What Did We Learn from the UCLA Charter School Discipline Study?

Charter-run schools need to address head on disproportionate discipline—situations where subgroups of students consistently suffer higher rates of punishment—and so do district-run schools.

Those were my big takeaways from the data in the recent UCLA study which drew on data from 2012.  The summary data table is here:

The headlines I saw covering the study were a little curious given the data: “Charter Schools Suspend Black and Disabled Students More, Study Says” was the NY Times headline. “Charter Schools Suspend Black Students and Students with Disabilities at Alarming Rates” was the title of an article in Non-Profit Quarterly.

The headlines could have read, “District Schools Punish English Learners and Latinos More,” or “All Schools Punish Black Students and Students with Disabilities at Alarming Rates.” I am not sure why the headlines tended to highlight the charter disparities, but they were slightly larger, at least in this cut of the data.

The numbers between charter-run and district-run schools are pretty close. And when you dig through the report and see one of the later tables that took out “zero suspension” schools, charter schools had lower overall suspension rates. But even a 2-3% greater suspension rate matters for thousands and thousands of kids, who are disproportionately Black and having special needs. And there really is no way to cut that data in a good way.

The aggregate numbers feel about right though. Not right in the sense of proper, but I do think that some charters have gone further/too far in some cases with their punitive approaches to school culture. But there is an enormous range, with some charter schools having almost no suspensions and others tipping the scales with uniform violations.

I don’t think charter proponents are well served by attacking the numbers or slicing and dicing them for the best cut.  Neither are they served by attacking the authors for being “anti-charter” as I have heard. Even if the charter numbers were better than the district numbers they would still be terrible, and screaming for action.

OUSD non-charter schools, which are unevenly but systematically moving away from more punitive models of discipline, are ahead of many of the charters here in Oakland, and there are probably things that charters could learn from these district-run schools.

This is one area where I would appreciate a “no excuses” approach—no excuses for disproportionality or excessive suspensions. And no excuses for the status quo, if your school’s numbers look anything like the numbers above do, district or charter.

What do you think?

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