The Problem: Discipline at Samurai High School (revision 2)

 

 

Daniel R. Fruit

dfruit@bu.edu

fruitman@gol.com

 

 

 

A. Background of the Problem

On May 5th 1997, a student walked out of Mr. Tís class 4th period history class. This did not come as a surprise to either the teacher or the students. In the course of a year, six students had walked out of this class. Subsequent conversations revealed that the student did not see anything wrong with this behavior. A phone call home showed that the studentís parents, moreover, saw nothing wrong with such behavior either.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Mr. T announced to his fourth period students that he was instituting a program whereby each student would be graded on behavior as well as performance. For each instance of class disruption, students would lose 10 points out of a total of 200 points possible. By the end of the quarter, five students had lost all 200 points, meaning each had disrupted the class 20 or more times or an average of twice per week.

Nor are these isolated instances. Prior to this, Mr. T had sent a dozen students to the office from that class alone. Nor was this the only class. Samurai High School students during the 1996-1997 school year behaved, by the estimation of most teachers and students, worse than previous year. Moreover, they behaved worse in comparison with the standards outlined in the Samurai High School Handbook and in other DoDDs high schools. In order to understand this problem, itís necessary to give some background description of Samurai High School to supply a context.

Samurai High School (SHS) is a Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDs) high school, which teaches students in grades 7-12. The student body consists primarily of children of active duty military air force members and civilians stationed at Samurai Air Force Base (SAB). Most military members serve a three-year "tour" at Samurai Air Force Base, so the school experiences about a 25% turn-over each year. Hence, relatively few students who start SHS as seventh graders will graduate from the school.

Due to various economic factors, SHS has, over time, become more central to life at SAB. Though situated in Japan, northwest of Tokyo, SAB and its citizens have relatively little contact with the Japanese. Despite the fact that those stationed at SAB receive special pay for duty in Japan, Cost of Living Adjustments or COLA, this does little to offset Japanese prices which commonly run 3-4 times that charged for equivalent items in the U.S., and military members receive salaries pegged at American, not Japanese, levels. Further, few Japanese can speak English with any level of proficiency. For single service members, in particular, the prospect of a life restricted to four square miles of base holds few attractions.

The Japanese government, to keep the 15th Air Force, however, has tried to make the base attractive to families. The Japanese government now shoulders all costs of the base except salaries. Also, the Japanese government has aggressively built new family housing units, so that most new families live off-base only a few months if at all. Dependent wives and/or husbands also can usually find jobs teaching conversational English, paying attractive salaries, in downtown Tokyo, an hourís train ride away. As a result, families can not only have a comfortable tour but save a fair amount of money.

With childrenís lives restricted to the base, both parents working, and the baseís entertainment limited, the school, SHS, becomes the center of studentsí lives. As a result, some come to school as early as 0600 when their parents drop them off on the way to work, and some stay as late as 1900 when the last sporting event ends. For many students, then, as in many middle class neighborhoods across the US, the school has become their de facto parent. This makes it all the more important that SHS set and uphold good standards of behavior.

 

B. Description and Documentation of the Problem

1. Verbal description

The problem is the failure of students at Samurai High School to behave in an acceptable manner. This worsens the environment of the school as well as acting as an impediment to learning.

2. Standards of comparison

a. alternative standards

There are several ways of comparing student behavior to draw upon. One is accepted classroom norms in other schools. When this author stated that students had actually walked out of his class, teachers and administrators of ISTI schools expressed shock. This reflects, in part, the reality that the students of non-DoDDs international schools belong largely to the upper class who place a high value on education. When this author taught in Los Angeles, occasionally such incidents did occur, but consequences also occurred. Los Angeles, then, shows the expected norms of lower class American schools. Between ISTI and LA, then, there is a spectrum, and in neither case was such behavior tolerated.

A second standard of comparison is with past behavior at Samurai High School in 1995-1996. A number of measures indicate that student behavior has declined from one year to the next as will be mentioned below.

A third standard of comparison is with the standards of acceptable behavior outlined in the Samurai High School Student Handbook. Revised yearly, the handbook functions as the "Bible" in terms of accepted student conduct. The school handbook outlines student behavior in a positive and negative sense. In the positive sense, it outlines how a student should, ideally act. For example, the handbook lists a good citizen, a kind of "model student," in the following terms (p. 37):

1. COOPERATIVE-putting group interests above personal interests

2. COURTEOUS-showing consideration for others

3. ENTHUSIASTIC-radiating a cheerful and wholesome attitude

4. HONORABLE-honest, dependable, and loyal

5. INDUSTRIOUS-active and diligent in making class preparations

6. NEAT-personal appearance, good habits, and pride in oneís self

7. RESPECTFUL of others

While relatively few high school students anywhere possess an abundance of all seven of these qualities, the handbook also outlines behavior in a more negative sense: it lists prohibited behaviors. To return to the example given at the beginning of this paper, the students in question left class explicitly as a means of expressing their anger with the classroom teacher. The handbook states in capital letters, bold, and centered (p. 39):

Students who wish to clarify a situation with a staff member have an obligation to do so privately after class or after school. Students may not disrupt classrooms to settle differences of opinion or arguments, or question a teacherís authority.

In the example above, the students, through their actions, not only questioned the teacherís authority but clearly did so in a disruptive manner. The handbook gives some suggestion as to what should happen when such events occur. The handbook offers a list, specifically not all-inclusive, for which a student can be suspended. Walking out of class falls into three different suspendible categories:(p. 51), "leaving the classroom without permission," "insubordination," and "repetitious misconduct harmful to order and discipline." The following is a list (p. 51) of suspendible offenses.

* Fighting

* Malicious destruction of property

* Insubordination or open defiance of the authority of a staff member through inappropriate language or gestures

* Thievery

* Repetitious misconduct harmful to order and discipline

* Unexcused absences, truancy

* Possession or use of weapons

* Sexual Harassment

* Smoking

* Truancy

* Failure to show for administrative detention

* Leaving the classroom without permission

b. validity of standards chosen

The third of these standards is the most valid. DoDDs School handbooks, particularly Samuraiís, represent community standards for student behavior. SHSís handbook committee includes teacher, student, and parent representatives. Further, it undergoes yearly review.

Moreover, SABís handbook, as mentioned earlier, lists both the ideal student behavior and sanctions against less than ideal behavior. Ideally, a student should become the kind of model student outlined above. More realistically, he/she should avoid the behaviors specifically sanctioned. Typical student behavior will fall between these extreme.

Parent usage of the handbook re-enforces this view that handbook regards the handbook as a living document and viable standard. During a conference with an assistant principal, parents will refer to specific pages when discussing a "case." Moreover, in the year previous to 1995-1996, student behavior more or less conformed to that outlined in the handbook-or received sanction. This shows, then, not only the general acceptance but the general reasonableness of the standards chosen.

The handbook, then, represents a Lockian-Jeffersonian social contract between the school and the parents. Ample evidence, though, shows that students feel under little obligation to carry through on their part of the contract.

3. Indicators of problem performance

Having chosen the student handbook as the standard of behavior, itís necessary look at some measures by which student behavior may be seen as declining according by that standards. The chart below includes all the measures previously mentioned as suspendible. In addition, the last two items mention areas specifically targeted by the school administration for attention that each merited a section in the handbook. The chart scores these measures according to three categories: better, worse, or stayed about the same, in comparison with the 1995-1996 school year.

This author completed an analysis of all of the discipline slips issued in 1995-1996 and 1996-1997, looking at both the total number and their contents. Further, faculty common discussion, yielded a general belief that coincided with that of this author. These yielded the following comparison chart:

TABLE 1

A COMPARISON BETWEEN 1995-1996/1996-1997

AREA RECOGNIZED AS SUSPENSIBLE

DISCIPLINE in TERMS OF KEY MEASURES

IN SHS SCHOOL HANDBOOK

BETTER, WORSE, OR SAME

Fighting

Better

Thievery

Same

Unexcused absences, truancy

Same

Sexual harassment

Same

Smoking

Same

Truancy

Same

Failure to show for administrative detention

Same (but fewer held)

Malicious destruction of property

Worse

Insubordination or open defiance

Worse

Repetitious misconduct harmful to order

Worse

Possession or use of weapons

Worse

Leaving the classroom without permission

Worse

Gum-chewing, eating, drinking in class

Worse

Tardiness to class

Worse

A look at the categories above reveals a general picture. The areas that remained the same or improved dealt with issues that required following an explicit policy outlined in the handbook and contact with the security police, schoolís officer, or base commander. The other issues at the bottom deal, in general, with the schoolís climate.

The next group of measures derive from the data gathered largely by one classroom teacher.

TABLE 1

A COMPARISON BETWEEN 1995-1996/1996-1997

ON SEVERAL DISCIPLINARY ISSUES

Measure

1995-1996

1996-1997

Behavior Incidents

120

155

Office Referrals

4

20

Misbehaving Retained

8

19

Worst Student Days

120

160

Mr. T, who contacts parents for all behavioral incidents in the classroom, documented about a 30% increase over the previous year. In terms of students sent to the office, nearly five times as many received referrals as compared with the previous year.

Fewer students left Samurai for discipline reasons, but this suggests a different conclusion than might first arise. SHS, like most DoDDs schools, expels very few students. Often, though, when faced with a possible expulsion or increasingly frequent suspensions, parents send their dependents back to the Continental States (CONUS) to attend school with a relative. The number of students leaving, then, supplies a rough estimate of parental belief in SHSís willingness to enforce its disciplinary standards. In 1995-1996, about a dozen students left SHS; in 1996-1997, only a single student left. For the purpose of making the measure readable, this measure assumes about the same number of misbehaving students enrolled/per year (20) to make the measure align with the others in the table, i.e.

A final measure of misbehavior is "Worst Student Days." This refers to the approximate number of days, on average, the worst student attends school. At SHS, the "worst student" is assumed to be a permanent source of disruption, hence the fewer days of his/her presence the fewer disruptive incidents. In 1995-1996, A.B., the worst student, often spent his days home, suspended. Such was not the case in 1996-1997 for A.B. though his behavior remained unaltered. The new worst student, "T.J." who spent the previous year "Stateside," at her parents "choice" was threatened with expulsion. Her parents did not withdraw her nor was an attempt made at expulsion. Through the remainder of the year she continued to roam the hallways, talk out of turn, and, each day, disrupt most of her classes. Only a weapons violation spared the school from the last 10 days of her presence and lowered the score above from a 170.

On a more anecdotal level, conversations with students revealed a conspicuous lack of respect for either classroom teachers or the administration. When students often say remarks to teachers such as, "I donít care what you say," "Iím gonna walk out of here," or "Go ahead, send me to the office!" that shows a school that no longer maintains the respect of students.

C. Importance of the Problem

 

Classroom discipline is important. One means of showing its importance is to look, again, at the handbook. The handbook devotes over 14 pages out of 98 (14.2%) of its attention to just that subject.

There are good reasons for this attention. If a school cannot maintain discipline at the classroom level, several negative consequences occur. First, students, particularly at the junior high level, lower their own standards of behavior, compounding the misbehavior. Second, disrupting students take away time from those whose behavior is better. Third, faculty loses confidence in the administration and begin to question its leadership.

1. Significant Direct Effects of the Problem

The most significant direct effect of the problem is lessened opportunities to learn. The amount of student of learning becomes, in effect, directly dependent upon class composition. Students in classes with fewer behavior problems learn more. To make a simple case, Mr. Tís fourth and fifth period classes both worked from the same syllabus, took the same tests, etc. Even discounting the 6-7 behavior problem students themselves, the other students in fourth period learned less in direct comparison to 5th period and by the standards of "value added." The persistent presence of behavior problems, then, works directly to the disadvantage of other students whom bad luck places in the same class.

A second direct effect of this problem is the lowering of behavior expectations across the school. In terms of the 8th graders, it became acceptable for any student to act "not quite as bad as" T.J., a student who frequently: interrupted her teachers, left her seat without permission, wandered the halls, went to the bathroom for thirty minutes, etc.

A third consequence is that Samurai became, in effect, a "magnet" for misbehaving students. While parents of top students very seldom withdraw their students and cannot send them to other schools, the same cannot be said of the worst students. Itís very common at the senior high level for parents to enroll students at Samurai because theyíve been in trouble in the States and SAB seemingly offers fewer opportunities to get into more trouble. Quite often, in previous years, these parents found SHS not so promising as theyíd hoped. As the statistics above suggest, more of them found SHS a fertile place to send their misbehaving children than the previous year.

2. Likely Effects of the Problem on Other Important Problems

As mentioned above, if order cannot be maintained in the school or classrooms, less learning will occur. That is, the main issue, but there are other related issues.

Faculty-administration relations worsened. On many issues, this administration did not see eye-to-eye with the teachers. Many complained of being forced to work at in-school suspensions (for no pay). Those who taught the worst behaving students complained specifically and often about this issue.

 

D. Stakeholders

Identity: Mr. Principal

Position of Power: He runs the school as principal.

Evidence of Interest: Mr. Principal makes general discipline policy for the school. In addition, he has begun a number of school disciplinary programs.

Skills and Resources: He can suspend students. Further, he can enlist the support of local military commanders at "Commandersí Call." Also, he has, assigned to him a schoolís officer whose duties can include helping with discipline. Further, he can usually count on the continued support of Dr. Rarig, who hired him and, in effect, brought him over from Germany with her.

Level of Commitment: Mr. Principalís commitment to maintaining a good school environment is balanced by his desire to advance, i.e., not to make any big enemies or major mistakes. Further, he brought with him a veritable catalogue of improvement projects that take up his time.

Restraints: The principalship at SHS is a high stakes position. Many commanders send their children to SHS, meaning officers must be satisfied with the school and not bothered too much. Further, the nearness of The Pacific Stars and Stripes, the Pacific Newspaper, means that SHSís failures become front page news. His predecessorís success with discipline, but failures with PR, effectively ended his career. Further, this is Mr. Principalís first try at a principalship.

Identify: Ms. Bosslady

Position: MS. Bosslady is the director of DoDDs-Japan, Mr. Principalís supervisor

Evidence of Interest: In Ms. Bossladyís case, itís difficult to determine if sheís interested. Should the school wish to expel a student, as in the case of T.J. above, she needs to agree. The schoolí failure to expel may have resulted from her intervention.

Skills and Resources: Ms. Bosslady can expel a student.

Level of Commitment: Though Ms. Bosslady has a number of schools under her command within Japan, SHS, as the nearby high school comes most easily under her gaze.

Restraint: Ms. Bosslady comes under considerable pressure from political constituencies. In the case of expulsion, this can cause inaction.

Identity: Mr. Assistantprincipal

Position of Power: Mr. Assistantprincipal is the new assistant principal.

Evidence of Interest: Mr. Assistantprincipal job description delegates him to the responsibility over discipline.

Skills and Resources: By and large, discipline is his responsibility. On a day to day basis, he can suspend and detain students.

Level of Commitment: This is something of a question mark. Mr. Assistantprincipal likes to be liked and, as a result, tries to please all. This leads to some inconsistent behavior with students and teachers.

Restraints. As in the case of Mr. Principal, it took a promotion to find Mr. Assistantprincipal and for good reason: He has effectively replaced two people, both assistant principals. This means his time is at a premium. Further, like Mr. Principal, he has no experience at his position. Moreover, at his previous school, Zama, he worked for a principal almost notoriously disliked and distrusted, so her recommendation is somewhat suspect.

Identity: General Fifteen, Head of the 15th Air Force

Position of Power: He is no longer, technically, the commander of the base, but he heads the Fifteenth Air Force.

Evidence of Interest: General Fifteen, as former base commander, participated in student expulsions. As explained below, his interest today seems more conditional.

Skills and Resources: Technically, General Fifteen has no responsibility over the school. His network of influence has, however, proven itself. This is why SHSís Girlsí Soccer Team, unlike the others, received billeting at last yearís tournament: a phone call to Japanarmy Base proved quite sufficient.

Level of Commitment: General Fifteen gets involved sparingly but shows no restraint if his daughter is involved. As more discipline issues involve younger students, he may not become involved.

Restraints: Technically, General Fifteen has no jurisdiction over the base.

Identity: Colonel Baseman, Base Commander and the other commanders

Position of Power: Colonel Baseman commands the local MSS support group headquartered at SAB. With General Fifteenís promotion, he became the ranking officer and, by default, base commander.

Evidence: The Colonel could become very interested. Again, he can send a family to the United States and with their dependent. He functions, then, more as a potential stakeholder.

Skills and Resources: Colonel Baseman commands, directly or indirectly, the parents of the students and the commanders of those parents. He can order those parents to make specific interventions regarding their children and, if necessary, arrange to have the sponsors returned to CONUS.

Level of Commitment: This is a question mark. Some commanders have "made their mark" through commitment to the schools. Colonel Baseman is an "easy going" guy and, though his daughter, who attends SHS, is a top student, she can be a behavior problem also.

Restraints: Colonel Baseman became involved in the "housing fiasco," in which some teachers were ordered to leave base housing so that junior officers could move on base. Though he subsequently ordered the evictions put on hold, this dampened his credibility with the faculty-and with the junior enlisted.

Identity: the SAC

Position of Power: the Site Area Council represents the parents, teachers, and students. It functions as the base equivalent of a PTA.

Evidence of Interest: SAC members function as part of the school renewal process. Occasionally SAC meetings include discussions of discipline.

Skills and Resources: The influence of the SAC usually mirrors that of its most important members. Typically a colonel or majorís wife heads the group. Technically, the SAC only advises. A wise principal, though, enlists them in any move likely to offend many parents.

Level of Commitment: The SAC lost both its most vocal members (colonelsí wives) and will likely find its time filled with discussion of the block schedule.

Restraints: Again, technically the SAC can only advise. The loss of the long-term members will mean that its functioning will likely remain advisory for the foreseeable future. It doesnít compare in importance to a school board.

Identity: the teachers and the Union

Position of Power: Technically teachers command any student in their classroom or within their supervision in the school.

Evidence of Interest: The teachers have discussed discipline on an informal basis. Further it has become the subject of discussions at faculty meetings.

Skills and Resources: The faculty can hold a student for detention (with parent permission), call parents, and send students to the office.

Level of Commitment: The faculty has many issues with the administration. Disciplinary issues tend to fill the conversations of those who happen to have many of the "worst" students. On the other hand, the administrationís use of teachers to supervise, unpaid, in-school suspension, has accidentally served to focus attention on the issue of discipline.

Restraints: The faculty cannot keep a misbehaving student out of the classroom. Nor can they suspend a student. Both referrals and phone calls require additional support for consequences to occur.

Identity: the parents

Position of Power: the parents can do various things at home that will encourage their students to behave better in school.

Evidence of Interest: Thus far parents havenít shown a lot interest in this subject of discipline, but, again, they could. At events such as the recent school forum, the administration invites comments and discussion from any members of the community. At the meeting, however, only about a dozen parents came.

Skills and Resources: Parents can take away everything but the basics from their dependents. Similarly, they can reward with everything from privileges to VCR films.

Level of Commitment: This varies greatly. The key problem, here, is that parents can and do work full-time and, in the case of military parents, more than full-time. Military duty, moreover, sometimes means parents serve at other bases, leaving dependents in the hands of friends.

Restraints: As mentioned above, time is the key restraint.

Identity: the students

Position of Power: They can control their own behavior.

Evidence of Interest: Students have requested that other students receive suspensions. Further, they have requested that their counselors transfer them from classes holding many misbehaving students.

Skills and Resources: Students, themselves, can behave in an acceptable manner.

Level of Commitment: This varies.

Restraints: Even if a student behaves well, his/her ability to persuade others to do the same is limited. This means that the best-intentioned student, stuck in a class like Mr. Tís 4th period, may try very hard and find his/her learning limited by others.

Bibliography

Fruit, Daniel (1993). "The Effect of Social Environment on DoDDs Pacific Schools: Or the Little Company Town With the C-130s." Unpublished Manuscript.

Samurai High School Parent-Student Handbook: School Year 1996-1997.