Video

Fighting the School to Prison Pipeline

http://www.wkow.com/story/22081512/2013/04/25/concern-over-student-hurt-by-sun-prairie-school-officer

This is a new case of mine clearly demonstrating why it is often inappropriate to have police in our schools, particularly when they abuse the children they are supposed to protect and do so without provocation.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Getting to Yes in the 21st Century

In their seminal book, Getting to Yes, originally published in 1981, Roger Fisher and William Ury’s subtitle, Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, only begins to describe how this fairly short 200 page book, gives valuable lessons on the art of negotiating Win-Win solutions, instead the more commonly experienced Win-Lose, or worse yet, Lose-Lose solutions.  These lessons are needed today more than ever before.

As I previously described in, The Great Dysfunction or Lessons in how Not to Govern, our political environment is poisoned by politicians and their funders who believe that their sole goal is to obtain or retain the political majority.  Sadly, the recent failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the mildest of gun control reforms when it allowed a minority of Senators to block the background checks that roughly 90% of Americans want, demonstrated that the desire to obtain a Win-Win solution was unable to carry the day in the face of the NRA’s desire to “win” at all costs.

While there are numerous other examples of the failure of our political leaders to obtain palatable outcomes on the important issues of our day, rather than point fingers and accuse one side or the other of their responsibility for this miserable failure of leadership, the lessons taught so well in Getting to Yes need revisiting in order to change the unfortunate dynamic we are currently experiencing.

Fisher and Ury explain that we all negotiate on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not.  We negotiate with our families, our co-workers, those with whom we do business, as well as in the legal and political arenas.  While it may feel good to “win” when one negotiates, the long term outcome of having someone you deal with on a regular basis “lose” the negotiation, may not be worth it in the end.

I regularly explain this to parents of children with disabilities, whom I represent, when they want to “win” their legal claim against a wrongdoing school district, but may end up destroying relationships with the very educators whom they need to provide a quality education to their children.  Thus, I regularly remind them to “keep their eye on the prize,” which is the quality education they seek for their children, and not the pound of flesh which their anger may cause them to desire.

Many people who are in the midst of a dispute assume that there will always be a winner and a loser when the dispute is resolved.  This assumption is patently false, as there are two other possible outcomes:

  1. Neither side wins because the dispute remains unresolved (e.g., Israel and Palestine); and
  2. Both sides lose because though the dispute is resolved, neither side is happy with the outcome (e.g., a lawsuit results in a Pyrrhic victory for one side because that side obtains a fraction of what it sought and spent more money on attorneys than it gained through the resolved dispute).

So, how do Fisher & Ury suggest obtaining Win-Win solutions?  They do so by focusing on five key elements of principled negotiations:

  • “Separate the people from the problem.”  In other words,  the goal in negotiating should not be beating the other side.  It should be solving the problem at hand. Successful negotiation should not be considered the equivalent of a competitive sport if the parties are truly interested in solving the problem.
  • “Focus on interests, not positions.”  In the special education advocacy example mentioned earlier, the parents’ interest is in getting their children a quality education, not in having a judge rule in their favor to prove to the school district that they were right.
  • “Invent options for mutual gain.”  This is where win-win negotiating really becomes an art form.  Creative negotiators seek opportunities where both sides can gain from the outcome.  For example, when a school is dealing with a difficult behavioral situation, the win-lose situation is the child either stays in school with continued misbehavior, or the child is expelled, relieving the school from having to deal with the child, but putting the child on the Schools to Prison Pipeline.  The win-win solution involves bringing in a behavioral expert to observe the child in school and to provide sound suggestions to educators on how to improve teaching techniques and behavioral interventions to teach the child appropriate behaviors.
  • “Insist on using objective criteria.”  All too often, negotiation takes place on emotional terms or even outright falsehoods.  We saw this in the recent background check debate where the opponents to background checks simply lied about the bill before the Senate by raising false fears that the bill would prevent sales between family members.  No problems are successfully resolved by relying on falsehoods or emotions alone.
  • “Know your BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement)”  On a regular basis, I must counsel clients on what the likely outcome is if they fail to come to a negotiated agreement.  Without knowing this, the client (or politician) cannot truly make an informed decision as to whether to accept the offer presented.

This is not to suggest that Getting to Yes is easy.  In fact, it takes hard work, checking egos at the door, and regular reminders of what you are really seeking in the midst of your negotiation.  For nearly 28 years, I have had the professional privilege of assisting clients, non-profits and policymakers negotiate Win-Win solutions with the assistance of Getting to Yes principles.  Perhaps it is time for our political leaders to read and follow the rules of this invaluable book.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

School Suspensions: A Failure to Educate

While policy makers and politicians debate school accountability and point fingers at various tools and causes, it is remarkable that the continuing upward trend to suspend ever more students, especially students of color and those with disabilities, continues unabated, with a complete absence of accountability.  Earlier this week, UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies, published a comprehensive report on both the overuse of suspensions in our schools, and the wide disparities revealing severe discrimination regarding who receives suspensions.

Key findings from this report include the following troubling data:

  • Latinos had a nearly 11 percentage point increase in suspensions between elementary school and secondary schools, which is particularly surprising since the Latino elementary school suspension rate is similar to the White suspension rate at the elementary level.
  • Black female secondary students were suspended at a higher rate (18.3%) than secondary male students from all other racial/ethnic groups.
  • The rate of suspensions for secondary students with disabilities (19.3%) was nearly triple that of non-disabled students (6.6%).
  • The highest rate of suspensions were for Black male students with disabilities, a shocking 36%.
  • 323 districts around the country had secondary school suspension rates of 25% or higher.
  • 2,624 schools had secondary suspension rates of at least 25%.
  • 519 schools had secondary suspension rates of at least 50%.
  • Chicago led the nation in the number of schools that suspended at least 25% of any subgroup, with 82 of its schools doing so.  Chicago’s overall suspension rate was a horrific 27.5% which is even more troubling when examining the disparity of its 41.6% suspension rate for Black students compared to only 10.6% of its white students.

Anyone who cares about the education of our nation’s children must seriously question why neither the federal government, nor the states, factor suspension rates into any school accountability formula.  Even from a pure academic standpoint, it goes without saying that the massive number of children who are suspended are generally not receiving the benefit of any education when they are out of school.

Moreover, anyone who cares about the achievement gap should be especially concerned about the disparities which this suspension data reveals.  This is especially true because most suspensions are for minor infractions, such as violating dress codes, use of cell phones, tardiness and truancy, loitering and disruption, so it simply cannot be argued that the high use of suspensions is keeping our nation’s schools safer.

Fortunately, UCLA’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies also published, A Summary of New Research: Closing the Discipline Gap: Research to Policy, which analyzes and consolidates the results of 16 new research papers on this topic in search of a solution.  Key findings of this summary are:

  • Out of school suspensions have serious, disparate and negative academic outcomes including increasing the number of dropouts. One study analyzing Florida 9th graders found that the drop out rate increased from 16% to 32% for students suspended only once, and jumped to 42% for those suspended twice.
  • It is clear that suspension rates are correlated with intentional decisions made by school leaders.

There is good news in this Research Summary and if we are serious about improving our educational system leading to better educated citizens, these findings must be implemented at the federal, state and local level, as follows:

  • Chicago’s safest schools have strong teacher-student and teacher-parent relationships, resulting in low suspension rates.
  • Teacher training and improving student engagement lead to lower suspension rates.
  • Large district-wide investments in social-emotional learning resulted in safer schools than investments in high-security hardware and personnel, such as metal detectors and school police officers.
  • Non-punitive threat assessment protocols reduce suspensions for all groups.
  • As I discussed in Putting an End to the School to Prison Pipeline, the use of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) can be effective in reducing suspensions, but only if PBIS is aligned with school codes of conduct and pays attention to subgroups of students.
  • Restorative justice is a viable strategy  to keep students in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

To sum up, if federal, state, and local policy makers are truly serious about improving educational outcomes, they must insist that local schools develop strategies that keep students in school, instead of issuing rampant suspensions.  Moreover, they must provide the policy and budgetary leadership to do so.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Size of Government: We’re asking the Wrong Question

Since the Reagan revolution in 1980, Democrats and Republicans have been engaged in a never ending war over the size of government, with Democrats espousing a generally larger role for government in our lives, and Republicans generally supporting a smaller role for government in our lives.  Sadly, however, this is one case where the aphorism, “size matters,” is simply unhelpful.

I previously posted, The Fallacy in Government Budgeting, which asked,

Why is there a complete lack of budgeting analysis about how much it costs to achieve the clearly identified state and federal education standards that are written into law?

Thus, the right question is not about the size of government, or even any particular line item in the budget.

The right question is whether or not government is providing a valuable service with taxpayers’ hard earned money.

In fact, President Obama correctly framed this question in his first inaugural address when he stated:

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”

A microeconomics analogy is worth consideration here.  When most people make a purchase, while they hopefully consider whether or not they can afford the purchase, their most important consideration is whether the price they are paying for the product or service provides a good value.  That is why we tend to buy the larger package because we pay less per ounce for the larger volume, i.e., we get a better value for the bulk purchase.

When it comes to government budgets, most taxpayers recognize that in order to live in a civilized society, government must take care of certain collective responsibilities, including transportation infrastructure, public health, national defense, police and fire protection, and the education of our children.  In general, when the public is satisfied with government service, most people do not mind paying taxes to support valuable government services.

This is exactly why, though a majority of Americans are concerned with the federal deficit, a majority do not want to reduce government spending.  In fact, a majority of Americans want to increase spending on Education, Public Schools and Veterans Benefits.  Indeed, contrary to what media pundits might have us believe, there is not a single category of the federal budget regarding which a majority of Americans want to see reduced spending.  In fact, a plurality of Americans want to see level or increased spending in every area of the federal budget except foreign aid.

There are two key components to changing the conversation.  First, government and those who support its helpful role in our lives, must do a better job informing the public of the valuable services it provides, as too many people simply take our roads, police, schools and the myriad of other government services which benefit all of us, for granted.

But mere pro-government advertising is not enough.  Those who support the role of government in our lives must also acknowledge, that like any large organization, there is always room for improvement.  Government must constantly strive to improve the way it functions and let the public know that it is doing so.

After the Katrina FEMA fiasco, the Obama Administration was committed to improving critical FEMA services, as stated by, Carlos Dávila, director of Business Management Division, FEMA Recovery Directorate,

“You have to question everything—not from a cynical standpoint but a critical thinking standpoint.  Agencies need to have folks with passion.”

A recent report appropriately suggests that,

It is fitting that agencies take stock of their priorities and activities, identify opportunities to improve how they deliver results, and use analytics to demonstrate they are meeting mission goals efficiently and could do so at less cost in the future.

It is ironic that since the Great Recession, despite the fact that the US bailed out financial institutions and automakers which were deemed too big to fail, we do not analyze government services in the same manner.  Can our society tolerate public schools that fail?  The answer should be a simple no we cannot allow our public schools to fail if we want to continue to live in a civilized society.  Yet, as I wrote in, The Great Dysfunction or Lessons in how Not to Govern, our Congress continues to act in a dysfunctional manner which further erodes public confidence in government.

So let’s start asking about the value of government services and insist that the value of those services constantly improves.  Perhaps then, we can stop asking the wrong question, because size alone does not matter.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.