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April 11, 2008

Are schools doctoring discipline statistics?

The recent assault of a teacher by a student at Reginald F. Lewis High has highlighted a number of serious concerns facing schools right now. I have been most disturbed by the claims that administrators are not reporting certain disciplinary incidents to alter school statistics.

I must stress that the student in this recent case was suspended from school immediately following the incident. I am focusing more on the teachers union's claims that incidents like this are frequent and often unreported.

Marietta English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said her office has been receiving two or three complaints a day of assaults on teachers, many of which are not reported to the school system or police, according to Sara Neufeld’s story.

The union has long claimed that administrators aren't reporting violent incidents or doing enough to punish children who are violent, for fear their schools will be labeled "persistently dangerous" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Sara’s story says.

A persistently dangerous school is defined in Maryland by the number of suspensions for violent offenses, not the number of offenses itself.

This isn’t just a problem in Baltimore.

My mother – a retired principal in Syracuse, New York – last night said she discussed this matter with some of her former peers, and it is common knowledge that some schools to not report certain disciplinary actions. (For the record, my mother detests this practice.)

Dr. Alonso has threatened to fire anyone in Baltimore city schools who does not report these incidents, Sara told me when I talked to her a few minutes ago.

The system says it has expelled students for assaults on staff members 112 times this school year, compared with 98 at this time last year.

School officials point to the slight increase in expulsions as a result of Dr. Alonso's policy, Sara told me.

Are schools are doctoring their discipline numbers to avoid: a negative community reaction, or an “unsafe schools” label?


I teach in a BCPSS middle school and it sure seems that my school does. Suspensions are also kept under five days so that they don't need to be submitted to Dr. Alonso for approval.
We have had several teacher assaults this year and those students have not been expelled. Our administration is claiming that when these suspensions are being sent out Dr. Alonso's office is sending them back to our school because expelling them is not an option -- "There are no disposable children."
I also am not confident that these situations are being reported properly by school police. I filed charges against three students for repeated second degree sexual assault in January (due to the fact that I felt like the mere three days suspension the school gave them was not adequate). I have yet to get any information from the juvenile courts regarding the case. Another female teacher at our school was attacked by a male student in the stairwell in January as well and has not heard anything. The child who assaulted her is still a student at our school. I have never filed charges before so I have no idea how long it should take these cases to be processed.
It is difficult for me to tell if the school is covering up the numbers or if Dr. Alonso's office is really forcing schools to keep these violent kids in their zone schools as our administration claims.

It is time we ask Mr. Alonso to define his policy for suspensions. If I remember correctly, he has to approve of long-term suspensions. In my school, we've had students commit major offenses (fighting, selling drugs, starting fires, etc.) Instead of a long-term suspension, students typicially return in a couple of days. The official word was the Mr. Alonso did not approve of the long-term suspension.

According to today's editorial: Mr. Alonso's emphasis on alternatives to suspension for nonviolent offenses is showing some results. Someone at the Sun is either a) drinking Mr. Alonso's kool-aid or b) completely misinformed. As Enron, our President, and the Financial Banks on Wall Street have proven, numbers can be manipulated. What exactly are Mr. Alonso's reforms for improving discipline? His "zero tolerance for violence" is news to anyone teaching in the system. That was the first time he ever used that phrase, how come he never stated that during the incidedent with the Robert Poole middle-school students? If memory serves correct, he wasn't outraged, he was not bothered at all! Now, he comes out and says "Wow," after watching the video. One can only wonder if he is only concerned since the national media has picked up the issue.

In summary, Mr. Alonso's attempt to manipulate the numbers and take credit for "bringing much-needed reform" to the system is the primary problem. Until Mr. Alonso realizes that his policy jeopardizes whatever stability is left in the system, we will continue to endure situations like this which will blow up in the national media and reduce student achievement.

again it starts with nancy grasmick. she is the one who does not have a clue. in 1995 she first discovered violence in schools because baltimore county had something happen. she needs to go and so does the no child left behind. if parents refuse to control their children than suspension is the only answer. no do gooder theories are going to workrxi

I have no doubt, but also no concrete proof, that the numbers are being doctored in some way. There must be transparency in the process. Teachers are often completely in the dark when it comes to incidents in their buildings. We can submit an incident report to an administrator and never know if it was processed. Did it get forwarded to North Ave? Was it rejected? Or did the administrator not submit it due to concern over numbers? The students end up back in our buildings, empowered to commit more infractions because the consequences have been lacking or minimal.

With regard to the discipline process we often say that we are treated like mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed bull****.

I also work in a BCPSS middle school. Students have thrown desks, pencils, protractors, etc. at teachers. Teachers lives have been threatened. They have been called every name in the book. The administration (and the school police officer) always tell them to "call the parent." They then leave those teachers alone in a conference room with the student and his/her parent. The student screams at the teacher and the parent will generally side with them. (Let's be honest, if you've grown up with the idea that throwing desks at teachers is acceptable, you just might have parents that will agree.) The administration will then consider the matter "handled" and the student comes back within a few days.

Whatever is going on, I am so tired of the "higher ups" in this city CONSTANTLY putting the blame on someone else. Alonso says he had no idea. My administration (and also the previous poster Middle School Teacher's) says that they can't do anything because Alonso won't let them. Well, both of those statements can't be true.

I'm glad this situation has national attention. In 2005, all middle school teachers were told by Peggy Jackson-Jobe not to "air our dirty laundry." It seems that many people in this city like to use the fact that teachers care about children to manipulate their actions. They make if seem that if we bring these situations to light, our good students will suffer by the negative publicity. Well they are already suffering!
I wish more teachers would step forward. There should be more options for alternative schools (REAL ones, not "holding cells") in this city. These students that are causing havoc within the regular school system need somewhere to go where they can be helped.

Middle School teacher's post says it all. There are NO CONSEQUENCES for teacher assaults, fighting, fire setting, property distruction. What will it take to stop this madness?

I agree with Dr. Alonzo's comment about there being "no disposable childres" but why are these violent student behaviors being ignored? Perhaps, it is the teachers of BCPSS that are the "disposable"ones.

Yes, "Season in Hell", teachers ARE the disposable ones in BCPSS. If we didn't know that before, that message was certainly sent when Alonso & the Board made the decision to disband the Blum Mentoring Program which supports 1st, 2nd & 3rd year teachers (and others!). Clearly, teacher support is not a systemic priority.

The proof that nothing is being done is evidenced when the student who has thrown a desk or pushed a teacher or burned art work off the walls or been caught smoking pot is back in the school after 5-6 days. When a teacher asks why they are back they are shown a letter stating that the "proposed suspension has been rescinded." I work in a middle school where Overaged gang members who assault students and destroy property are allowed to return several days after assaulting students without consequences. The victims of the assaults try to transfer to another school, but almost always are told that they must stay in their zoned school because the other school is not accepting transfers. Add to this a weak principal who us afraid to break Alonso's 5 day suspension rule and you have what I see at my school every day --- chaos. Is there really any question about whether all violent incidents are being reported or not?

Of course, statistics have been altered for years and everyone who has been around more than two years is perfectly aware of the situation. Until students are given "real" and "viable" alternative learning situations, they will continue to be violent toward teachers without fear of consequences. Where are the alternative settings we have been promised? In their place, all I have seen are the new charter schools scheduled to open next year which will once again continue to make zone schools the "alternative" settings. We had a fight at our school this week which involved a group of girls that have been fighting one another for over two years. We asked that they be broken up and disbursed to other settings in November and were told that that action would not be in the best interest of the students. Now this same group has had three more fights in which someone was injured. Whose best interests are we defending now? Dr. Alonso, if you truly believe that there are no disposable children, then give us an alternative setting for the most disruptive students and let everyone get on with the business of learning.

North Ave definitely does not care about keeping teachers. They think they will always be able to find more next year. They do nothing to retain the good teachers in the city that are increasingly getting frustrated with the system. This year there are at least 8 or 9 good teachers that are trying to transfer from my school. The only reason why we have stayed as long as we have is because of the support we have received from a Blum Mentor. But as previously stated that position has been eliminated.

The administration at my school is weak and the students run wild on a daily basis. They know that there are no consequences for them. Our assistant principals have stopped trying to suspend students because North Ave keeps sending the students back. We have used the security cameras to determine who has been setting fires and we were unable to put the students on long term suspension because the fires were in bathrooms and there was no concrete evidence that the student set the fire - our school was told unless a student is actually seen setting the fire, the student can not be placed on long term suspension.

Over the past year, I have made many posts on a variety of issues on this blog. Education, after having worked for two years in BCPSS, is as close to something I am passionate about as anything in my whole life.

But it seems the major issues we confront just keep cycling through and never being solved. We discuss the problems, offer solutions, but the same grievances resurface again and again. It is heart-wrenching. Toward the end of my second year teaching, a couple of my students said I seemed "out of it" and asked why - my response was that after all the hard work and sweat and even tears we put in together in my classroom, I was very afraid and beyond nervous that my poor kids still had to navigate through four more years of BCPSS and hopefully come out unscathed and with a College acceptance letter in hand - something the numbers show quite clearly is not a high likelihood. So yes, I was out of it because I was so sad about that thought.

After I learned that my second principal in two years would be leaving after one year in the system, I decided it was time to make my break. I took myself out of a system where, as somebody posted above, teachers are made to feel disposable and completely undervalued, and took my Science degree and Master's degree and am now in medical school. In the two years since I left, the middle school where I worked has gone through 4 more principals. However, in those same two years, I have not had to raise my voice ever; I have not had anything thrown at me; I have not been cussed out; and, perhaps most importantly, I have not had to sit through another "Professional Development" where I am taught about "read-alouds" by somebody doing a read-aloud to me.

Some will call me shallow and say that I sold-out my kids for my own sake. However, I'm willing to bet those people are not from the overwhelming majority of teachers who leave the system within the first five years because they just get tired. Or worse, disillusioned. Or even worse: apathetic.

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