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Mustard Seeds
Lies, Darn Lies, and Statistics
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 • Posted April 26, 2012 12:14 PM

When I became the principal of an alternative school (AEP) in a large school district, I found that drug abuse, gang activity, bullying, violence, sexual activity and disrespect toward legitimate authority were rampant in the campus student population. The disciplinary consequences were weak to the point of being laughable to the students. For example, when a student was caught with a controlled substance at school contrary to the code of conduct, he or she was sent to a counselor who would have him or her write a few sentences about what he or she had done wrong and express remorse. That was it. The student would grin and laugh to himself all way back to class and, invariably, the conduct would soon be repeated.

I hired a former U.S. Army drill sergeant and implemented a program similar to a boot camp. When the students committed a felony or some other serious violation of the district’s code of conduct and landed at the AEP, I wanted them to know they were in deep trouble and the only way out was to conform to the rules and change the attitudes and behaviors that had landed them in the alternative school. At the same time we implemented a point system whereby positive behaviors and conduct would speed up the process that would allow them back into the regular school program.

In order to stop the drug and weapon trafficking on campus, I set up a metal detector and every morning the students went through a strict inspection process, often in the presence of their parents who had to personally deliver their children to the facility each day.

After one particular incident, I asked the secretary for the student’s disciplinary file. She handed me the file and said, “This boy is always causing trouble and is routinely sent to the office for one offense or another.” But when I opened the file there was practically nothing in it. When I asked for the office referral paperwork, she simply shrugged and said that the former principal did not permit any paperwork to be filled out.

I wanted to have a history of each student, not to label him or her, but so that we could deal more effectively with a student’s problems and, when necessary, bring in outside professional help, whether it were law enforcement, psychological help, immigration, medical or etc. And where necessary, refer the student to a more comprehensive AEP program where he or she could get the help needed to turn his or her life around.

After a few short months I began to feel pressure from central office to “clean up” the campus and to do something about the student conduct that appeared to be “out of control.” I didn’t worry too much about it because that was precisely what I thought we were doing. But I hadn’t counted on statistics.

Every time a disciplinary referral was filled out a copy went to central office and the incident was recorded in a statistical data base. Under the previous principal’s administration, because there was almost no disciplinary paperwork submitted to central office, it appeared, statistically, that all was peaceful, secure and calm at the AEP. There were no fights, no drugs, no gang activity, no weapons found on campus and etc. While under my administration, on paper, all those things were going through the roof. The place appeared to be out of control. Perhaps a change of administrators was in order.

Now, I’m not sure if Central Office actually believed that or if they, in turn, were being pressured with how things appeared on paper to accreditation agencies, the school board and parent organizations. Perhaps having a good report meant more to those folks than actually changing the lives of young people. All I know for sure is that I was transferred, after less than two years, to preside over a regular campus. I was disappointed because I actually enjoyed the challenge of working with that student population.

Paul Harvey was the radio host of a popular nationwide news and commentary program for many years. He once reported that the federal government had mandated that each state had to improve the water quality of its rivers by a certain percent or face the loss of federal funds. Alaska was hit with sanctions because its rivers were so pristine and clean that they were unable to meet the required improvement standards. To the casual observer it might appear that Alaska’s waterways were fouled with vile pollution to the degree that the federal government had to intervene. Things aren’t always as they at first might appear to be.

Keep that in mind when making judgments based on hearsay, gossip, rumor, that which appears on the internet, or statistics. Alfred E. Newman, in “Half Wit and Wisdom” said, “America is the land that fought for freedom and then began passing laws to get rid it.” ‘Nuff said.


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