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Denver Post on School Safety Reporting Shows What’s Old Is New Again

Yesterday the Denver Post featured a lengthy story on troubles with school safety reporting. When I hear about a student being stabbed, beaten up, or having some property stolen, it makes me mad. Of course, those things happen. But then to see that a lot of these incidents aren’t being publicly reported with consistency, I get even more frustrated.

My Education Policy Center friends told me it’s nothing new. Or as former baseball player Yogi Berra once famously said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Post reporter Zahira Torres notes an important historical fact early in her story:

After the Columbine massacre in 1999, state lawmakers passed legislation requiring the collection of school discipline data and requiring that it be made available to parents.

1999?? That’s like the last millennium! Here we are 15 years later, and the newspaper’s investigation uncovered more than 100 Colorado high schools “reported no felonies, assaults, robberies or dangerous weapons last year.” They also found that only two students statewide had been expelled for nearly 200 incidents of felonious assault, while 149 elementary students alone have been expelled for “other violations.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Read the whole story.

If you’re a parent trying to make sense of the information regarding school safety, you’re likely to be confused or misled by what’s being reported to the state. Meanwhile, Colorado Department of Education officials have no oversight of the reporting. So is it a matter of anything goes? And do school leaders pay the price for honesty about violent or destructive incidents on their campus?

Rewind more than eight years, and you’ll see an Independence Institute issue paper by Kirstin Hasler titled “Addressing Safety Reporting Deficiencies on Colorado’s School Accountability Report.” Take a look at the very first sentence in the summary:

The Safety and Discipline table within Colorado’s School Accountability Reports (SAR) does not provide a realistic picture of the environment in many public schools.

Other than the fact Colorado no longer uses the SAR system or terminology to report facts about schools — you have to go elsewhere for that — that sentence practically fits in yesterday’s Post story. So what to do about it? Good question, because we need clear and consistent facts to get beyond emotion in debates about school safety.

Unlike most of the time, this little edublogger doesn’t have any easy answers ready to share. What do you think? After all, what’s old is new again. I may be too young for the historical perspective to strike home, yet I’m old enough to see that Colorado clearly can do better.