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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Tracking Student Discipline

By Peter DeWitt — November 03, 2013 4 min read
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Schools have data for everything, and there are companies that are standing in line willing to “help” schools create databases that offer one stop shopping for everything they need. inBloom is one such company. The databases that are being offered to schools contain test scores, progress monitoring scores, attendance rates, family information, IEP and 504 information, as well as discipline issues.

There are schools and state education departments that are obsessed with data. They think that numbers tell us everything, when in reality numbers only tell a small part of the story.

Years ago when teachers, administrators and school staff were looking to build early warning systems to catch children from falling through the cracks, they would keep attendance records, grades and whether the students were tardy or leaving early on a regular basis. Now with accountability, and issues of Teacher of Record (TOR), schools are tracking students in every way possible so they can maintain an electronic paper trail. Numbers are not always the problem...it’s what people do with the numbers that can sometimes pose a problem.

Accountability runs deep...

Much of this has been happening for years, and many staff like being able to go to one place to get information on students, but now it seems to have gone too far. Tracking students through all of this data seems a bit seedy. Perhaps not to everyone, but to me it does. Where discipline is concerned, schools should proceed with caution.

Our Words Matter

When I was a first teacher, before computers entered our classrooms, I had a second grade teacher come to me at the beginning of every year to ask which students on her class list came from my first grade class. The first time it happened I assumed that she was just trying to get to know the students before they entered. Somehow, I thought she was trying to be proactive so she could make her students feel welcome.

However, I was young and fairly naïve because she followed up with...”Who were the discipline problems?

I didn’t tell her. The issues I had with students in first grade were private. Yes, if there was a student who needed something extra to help them grow I would talk with the teacher, but I didn’t need to treat my first graders like potential perpetrators of a crime. Besides, the issues I had with most students were never huge. After all, the kids were 6 years old. Everyone makes mistakes, especially at a young age.

In addition, students who may have had some issues with me may do well with another teacher. It depends on the fit and the personalities. Another year of growth, a change in the family structure, teaching style, and millions of other things can help change a child’s behavior from year to year. Remember the story of Teddy Stoddard? Whether the story is true or false there is a lesson to be learned. Educators need to make sure the information they collect means something and tells a valuable and well-rounded story about the student.

Because data looks different when it’s all about discipline...

Mistakes That Follow Kids

I get that there are students who need our help and get into trouble every year. They bully other peers, get into trouble with teachers, neglect their class work and find trouble around every corner. Those students need a variety of services...both proactive and reactive...to help them achieve in life. Some of these students drop out and schools never seem to make a difference.

However, there are many other students who get into trouble because they make mistakes and it should not have to follow them from year to year. When teachers and school leaders are asked to track discipline, many will do it with common sense. They will only input the issues that need to be highlighted. However, others may feel the need to track everything a child does, and that begins to make a child a target.

We have all seen those students. They are the ones that seem to be disliked at a young age by adults because their behavior makes them stick out. Maybe they don’t get disciplined at home...and word spreads about them from year to year. They may have been defiant in kindergarten, and then the expectation was that they would be defiant in first grade...and then second...and so on.

In many schools, teachers worked tirelessly, as do principals, helping students through this behavior. They help children grow in a variety of ways. When students are sent to the principal it should be seen as an opportunity for growth and not a session in punishment. Kids make mistakes, as do adults, and some of those mistakes should not have to follow them from year to year.

Common Sense Approach

In N.Y. State, schools are required to choose one vendor out of an approved list to house data. However, in the wisdom of those at the top, schools are not required to use the data warehouses...yet. They are free for the first two years and then schools will have to pay in the third year.

Discipline is one of the areas where schools are keeping track of data. It is sad that we live in a time when kids are not free to make mistakes....or perhaps they can make mistakes, but those mistakes follow them from year to year. I was not a perfect child, nor was I a perfect adolescent, and I am certainly not a perfect adult. I shudder to think of what would have happened to me if my mistakes and stupid decisions followed me from year to year.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.