October 28, 2007
Following on our previous post, we’ve taken a look at the same categories of data, but this time for MMSD middle schools. The same data notes from the previous post apply here, with a couple of additional notes: the police call data for Toki includes police calls for Orchard Ridge Elementary School, if any, since those schools share the same block; and enrollment dropped in many of the middle schools between the comparison years (enrollment declined about ten percent in the aggregate for MMSD middle schools; school-specific enrollment information is available at the DPI web site).
Police calls for service, down for most middle schools:
Suspension percentages, up for more than half of the middle schools:
Rates for weapons/drugs related suspensions/expulsions, up for more than half of the middle schools:
October 24, 2007
When there’s violence at school, parents want answers to their questions about school safety. If parents are told “our school is safer than other schools”, where’s the data that supports that vague reassurance? Police call-for-service data (as posted on this site from time to time) is one indicator of school crime, but it’s only part of the picture, and may not be a reliable basis of comparing school to school – or even comparing whether the safety situation in one particular school is improving or deteriorating.
We looked at police call data for East, LaFollette, Memorial and West High Schools in 2001-02, and in 2005-06. (Data notes: This data was obtained by public records request to the Madison Police Department. Due to the format in which the data was provided, the call totals for each school are for calls made to the block in which each school is located, rather than the specific street address of the school. Calls for each year were tallied over a July 1 through June 30 period in order to track the corresponding school years used for comparison below. Variations in school enrollment between the comparison years aren’t reported here since they don’t appear to affect the analysis or conclusions, but that information is readily accessible on the DPI web site. The DPI web site is also the source of the discipline data presented below.)
For all of the high schools other than Memorial, fewer calls for service were made in 2005-06 than in 2001-02 (click on thumbnail to enlarge):
Yet suspension percentages were higher in 2005-06 than in 2001-02 for all four high schools:
And the rates of weapons- and drugs-related incidents resulting in suspensions and expulsions were higher in 2005-06 than in 2001-02 for all four high schools:
It’s obvious that the numbers in any of these categories can vary depending on whether the school officlal decided to call or not call police, or to pursue or not pursue suspension/expulsion in response to an incident. We can’t assess school safety accurately and reliably without information on the total number of violent or disruptive incidents, including those incidents that didn’t result in a call to police or suspension or expulsion. No need to reinvent the wheel: schools in the state of New York are required to track and report violent and disruptive incidents on a consistent basis, using this report form.
August 14, 2007
I’ve seen drug deals on the bike path, my street outside the library, heard of prostitution, I’ve been followed home in the middle of the day by a 13-year-old armed rapist, and now I’m the one living behind bars in my home—I have bars on my back doors and windows. I was wondering if it would be possible to have police foot patrol or on horseback—or whatever—on the bike paths as a possible solution. The first thing I’ve noticed in the past when I’m walking to work or to the library or in the neighborhood are people loitering before I see drug activity or when I noticed the young—the 13-year-old boy, and I do think that that is definitely a precedent that comes before crimes. It’s very unnerving to be alone in a parking lot and to see a young—a large young man kind of loitering along and then he looks around to see if there’s anybody else around, you know and you know what might come next is a possible crime. It seems like children are the ones terrorizing the neighborhoods—often the ones committing the robberies and the burglaries and the mayhem are young teenage boys. All I really wanted to do when I bought my house three years ago was to be able to walk to work—it’s only half a mile—every day, and I still do that during daylight hours. I would also like a way to be warned if the police were to notice violent gang initiations on an increase in Madison. I think it would be helpful for the public to be notified if something like that does start to occur. I do appreciate the police staff.
On Cimarron Trail this summer there have been two major fights in my own back yard in which police had to spend several hours breaking them up. The last fight, my neighbor and I were threatened to be sued because we told people to quit trespassing due to their involvement in the fight. The next day there was gang graffiti on my sidewalk. I’m a teacher at Memorial High School, and so my request to Mayor Cieslewicz is please increase the police patrols on the West side. It not only affects the neighborhood, it affects every teacher’s job in Madison, because the issues going on in the neighborhood spill over into the schools, and they’re a big cause of what’s going on at the schools and especially Memorial High School. [emphasis added.] I also want to thank all the police officers I’ve met and especially Officer Shannon Blackmore, who’s not here but who has been a wonderful resource to Memorial High School staff.
Please listen to us. Please believe us.
These are excerpts from comments of speakers at last week’s “neighborhood listening session” on crime in the west side’s District 20 (video of the meeting is now available on Madison City Channel 12’s web site). Several hundred people attended the meeting (estimates of attendance by the media range from 600 to 750), and only a fraction of those who wanted to speak could be accommodated within the meeting’s 90-minute time limit. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, and Alders Thuy Pham-Remmele (who organized the meeting), Jed Sanborn and Zach Brandon were there to listen.
At the meeting, Chief Wray noted that he appreciated the neighborhood feedback, and stated: “We’re going to have to develop a short- and a long-term plan. A number of you mentioned the need—and I would totally agree with you—the need for additional police resources. [Crowd applause.] But even if the mayor and the council approved tomorrow additional police resources, we would not see those police officers on the street until 2009.” Chief Wray will be announcing the police department’s plans for addressing crime in these neighborhoods at a future meeting (now scheduled for September 5*).
We all should be grateful to the people of District 20 and their alder for coming together and shining a light on crime in the neighborhoods. It was clear from the speakers’ remarks that these problems aren’t new. These problems have been compounded by being disregarded and downplayed as “anecdotal” or “isolated” incidents (although we now have an acknowledgment that the police department has been, in its own words, “behind the curve” in making information on crime available to the public). It’s good news that the city has started working on a plan for tackling crime on the West side. It’s not so good news that the city didn’t start working on this problem until the neighborhoods were in a uproar. The ship’s captain shouldn’t wait for the passengers to sound the alarm before navigating away from the iceberg.
Chief Wray has recently acknowledged publicly that there is a gang problem in Madison schools, and that it is growing. But crime-related issues are hardly front and center in the priorities of our school board for the upcoming school year; the school board does not have a dedicated safety committee; the Board of Education-Common Council liaison committee (which meets on an “as needed” basis) hasn’t met since March (no minutes for that meeting have been posted yet; the latest committee minutes available are those for the meeting held in February); and data on school-based crime continues to be incomplete and virtually inaccessible. We’ve lost essential lead time due to the delay in acknowledging the crime problem in our neighborhoods, which now limits the city’s options for taking action to address the problem. I hope that we are not heading toward the same mistake with our schools.
*Updated (9/5/07): The followup meeting has now been rescheduled for Thursday, September 13, 2007, at 6:30 pm at St. Maria Goretti school.
August 6, 2007
The Violence-Free Zone initiative places young people from the community into schools as youth advisers. These advisers form relationships within the school and nearby community, and they work to identify students labeled as the most disruptive. They may help a kid find a safe place to go after school or better living arrangements for families. At South Division High School, they have even helped families with tax forms.
In the hallways, advisers defuse arguments before they boil over, and they confront unruly students with a stern message: Violent behavior is not acceptable. But along with that message, healthy alternatives are offered.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Making Connections,” August 5, 2007.
The Milwaukee Public School system is expanding its “Violence-Free Zone” school safety program this coming school year. The program, developed by the national Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, places mentors from the community inside schools to build relationships with students and to counsel against and defuse student violence. (The CNE site includes some data on on the program’s success.) The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this year on the program’s success at Milwaukee’s South Division High School, and applauds the expansion of the program.
July 9, 2007
Madison Police Department Chief Noble Wray spoke on downtown safety at the monthly meeting of Downtown Madison, Inc. on June 28, 2007, and also briefly addressed the topic of gang activity in Madison schools during the program, as reported in The Capital Times (via the MadCrime101 blog, a welcome and valuable new resource focusing on concerns and issues relating to crime in Madison).
Chief Wray acknowledged the growing problem of gangs in Madison and their presence in Madison schools, and spoke of the need to quantify the extent of the problem and its trends, rather than reacting based on anecdotal “information”. I couldn’t agree more. The MPD can make much progress toward this goal by fuller and consistent disclosure to the public of incidents and statistics on gang activity (whether through its police district newsletters or its public information office news releases). But to quantify the gang problem in schools, the MPD will need to rely on data from the MMSD, since much can happen in a school which is relevant to quantifying the gang problem but isn’t brought to the attention of the MPD. Can the gang problem in Madison schools be accurately and reliably quantified and assessed for those schools that don’t have ERO’s (Education Resource Officers)? Of if the policies on when calls for service are to be made to MPD vary from school to school? Or when the MMSD relies on suspension and expulsion rates, instead of actual incidents of disruptive and violent behavior, to gauge school safety (all the while moving toward a policy of discouraging suspensions and expulsions)?
Madison City Channel 12’s video of the program is at this link: Downtown Madison, Inc. Presents: Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. The portion of the audience Q&A that addressed gang activity in schools is at 41:01 on the video clip, and a related earlier question regarding graffiti is at 38:55 on the video clip. For Mac users (the Mac user in our household informs me that the video doesn’t play on Macs), or for those who’d rather read than watch, a transcript is below the fold.
June 24, 2007
Details of the data behind the “School assaults, by the numbers” item (thank you, Bill Lueders) in this week’s Isthmus are posted here (sorted by school name), and here (subtotals of incidents by school type). The reports included incidents through June 4, 2007, so any incidents that occurred during the final fortnight of the school year aren’t included. There are a couple of entries whose dates predate the school year and may be typos, but they are replicated as is.
Student-on-student assault/injury information is not included in these reports, nor do these reports include incidents of verbal threats of violence against staff (even those serious enough to result in the issuance of a restraining order). Police were called in only 13 of the 224 incidents. We don’t know whether there is a district-wide policy that requires that all such incidents be reported, and, if there is, whether the policy is followed consistently from school to school. I concur with the commenters at School Information System that this is only a part of the picture, that we need to know more, and that we need to do more.
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 11, 2007
This post on School Information System asks the question “Will Marquette & Lapham Students Be Safe?”, and takes a look at calls for police service to Affiliated Alternatives at 15 South Brearly, from September 2006 to date, as reported by the Madison Police Department. Data in this report for the period September through December 2006, when compared to the police call data for Affiliated Alternatives as posted here last month, includes several additional incidents not found in the earlier report. (The additional incidents are marked in bold below.)
09/12/2006 11:54 VIOLCRTORD 06-110419 2 STUDENTS PHYSICAL AND VERBAL WERE OUTSIDE 1154,002 Y FAVOU
09/27/2006 12:32 SXASLTCHIL 06-117349 3 STUDENTS REPORTING THEY HAVE BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED, DIDNT Y FAVOU
10/03/2006 14:22 THREATS 06-119989 THREATS REPORT, VICT IN #207, SUSPECT IS IN THE PRINC OFFICE, N WALKE
10/05/2006 09:49 JUV COMPLT 06-120707 CK STUDENT – [Name deleted] 9/27/89 LISTED AS A Y FAVOU
10/20/2006 11:03 WPNS OFFNS 06-127224 SEE 17 IN THE CLUSTER PROGRAMS ROOM TOOK A KNIFE OFF A Y HENNE
10/23/2006 12:45 BATTERY 06-128387 15YOA FEMALE, OUT OF CONTROL. THE FEMALE IS ALSO PREGNANT AND Y COVER
11/06/2006 12:28 AGGR BATT 06-134539 FIGHT OCCURRED BETWEEN 2 STUDENTS ONE HAD A KNIFE 1228,002 Y ZIEGL
11/10/2006 12:47 JUV COMPLT 06-136265 KIDS RETURNING TO SCHOOL FROM A TRIP DOWNTOWN ARE REPORTING AN Y RAMIR
11/20/2006 08:44 JUV COMPLT 06-140009 NO DATA Y FAVOU
11/21/2006 10:36 DRUG INCID 06-140448 NO DATA Y FAVOU
12/12/2006 14:54 DAM PROPTY 06-148289 REPORT DAMAGE TO AUTO. HAVE SUSPECT INFO. IN THE PARKING LOT. N GOEHR
June 9, 2007
The heading of this post from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “School Zone” blog reads “MPS data shows spike in violence-related suspensions; 45% of high school students suspended at least once this school year.” But there’s a buried (or at least competing) lede of good news here: first, that the Milwaukee Public Schools’ school board has a dedicated Safety Committee (MMSD does not); second, that the committee has made it a priority to compile, present to the board, and make available to the public current information on suspension statistics and trends; and third, that the district acknowledges publicly that it is “aware we need to do a better job summarizing district incidents and actions.”
In this regard, I hope that we can be more like Milwaukee.