Report Cites DC, New Orleans as Discipline Reform Models

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), an organization dedicated to making public education more effective, especially for America’s most disadvantaged students, has released a report titled “Grappling With Discipline in Autonomous Schools: New Approaches from D.C. and New Orleans.”

Teachers and principals at public charter schools are empowered to serve their students as they see fit without state or national officials meddling in the day-to-day running of the school. Educators, not bureaucrats, as the premise holds, should be the ones responsible for developing a school’s culture, education programs, and policies, including disciplinary policies.

The academic literature suggests that, on average, there exists no significant difference between the discipline rates of district schools and charter schools nationwide. CRPE’s report demonstrates, however, that more detailed analyses show considerable discrepancies between public and charter schools disciplinary policies, especially those concerning the use of expulsion and suspension. Suspensions and expulsions at large are often higher in public schools, but there are some high-profile “no excuses” charter schools that suspend students to establish school norms that charter school educators see as necessary for learning.

The report points to Washington D.C. and New Orleans as two cities trying to reform the way suspensions and expulsions are administered in both public and charter schools to make sure they are used appropriately and fairly. These two cities have bought public and charter school officials together to collaborate on the problem.

In Washington, the DC Public Charter School Board, the city’s sole charter school authorizer, was working to reduce charter schools’ out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The authorizer formed a partnership with DC Public Schools, the Mayor’s Office, and the Office of the State Superintendent to develop “School Equity Reports” that document school-level data on suspension, expulsion, student exit, and midyear enrollment. The data has promoted formal discussions about changes, and DC is now enjoying a decline in suspension and expulsion rates in both charter and public schools.

In New Orleans, the state-run Recovery School District established a central process to review and approve expulsions for all the city’s public schools using common, agreed-upon standards for disciplinary action. The centralized hearing process has brought a much more equitable approach to academic disciplinary policies; previously, every school defined its own criteria and process at its discretion. Charter schools have begun using the same sort of standardized disciplinary policies, and now overall expulsion rates have declined in New Orleans.

CRPE’s report offers a profile of these two changing systems that are being reformed by charter and public school officials. The efforts suggest that education leaders can help reduce perceived or real inequities in the use of suspension and expulsion. Both cities’ approaches have paid off in concrete ways; both places are enjoying declining rates of suspensions and better, more integrated systems on implementing disciplinary policy. The report hopes the charter sector can lead the way in “creating successful discipline solutions that can be shared across schools and sectors to the benefit of all students.”

For interested readers, the full report detailing disciplinary policy reform is available online.