We have a lot of troubled kids. As of 2016, approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. HERE.
Schools should be on the front line to assist children and adolescents with mental health difficulties. But corporate school reformers have never focused on helping children with serious problems. On the contrary, they have made problems worse.
Here are reasons schools have failed children due to reform. All of the following affect how children feel about themselves.
- High-stakes testing
- Elimination of special education services
- No excuses
- A nonstop work ethic eliminating recess and play
- One-size-fits-all standards
- Removal of art and music
- Focus on a disingenuous reward system
- Collection of indiscriminate data
- Replacing teachers with online instruction
Where are we now when it comes to helping students with emotional/behavioral disabilities?
Betsy DeVos and her friends paraded around this week wearing yellow scarves, in honor of school choice week.
I’ve not seen or heard any statements by DeVos referring to the recent 11 school shootings in 23 days done by those with easy access to guns. Three of the shootings involved students as active shooters. The last time she seems to have noticed a school shooting was San Bernardino last April.
The gun issue continues to loom causing justifiable outrage.
But DeVos and her supporters also don’t say anything substantive about mental health services in schools. Betsy talks little about anything other than school choice and rethinking schools.
Yet how do you rethink schools if you don’t consider the emotional/behavioral problems children face today?
DeVos needs to be replaced with someone who is in touch with the real needs of students in our public schools.
What is currently being done to address emotional/behavioral disabilities in students?
School choice is not going to do anything to fix these problems.
- Charters and most private schools have a record of pushing kids with emotional/behavioral difficulties out.
- As taxpayers we don’t know what takes place with children who are home schooled, in charter schools, or private schools. (Note) My favorite home school parent has expressed concern about my statement about tax dollars only going to home schooling. This was an mistake on my part. So I added charter schools, and private schools. There are many wonderful parents who homeschool and do a great job of it! And many do it because of the terrible corporate reforms that have destroyed public schools! So I apologize for appearing to single out homeschools.
- How does one address the mental health needs of students who sit in front of screens for school? Too much tech exacerbates mental health problems!
We need strong public schools, schools with resources that will address the needs of children and teens.
Inclusion is the preferred placement for many students with disabilities, but it isn’t always the best placement.
Most class sizes are too large. Especially in high school where teachers can have 150 or more students, young people struggling with emotional/behavioral disabilities are lost—unless they act out to get attention.
In large elementary school classes, it takes only one student to interrupt a class of thirty.
We used to have classes for students who acted out, who struggled to overcome a variety of problems. Some students needed temporary assistance. Others, it was long-lasting. These classes were managed by special education teachers with special preparation, who were familiar with the latest research.
Social-emotional learning is reinvented character education. The difference is SEL involves a strange standardization of behavior, and collects unnecessary social and behavioral information about children. Many parents distrust SEL due to data collection. SEL does nothing to assist students with emotional/behavioral disabilities.
Anti-bullying programs are a good thing. Schools should help all children understand that bullying is wrong. Along with that, school-wide programs should help students understand that anyone can face emotional/behavioral challenges in life and that all students deserve love and acceptance.
Teach for America types are not well enough prepared to understand problems in children. A well-prepared teacher with education degrees, and a background which includes classes in child development and psychology, can spot high frequency or extreme behavior that indicates problematic behavior. They also understand how to work with parents. Students deserve well-prepared general and special education teachers.
Response to Intervention involves assessing students to determine placement in tiers that might assist them in reading. The hope is early intervention will eliminate problems down the road. RTI also looks at behavior. However, it’s not funded well, often assessment is administered by volunteers, and results concerning reading are less than stellar. Many parents fear RTI keeps students from special education services.
Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports (PBIS) through the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, instructs and promotes positive rules and behavioral expectations in school. But it does nothing to address the needs of students who have emotional/behavioral difficulties.
Too few school counselors are hired at individual schools. And when schools do have counselors, many of them are relegated to doing paperwork. Counselors provide much needed support to teachers and parents. But they can’t do this if they are stretched too thin.
Public schools need a continuum of services for children experiencing emotional/behavioral problems. They also need a whole curriculum that includes classes that are therapeutic, like art, music, and drama. These classes can help students find their niche and keep them from academically falling behind.
Little discussion currently takes place as to how to address the needs of children and teens with emotional/behavioral problems in public schools. This needs to change. Too many students are troubled and not getting the assistance they need and deserve in order to face the challenges life can bring.
Julie Webber-Collins says
This is great, Nancy. If one wanted to know more about the origins of SEL, where might they look? Any article suggestions?
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Julie. There are many tentacles tied to SEL. CASEL is behind it and it pays to read about it on their website. Of course some of what they promote sounds reasonable. It is the standardization of behavior and data collection that’s a worry. There is also concern that SEL will be connected to social impact bonds, something I need to learn more about.
I’ve written about SEL and self-regulated learning.
Here are some of my favorite articles. I know there are more out there.
Lisa M says
PBIS is one of the most horrible practices that schools have enacted. My 13 yo has had PBIS school wide his whole education. His class is the most difficult and behavior ridden class ever. The ES teachers couldn’t handle these kids as they were out of control and they are still out of control in MS. Fighting, bullying, name calling, disruptive behavior all day long. Studies have shown that overuse of PBIS creates the opposite affect of it’s purpose because it stimulates impulsive/reward areas in the brain. All of this enacted to bribe kindergarteners to sit longer at desks to learn more so that they can take a stupid test. It’s sinful!
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks for sharing, Lisa. I appreciate hearing your experience with it, although it sounds like such a disaster for you personally and especially your son. I wondered about it. It sounds cold.
Roy Turrentine says
If 20% of the student body experiences emotional difficulty on a regular basis, and another 15 or so live in disruptive environments, is accounts for my observation that about 35% of our students come to school without the ability to learn in our traditional environment. The emphasis on inclusion and graduation percent as the basis for evaluation of schools has significantly changed the way we behave in classes, and not for the better.
Students who are not learning need alternative educational practices outside of the regular classroom. Traditional school evolved in an era that assumed that the student was the agent who bore the responsibility of his own learning. Without getting into an argument as to whether this was or was not a good way of doing things, it is obvious that students who do not learn in a traditional classroom are wasting their time in one.
I am against throwing these children away from the system when they reach a certain age. I would prefer that we invest in systems that attempt different models for children not responding to those that are beneficial to most other students. Having taught in a school where we tried to do this, I would suggest that it is very expensive, for these kids need way more out of the teachers. You would have to have a lot more teachers per student, which is costly on the front end. The benefit would be that traditional students would be freed of disruption, and those who need attention would get it and succeed where they might otherwise fail.
Unfortunately, political forces in the country today are moving toward throwing them on the junk pile like defective parts. We need to spend the money on them now, but the low tax crowd thinks they need to make sure the big industrial interests are served.
Nancy Bailey says
Roy, I think years of NCLB and RTTT style reforms have done a lot of damage. Thanks so much for your well-thought out comment.