Treasurer Kennedy: Solutions for Louisiana schools disciplinary issues
Written by  // Tuesday, 09 September 2014 11:41 //

kennedy-officeby John Kennedy, Louisiana Treasurer

At least three times a year, I clear my calendar and volunteer to substitute teach. I try to head back to the classroom on a regular basis-not because I need a crash course on the Pythagorean Theorem or the latest sixth grade gossip-but because I want to know what it's like to stand in front of students and help them learn.

Teaching is a tough job, made even tougher by the high stakes involved. How well a child does in school helps determine how well he or she does in life. Not every child will go to college, but every child should get a high school diploma. A diploma can make the difference between getting mired in a minimum wage job flipping hamburgers versus landing a well-paying job with a future in a trade or craft.

Louisiana's four-year high school graduation rate was 74% in the 2013-2014 school year. That means that over 1 out of 4 of our kids aren't finishing high school in four years. In case you're wondering, that was near the bottom of the barrel compared to the rest of the nation.

So what's the problem? Why aren't more of our children finishing school? The answer is complicated and nuanced, but certainly one contributing factor is student misbehavior.

I've seen it almost every time I have substitute taught. Too often there are one or two kids in every class who constantly interrupt and disrupt the learning process for themselves and others, often through physical and verbal abuse of the teacher and fellow students.

Some might refer to this as the lack of discipline in the classroom, but that implies it's the teacher's fault. Usually it's not. Many times teachers are expected to keep disruptive students in the classroom because school administrators are pressured from above to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions that would otherwise reduce the school's performance scores.

A few years ago, I served on the Commission on Streamlining Government. We brainstormed for ways government can serve the taxpayers better. One idea was to funnel troubled kids into the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program or the Louisiana Department of Education's Jobs for America's Graduates Program. Both programs do a terrific job of putting misbehaving kids onto a better path. Unfortunately, neither program is used often enough.

In the meantime, one Louisiana school system is taking action. The Rapides Parish School Board is charging ahead with a boot camp-style school for older students who are chronically in trouble. The rules are simple: No jewelry. No graphic T-shirts. No green hair. No distractions.

The program-called R.A.P.P.S. for Rapides Alternative Positive Program for Students-offers a structured learning environment for students who dropped out or were expelled. "It's not a regular school, and that's what people have to realize. You have to have structure," said Clyde Washington, deputy assistant superintendent of administration. 

The staff includes teachers, a behavior strategist, a counselor and a drill instructor. Students are searched daily. They have to say "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am." They have to participate in physical activity. They have to keep their fingernails trimmed. Most importantly, they have to show up and learn or face disciplinary action. 

With R.A.P.P.S., Rapides Parish is doing something that every school district should do. We shouldn't give up on misbehaving kids, but we also shouldn't allow them to keep other students from learning and good teachers from teaching. Alternative schools are one answer. 

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