According to an analysis by the Washington Post, charter schools in the District of Columbia expelled 676 students in the past three years, a much larger number than that of traditional district schools in the city, which expelled only 24 students.
For all three years that were analyzed (2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12) the traditional district had an overall higher student enrollment than the charter schools. Last year, in 2011-12, charter schools, which enrolled 41 percent of students in the city, expelled 227 students compared to the traditional district expelling just three.
The expulsions seem to be coming from a select group of charter schools in Washington, with 60 out of the 97 operating charter schools expelling no students in 2011-12 while some schools, like YouthBuild, a charter school that targets high school dropouts and overage students, expelled 30. (Here is a breakdown of the number of expulsions and suspensions per school.)
Part of the discrepancy is because of differences in discipline policies between the traditional district and charter schools in Washington. The traditional district’s discipline policy, which was revised in 2009, allows those schools to expel students only for egregious and illegal activity such as bringing a gun to school, committing arson, or attacking fellow students or teachers, the story explains. However, charter schools create their own discipline policies, allowing some to implement “zero tolerance” strategies that allow for the expulsion of students who skip class or violate the dress code. In addition, the local district expels far fewer students than the national average, the article says, which may further explain the discrepancy between the expulsion rate in Washington’s charter schools and its traditional schools.
On the other hand, the local district relies on long-term suspensions more than charter schools in the city, suspending 601 students for more than 10 days for a single incident in 2011-12 versus charter schools, which suspended 327 students for ten days or more for a single incident, the article said.
But critics of charter schools worry that they are inflating their performance by kicking out the most challenging students and sending them back into the traditional district schools, creating an unequal system of schools. And if charter students are expelled after Oct. 5, which is when the city collects consensus data used for funding, the charter keeps that students’ funding, even if the student transfers back into the traditional district.
But these numbers tell only part of the story, the article said. In fact, it is impossible to know how many students leave both charter or traditional schools because of disciplinary issues since the expulsion and suspension numbers do not include students who withdraw before an official expulsion. But Washington’s charter schools expulsion rates are a “cause for concern” according to Scott Pearson, the executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, who told the Washington Post that more data and knowledge about expulsion rates in charters are already helping to assuage the problem.
Questions about charters schools’ record in serving the same kinds of populations that traditional public schools do emerged in a different context earlier this year, as a result of a report by the Government Accountability Office. That report that showed charters serving smaller percentages of students with disabilities than regular public schools do, leading some to question whether charters were committed to providing services to families of students with special needs.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.