Monday, August 3, 2015

Harsh Discipline and No-excuse Charters

One of the disconnects I've noticed between educators and many education researchers (particularly those who come from outside of the field) is that the educators tend to have a more complex, multivariate view of student outcomes, while the researchers are often prone to a particularly severe form of the tyranny of measurement where they ignore not only the difficult-to-measure but also the easy-to-measure if it isn't part of their small set of approved metrics.

Emotional damage is notoriously difficult to quantify, but we should all be able to agree that needlessly traumatizing students is a bad thing. Unfortunately, under the current system, the consequences of excessively harsh discipline basically serve as externalities. The schools reap numerous benefits while the kids pay the costs.

Just how big is the externality?

From the Boston Globe:
Boston charter schools are far more likely than traditional school systems to suspend students, usually for minor infractions such as violating dress codes or being disrespectful, a high-risk disciplinary action that could cause students to disengage from their classes, according to a report released Tuesday.

Of the 10 school systems in Massachusetts with the highest out-of-school suspension rates, all but one were charter schools and nearly all of them were in Boston, according to the report, which examined the rates for the 2012-2013 school year. The report was released by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, a nonpartisan legal organization in Boston.

From the Chicago Tribune:
As it continues to modify strict disciplinary policies in an effort to keep students in the classroom, Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday released data showing privately run charter schools expel students at a vastly higher rate than the rest of the district.

The data reveal that during the last school year, 307 students were kicked out of charter schools, which have a total enrollment of about 50,000. In district-run schools, there were 182 kids expelled out of a student body of more than 353,000.

From Chalkbeat
New York City charter schools suspended students at almost three times the rate of traditional public schools during the 2011-12 school year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis, though some charter schools have since begun to reduce the use of suspensions for minor infractions.
Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students that year, while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.

Not all schools had high suspension rates. One-third of charter schools reported suspending fewer than 5 percent of their students, and many schools said they did not give out any out-of-school suspensions. But 11 charter schools suspended more than 30 percent of their students — a figure likely to draw added scrutiny amid a nationwide push to reduce suspensions and a debate over allowing more charter schools to open statewide.


  1. Instead of saying "the schools reap numerous benefits while the kids pay the cost", wouldn't it be more fair to say "the school administrators and unsuspended kids reap the benefits while the suspended kids pay the costs"?

    I'm not claiming to be for these policies of suspensions, but I think it's fair to point out there are students that are benefitting.

    1. Let's say that some of the benefits (particularly involving disciplinary problems and kids who require extra time and resources) are shared by administrators and unsuspended kids while others (particularly involving scores and other metrics) go almost entirely to the administrators.

      Of course, we also have to consider the cost to unsuspended students from the schools that pick up the expelled kids and suffer disruption (often in the middle of the year) and overcrowding.