The city Department of Education recently released student suspension data. Do not read too much into it. Your child’s school is not necessarily better or worse for the numbers.
A school whose suspension rate has gone up may be improving. A school where it has gone down may be declining. What really matters is whether violent or other incidents are reported. Sometimes these events are suppressed, re-classified or ignored.
Some principals think they have a vested interest in enforcing a “what happens in this school, stays in this school” policy. Student suspension numbers are factored into the performance evaluations of the principal and school. There are incentives for principals to forgive or be blind to mayhem.
A small percentage of principals may signal to their staffs to back off any actions that could adversely affect their school’s reputation. The admonition to remain silent may not only become part of the school’s culture but central to it.
It is a sure thing that principals can quote city schools chancellor’s regulations, especially when they are looking for cover. Every school must abide by the DOE’s discipline code, which spells out the penalties that correspond to classifications and descriptions of different kinds of student violations.
This may sound objective, but with its industrial-strength elasticity replete with deliberate vagueness and loopholes, the code can be an adaptable handbook for accountability avoidance.
If a given school’s plummeting suspension rate is due to a refusal to recognize or a failure to take corrective action against gross misconduct, that fact may be perfumed by a claim that the drop is due to improved counseling, intervention, oversight and sensitivity training. This kind of hanky-panky is not typical but neither is it extinct.
The controversy continues as to when a student should be suspended for misconduct and what form that suspension should take. For many years it was common to ban a child from school for five days. That meant the child was out of sight and mind, which was often a relief all around.
But around seven years ago, the DOE established Alternate Learning Centers in all the boroughs. The emphasis at these ALCs is on continuity of instruction and supportive services rather than punishment.
Students thrive there and fit in with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s call for “restorative justice” as an enlightened option to castigation and exile. Because statistics have many faces, do not accept them at face-value.
According to Tyler Vigen, by his claim a doctoral student at Harvard Law School who just “loves to wonder how variables work together,” the per capita consumption of cheese in the United States correlates with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets. He calls that a “spurious correlation.”
Nothing could be more spurious than the reliability of suspension rates