Suspensions and expulsions down in D.C. charter schools

The expulsion rate for D.C. public charter schools in the past school year was about half of what it was two years before, and the rate of out-of-school suspensions decreased by about 20 percent in one year, according to a report released Thursday.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board has made it a priority to reduce expulsions and out-of-school suspensions in recent years. Expulsion rates for 2011-2012 were higher than national averages and far above those at the city’s traditional public schools.

“We are really pleased with the results,” said Scott Pearson, the charter board’s director. “We believe that we are on the right track in terms of moving to a discipline system where there is a real appreciation at our schools of the importance of keeping students in school and in the classroom because you don’t learn when you are not in school.”

Looking at all city charter schools, about 12 percent of students had at least one out-of-school suspension last school year, down from 14.7 percent in 2012-2013. The expulsion rate dropped from 0.72 in 2011-2012 to 0.37 last year, the report says.

Suspensions and expulsions in the 2013-2014 school year decreased at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Suspensions in early childhood — pre-kindergarten and kindergarten — rose from 206 to 265, or 2.4 to 2.9 percent of all students.

Read the Public Charter School Board's report

The report

A report from the D.C. Public Charter School Board said that expulsions and suspensions are down as the city's charter schools pay closer attention to the issue. Read the report.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education recommended ending the suspension of pre-kindergartners in a recent city report on school discipline. The report said young children might not understand why they were being punished and might be acting out in ways within developmental norms.

Nationwide, educators are rethinking school discipline policies based on strong evidence that poor and minority students are far more likely to be suspended or expelled and that such punishments are statistically linked to dropping out or going to jail or prison later in life. The charter school board’s report did not break down its data by race and ethnicity or by socioeconomic status.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but operate independently, have the latitude to set discipline policies and to expel students they deem dangerous or disruptive. Charters are often criticized for taking advantage of that freedom and accused of sending the most difficult students back to traditional public schools that are mandated to serve all students.

D.C. charter schools expel students at far higher rates than the city’s traditional public schools. A Washington Post review of school data in 2013 found that in the three preceding years, D.C. charter schools expelled 676 students; the traditional public schools expelled 24.

The charter school board began reporting school discipline data two years ago, operating under the belief that greater transparency, rather than new regulations, would encourage schools to improve, Pearson said.

Discipline numbers are improving as schools rethink discipline policies, he said. Some charter schools are moving away from zero-tolerance policies or shortening the list of infractions that lead to automatic suspension or expulsion. Some are adopting “restorative justice” models, under which students set their own punishments and attempt to make up for any harm they’ve done. On many campuses, in-school suspensions are replacing out-of-school suspensions. That way, students continue to learn, Pearson said.

Several schools were identified in a briefing as making significant improvements in the past year. The expulsion rate at LAYC Career Academy Public Charter School in Ward 1 went from 5.9 percent to 1.7 percent; IDEA Public Charter School in Ward 7 went from 4.4 to 0.5 percent; and YouthBuild Public Charter School in Ward 1 went from 4.3 to 0.9 percent.

Last school year, 68 public charter schools did not expel any students, up from 64 the year before.

The highest expulsion rate was 3.3 percent, at KIPP DC AIM Academy Public Charter in Ward 8, up from 1.2 percent the year before, to 11 expulsions. Options Public Charter School and Friendship Public Charter School-Collegiate Academy also had expulsion rates higher than 2 percent.

Susan Schaeffler, founder of KIPP DC, said the number of expulsions for all KIPP DC schools declined last year. She said the increase at AIM Academy was attributable to an isolated incident.

“KIPP DC only expels students for violent or dangerous behavior, and expulsion is always a last resort,” Schaeffler said. “Our parents entrust us with the safety of their children, and it’s the responsibility of the school to provide a safe learning environment for the thousands of students that attend KIPP DC schools each day.”

The charter school board report also says truancy rates in charter schools declined in the past year. The percentage of students ages 5 through 18 who missed 10 or more days of school without an excuse declined to 15 percent from 19 percent.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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