Almost 18 months ago I wrote my first opinion piece. Predictably perhaps, it was about restorative justice, the topic I have covered the most. Today, if I can manage to get myself together, I will drive to Kennesaw State University and receive a master’s degree in conflict management. Yesterday, I hurried to work at the Georgia Conflict Center, scrambling as usual to get my final plans in place for the day’s work. I spent nearly two hours at the high school where my colleague Gwen O’Looney and I have been meeting with students this semester.
Only about a quarter of rising ninth graders in the Southeastern United States will graduate high school on time, according to a new report from the Southern Regional Educational Board (SREB). “The middle grades are the make-or-break point of our K-12 public school system,” SREB President Dave Spence said in a press release. “If states are serious about raising graduation rates and preparing more students for postsecondary study, work has to begin now on the middle grades.”
The SREB is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established by regional governors and legislators to improve the public education system. The organization covers 16 states in the South and Southeast, working directly with state leaders, schools and educators to improve learning and student achievement from Pre-K to higher education. The 16 states covered by the SREB have made “good” progress in early grades achievement in recent years according to the report, but a number still lag behind national standards.
A new survey to gauge what parents and students think about public school discipline is being fielded right now by the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. The non profit group is analyzing student discipline issues across the state. They’re looking at student discipline data and interviewing a wide range of people connected with schools and courts, including principles, teachers, school probation officers, attorneys and juvenile court judges. Twelve school districts representing a range of geography and economics are currently participating and have been promised anonymity. JUSTGeorgia and the Barton Center are helping get the word out to families. “We want a broad based and diverse group of parents and students to respond. We’ve asked a number of stakeholder groups around the state to forward surveys to their mailing list so we can get as many views as possible,“ said Rob Rhodes, Director of Legal Affairs at Georgia Appleseed.
Picture this: Students lay out their school initials in bricks on the outfield of a rival team’s baseball field so the grass underneath dies, leaving a long-term imprint. If the culprits are caught, their punishment could range from a wink and a reprimand to a criminal charge of vandalism. The difference depends on where in Georgia the prank occurs. Some schools and districts punish much more frequently and more severely than others, according to “Effective Student Discipline: Keeping Kids in Class,” a report released in June by the non-profit Georgia Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. Some districts, for example, impose out-of-school-suspension at a rate 10 to 20 times higher than others. “Perhaps the overarching theme of Georgia’s student discipline law is the strong reliance on local control in the development of overall discipline policies,” says the report, subtitled, “An Assessment of Georgia’s Public School Disciplinary Policies, Practices and Outcomes.” The June release is Phase One of a project expected to be completed in late 2010 in association with JustGeorgia, a statewide juvenile justice coalition formed in 2006.