An Honest Approach to School Discipline

There is a growing opinion in the education community that a school’s excessive use of out-of-school suspensions can have negative consequences for students –including decreased academic engagement and outcomes.  In Washington, DC, along with other parts of the country, minority students are disproportionately suspended and expelled. 

Public charter schools have exclusive control over their academic programs, including their discipline policies.  However excessive out of school discipline by some schools matters to those schools’ authorizer. Students suspended repeatedly (and all expelled students) leave public charter schools and go elsewhere, affecting other schools.  Students out of school are receiving public dollars to educate students who are not in school.  And disproportionate out-of-school discipline raises civil rights questions that are the purview of many authorizers. 

The challenge for all charter school authorizers is to find the right approach to address school discipline issues – one that addresses high discipline rates in public charter schools while still preserving the schools’ freedoms to design and run their institutions.  

Our charter-specific approach has relied on data transparency and open, non-coercive discussions with schools’ board of trustees.  We have avoided the mandates and regulations commonly seen with traditional school boards and school systems.  Instead we have increased dramatically the visibility and awareness of each school’s discipline rates, among school staff, school board members, parents, and the community.

An Honest Approach to School Discipline, a white paper released today, examines our approach to supporting decreased out-of-school suspension rates and highlights strategies put in place by three DC public charter school networks - Center City PCS, Chavez PCS, and Friendship PCS. Their changes in approaches to behavior modification have which have resulted in markedly decreased discipline rates. Although these networks had neither the highest nor lowest out-of-school suspensions, their practices are highlighted due to their positive impact on their student performance.

Individual schools’ efforts, combined with our efforts, have led to a decrease in the number of students suspended and expelled from DC’s public charter schools’ year after year.  It has not eliminated expulsions or out of school suspensions, nor should it.  Our focus has been to ensure that school leaders are deliberate and thoughtful about their use of such extreme measures. 

While suspension and expulsions have fallen, academic achievement measures have continued to rise. As this white paper demonstrates, charter school authorizers do not need to rely on mandates or prescriptive regulations.  Rather an approach centered on transparency and dialogue with charter school leaders and boards can produce significant reductions in out of school suspensions while preserving public charter school’s freedom to use a variety of teaching methods and school models.  

Read the white paper, An Honest Approach to School Discipline, here

Add new comment