Charter Schools and Suspensions

The Washington Post buried the lede in its recent expose on the “achievement gap” in student suspensions for Washington area schools.

Across the Washington area, black students are suspended and expelled two to five times as often as white students, creating disparities in discipline that experts say reflect a growing national problem.

Yes, yes, yes, administrators everywhere are racist, I get it. And yes, yes, yes, with a nod to Voldemort, blacks are probably being suspended more because they are more likely to misbehave. And sure, the report is loaded with “coulds” and “appears” like this paragraph here:

Experts say disparities appear to have complex causes. A disproportionate number of black students live below the poverty line or with a single parent, factors that affect disciplinary patterns. But experts say those factors do not fully explain racial differences in suspensions. Other contributing factors could include unintended bias, unequal access to highly effective teachers and differences in school leadership styles.

The experts never get specific, of course. The reporter doesn’t do the math to determine what percentage of the black suspensions are consistent with low income students, naturally. It’s all the usual garbage.

But that’s not the interesting part, which lies in this graph here:
Suspension rates

It’s a very fancy, fuzzy graphic, but it’s very clear on one point: DC charter schools, with a headcount over half that of DC public schools, are suspending black students at a higher rate than all but three other school districts, and suspending Hispanics at a higher rate than any other district.

Any public school teachers are nodding vigorously right now, because this is a sore point. Charter schools can suspend, expel, and just make life miserable for any problem students. Public schools can’t. Thus, charter schools, even the ones who don’t deliberately “cream” or “cherry pick”, have far more power to boot misbehaving (or simply high maintenance) students out, back to the public schools, who are legally bound to accept them.

Then the charter schools and eduformers brag about their wonderful results which aren’t that impressive in the first place and are achieved in no small part by ridding themselves of the low ability/low incentive/high impact students. This nifty little feature is often called “attrition”, which implies that the students leave by choice. Indeed, they often do, since charter schools can also make demands of their students that public schools can’t.

So the big story in the Post article is not that blacks are being suspended at a higher rate, but that in DC, blacks are being suspended by charter schools. Maryland’s charter schools are growing by leaps and bounds, and enroll large numbers of African American students. I wonder how much of Maryland’s high suspension rate is being fed by charters?

This would actually be an interesting story, so naturally the Post ignores it in favor of kind-of-sort-of mau-mauing the evil administrative power structure–without getting specific.

About educationrealist

One response to “Charter Schools and Suspensions

  • surfer

    Great analysis.

    Of course the real answer is for the schools to kick the kids all the way out. But if not doing that, allowing some schools to kick out students still seems like a good solution. At least half are functioning then.

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