Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Code of Conduct statistics (now, with a title)

The superintendent's office prepared a response to my inquiries about the code of conduct, as promised. I did have to submit a formal request for this information, but I got far more than I really could have hoped for. Instead of simply allowing me to review the endless pages of statistics the district no doubt keeps, assistant superintendent Connie Hayes prepared a specific response to my request. This was a remarkably unobstructionist thing to do - they gave me exactly what I asked for, even though they weren't under any legal obligation to do so. It took some time, but that included doing the research, confirming what they legally could tell me, and checking with the Health Advisory Committee because I found a typo in the Code.

What I asked
Mostly, I wanted to know how many kids have been told to "go home" as punishment for something that they did. In the 2008-9 school year, 169 kids were suspended from school, none permanently. 122 of these, or 72%, were high schoolers; 45 (roughly 27%) were middle school students; the remaining two were attending Lenape. Most of the suspensions were for five days or less (149, more than 88% of cases) - this included the two Lenape students. Twenty kids were given longer out-of-school suspensions - nearly 12% of cases.

I also asked how the punishments fit the crimes. Interestingly, the offenses aren't reported using the same categories as are listed in the Code of Conduct, so the information was less clear. Here's the list in order of occurence, with my paraphrasing of the name of each offense:
  • Insubordination: 77
  • Willful acts to disrupt normal operations in school: 76
  • Disorderly conduct (includes abusive, lewd, and obscene behavior): 30
  • Misconduct on school bus: 30 (all Lenape)
  • Drug offenses: 20 (all high school)
  • Misuse of electronic devices: 9 (all middle school)
  • Stealing: 8
  • Tobacco: 6
Some interesting hints about the actual offenses come from the names of the discipline reports, "Cell Phones," "Inappropriate Language," "Disruptive Behavior," and "Insubordination." Did nine children actually get sent home for using a cell phone? Were another twenty given the boot for cursing out a teacher?

I realize that violent kids have no place in school, but how serious does a cell phone offense have to be to send a kid home? I was surprised at how few of these cases were related to drugs, but I have to wonder how serious the inappropriate language has to be to get the kid the reward he might just be looking for.

I'm glad the district made it so easy to discover the truth here - that we're awfully quick with the nuclear option of sending a kid home. Am I off-base in thinking we could make this a lot less common practice?


Brittany Turner said...

given the topic, i thought this was one of KT's, until i read it and it was actually thorough. nice work, terence.

i am really surprised at the justifications for this punishment. insubordination? really? how are they even defining it? and language? holy crap! cursing out a teacher, ok, MAYBE (it's a stretch), but how many of these weren't even at that level? how many of them were teenagers having silly teenage conversations with a friend, where a teacher overheard?

these are all pretty remarkable and i actually can't think of many instances AT ALL where an out-of-school suspension would be the appropriate response. in fact, repeated acts of serious violence would probably be the only justifiable scenario. wow.

John Bligh said...

Cell phones are extremely annoying and disruptive. I'm sure the offending kiddies ignored repeated warnings to shut them off and got what was coming to them.

Besides, they give you skull cancer.

Anonymous said...

Terrence, you are being a little to quick to frown on what the school system is doing without knowing all the info. i.e. cell phones also text message, take pictures and do other stuff that may be inappropriate. Suspending a kid from school is serious, but can also be a wake up call to the kid and his family. Don't be in such a rush to knee jerk judgement, cause you may just be off base.

Martin McPhillips said...

Not taking into consideration possible repeat offenders, 169 suspensions in a school year is roughly 7% of the total enrollmment. The rate is well over 10% for the high school.

What does it mean to be suspended from compulsory schooling?

There's something of a double-bind in that, is there not?

If you're a student in a priggish school environment where there is, apparently, a hair-trigger for suspension, then a well-placed and timely smart remark or cell phone offense gets you some time off for bad behavior.

It's an adaptive form of hooky.

Terence said...

169 is the number of out-of-school suspensions - that doesn't include in-school stuff, which wasn't my focus. I believe that in-school suspension is a superior form of punishment, because it prevents the child from choosing recreation and gives him or her the opportunity for continued educational oversight.

Anonymous, this isn't a wake-up call to a kid that is misbehaving to game the system. If the child has no parent at home during the day, it's probably not going to lead to punishment at home that will be beneficial, like grounding.

I can't stand cell phones. I'm fine with zero tolerance - if a kid is using one, take it away and only give it back to the parent. If it keeps happening, you suspend the kid in school. Is this so difficult to do? What qualifications do you need to be the guy in the suspension room? If it needs to be a teacher you can do what my district did: find the most incompetent teacher that can't be fired due to tenure and make that his new job.

Martin McPhillips said...

"In-school suspension." That has a ring. Reminds me of the chief guard in Cool Hand Luke running down the list of offenses for which "you spend a night in the box."

"Get caught texting in class, you spend a night in the box."

"Smoke a cigarette in the stairwell, you spend a night in the box."

Never having been to the high school penal colony, I would still venture a guess that contemporary teenage fevers have already transcended fears of a "night in the box."

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