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School Choice

Discipline in Charter Schools: There’s More to the Story

This week, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA came out with a report on charter and traditional public schools’ discipline practices. The Civil Rights Project has a track record of being critical of charter schools, and it was no surprise that the report cast a negative light on the charter movement. The data, however, tell a different story altogether. As of about five years ago, when data for this report were collected, charter schools were doing about the same as the broader public school system in the area of school discipline.  And, since that time, the charter sector has had serious discussions about how we can reduce suspension and expulsion rates. Positive progress has been made that we believe would be reflected in more current data.  For example:
  • In New Orleans, despite serving a much more at-risk student population, the expulsion rate is lower than the state average (0.6 percent for New Orleans versus 0.7 percent for Louisiana). The transition to an all charter school system, coupled with equity-driven leadership, has resulted in more students staying in school. One way New Orleans has reduced expulsions is by centralizing and standardizing expulsion rate policies, with all schools adopting the same expulsion code and the Recovery School District operating all expulsion hearings. New Orleans has also aligned accountability practices, such as requiring high schools to carry a "zero" test score for students who drop out. The district has also restricted transfers between schools, which has reduced mobility rates and the number of students being sent to other schools by counselors.
  • The expulsion rate for D.C. public charter schools has been cut by two-thirds since 2011, and the rate of out-of-school suspensions has decreased by about 20 percent. D.C. has been able to ensure more students stay in school and receive a high-quality education by increasing the transparency of discipline practices. For instance, all schools are required to post discipline information on the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s website with a clear list of infractions and consequences. Additionally, the data is analyzed monthly data to look for trends, and schools are alerted when they appear as an outlier for disciplinary practices.
New Orleans and D.C. provide positive examples of charter schools coming together to find solutions that work for their school and, more importantly, their students. It shows that charter schools are learning from their own practices, from each other, and adapting their school models to address their students’ evolving needs. This is what charter schools can do, and why they are leading the way in some cases. There are many paths to successful student outcomes, as demonstrated by high-achieving charter and district-run public schools. Parents know what is best for their children, and they are choosing to send their children to charter schools by the millions. That’s a story worth telling. For a deeper look into the Civil Rights Project’s report, see The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington (CRPE)’s analysis on the report’s research methods and unsupported claims about civil rights violations.
Nina Rees is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. She is responsible for setting the strategic vision of the organization, fundraising, and working with her senior team to foster a climate in which charter schools can grow and have a positive ...

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