Stu­dents need con­se­quences to bad be­hav­ior

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

As I was un­able to at­tend the re­cent Teacher Town Hall, I read with in­ter­est the syn­op­sis of the event in the March 10 edi­tion of the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent. It is no sur­prise that stu­dent be­hav­ior is a top con­cern, but it is wel­come news that the prob­lem may soon be ad­dressed.

Our present sit­u­a­tion is di­rectly re­lated to PBIS (Pos­i­tive Be­hav­ioral In­ter­ven­tion and Sup­port). This is the cur­rent be­hav­ioral ma­trix con­trol­ling our schools. Be­hind it is a phi­los­o­phy that at­tempts to make bribery seem like an ed­u­ca­tion­ally vi­able strat­egy for deal­ing with stu­dents. Teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors reg­u­larly use “in­cen­tives” to co­erce stu­dents to be­have ap­pro­pri­ately and “do their best on the test” (s). Re­ward­ing stu­dents af­fords the giver a warm feel­ing and the stu­dent is certainly happy to re­ceive what­ever in­cen­tive is in play at the mo­ment. This trans­ac­tion in var­i­ous forms takes place nu­mer­ous times through­out a nor­mal school day. Is it pos­si­ble that some­thing given with the best of in­ten­tions, that makes so many stu­dents happy, could have a neg­a­tive con­se­quence?

The an­swer is to be found in class­rooms through­out our county. Do we see stu­dents who are ea­ger to ex­cel or sim­ply ex­cited to ob­tain the in­cen­tive? Over a pe­riod of days, weeks and years, stu­dents be­come con­di­tioned to seek out and win the in­cen­tive. The value in their learn­ing is de­fined by the ap­peal of the ex­trin­sic in­cen­tive. The in­trin­sic value of their learn­ing be­comes ir­rel­e­vant. This is not an en­vi­ron­ment that is con­ducive to ex­cel­lence.

An­other as­pect of the prob­lem is that a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of our teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors are un­ac­quainted with ed­u­ca­tion with­out PBIS. The energy of stu­dents clam­or­ing for the in­cen­tive is sadly mis­taken for stu­dents mo­ti­vated by learn­ing. To be cer­tain, the de­pen­dency on PBIS is in­sid­i­ous. It is a prim­i­tive tool used crudely to ef­fect some con­trol of stu­dent be­hav­ior. At best, this strat­egy pro­duces medi­ocrity both be­hav­iorally and aca­dem­i­cally.

There may be sig­nif­i­cant ed­u­ca­tional re­search to sup­port this strat­egy but, the re­al­ity is that stu­dent be­hav­iors cry out for more. Class­rooms through­out the sys­tem strug­gle un­der the bur­den of one or more stu­dents whose be­hav­iors con­sis­tently un­der­mine the ef­fec­tive­ness of in­struc­tion. The school sys­tem might fi­nally be com­ing to terms with the re­al­ity that chil­dren need con­se­quences. Con­se­quences pro­vide bound­aries and struc­ture for chil­dren so that they can make de­ci­sions to avoid do­ing wrong and fo­cus on learn­ing. Un­der PBIS, most neg­a­tive be­hav­iors are ig­nored or at least go with­out con­se­quence. This would eas­ily ac­count for mis­lead­ing re­duc­tions in sus­pen­sion rates.

In re­view­ing the sys­tem’s dis­ci­pline ma­trix, the school board needs to con­sider what pre­mium it places on ex­cel­lence. Is it will­ing to ac­cept what stu­dents of­fer and call it ex­cel­lence, or does it want to in­spire ex­cel­lence? In­spir­ing ex­cel­lence re­quires call­ing stu­dents to a higher be­hav­ioral stan­dard.

I hope that un­der [Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Michael] Lu­cas’ di­rec­tion, the school board can find the re­solve to re­ject PBIS and open the door to the op­por­tu­nity that higher ex­pec­ta­tions can have for our stu­dents.

Steve Moyer, Wal­dorf

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