The Mountain of Behavior Statistics.
I gave a presentation on the discipline statistic of the Seventh Grade to a handful of staff members today. There are a large number of items that can be covered, a diversity of ways to handle the information. With over a thousand “referrals” in the system since October, there is a vast amount of data to be analyzed, interpreted, and presented. One of the key things to bear in mind when doing so is that although statistics and numbers don’t have an agenda or a bias, the presenters of those figures do. It would be all too easy to fall prey to political agendas, or workplace battles…to leverage those numbers for issues that aren’t the matter at hand.
For that reason, I stuck as closely as possible to the issue of simply disclosing information that might have been simply hidden for one way or another. For instance, of the roughly four hundred students in my grade level, only about a hundred have disciplinary infractions in the system. At a school that seems as chaotic as ours, the realization that only one out of four students has ever been in trouble is kind of heartening. When that number is deconstructed further, there is a handful of students, a number countable using fingers and toes without any tricks, that is responsible for the vast percentage of those issues.
Think of that for a moment. A small percentage of students, literally a few handfuls, effectively holding the educational well being of the remainder hostage. Those students are what education calls the “Top Tier” for intervention, and if concerted efforts were made to solve the problems of those students, peace would begin to return to our campus, and the whole process would get back on track. Coordinating those sorts of efforts to help young people isn’t all that easy, and that is one of the things that needs to be improved.
A revelation that was key to consider for the group, and new information to me, regarded the all important “consequence structure.” Teachers are big fans of “consequences” which although the term has negativity implied, can be positive in nature. Most of the time, it is a negative reinforcement though. The revelation was this: of the students that get “kicked out” of school, and sent elsewhere…more than half come back to us later the same year. Think about that.
The removal of the student possibly got a reprieve for the teachers and students, but the good done there is temporary at best. For the student experiencing that removal, the “ultimate consequence,” being kicked out of a school, is really demonstrated to have no “teeth.” It stops mattering, and stops mattering quickly. For that young person, educational time has been lost, and their overall attitude made worse, with no tangible gain.
It forces the need to really evaluate alternatives to that sort of removal. What kind of alternatives might be effective…that might not be my business to say. I can evaluate the data and discuss it in very clever mathematical ways, with neat charts and so forth. The business of solving the underlying problems that produce that data in the first place…that business might be beyond the expertise of the English teacher to handle, and require additional services. Organized, effective additional services.
The art is about the fatigue and the frustration that my co-teacher expressed at this meeting. I have been feeling it more, and worse, I think, but she has been vocally expressing it. Our hero is floating sort of wobbly in the image, with Quislet and Pony. She seems tired, as if she has had to deal with that childish but giant creature more than once before, as it chased the other unique students around the fairly whimsical school grounds. The creature can only be what it is, right?
With her generic super powers, the protagonist can probably put that big stone creature someplace harmless. We get the feeling that she has, time and time again. That doesn’t make the stone creature keep chasing the other kids around, it only stops the problem to have it restart. See how happy the stone giant seems? It doesn’t know any better, and kicking it out to some island to be with other giants or godzillas or kongs wouldn’t really be a help to it. The point is to get it to be friendly and kind in constructive ways.
The metaphor here is pretty direct. I think even the “heavy hitter” kids mean well…in their ways. I might not understand their ways, being inexpert in child psychology. I think that to a large degree they all want what kids want: to be heard, to be liked, to have friends. To play a bit. When that gets to the point where “unusual expression” of those needs causes them to upset or derail the education of the larger population of young people…it DOES have to be dealt with. Contained. For the good of the group, not just to be punitive.
Still…we wind up searching for a teleological system that won’t simply punish, but will some how inform of the right way and restore an emotional balance. I think those are good things, needed things…I also think that they are things that our school just doesn’t have. Not right now at least.
The presentation was pretty well received. Well received to the point that I’ve been asked to correlate the behavior to grades, and see if there is a statistical connection (there generally is, nationwide), and to do a similar analysis of the Grade Eight records. In addition, I’m apparently going to give an abridge version of the presentation to the staff at large. I think that it’s good, as far as it goes.
I think that the staff often wants to find solutions in statistics that don’t exist. Sometimes, a stone giant is just a stone giant.