Friday, November 27, 2015

APS discipline data; red herring

In July of this year, APS created a report called Disciplinary Infractions For School Year 2014-2015.  It is not posted on APS' award winning website.   I wouldn't put it past them to have suppressed report while the wheels were coming off the Valentino administration and until the dust settled.

APS produced for, or released to, KOB TV, a copy of the report and KOB followed up with a report of their own link.  I asked KOB whether the district had sent them the report or if KOB had asked for it.  They didn't respond.

The deception begins with the title; it's misleading.  The report is actually of an over-representation of minority students in reports about discipline problems.  The over-representation of minorities appears real (the statistics are unreliable and often invalid) and likely flows from one or both of two springs;

  1. minority students actually do break more rules more of the time, and or
  2. minority students are disproportionately singled out for prosecution by racist enforcement.
Boys are reported more frequently than girls in every category; and begs the same question; are boys
  1. over misbehaving, or is their apparent over misbehaving 
  2. a manifestation of enforcement bias?
As you can imagine, the possibilities stir up some passion, but are not really the point.  Either or both are red herring.

The leadership of the APS would like to distract attention from student discipline in general.  The problem we need to keep our eyes on is discipline in general in schools and classrooms.

Student discipline overall, is getting worse every year.
Disruptive students are getting more disruptive and there are more of them.  They're having an increasingly negative effect on the learning by other students. 

Student discipline in APS is getting worse every year.
(I will bow to controverting data.)

If we want to do anything about student discipline problems, we need data.  The data used in the report in question is flawed in a number of ways;
  • only the most severe of multiple infractions are recorded and only the most severe were considered in the report.
  • in order to create a more manageable format "several infractions have been grouped together" (conflation) and
  • there is little consistency in record keeping* (*Oh yes, by the way,  we almost forgot;
    there isn't any real, reliable record keeping going on).
The leadership of the APS doesn't collect data on student discipline, not really.  They never have.  Student discipline is first and foremost an administrative responsibility.  If there is a failure to keep schools under the control of adults, it is an administrative failure.

That administrators don't keep records documenting their failures is not hard to understand; it is human nature.  In the APS, it is encouraged and enabled by a lack of any real consequences for administrators who don't document their problems.

The data they do collect is often conflated to render it useless.  Once, they conflated bullying and vandalism statistics.  Not because one has anything at all to do with the other, but more likely, in order to render bullying statistics meaningless.  APS has bullying problems they would like not to fully acknowledge.

There is a conflict of interest that comes with administrators reporting disruptive behavior.  The more disruptive behavior an administrator reports, the fewer unhappy parents they have to deal with, and the less likely they are to be promoted, and the worse their school looks.

aps image
The APS Executive Director, Office of Accountability and Reporting Rose-Ann McKernan candidly admitted; "It is impossible to address the issues at the heard of school discipline when the information available is based on variable record-keeping." emphasis added

"Variable record-keeping".  You have to love it.  Talk about bureaucratic doublespeak; administrators not doing their jobs, and instead of being held accountable, it is all excused as "variable record-keeping".

Nearly 28,000 reports were made of "generally disorderly conduct"; defiance of school personnel, disrespect, general disruptive conduct, inappropriate or abusive language, conflict with a student, fighting and general violence.

Considering that only a handful of these acts were reported, the real number of disruptions must be higher.  It is much higher.  I wouldn't be surprised it if were five times higher.

So what are we going to do about 150,000 disruptions a year?

We are going to do nothing.  We are going to do nothing because it is impossible to address the issue unless you have good data, and the leadership of the APS, by their own deliberate choice, will not collect that data.

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