Thursday, December 12, 2013

Enough!

Enough!
By Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson

“The direction in which an education starts a man will determine his future life.”  Plato

Given that the underlying motivation for my recent book (“MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators”) was to help protect children from senseless labels, Imagine my frustration upon hearing the news this morning that a boy only six years young in Texas was suspended from school, with sexual misconduct placed on his permanent record, for the irreparable crime of kissing a girl on the hand.  Thankfully, more sensible minds prevailed, and his record was changed to reflect only misconduct.  Yet, based on my own subjective reasoning, I do not believe anything should have been placed on his record.  This was clearly an innocent teachable moment, an opportunity to admonish the child that chivalry observed on television should not be mimicked in ‘real life’ for multiple reasons including that some people are uncomfortable being touched in such a manner and their personal space should be respected.  This, in my view, would have been a sufficient way to address the boy’s act.

As educators we must be extraordinarily sensitive to the fact that our actions involving children can lay the foundation for the trajectory of the rest of their lives; positively and negatively.  We are aware that children’s success correlates directly with the expectations teachers hold for them.  What will a teacher expect from a student labeled a sexual deviant?  Dangerously, the teacher may fulfill the prophecy by taking another innocent action (e.g. hugging a classmate out of joy) by the child and distorting it.  It is not only labels associated with social behaviors that can affect the direction of a person’s life, but those related to learning disabilities as well.

…I was given the label “learning disabled.”  From that day forward, I was looked down upon by my peers as being “stupid” and “dumb;” a feeling that stayed with me for many years to come.  The social rejection I experienced made it difficult for me to even function in the classroom setting.  (Gibson, 2008).

In a study awarded for outstanding research by the Council for Learning Disabilities (CLD), the following results were reported by Bianco (2005) as it pertains to students with learning disabilities (LD) and emotional behavioral disorders (EBD):

…teachers were clearly influenced by the disability labels LD and EBD when making referral decisions for gifted programs.  Overall, both special education and general education teachers were much less willing to refer students with disability labels to gifted programs than students with no disability label.  (p. 290)

This is just one study among many that addresses the limitations associated with opportunities that labels prevent.  Labels have their place when established by experts over time with thorough observations and valid evaluations; however, in general, educators and parents alike have become far too comfortable with quickly affixing labels to children – a practice which, for the sake of present and future generations of children, must be comprehensively reined.

Bianco, M. (2005).  The effects of disability labels on special education and general education teachers’ referrals for gifted programs.  Learning Disability Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 285-293.

Gibson, C. P.  (2008).  Overcoming the stigma of the learning disability label: A story of survival and recovery.  ACA Special Education News, Article LD-8-3.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

30 Years After A Nation at Risk - Risky Business

30 Years After A Nation at Risk – Risky Business
By Jonathan T. Jefferson, Ed.D.
Author of MUGAMORE

“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”  In 1983, the once internationally prominent United States education system was unceremoniously awakened.  A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was released by President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education.  Politics aside, it can be said that this report lead to an assessment crazed generation. 

Standardized tests of achievement (not to be confused with aptitude tests) should be administered at major transition points from one level of schooling to another and particularly from high school to college or work.  The purpose of these tests would be to: (a) certify the student’s credentials; (b) identify the need for remedial intervention; and (c) identify the opportunity for advanced or accelerated work.  The tests should be administered as part of a nationwide (but not Federal) system of State and local standardized tests.  This system should include other diagnostic procedures that assist teachers and students to evaluate student progress.  (A Nation at Risk)

At the time of this Commission’s report, the United States was still among the educational leaders on the world’s stage.  Thirty years later, and our country is struggling to maintain its status in the top twenty.  What is the answer now?  Will Common Core State Standards (CCSS) close the gap?  It remains to be seen whether or not CCSS is the answer, but already risky measures are being implemented.

Statewide assessment tests are being developed to measure how well students are meeting the CCSS.  In some states (e.g. New York), the results of statewide assessment tests are being used to evaluate teachers and principals.  This is quite risky indeed.  There are teachers who have been previously identified as highly effective who are now reluctant to teach struggling learners.  These teachers are concerned that low scores by struggling learners on state assessments will reflect poorly when the teacher is rated.   Other consequences of these measures may include a rush to label students with a disability (ADD, ADHD, ED, etc.).  Once deemed disabled, the onus of the student’s poor test scores is no longer on the teacher or principal.


Common Core State Standards geared toward college and career readiness is a good thing.  Rushing to develop assessments for an overly assessed populous, and connecting those rushed assessments to teachers’ and principals’ evaluations is a dangerous thing.  When every student K – 12 has been educated since kindergarten toward CCSS, then evaluating the impact of CCSS would be justified.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson was interviewed in Massachusetts today for The Dr. Karen Show.  Look for its airing within the next two weeks.  These former elementary and junior high classmates make for dynamic discourse!

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Few Words on Leadership

A Few Words on Leadership
By
Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson

            Leadership is one of those areas that has been, and continues to be, thoroughly researched.  I am one of those guilty academics who spent years in a doctoral program immersed in the topic.  Ironically, it is not empirical peer reviewed literature that has taught me the most about leadership, but personal experience and observations.  My observations of transitional, transformational, democratic, autocratic, and laissez-fair leaders have molded my methods of influencing others.
            Transitional leaders are those in positions of authority during a time of change; specifically, when shifting from one paradigm/policy to another.  Today’s shift to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has exposed a lot of leaders.  Those who were proactive in learning as much as they could about the CCSS before implementation, and sharing what they learned with their colleagues, have not been overwhelmed by its emergence.  The same can be applied regarding the new federal health care legislation.  Don’t simply accept the hype.  Do some homework.
            Transformational leaders arise from every walk of life, and have the ability to move people to give of themselves for the betterment of all without those individuals expecting anything in return.  Malala, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ghandi just to name a few have exhibited transformational traits.  Democratic leaders need to gain the consensus of a majority in order to get issues addressed.  As noble as participatory leadership appears, it can lead to divisiveness, favoritism, and downright cruelty if wielded without integrity.
            On the extremes, there exists authoritarian leaders and those who chose to simply delegate.  Not validating what others bring to the table can only benefit a leader for a limited time.  When their own innovative ideas dry up, so does their effectiveness.  Putting off direct involvement until absolutely necessary can lead to chaos and disorder.  Therefore, those extremes are to be avoided as much as possible.  

            How have I been molded by my experiences?  First and foremost, I am not the perfect leader.  Being human, knowledge of the best leadership approach in specific situations does not always equal application of such.  I do try to be proactive regarding changes coming to my areas of responsibility.  On many occasions I go above and beyond in order to model for my staff the potential benefits bestowed upon the group if each individual can manage to give a bit more.  When I speak from the heart, it often motivates others to further exert.  Validating the opinions and expertise of subordinates never hurts, but the final decision still falls on the shoulders of the person in charge.  Rarely, if ever, am I autocratic.  When I delegate, it is always from a position of trust.  Yet trust, ultimately, is a two-way investment.  The more I procure my subordinates’ trust, and the more they gain mine, the more easily our joint-objectives might be attained.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Signing Event

Come to this Book Signing on Saturday, November 2, 2013 from 1:00 - 3:00 PM at the Roosevelt Public Library in Roosevelt, NY.  Find out what the author was thinking when he wrote MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels - Lessons for Educators.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Let's Talk About Bullying

Let’s Talk About Bullying in Schools
By
Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson

How bad was it when I was bullied?  How bad did I bully?  Just about as bad as it gets on both accounts.  While in the third grade, Eddie and Tommy made it their job every day to make me feel miserable.  They were very good at their job!  I missed several days of school by initially faking illness.  When going to school became so anxiety filled that I would vomit in the halls, the illnesses were no longer fraudulent.  I guess turnaround is fair play.  Repeating third grade turned me into a bully; after all, the other boys were now more my age or younger.

Are bullies really those hideous monsters that we all root against in sports and cinema?  I would answer sometimes ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘no’.  One thing is for sure; bullies are cultivated and permitted to grow like any plant or animal.  Could schools be the ideal environment for bullies to flourish?  According to Allen (2010), the following suggests ‘yes’:

Classrooms and schools that use coercion and punishment to deal with inappropriate student behavior tend to have negative, hostile environments.  Additionally, schools and classrooms that are authoritarian and are characterized by rigid, adult-centered authority tend to use more coercion and punishment to get students to behave.  (Summary)

On more than one occasion, I have worked in schools that treat students like inmates.  They place alarms on the doors to keep students in, initiate occasional mass in-school suspensions, have security and administrators walking through the halls barking orders, etc.  This is the adult-centered authority that I call the ‘illusion of control’.  This is tantamount to bullying, and students respond in kind to each other.

As a child, there was a sticker on my clothing dresser that read “Ignore your teeth, and they’ll go away.”  What was true for teeth is not true regarding bullying.  Craig, Bell, & Leschied (2011) state “…it is imperative to recognize that violence thrives in a climate of silence” (p. 31).

So what works?  What can schools do to curtail bullying?  As with any societal problem, bullying is not solely the responsibility of schools to address.  Copich (2012) suggests that “Modeling positive behavior at home and school is the most powerful influence of all” (p. 8).  Teaching students how to work together to communicate their feelings creates a community more sensitive to the impacts of negative behaviors.  Empowering students to take part in decisions regarding appropriate consequences also contributes to a civil environment.  Copich (2012) stated that “A school environment built around the principles of social justice ensures students a better opportunity to learn and sparks hope for successful citizenship” (p. 8).

Allen, K. P.  (2010).  Classroom management, bullying, and teacher practices. The Professional Educator 34(1), Spring.

Copich, C.  (2012).  Youth court: An alternative response to school bullying.  International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation 7(3), Winter.


Craig, K., Bell, D., & Leschied, A.  (2011).  Pre-service teachers’ knowledge and attitudes regarding school-based bullying.  Canadian Journal of Education 34(2), 21-33.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Is Stop-and-Frisk as Flawed as Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?

Is Stop-and-Frisk as Flawed as Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools?
By Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson
Author of MUGAMORE: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators

There is no empirical evidence that New York City’s stop-and-frisk practice by police has had a significant impact on the reduction in crime.  In a recent New Yorker interview, Mayor Bloomberg himself said, “If I had a son who was stopped, I might feel differently about it.”  Soon to be reported current research may further dampen the ethos of stop-and-frisk.  Another equally damaging, widely used, and seldom debated policy is that of zero tolerance policies in schools.  Unlike stop-and-frisk, there is mounting evidence against the results of zero tolerance.

“Decisions based on zero tolerance policies can have seriously harmful consequences, in particular for first-time offenders-consequences that impair academic progress, reputation, career opportunities, and emotional development especially with regard to trust in the educational system”  (Kajs, 2006, p. 26).  In a study by Kajs (2006), the consequences for an eighth-grade student who brought a pencil sharpener to school happens far too often.  The student’s parent bought the device in South Korea, because it was the same type of sharpener the parent used as a child.  The sharpener had a two-inch blade that folded into the handle.  This high-performing student was removed from the position of student council president, kicked out of the honor society, and required to attend a disciplinary class for a week.  These apparently harsh consequences were met with a federal lawsuit.  Could not reasonable educators see that this was an honest error?  It would seem that simply informing the parent and child, and perhaps issuing a warning, was all this entire event warranted.  However, “zero tolerance laws and policies can prevent school administrators from applying creative and tailored responses to infractions by students” (Kajs, 2006, p. 21).

As a four-year-old kindergarten student in 1974, I was curious about what was behind the large door at the rear of my classroom.  When I saw a girl go behind the door, I thought it was permissible for students to go back there; hence, I followed her.  It turns out the door led to the bathroom.  I sat in a corner of the bathroom while my classmate used the toilet until the teacher’s assistant came in to tell me to return to my seat.  That was the end of it.  I shudder to think how a four-year-old would be treated today.  Would a zero tolerance policy have labeled me a sexual deviant, and placed me in a specialized school while being heavily medicated?  According to Verdugo (2002), the lack of clarity in zero tolerance policies do not consider a student’s intent [innocent curiosity], or circumstances related to the behavior [unfamiliar environment].

Working as a school administrator, I often hear colleagues advocating for treating all students equally.  Hearing this makes me cringe.  Often times, equal consequences are not fair.  Should an eighth-grade honor student with a two-inch sharpener, who has never been in trouble, be treated the same as a high school gang member with a two-inch shank?  How about a four-year-old kindergarten student unwittingly entering a bathroom with a girl being disciplined the same as a 17-year-old boy knowingly entering a bathroom with a girl?  Clearly, equal would not be fair.  Casella (2003) makes the point that discipline policies that criminalize youth cannot be successful.

Casella, R.  (2003). Zero tolerance policy in schools: Rationale, consequences, and alternatives.  Teachers College Record, 105(5), 872-892.

Kajs, L. T.  (2006). Reforming the discipline management process in schools: An alternative approach to zero tolerance.  Educational Research Quarterly, 29(4), 16-28.

Verdugo, R. R.  (2002). Race-ethnicity, social class, and zero-tolerance policies.  Education and Urban Society, 35, 50-75.  doi:10.1177/001312402237214

Monday, July 8, 2013

About a Boy


About A Boy

            When were most of our choices made for us?  No doubt during childhood.  Parents/guardians, teachers, and other professionals (e.g. doctors & counselors) guided the direction of our young lives.  This is an awesome responsibility that young parents especially toil with almost daily; as if one wrong decision will cause irreversible damage.  Although this assumption can prove true, it rarely does.
            Meet Mugamore, a child of the 1970’s whose adventurous spirit forced the decisions of his parents, and adults en loco parentis.  Many of the choices made for him during yester-year would have been made differently today.  Sometimes the common decisions of his day benefited him while at other times it was to his detriment.   Mugamore benefited from tolerance, but could have been crushed by the zero tolerance of today.  He suffered from corporal punishment, but would have gained from the sensitivity of the now generation.
            This summer a story will come to light that everyone with a vested interest in children must read.  Whether the parent of a school aged child, teacher, future teacher, instructor/advisor to future teachers, school administrator, or policy maker, you will want to get to know Mugamore.  His story is one of common sense actions, ignorance, firm fairness, revealing childhood behaviors, and clues to the promise of a bright future.
Excerpt:
Stray dogs roaming in packs around the neighborhood were commonplace.  Skully boards painted or chalked onto blacktop, strike zones sprayed on brick buildings, and football end zones looking eerily like street lamps existed on city blocks with a minimum number of adolescent boys. Red Light, Green Light, 1-2-3; High Water, Low Water; Round Up; and girls jumping Double Dutch vibrated concrete in the borough of Queens. Running bases, stoop ball, handball, and stick ball filled open spaces all over New York City. This was the pre-internet world where only the privileged joined sports leagues, physical play was an expectation, and navigating social relationships was not optional. Children learned to survive and Mugamore was a survivor.

            Mugamore: Succeeding without Labels – Lessons for Educators by Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson.  Bookmark this author’s website to keep apprised of the book’s release; www.authorjonathanjefferson.com .  The best of summer reading is soon to come.