I’m Moving This Chart’s Clip to Red

SD’s just wrapping up kindergarten and we have come to truly hate the so-called clip-chart system her elementary school uses. Maybe you know this system, introduced in 2009 by a company called New Management as “A Simple Discipline Strategy for Promoting Positive Behavior.” It’s unfortunately been adopted by schools across the country.

Why do we hate it? It passes judgement on our 5-year-old every single day. She doesn’t need to be subjected to such a thing; who would?

If you don’t know, the system works like this. There’s a chart with different colors that represent…well, it depends on the school system or teacher. In the original positive-skewing concept, there are four colors.


Each kid’s behavior is ranked for the day using a clip the teacher moves to the appropriate color on the chart, or up and down a string in front of a color. The child colors the day correspondingly on a take-home calendar a parent has to initial and return to school.

Note that all of the colors signify a positive behavior, which is nice and reinforcing, and I can see why someone thought the system was a constructive idea.

Too bad this has nothing to do with the colors SD’s teacher is arbitrarily assigning. Here are her kindergarten’s clip chart rankings:


Note that this way, three colors are positive, one is, “well, you’re here,” and three are negative judgements. (“Teacher’s Choice,” according to SD, means you put your head down on the desk instead of going out for recess.)

Every child starts the day on green. In this entire school year, SD has never gotten to pink. Not once. A couple of purples. A few blues, lots of yellows, a few oranges, a couple of reds. Mostly greens.

So this teacher is saying that on not one single day all year has SD’s behavior been outstanding? This is not possible. Her grades—such as they are in kindergarten—are good, the teacher says she’s among her best readers, and she’s a vibrant little human. Not one day?

Over the holiday break, SD told my wife that she didn’t like herself. At 5. Because of the clip chart. We immediately went to see the teacher who said she didn’t realize SD “was the kind of child who responds to positive reinforcement.” What? Doesn’t everyone? She deigned to lay several purples on SD for a couple of weeks, and then slowly back to green and sub-green.

A national backlash is brewing over the clip chart, as SD’s teacher is not alone in using it as a soul-crushing, punitive tools for little kids. Some are restoring its original reinforcing intent and some educators are banishing it altogether from their classrooms.

Wish our school’s teachers would. We’ve told SD to pay no attention to the stupid colors.