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Charters and Student Expulsions

Tingley-021 colorWashington D.C.’s charter schools expel students at a much higher rate than D.C.’s public schools according to a report in The Washington Post yesterday.  School data reveal that the city’s public schools expelled 24 students over the last three years.  The city’s charter schools expelled 676.  Charter schools enroll 41% of the city’s student population.

Unlike public schools, charters are able to set their own disciplinary rules and consequences and are not legally bound to educate all students.  Public schools in Washington may expel a student only for egregious or illegal misbehavior – bringing guns or drugs to school, assault, or arson, for example.  Charters may remove students for non-violent reasons like poor attendance or failure to meet academic standards.  Public schools, it should be noted, use long-term suspensions (more than 10 days) at nearly twice the rate of charters and may involuntarily transfer a disruptive student to another school.

So what do these numbers actually mean?  If you are a parent of a child in a charter school (see video below), it’s probably fine with you that disruptive kids are removed from your child’s classroom.  In fact, it’s better than fine.  Being able to remove disruptive kids is a powerful tool for any school – charter, public, or private.  

During my five years as a private school administrator, being able to pick and choose the school population made running a safe and productive school a comparatively easy task.  In addition, knowing that their child could be removed from school with impunity catches the attention and cooperation of private school parents.  I suspect most D.C. parents of charter school students are similarly cooperative.

But public school parents and their children should have reasonable expectations that their schools should be safe and productive as well.  Instead, D.C. schools may be developing a bifurcated system in which those who can find a place in a charter school have a much better chance of success than those children who remain in the public schools.   And what happens to students who are expelled from charters?  According to Jeffrey Noel, director of data management for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, about a third of expelled students enroll in public schools.  One-fifth enrolled in another charter school, and there is no record of the remaining students enrolling anywhere.  It’s that last group that some fear eventually enroll in the criminal justice system.

Abandoning public schools in favor of publicly funded charters has created a quandary for parents, students, and educators alike.  Many parents feel that their child actually has a chance for success in the charters, and you can’t blame them for wanting the best for their child.  But who will be left in the public schools?  Kids with behavior problems, kids with disabilities, kids with a history of violence, kids who missed out on the lottery, and kids whose parents weren’t savvy enough for whatever reason to get them into a charter. 

Some charter school proponents say that  charter schools should work together to develop their own alternative school for students who have been expelled.  That would be an interesting development. Because when charter schools have to accept and work with the same school population as public schools, we’ll have a better idea of what really makes the difference in achievement.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.