Thursday, February 19, 2015

I don't think you want to go with the "handful" defense

Before we go on, a quick caveat. There is tremendous variation in charter school models and philosophies. That's a big part of the story below and the reporter does a poor job addressing it. I can't say for certain, but I suspect that most of the worst offenders in the story follow the popular "no excuses" model.

From the New York Times:
The Advocates for Children report cites complaints from parents who said their children had been suspended from charter schools over minor offenses such as wearing the wrong shoes or laughing while serving detention. Ultimately, though, the group said the main issue was legal.

Half of the policies examined by Advocates for Children let charter schools suspend or expel students for being late or cutting class — punishments the group said violated state law. At three dozen schools, there were no special rules covering the suspension or expulsion of children with disabilities, which the group said violated federal law. And in 25 instances, charter schools could suspend students for long periods without a hearing, which the group said violated the United States and New York State Constitutions, as well as state law.

James D. Merriman, chief executive of the New York City Charter School Center, an advocacy group for charter schools, questioned how frequently the incidents cited by Advocates for Children occur.

“No one can disagree that those policies that do not fully meet applicable law should be amended,” he said in an email. “But it is tremendously unfair to suggest, as A.F.C. does, that a handful of one-sided anecdotes compiled over a long time are any evidence that charter schools are wholesale violating civil rights laws.”
I know I've made this point before but it bears repeating: excessively harsh disciplinary policies can make incompetent administrators look good while taking a horrible toll on kids. By locking out or chasing away the kids they can't handle (who also tend to be the kids who most need our help), administrators can pump up virtually all of a school's metrics.

Fortunately, in my experience, most administrators are too ethical to rely on these methods. Unfortunately, we have started setting up a system of incentives that encourage unethical behavior and if we continue, that balance will shift.

1 comment:

  1. Mark:

    This is an interesting point because, of course, at elite universities we do this sort of thing all the time. From the perspective of education, what you say makes sense (it is the students with problems who might most need our help), but we usually take the perspective that students who, for one reason or another, don't get along, also just "don't belong in our program." This may be so, or maybe not, I don't know. I think a lot of these sorts of decisions are motivated by a "we don't want to waste our time on this guy" mentality.