Measuring Conduct

Let me ask you 3 questions. a. Do you think car theft is up or down over the past 20 years?

b. And larceny? Same question.

Examples are thefts of bicycles, motor vehicle parts and accessories, shoplifting, pocket-picking, or the stealing of any property or article that is not taken by force and violence or by fraud.

c. What about burglary? Up or down?

Burglary is "the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or theft."

None of these crimes is violent. (That's robbery).

Here is the data from 1990 to 2009.

It's all down.

Interesting that car theft is down by the most. I'm guessing: technology like Lojack has been a game changer.

I was thinking of this context -- crime is down -- when I read EdWeek's Quality Counts special issue, called "Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate." It was published a few months ago. Worth reading.

First, let me describe how the discipline issue is framed by right now: suspensions and expulsions. Is that on the rise? Who does that affect? When are those punishments appropriate?

For example, if a kid brings a knife or gun to school, that's an automatic expulsion for us. Is that right? Then there are many sub-issues. What about a sharpened screwdriver, so it looks like an ice-pick? What if you conclude the kid only carries the weapon to deter attacks when he's walking home in his neighborhood?

Another strand of the current debate is when expulsions or suspensions are applied to a kid for breaking a rule like having a cellphone. But typically we're talking about what most people would agree are "major offenses," and the question is what consequences are just.

Here is EdWeek's setup:

If students aren't in school, they can't learn.

But if they are disruptive or violent, they may shortchange other students' chances at an education.

Attempted solutions to that unresolved school-discipline dilemma have yielded state and federal policies behind millions of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions during the past two decades.

The laws and policies have been applied to students wielding weapons and to those sporting a smart mouth or a cellphone. The so-called zero-tolerance approach to discipline, once reserved for the most serious of offenses, has prompted the suspensions and expulsions of students in possession of butter knives and theater-prop swords. The federal Gun-Free Schools Act, enacted in 1994, ushered in an era of tough punishment for low-level offenses.

Meanwhile, research and public positions by psychologists, physicians, and teachers' unions denounce such practices as harmful to students academically and socially, useless as prevention tools, and unevenly applied.

These are good questions. However, I think the frame misses something. Something big. There is not much attention to "small misbehavior" -- little things that disrupt class. I think this stuff matters a lot. But it's not measured, to my knowledge. So we have no way of knowing if it goes up or down.

Broken Windows theory in crime -- here it is described in 1982 -- suggests that the little misbehaviors and the big violations affect each other.

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or even break into cars.

Wikipedia summarizes both supportive and critical studies of Broken Windows here.

In any case, it might seem reasonable to think there is close correlation. Kids who perceive they can ignore the teacher in the classroom might be more inclined to ignore teachers while walking to class, and therefore shove a kid into a locker, or pick a fight.

Here is teacher perception, as measured by EdWeek surveys. Here are 3 more questions for you.


*What percentage of American teachers typically think students are safe? If I were asked, I'd interpret that question to mean "not beat up" and not subject to "ruthless bullying." I.e., major offenses.

*What percentage of American teachers typically think students are well-behaved?

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Here is another question.

*What percentage of teachers feel that principals support them with regards to dealing with student behavior?

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Sort of an obvious disparity there.

In a previous post, we analyzed what makes some charters successful, and others not? I think it's be an interesting empirical study (Matt DiCarlo!) to survey charter teachers on this question. What is the correlation b/w teachers who feel supported by their principals on student behavior issues, and achievement?

We've never asked that question of Match Teacher Residency alums who are spread across many charters, but I know our team believes there is a correlation. Similarly, the majority of teachers believe teachers do not adequately support one another. I'd suspect another correlation here with student achievement, perhaps even a stronger correlation. The higher performing schools seem to have teachers rowing in the same direction, thereby making the job of each one a little easier.

Finally, examine this graph in high poverty schools.

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My hypothesis is that a better way to improve the climate of schools, so that teachers can succeed with kids and kids can learn, is less to lower sanctions on major offenses, and more to undertake action so that teachers perceive more students are "well-behaved." But it's hard to examine this hypothesis without good data on the relationship between small misbehaviors and major offenses.