Pretty solid and well-reported piece by Emma Brown in the WaPo on charter school expulsion rates in D.C. Not surprisingly it’s occasioning some of the usual back and forth but it’s a real issue and the story does its best to show the complexity. Five things to think about:
- On context D.C. Public Schools do have a substantially lower expulsion rate than public schools nationally, on average, but the charters in D.C. – as a group – are nonetheless an outlier the other way, higher than the national average. There are also a variety of things public schools do that might as well be expulsions but aren’t counted as such, these don’t always show up in the data. Bottom line: No one does discipline well in a systemic way.
- But, “as a group,” is the operative phrase. The charters vary widely and a small percentage seem to account for the bulk of the expulsions.
- The article raises the issue of “count day” and funding schools entirely based on the count on a particular day. It’s an antiquated practice in today’s education system and ripe for a fix.
- You know who likes strict discipline policies? Parents. Charters in D.C. did not get to serving north of 40 percent of the city’s overall student population by being an unattractive option to parents. The problem is that too little attention is paid to what to do for students who need an alternative learning environment rather than a traditional school and there are too few learning environments like that – and too often alternative schools become the place where you put all the people who struggle in the regular system, adults and kids.
- What this really points up fundamentally is a suite of challenges as the education system moves to a more choice-driven one (and as one of the last quasi-monopolies in American life that’s going to happen, it’s a question of when and how, not of if). In the traditional public system we didn’t, and don’t, expect each school to serve all kinds of students. Districts try to do that via different kinds of programs and schools. But because of their autonomous nature we do expect this of charter schools right now, and not surprisingly it’s not happening. That’s why underneath the noise of the choice debate the substantive challenge is how to ensure that all students (special needs, language learners, hard to serve, etc…) are treated equitably across geographic areas where they live.* It’s a complicated issue and an enormous challenge. A good start would be an acknowledgement that the outcome data are clear: No one has yet figured it out in any part of the education sector – that’s probably the most important piece of context.
*Some of this will come up at this Bellwether event, featuring a great panel of urban education leaders.