Wednesday, October 03, 2007

State Attorneys General Scold Schools For Underreporting, But MCS Numbers Suggest Contrary

Schools don’t report crimes accurately and this prevents a clear picture of the scope of the problem, 27 state attorneys general said recently.

Hopefully, Memphis City Schools isn’t part of this pattern of inaccurate reporting. After all, in the most recent school year, there were almost 135,000 incidents reported within our schools.

Fortunately, the majority wasn’t criminal in nature, but the tally of incidents does prove to us that whatever teachers are paid, it’s too little.

Leading the list of infractions were the regulars: misconduct, disruptive behavior, class cutting, excessive tardiness, insolence/insubordination, fighting, and dress code violations. All together, they accounted for about 108,000 of the incidents.

After these, there was significant drop-off, but the kinds of incidents sound more serious. . There are gang-related incidents (964), threats against students (952); threats against teachers and school personnel (830); theft (676); trespassing/loitering (67); possession of weapons (492); battery against teachers and school personnel (476), possession of drugs (396); gambling (383); vandalism/break-ins (327); drug use (257); false fire alarms (83); possession of alcohol (92); false fire alarms (83); bomb threat (27); arson (26); extortion (22); and weapons use (8).

Most troubling is that in 18 schools, the percentage of violent incidents is more than 50 percent of the total, and 23 schools have more than two incidents per student enrolled (the highest is 5.5 incidents per student). The highest number of incidents was reported at Whitehaven High School with more than 6,250; Wooddale Middle had the most incidents of violence with 825 and the highest misconduct incidents at 3,115; and White Station High reported the most alcohol/drug incidents.

Schools with the highest incidents per student (all had more than 4.7 incidents per student) were Westwood High, Fairview Junior High Schools; Pyramid Academy and Wooddale Middle. Slightly more than 92,000 of the incidents were handled with suspension or detention for the students, and apparently, in an attempt to prevent the entry of the students into the justice system, less than 100 were arrested and transported.

Ninth graders caused the highest number of incidents followed by seventh graders.

We hasten to add that we aren’t trying to draw any conclusions from this data, because we don’t have enough information to know how consistent reporting is through the district, to conclude whether the school district’s actions are effective and to know whether the discipline is supported by teachers, who after all, are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with troublesome behavior.

This much we do know: We respect the emphasis by Memphis City Schools on intervention without the involvement of the juvenile justice system when possible. Too often, the justice system becomes a classroom dishing out precisely the kind of knowledge that sends young people into deeper criminal behavior.

In an era where our society seems prone to criminalize every kind of behavior, we commend the district for taking a more productive course of action with Blue Ribbon, which, despite its critics, is based on the research that shows that intervention with young people is much more effective in creating productive citizens than arrest and prosecution.


Anonymous said...

Wooddale Middle has had two very young and inexperienced principals for the past 3 years, and it shows in the data. The ineffective leadership at Wooddale Middle and other schools such as Whitehaven High might have a lot to do with the high number of incidents. There should be research on the growing number of new principals who want to lead a generation of students, but really have no clue whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

When were these numbers taken? The 2006-2007 school year?