This is a curious one. The headline–“Data may help solve discipline problems at Minnesota schools”–would lead one to think a new machine-learning algorithm is out there to help schools target and cut down on infractions.

To be honest, when I hear about a new data tool that will stop discipline problems, I think to myself that it better be nothing short of something out of Minority Report.

Instead, the article begins by discussing how Minnesota schools used data to figure out a lot of kids weren’t getting breakfast. Then they gave them breakfast and the kids stopped being hungry in the morning. I’m not trying to be funny here–that’s what the article says.

The author goes on to say that a new approach to tracking discipline problems has helped teachers to identify ethnicities that are disproportionately disciplined in Minnesota schools.

“We are in a new era of looking towards the data to improve our systems, specifically our public education systems,” said Josh Crosson, an advocacy manager with MinnCAN, a state education advocacy group.

Listen, the last thing I want to do is rain on the parade of well-meaning educators, but breaking down student infractions by race/ethnicity is certainly not “a new era.”

Let’s go on …

Statewide, groups like MinnCAN advocated for bills that would require an increase in data collection this legislative session, on the specifics of day-to-day student behavior, but also on suspensions, expulsions and other classroom removals. While many districts collect and report this information back to the state now, MinnCAN hopes the data will be further broken down to have schools report things like foster care status and whether or not a student is homeless.

Anyone with even a basic proficiency in Excel could track this for free, and I’m actually surprised to learn that there are schools that don’t already do this.

I would code each infraction for the following: location, teacher, years of experience of teacher, subject, period, race/ethnicity, foster/homeless status, academic performance. Identifying trends would be as easy as plugging in a simple formula.

Here’s to hoping Minnesota’s new discipline data system helps improve learning experiences for kids, but I also hope schools in MN realize they could hire anyone with basic proficiency in Excel to do the same thing for pennies…

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