Rethinking Detention

The word “detention” stirs up a distinct physical and emotional reaction in us. Maybe it resurfaces a negative memory of sitting silently in a classroom, staring the blackboard while your friends play outside on the playground. Maybe it invokes a feeling of shame or fear. Regardless, for most of us, it’s not a positive or restorative feeling. That is, unless you go to Milwaukee Excellence Charter School, a 240 student 6th & 7th grade charter school in its second year of operation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that we’ve featured in our past two blog posts (here and here).

As we detailed in our first Milwaukee Excellence blog post, about a year ago, Hanna Jadin (Founding Dean of Students) and her team embarked on a 7-step data-driven review of their school’s policies and procedures. In that process, they remarked that their detention policies needed work. As it stood, Milwaukee Excellence held a lunch detention for students who exhibited four or more negative behaviors before lunchtime, but the accountability dissipated in the afternoon, and Ms. Jadin found that “kids were going wild after lunch”. Plus, it was like groundhog day; after serving detention one day, kids would start fresh the next day, without any incentive to improve behavior for multiple days at a time. Ms. Jadin and her team’s 7-step approach to revising their detention policies resulted in a two-pronged approach to detention that has not only dramatically improved behavior across the board, but has also boosted student motivation and academic achievement. 

  1. Homework Club

Ms. Jadin worked with Mr. Lynk, a Special Education teacher, to design a Homework Club – essentially a specific “detention” reserved solely for missed or incomplete homework – with the focus on helping students finish their work and resolve questions rather than punishing them. Here’s how it works:

  • On a daily basis, Milwaukee Excellence has configured Schoolrunner to automatically generate a Homework Club list – a roster of students who missed or failed to complete one homework assignment that day
  • Around lunchtime, teachers pull up that up-to-the-minute Homework Club list in Schoolrunner and hold those students in the lunchroom during recess
  • Teachers administering Homework Club help students with their homework as necessary, and kids are free to leave once their homework is complete

Since they started Homework Club, homework completion rates have skyrocketed. When they initiated this policy with their 7th graders, 62% of kids had missing or incomplete homework; that number has dropped to 10%, and those kids are usually just signing in and leaving after they get their questions answered. As Homework Club has increased homework completion rates, in turn, it has had the effect of boosting kids’ academic performance. According to Mr. Lynk: 

“Now, not only are we seeing that kids’ homework is more complete, but their grades have jumped up because they have a forum for getting their questions answered and enhancing their understanding of what’s going on in their classes.”

Additionally, Ms. Jadin and team have seen kids’ and parents’ motivation and engagement around homework completion skyrocket.  

“We’ve seen kids start to advocate for themselves. If a kid doesn’t know how to do something, they say, hey, I have homework club today and I’m going to ask a teacher about it, rather than just resigning themselves to not understanding.” – Hanna Jadin

Mr. Lynk describes students running around the halls at 8:00am to show him that it’s complete. Ms. Jadin describes parents calling her before their kids get to school (or even sending pictures!) if their kids forgot to bring in completed homework. According to Ms. Jadin, Homework Club has boosted parent engagement in homework, which is an awesome bonus that wasn’t necessarily expected!

       2. After School Detention

With the newfound momentum from their Homework Club success, Milwaukee Excellence set to improve their behavior-based detention as well. Rather than holding it daily during lunch (thereby focusing it solely on morning behavior), Ms. Jadin and her team designed a once-a-week after school detention on Monday nights. This allows Ms. Jadin to send home detention notification slips on Friday and allows families to have the weekend to prepare a ride for their student after school on Monday. Milwaukee Excellence uses Schoolrunner to track “opportunities” (or negative behaviors that count toward detention), and students who have eight or more opportunities throughout the week are automatically enrolled in Monday detention. This way, students don’t just have to manage their behavior daily, but are challenged to manage their behavior throughout the week. Additionally, Ms. Jadin’s team requires parents to pick up their students and have a discussion with the teacher or administrative staff running the detention (who, to inform the discussion, have access to all students’ real-time academic and behavioral data through Schoolrunner). Ms. Jadin has seen a huge increase in parent involvement in their kids’ behavioral and academic activities as a result of their Monday detention re-design.

Ms. Jadin and her team’s revamp of their detention policies – essentially, breaking it into Homework Club and After School detention – has allowed Milwaukee Excellence to make detention more restorative than punitive. It has provided students with a true opportunity to improve their performance by giving them a venue to get the help they need; it has challenged students to manage their behavior over multiple days; and it has provided families with opportunities to get involved when their kids are struggling. In addition, Milwaukee Excellence’s staff’s proficiency with Schoolrunner’s data tracking & analysis tool has made these detention policies easy to administer, track, and constantly improve!

This concludes our series of three Milwaukee Excellence blog posts (see post #1 here and post #2 here). Thank you to Hanna Jadin and her team for sharing the innovative, data-driven work they’re doing to boost student achievement and enhance school culture!

Contact us today to learn more!


Eve Ackil

Marketing Coordinator at Schoolrunner

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