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 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.
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.
June 7, 2007
Today’s “Watchdog” section of Isthmus has a quick report (at the link, scroll down to the third item, titled “Dangerous work, take 2”) on recent incidents of violence in Madison schools against school staffers. In two of the incidents where staffers were injured, police declined to file criminal charges, citing the lack of criminal intent on the part of the student offenders. According to the item, one of these incidents occurred in early May at LaFollette High School. I was disappointed to find no mention of this (or other school-based incidents) in the latest newsletter from the Madison Police Department East District (whose boundaries includes LaFollette). In the past, the East District has been a standout among Madison police districts in providing detailed, thorough, straightforward and regularly updated news on incidents in schools within the police district’s boundaries. The East District newsletter has, to my mind, been the newsletter model that I had wished that the other districts would follow. This month, however, there’s an item about a program held to promote vehicle safety on prom night, and an item about last month’s lockdown; the usual list of school-based incidents is gone. We know from the item in Isthmus that at least one incident worthy of note took place; I hope that this doesn’t portend a trend toward less disclosure.
“The public needs to know what’s going on,” says the teacher, outraged that the boy who hit the staff member will not be charged. “That sends a really bad signal.”
Indeed it does.
May 9, 2007
The charts below (click on each thumbnail to enlarge) summarize Madison Police Department calls for service to MMSD schools from September 1 through December 31, 2006. The data is summarized by school below the fold.
Data like this provides a starting point for getting a sense of the type and levels of incidents that affect safety in our children’s schools, and it’ll be useful to compare these numbers from time to time against like categories of data going forward. Context that we need, but don’t have, is information on the number and types of violent or disruptive incidents occurring in the schools as a whole (not just those resulting in police calls), and to what extent policies on summoning law enforcement in response to a violent or disruptive incident vary from school to school (in which case call data alone may be an unreliable index of the school’s relative safety).
UPDATE, June 11, 2007: See this post for additional incidents reported for Affiliated Alternatives.
April 18, 2007
The tragedy at Virginia Tech is unspeakably horrifying. My heart and prayers go out to the victims and their families and friends. Most of the news swarm around the tragedy spills too much ink on vapid generalizations and sensationalized attention on the murderer. An exception is the Chicago Tribune’s article “Limits to Campus Security” (by Jodi S. Cohen and Rex W. Huppke, published April 16, 2007; free registration required), with clear-eyed reporting on security vulnerabilities, the underreporting of campus crime, and the need for updated and improved crisis management plans.
I’m not interested in hearing any more editorials or reading any more opinion pieces that could just as easily be dusted off and used again when the next school shooting occurs. I’d like to see more journalism examining whether law enforcement response in our community would be rapid and strategic enough to make a difference in a situation when every minute matters, and whether school safety planning has rigorously addressed all possible worst-case scenarios, or whether those in charge of our children’s safety are simply playing the odds. And I’d like to see more research focusing on effective ways in which students in a classroom, school or campus–whether college, high school, middle school or grade school–might be better protected and might better protect themselves against an attacker who is determined to kill. More of the proactive, less of the post-mortem, please.
March 19, 2007
“To portray that Madison is ‘safe’ when violent crime is growing is deceptive, and prevents us from getting to real solutions.”
How safe are our schools? This question can’t be answered without consistent collection and analysis of information about violent and disruptive incidents in our schools. While the Madison Police Department has just released its Uniform Crime Report for 2006 (the summary of crime statistics that is reported annually to the FBI), there’s no equivalent report for Madison schools. Our state’s Department of Public Instruction collects data for expulsions and suspension, but not for incidents. The Madison Metropolitan School District’s web site simply links to the DPI site. At the individual school level, there may be no system for proactively communicating with parents about incidents affecting safety, or, worse yet, a parent’s school safety questions may languish unanswered.
We can do better. The state of New York’s Safe Schools Against Violence in Education law requires schools to report all violent and disruptive incidents (although, as noted in the previous post, the schools’ degree of cooperation in disclosing the reports could use some improvement); San Antonio, Texas, provides online data on police calls for service, tracked by neighborhood, in addition to incident report and crime data; and the Chicago, Illinois GIS-based online Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting system allows online searches for incidents of crime within a specified radius of schools (public and parochial).
What we’ll have to live with, for now, is a patchwork from a variety of sources about incidents in schools that have been reported as having been reported to the police. I’ve collected a list of these below the fold, and will update this list periodically on this site. Those schools and police districts who are forthcoming with their reports are to be commended; they understand that facing up to the problem is the only way to begin work toward a real solution.