Recently, charter schools have come under scrutiny for higher than normal suspension rates — and now Secretary of Education John King has urged charter school officials to rethink their discipline policies.
"Discipline is a nuanced and complicated issue," Secretary King said in remarks prepared for a speech at the National Charter School Conference in Nashville. "Yet the public discussion of these issues is often binary – pitting one extreme against another. It's âzero tolerance' or chaos. Authoritarian control or no discipline at all."
Charter schools, including some of the most heralded names in the field like Success Academy, Achievement First, and KIPP Academy, are known for their zero-tolerance behavioral policies. Leaders of these schools say that perfect behavior is essential in ensuring that students in these schools succeed, particularly for students who come from economically and socially struggling communities. Many children come to school hungry and from environments without structure, and poor behavior can easily jeopardize others' academic performance.
Unsurprisingly, these strict policies can result in high suspension rates and are criticized for alienating the students who most need help. A recent analysis, as reported by Lauren Camera of Us News, shows that charter schools have higher suspension rates than traditional public schools. Students of color and those with disabilities are suspended at charter schools at much higher rates than their peers.
In the final months of the Obama administration, Secretary King and his team have launched an effort to have schools reassess their disciplinary policies. As reported by Emma Brown of The Washington Post, students that receive suspensions are far less likely to graduate on time and more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and enter the juvenile system. Students of color are far more likely to be the victims of stringent disciplinary policies than their white peers.
"In every school, no matter how successful, we know there is more we can do to reach the students who are not yet succeeding and more we can do to equip students with not just the fundamental academic skills but the socioemotional skills needed for success in life," Secretary King said.
According to Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean, the Education Department released new data that shows 2.8 million K-12 students nationwide have received one or more out-of-school suspensions. Black students are almost four times as likely to receive such a punishment than white students. Secretary King points out that these statistics represent an improvement over years past. Only a few years ago, the number of students receiving out-of-school suspensions was 20% higher. Still, very little has changed regarding the level of racial disparity behind these numbers.
"I'll say up front: I am not here to offer any hard-and-fast rules or directives," Secretary King said. "But I believe the goal for all schools should be to create a school culture that motivates students to want to do their best, to support their classmates and to give back to their community, and to communicate to our students and educators in ways big and small that their potential is unlimited."