Duncan Criticizes Charter Schools for Suspending, Expelling Students

Penny Starr | July 3, 2013 | 12:16pm EDT
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Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke at the National Charter Schools Conference on July 2, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Education Secretary Arne Duncan told attendees at the National Charter Schools Conference on Tuesday that the rate of suspensions and expulsions at charter schools is “not acceptable.”

“In many cities, including right here in D.C., charters are substantially more likely to suspend and expel students than other public schools,” Duncan said. “In the 2011-12 school year, a total of 230 students were expelled from schools here in the District.

“Charter schools expelled 227 of those 230 students, or 99 percent,” Duncan said. “And just 11 charters – and the list included some high-performing charters – accounted for 75 percent of those expulsions citywide. That’s simply not acceptable.”

Duncan praised charter schools’ contribution to children, families and communities and said the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s “transparency” made the statistics on suspensions and expulsions available.

“But, at the end of the day, high rates of exclusionary discipline are simply not good for children,” Duncan said.

“I want charters to show the way in implementing alternative discipline methods that keep students in school and engaged in learning to the maximum extent possible while still holding students accountable for their behavior and protecting the integrity of the learning environment,” Duncan said.

In July 2011, Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Supportive School Discipline Initiative “to support good discipline practices to foster safe and productive learning environments in every classroom.”

“The goals of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative are to: build consensus for action among federal, state and local education and justice stakeholders; collaborate on research and data collection that may be needed to inform this work, such as evaluations of alternative disciplinary policies and interventions; develop guidance to ensure that school discipline policies and practices comply with the nation’s civil rights laws and to promote positive disciplinary options to both keep kids in school and improve the climate for learning; and promote awareness and knowledge about evidence-based and promising policies and practices among state judicial and education leadership,” the announcement of the initiative stated.

According to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012” report (page 80), “During the 2009-10 school year 39 percent of public schools (32,300 schools) took at least one serious disciplinary action—including suspensions lasting 5 days or more, removals with no services for the remainder of the school year (i.e., expulsions), and transfers to specialized schools—for specific offenses.”

According to NCES, there were 98,706 K-12 public schools in the United States in the 2008-2009 school year. Public charter schools made up about six percent of public schools or 5,997, in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The NCES school safety report also details the causes for suspensions and expulsions (page 80): “Out of all offenses reported, physical attacks or fights prompted the largest percentage of schools (29 percent) to respond with at least one serious disciplinary action (figure 19.1 and table 19.1),” it said.

“In response to other offenses by students, 20 percent of schools reported that they took disciplinary action for the distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs; 13 percent took action for the use or possession of a weapon other than a firearm or explosive device; 9 percent did so for the distribution, possession, or use of alcohol; and 3 percent did so for the use or possession of a firearm or explosive device,” the report stated.

At the conference, Duncan told attendees that he wanted charter school to “lead the way” to reducing suspensions and expulsions.

“I want to see charters beginning to lead the way in reducing their own rates of school suspensions, expulsions and controllable attrition,” Duncan said.

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