School Autonomy and the ‘unwanted student enrolment’

A moving article by Travis Smiley PBS talk show host about the film “Education Under Arrest” depicts what happens to poor and minority students under ‘zero tolerance’ regimes being implemented as part of corporate education reforms in many US states.

It made me think about a problem I have predicting will become more relevant to Australia as we foolishly rush to embrace the ‘independent public schools’ model of WA.  The problem, put simply is this:

If schools are going to be made to compete more and more in the schooling market place this will enhance the ‘choice power’ of all students from desirable well educated ‘stable’ middle class families and reduce the ‘choice power’ of families in less stable, middle class circumstances.  Autonomous schools who want to increase their attractiveness in the market place and are in a position to do so will do what is in their power to attract desirable enrolments and keep at bay those considered less desirable.   One possible ‘ solution’ will be embracing notions such as ‘zero tolerance’.  How will this impact on ‘ ‘unwanted students’?

The film is based on interviews with kids who are victims of this policy.  Smiley’s account of the stories are sad and disturbing.

“We had to shut the cameras down for a moment. The testimony of the two New Orleans sisters, Kenyatta, 15, and Kennisha, 17, was too surreal, too emotional and too raw.

Kenyatta was involved in a fight at school that she didn’t start. Because of “zero tolerance” policies adopted at their high school and many others in America, Kenyatta was handcuffed, arrested and expelled. Kennisha, who tried to break up the fight, was also expelled….

One of every three teens arrested is arrested in school. It’s a punitive system based, in large part, on “zero tolerance” policies adopted in the late 1990s after the shocking school shootings in Columbine; a system that’s built a highway into prison, but barely a sidewalk out.

We took our cameras to Washington State, Louisiana, California and Missouri to meet and speak with those involved with educational and juvenile justice reform. Through their expertise and experiences we get a definitive look at how arresting children in school, sending them to court and then locking them away in jail impacts America’s dropout rate.

We shut the cameras down briefly after Kenyatta, with voice cracking and tears flowing, described her ordeal with a school district’s unyielding policy and her encounter with the juvenile justice system:

“It was completely unfair. I felt all of this was so wrong. ..”


3 thoughts on “School Autonomy and the ‘unwanted student enrolment’

  1. Thank you again. If only people would realise how important are the warnings that you are giving. In WA schools that are not in the Independent Public Schools do not get the support they need in terms of staffing and they carry most of the students in need of additional support, in different ways – because one size does not fit all. In South Australia schools that have decided not to follow a middle way to enable students to have access to all kinds of media in their library/resource centre with its teacher librarian or what they are now calling ‘learning hub’ have created difficulties for teachers working in special education where books might not be available and, to cater for the interests and needs of students, massive down loads of paper occur because the non-digital resources were removed and given to charity. Our governments have seen local autonomy as a way of decreasing costs. They have put in place no guarantees to support the quality of engagement in all schools with their different cohorts. They do not seem to care that there is a non-digital world as well as a digital one. Look at what we intend to do to those here already and recognised as refugees who will be put on Temporary Protective Visas. when education is the key to a reasonable future, who will miss out.

  2. I think this is already a problem with all the ‘selective schools’ in NSW. In some areas, comprehensive public schools have become places only for children whose families have no other choice (either because of lack of money or lack of education).

  3. The comprehensive schools are very important. They engage students in practical ways that help them to understand the theory behind the practice. With leadership that is flexible and cooperative, they enhance the lives of all who go there and connect the intellectual and emotional lives of students in ways that cross disciplines and decrease the intellectual snobbery in the idea that the only students worth real support are the potential high fliers in universities. The selective schools tend to undermine connections across the sciences and the arts and perpetuate the past notion that one is either an academic or a non-academic. I invite all who think like that to consider the education of Michael Faraday. Of course he was sneered at by the Newtonians who were sure his field theory could not work, this man with barely a basic education and no university qualifications. It would take James Clerk Maxwell, with the humility to consider a view ‘outside the square’ and with the mathematics to show its validity. Comprehensive schools value all who are there. We need more of them.They help to develop a society which values all whatever their financial, religious or social background. We need to value them more in this nation where ‘status’ and ‘brand’ influence parental decisions. We have pushed market-forces into schools where they have no place to be. Comprehensive schools build, at their best, on a philosophy of connecting head, heart and hand, so vocational aspects of education are not despised.
    Erica Jolly

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