September 9, 2008
The Wisconsin State Legislative Council’s Special Committee on School Safety meets today. The committee’s charge is described as follows:
The Special Committee is directed to review means by which school safety can be improved by examining the relationship between maintaining a safe and secure physical environment and fostering a safe and secure learning environment. The committee is directed to focus on best practices relating to school discipline, including suspension and expulsion, programs for disciplined students, creation and implementation of bullying prevention and other school conduct enforcement measures, and interagency coordination with mental health, law enforcement, and other relevant agencies. The committee may also review means by which information can be disseminated and assistance can be provided.
The agenda for today’s meeting is focused on school safety plans, including a presentation by state Attorney General J. B. van Hollen.
The members of the committee include Luis Yudice, the MMSD‘s Coordinator of Safety and Security.
June 14, 2007
Please read this if you’re a parent who’s concerned about safety in Madison schools, and who wants to do something about it.
This WSJ article could not have been more timely. We had a meeting with some staff and parents at our school, Orchard Ridge Elementary, that same evening. Both before and after, I’ve talked with parents at other schools who all agree that the article was horribly misleading – that discipline continues to be an enormous problem and is getting worse. And that this discretionary, overly soft, coddle-the-perpetrator “Above the Line” program is completely ineffective.
The overall tenor of our meeting at ORE last night was rather disappointing. We only invited a small handful of parents and staff to try to keep the discussion positive and manageable. But the bottom line was typical: Many parents left feeling like the staff (principal, school social worker, school psych and two teachers) listened but did not even begin to hear. They nod politely but don’t offer feedback. They stay mum when we bring up an idea that they have no intention of initiating but don’t offer any alternatives of their own.
When we asked for specific numbers of incidents this year compared to previous years at our school and across other elementary schools, we weren’t given any. We were just told the percentages from 2005 and 2006 of suspensions and that we were in line with those numbers this year. When we asked about non-suspension figures (data on anything that is not “above the line” behavior, the staff mumbled and distracted or stayed silent. There were comments that the ‘referral’ form (incident record) filled out for such things aren’t computerized yet so it’s all in transition, and we were told not all teachers fill out the forms all the time, etc. (A teacher today told me she didn’t even know they were SUPPOSED to fill out the forms this year; she thought they’d stopped doing that at our school.)
We were given the district mantra on the Above the Line concept – with a huge emphasis on how, with the incredible mobility the schools see (kids moving from one to another throughout the year, etc.), it’s important to have a program like this that offers them the consistency from school to school. But many of us parents pointed out that there’s no consistency from classroom to classroom or incident to incident, much less school to school. One teacher may be more sympathetic than another, or one may have a higher tolerance level than another. So what would pass for back-talk and a consequence with one teacher may not yield any reaction from another, because the teachers are given discretion. And when the principal says that teachers don’t fill out the referral forms all the time, it’s clear that there’s no consistency.
Parents brought to the table concerns with consistency (and how seriously the staff takes discipline) with several incidents, for example: One kid chokes another on the playground and doesn’t have to apologize, nor is he suspended. Ditto with a kid who apparently kicked a teacher in the chest. But we’re not told WHY these kids were not reprimanded, only that things happen behind the scenes that we don’t see. One kid shoves another kid, and the parents are called and told staff will sit down with the two kids and talk to them together, but it never happens. The situation – from victim’s perspective – is just ignored.
When we explained to the staff that – especially when it comes to kids – perception IS reality, and the kids do not perceive that typical bad stuff yields consequences, then we’re just told that we should tell the kids there ARE consequences. But our kids tell us that there aren’t, and they report fewer and fewer problems because “nothing’s going to happen anyway,” and because they’re concerned with retribution from the kid in question.
June 12, 2007
This morning’s Wisconsin State Journal (“A New Approach to School Discipline,” June 12, 2007) covers the MMSD’s adoption of the “positive behavior support” principles developed by Corwin Kronenberg. This post on School Information System examined the launch of the Kronenberg system in the MMSD over a year ago. The launch had been preceded by presentations by MMSD administration to the school board in the fall of 2005 (the excerpt below, with emphasis added, is taken from the minutes of the school board’s Performance and Achievement Committee meeting on November 7, 2005):
4. Behavior and Discipline Plan
(Packets included a memorandum relative to new plans for supporting positive student behavior (10/6/05) and a chart depicting the comprehensive system supporting positive student behaviors in elementary schools. Copies are attached to the original of these minutes.)
Mary Gulbrandsen, Chief of Staff; Karen Kepler, principal of Emerson Elementary School; and Ron Lott, Staff Improvement Planner for Elementary Schools; gave a Power Point presentation on the MMSD plan for supporting positive student behavior (a copy is attached to the original of these minutes). Mr. Lott described how he guides a school through this process. Guiding principles are talked through at the beginning. The goal is to come to consensus about what everyone will do in response to behaviors in order to bring about consistency and lead to an agreed-to, finalized plan. Ms. Kepler described what they have done at Emerson to reduce suspensions and the impact of mobility. She detailed the “above-the-line,” “below-the-line,” and “bottom-line” behaviors that simplify the rules of the school as opposed to the regular student handbook. They are working on some trial curriculum to help determine when staff intervenes and when the administration intervenes. Features of the plan include the “Fix It” Plan (a copy is attached to the original of these minutes) that is completed by the child to help him/her process the behavior. The Fix It plan is given as an alternative to consequences and comes in pictorial and written versions. Mr. Lott noted that there are some children who are taking some time to change their behaviors but a number are having one experience with a Fix It plan and are not having another incidence. The data seems to bring on good conversation with the staff. Suspensions are down. Lunch clubs have been formed, there is now only one calming room that includes things the students can do to help them process, teachers are processing with these students while the principal covers the class, etc.
Discussion: How the decision is made about which schools receive this program. Plan for rolling out within two years. Using principal groups to eliminate those disciplinary plans at odds with this plan. Middle schools will be rolled out through the Middle Grades Design Team. Plan was well received by high schools. Agreement that suspensions do not change behavior; people are looking for something like this. Athletic code will also mirror this kind of restorative practice. Encouraging the involvement of Educational Resource Officers (EROs) only when necessary. Fall meeting revolved around teaching positive behaviors. Parent groups will be part of the entire process. Data is being tracked.
[emphasis above added]
School Improvement Plans in the school district for the 2006-2007 school year included implementation of Kronenberg (or apparently sometimes spelled “Kronenburg”) at Marquette, Lapham, Allis, Thoreau, Kennedy, Muir, Mendota, Midvale, Lake View, Elvehjem, Chavez, and Gompers elementary schools, and in Toki and Jefferson middle schools. The district has just announced that additional Kronenberg training for staff and parents will be funded for the 2007-2008 school year through a $2,500 Aristos Grant.
The MMSD has high expectations for Kronenberg (“As a result of this training student behavior will improve leading to greater success in school. Both student behavioral referrals to staff and suspensions will decrease.” [from the 07-08 Aristos Grant description]). The WSJ piece does its part to create the impression that those expectations are well on the way to being achieved. But, as the scientific adage goes, anecdotes do not equal data. Since we’re in the final few days of a school year in which at least a dozen of the district’s elementary schools and at least two of the middle schools have had a year of working and living with this system, data should be available at this point on the actual incidence of classroom disruption, threats and violence as experienced by students and teachers in schools that have implemented Kronenberg, in those that have not, how they compare to each other, and how they compare over time; and that data ought to be made available to the public.
March 6, 2007
The disciplinary system in Philadelphia schools is not as effective as it should be and is in need of further improvement (Philadelphia Inquirer, “Report: District Losing Control,” March 2, 2007), according to an independent audit performed by Ellen Green-Ceisler, a former Philadelphia police department auditor who was hired by Philadelphia school district chief executive Paul Vallas to evaluate the school district’s discipline system. The report (well worth reading in full in its own right) identifies the following qualities of an effective school disciplinary system:
- [S]tandards and expectations regarding acceptable and unacceptable codes of conduct [are] clearly articulated and communicated […]
- [I]nvestigations into […] and reviews of allegations of misconduct [are] conducted in an unbiased, thorough, timely and professional manner […]
- [T]he penalties and consequences for disciplinary infractions [are] unambiguous, appropriate and rational to the particular situation […]
- [T]he disciplinary process occur[s] in a timely manner[….] [U]nnecessary and unreasonable delays in responding to and resolving disciplinary matters [are] identified and appropriately addressed […]
- [T]he personnel responsible for […] enforcing the disciplinary system [are] appropriately trained, skilled, and committed to ensuring full compliance with disciplinary policies and procedures […]
- [There is] consistency in the enforcement of disciplinary policies and procedures and the imposition of penalties […]
- [T]he disciplinary system [is] transparent […] [A]dequate records and data [are] maintained that clearly identify the nature of the disciplinary occurrence and the District’s responses [….] [and which are] easily accessible […]
- [There is] accountability throughout the disciplinary system […] [S]pecifically, [there is] a system which effectively identifies and responds to situations where rules, policies and procedures are not followed or system breakdowns are occurring […]
If an independent audit of our schoool district’s disciplinary system were performed today, how would it measure up?
February 4, 2007
Here in Madison, Wisconsin, we’ve got school board elections coming up this spring and an overhaul of the discipline code in the works. A buzzphrase we’re hearing more and more of these days is “restorative justice”:
From the district’s “Department of General Administration: Division Information – Office of the Superintendent” (p. 232)
One of the major challenges for the 2006-07 school year is implementing a change in the philosophy and approach to creating positive student behavior. We are moving from a punitive system of student behavior management to a district wide positive approach to changing student behavior through education, dialogue and restorative justice principles.
A recent response by the current school board president (Johnny Winston, Jr.) to questions on school safety posed to school board candidates by Isthmus:
First, our board is currently analyzing and updating our student code of conduct to change from a punitive approach to a preventative and restorative justice methodology. Students will learn from their mistakes by involving their parents, taking ownership of their wrongdoing, getting professional help (e.g. a serious fight would result in anger management counseling) and then making restitution to the victim and school.
From the minutes from the school board’s Board of Education – Common Council Liaison Committee meeting of November 15, 2006:
In the middle of a major change to the way the district is approaching behavior. Approach to changing behavior was punishment. Now changing to teaching good behavior. Moving toward restorative justice model so child can get back in good graces in the community. No value in suspension for anyone. Have to narrow suspensions down to cases of safety for student and the school. Behavior system will look the same at all schools.
The current year’s SIP (School Improvement Plan) for one of our middle schools includes an item for restorative justice training for “all staff” with a timeline of December 2006 (albeit with the note “Progress – on hold/district funding?”) and the SIP for another of our middle schools includes the item “refresher staff development opportunity [to] review Restorative Justice model of interventions”
The superintendent, school board president and other school board candidates are already talking as if this were a done deal. But what is “restorative justice,” and what will it mean to have student misconduct addressed with a “restorative justice” approach? A layperson’s online search leads to academic papers in the criminal and juvenile justice area from fields ranging from sociology, social work, philosophy and theology, but not much specific research or data on whether or how “restorative justice” has been found to work as an approach to addressing misconduct in schools. The decision to move away from a discipline-based approach to a “restorative justice” approach will have an immediate, on-the-ground, daily impact on the school climate and educational experience encountered by the students and teachers in our schools, and parents of children in the public schools here may very well have the following questions:
1. What does “restorative justice” look like as experienced by the non-offender student community and teachers?
2. How many schools with comparable school settings (i.e. urban schools with comparable size and demographics) have implemented “restorative justice”?
3. What evidence from comparable school settings supports the conclusion that school-based “restorative justice” is an effective way to prevent or reduce the number and severity of incidents of misconduct?
4. What evidence from comparable school settings supports the conclusion that “restorative justice” reduces recidivism by repeat offenders?
5. What evidence from comparable school settings supports the conclusion that school-based “restorative justice” can overcome the psychological and socialization issues of offenders whose behavior demonstrates poor impulse control and a lack of understanding of abstract consequences, or who do not share the community’s values of respect, empathy and personal responsibility?
6. Based on the experience of schools where the implementation of “restorative justice” has failed to meet desired results, what steps will our school district take to avoid similar failures?
7. Compared to a discipline-based approach, what is the effectiveness of the “restorative justice” approach in communicating to the school community that there are clear consequences for misconduct which are fairly and consistently administered?
8. What is the feedback from teachers and students (from other schools with comparable school settings) who have experienced the transition from a disciplinary to “restorative justice” approach?
9. What would be the steps taken to implement the transition to “restorative justice” in our school district, and how will this be experienced by students and teachers?
10. What disciplinary measures and school safety plans would be in effect during the transition period?
11. Under a “restorative justice” approach, what specific steps would be taken with a student who engages in insubordinate, disruptive and disrespectful behavior (for example, talking over or talking back to the teacher in class)?
12. Under a “restorative justice” approach, what specific steps would be taken with a student who engages in threatening, intimidating or bullying behavior?
13. Under a “restorative justice” approach, what specific steps would be taken with a student who commits an assault or other physical violence?
14. When there is a conflict between student safety and the desire to respond to a particular instance of misconduct in a “non-punitive” way, which choice does the “restorative justice” approach require?
15. How much classroom instruction time will be diverted to administering “restorative justice” interventions to misconduct?
16. How will teachers, staff and administrators without training in social work, psychology or counseling be trained to acquire a satisfactory level of competence in administering “restorative justice”?
17. How will the effectiveness of the implementation of “restorative justice” be monitored, and what steps will be taken to modify or discontinue it if it is unsuccessful?
18. What will be the short-term “restorative justice” training and implementation costs for our school district?
19. What will be the structural costs for our school district of permanent psychologist/social worker/counseling staff to administer “restorative justice” on a continuing basis?
20. What will be the long-term costs and consequences if an unsuccessful implementation of “restorative justice” results in a deterioration in school safety and security?
January 25, 2007
This week’s “Take Home Test” in Isthmus includes a question on school safety; responses from Seat 3 school board candidates Pam Cross-Leone, Beth Moss and Rick Thomas are here, from Seat 4 candidate Tom Brew and incumbent Johnny Winston, Jr. are here, and from Seat 5 candidates Maya Cole and Marj Passman are here.
January 12, 2007
School Board member Ruth Robarts posts on School Information System: “The board must consider whether the current discipline system needs change–both to improve safety for students and staff and to ensure that interventions are prompt, consistent, unbiased and effective.”
The school board calendar indicates that there will be a special board meeting/workshop on the code of conduct on Tuesday, January 16, 2007, at 7:00 p.m., in Room 103 of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street (directions). Check to see whether an agenda for this special meeting is included on the school board meeting agenda page once the listings for the week of January 15 are posted.