justifications for their wrong behavior. Students discover the only way to escape the Lecture and Pester process is to change their behavior.

Second, the Proactive and Persistent Discipline System is an extremely effective and efficient program when compared with other school discipline systems. The largest and most dangerous problems in the school are identified, attacked, and solved. This system does not wait in offices for problems to show up. The system puts time and numbers on the side of the adults in the school. We allow good students (99% to 100%) time to change. Most students don’t change the first time they are caught, they wait to see if you can catch them again. When students understand and feel the discipline system catching up to them, time after time, with a steadily increasing regularity, they change their behavior.

Gangs, disruptive groups, and misbehaving individuals feel more isolated and less powerful each period. As adult control is established, every adult in the school becomes more empowered and respected by the students.

Third, administrators and hall masters become problem solvers. If a  student has no first period, we take him to a counselor and find a first period for him. If a teacher dismisses a class two minutes after the bell everyday, we go to the teacher and solve the problem. If a student says a teacher will not let me into class, we will find a solution to this problem. By solving little problems, students become confident to bring big problems to your attention– problems such as there is a handgun in the school or there will be a fight after third period.

Finally, as 99% of the student body becomes self-disciplined, the 1% of students that will not change their behavior are run through the old school discipline system. Old school discipline becomes more efficient and effective as discipline consequences are handed out to students who will not change their behavior.

With this school discipline system, there are only thirty students in a student population of 3,000 that are being run through the old school discipline system. The 30 real discipline problems of the school are processed quickly, put into discipline programs for longer times, isolated to a greater degree, and they are not allowed to return until they agree to change their behavior. These 30 students become powerful and effective messengers, that being self-disciplined is a very good idea.

As a general rule, schools do not allow parents into the school to observe the hallways, cafeteria, or other operations of the school. Schools will cite a fear of safety to you or the students if you are in the halls. This may be true, but if they fear for your safety, why do they allow your child to walk the hallways? Perhaps, they fear more that you will see that the school is unsafe and out of control. The greater fear is that parents may realize the school has no real solutions for solving the problems in the school. The greatest fear is that parents may band together and demand a safe school. American schools are in desperate need of much greater parent involvement.

With the use of Lecture and Pester and the Proactive and Persistent Discipline Plan, parents can be invited into the school. Administrators, teachers, and parents can work together to solve problems. Parents working with administrators can walk good students to class.

A school with a large tardy problem and hundreds of students walking the hallways divides administrators and teachers. Administrators assign hundreds of hours of duty stations, in the hallways and entrances to the school. A faculty meeting is called and a plan for classroom detention halls and in class punishments for tardiness is thrust upon teachers. Next, large hall sweeps occur and offenders are herded into the cafeteria by the hundreds. What are the results of such actions? Students find the weak spots and blind spots in the hallway duty plan. Administrators have created a plan that allows transfer of blame for the problem to the teachers. If a problem occurs in a stair well, administrators check the duty roster and assign blame. The teachers feel they are being put into duty stations that threaten their physical well being. Teachers are put in duty stations with little power or back up to do the job. How would you feel if you are a young, 100-pound female assigned to a isolated, dark, third story stairwell? What can a teacher do when rival gangs suddenly appear and a large fight occurs? Probably, the most prudent action is to run for your life and get ready to accept the blame.

Next, the in-class detentions and punishments run their course. Teachers send tardy students to the AP’s office. Tardy students return to class, thrust the detention slip into the teacher’s face and laughs at the teacher. The teacher and the student know he is not going to detention. Everyone in the school knows the discipline system has slim to no chance of catching up to him.

As teachers, we blame administrators and call them bad, lazy, and jusy plain no good. Should we blame administrators when most are the hardest working people in the school? AP’s are trying to prevent the school from exploding. They are working major problems of gangs, weapons, threats, drugs, etc. while forty tardy problems are sent to their office every period.

All to often, teachers get a second slip of paper from the office. This note informs the teacher that too many tardy problems are coming from your classroom. Maybe, you have inadequate classroom management skills and teaching abilities which cause so many tardy problems. If more students are sent to the office, a teacher assessment will be scheduled to observe your classroom. This is a veiled threat of a bad assessment of teacher performance. Most, teachers understand that any student behavior in class can be interpreted many different ways. A bad observation is the first step in removing job security. Most teachers stop the referrals to the AP office.

Hallway sweeps are now occurring. A thousand students are swept into the cafeteria. All morning is wasted writing detention slips and compiling detention lists for Saturday detention hall. Saturday morning 200 students show up for detention hall. They are the good students. These good students ask “Where are all the students who are always late to class and constantly in the hallways?” The good students are frustrated and mad. Eight hundred students sit home smugly laughing at the school, administrators, and teachers. They know the school discipline system has little chance of catching up to them.

A downward cycle of less respect for the school, administrators, and teachers takes place. More and more discipline problems occur in the classroom and the school. The discipline problems get bigger and more dangerous. Every day the school sits on a powder keg and everyone prays it won’t explode. Then one day a Columbine keg of powder explodes.

These explosions lead to a loss of hope in schools, finger pointing, transfer of blame to different groups, and a general feeling of hopelessness in solving America’s school problems.

America’s school discipline problem and many other educational problems can be solved by using the Lecture and Pester process and the Proactive and Persistent School Discipline System. 99% of our schools can and will be safe and highly productive. 99% of our students will become self disciplined and educated. 99% of our administrators will become heroes in their schools. 99% of all teachers will become good teachers.

I believe  inner city schools can achieve and compete on the same level as suburban schools. I feel that billions of dollars that is wasted on poor discipline can one day be used to further educate students. And sometimes, I believe that I am the only one in America saying these things can happen. A lonely voice declaring there is a solution and a way to solve our educational problems. I hope that others will see the promise, truth, and hope this discipline system can bring to America.

Finally, I have faith in the competitive spirit of America’s Public Schools. If one school or one school district out performs another school or school district using this discipline system, the race to the top has truly started.

Advertisements

3 Responses to “How to Save America’s Schools”

  1. Steve Udouj said

    Mr. Batten-

    I’ve just read through your blogs and am impressed with the lucidity and directness of your discipline technique. You get straight to the cause of the many problems in our schools, and provide a concise, sensible program for effecting positive, tangible results. I believe that any one with a modicum of sense and practicality would embrace your ideas. Good luck in your efforts to bring reason to our fractured educational system.

    Steve Udouj
    Orlando, FL

  2. swyttree said

    I like your article and techniques for building more safer and secure schools, disciplinary or and manners are something that we left behind years ago.

    I have just written a book on building safer and more productive schools and just began conducting seminars around the country. I come from a much different angle at tackling the situation than you do but it sounds effective just the same.

    Steve Wyttree

  3. Javier said

    I would like to know what kind of school this was implemented in that was availed additional funds, in the tens of thousands, to hire a whole army of Hall Masters? It certainly isn’t the teachers if it takes fifty minutes to clear the hallway on the first implementation. Not being an educator, but certainly educated, the article seems low on details and high on self praise; somewhat like being sold a used vehicle. The author writes “Unfortunately, no one learned the techniques of the school discipline system, and two years later, a student was stabbed in the ear with a screw driver and died in the hallways of DMS.” Sounds to me perhaps like a “transfer of blame and responsibility for problem”. Educator teach thyself. The reason no one is beating a path to your door is that it’s not just a new moustrap, but an expensive fancy designer mousetrap that only few can afford. Apparently no one is buying it and you shouldn’t be selling it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: