School Choice

D.C. Public Schools Are a Model Once Again, This Time on School Discipline

While turf wars are being waged between traditional public schools and charter schools across the nation, the District of Columbia is leading the way showing how they can collaborate to avoid the internal strife that unnecessarily pits schools against one another instead of doing what’s best for their students. In addition to making significant investments in teacher recruitment, revamping evaluations, and achieving gains on NAEP scores that outpaced the rest of the country, the city has taken successful early strides to increase transparency surrounding school discipline and expulsion rates, according to a new report. The Center on Reinventing Public Education’s new analysis, Grappling with Discipline in Autonomous Schools: New Approached from D.C. and New Orleans, looks at how these two urban school districts have sought to reduce the number of students suspended or expelled. The D.C. Public Charter School Board, the city’s charter school authorizer, worked with the D.C. Public Schools system, the Mayor’s Office, and the Office of the State Superintendent to create annual School Equity Reports in 2012. The reports provide school-level data on suspensions, expulsions, student exits, and mid-year enrollment. Thus far, signs are promising that disciplinary rates have decreased according to the report:
Between the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 school years, the average overall suspension rate across all (DC) city schools dropped from 12 percent to 10 percent. The suspension rate for students with special needs, the group of students most frequently suspended from the city’s schools, fell from 23 percent to 19 percent. The suspension rate for black students, the racial group most frequently suspended, fell from 16 percent to 13 percent. The citywide expulsion rate fell from 0.22 percent (22 per 1,000 students) to 0.13 percent (13 per 1,000 students). Strictly by the numbers, the city’s schools are suspending and expelling fewer students.
The biggest drops were seen in charter schools. These seem like modest improvements but few school districts are addressing the issue of school discipline meaningfully. In 19 states, corporal punishment is still legal. Racial disparities have become obvious as to which students are punished. To have such data available is an important step towards illuminating what was until recently a prevalent yet underreported problem. A misleading headline in The New York Times stated charter schools were more likely to suspend Black and Brown students, which might have led some readers to think the charter suspension rates were higher than those at traditional schools, when in fact they are similar. The D.C. Public School Board is proving that charter schools take seriously efforts to decrease student discipline. This is something other school districts could learn from.
Caroline Bermudez
Caroline Bermudez is chief storyteller at the Charter School Growth Fund and former senior writer at Education Post. Bermudez has been a journalist for almost 10 years. She was staff editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, covering the nonprofit world, with a particular focus on foundations and high net-worth giving. She has interviewed prominent business, political and philanthropic leaders ...

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