Suspension and expulsion rates at D.C. schools continue to drop, report finds
June 20, 2016
By: Perry Stein
There has been a steady drop in suspensions and expulsions at the District’s traditional public schools and public charter schools since the city started releasing detailed, school-level statistics on discipline beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year, according to a new study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education.
The citywide expulsion rate dropped from 22 per 1,000 students to 13 per 1,000 students between the 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 school years, the report found. The overall suspension rate dropped from 12 percent to 10 percent; the suspension rate for special needs students dropped from 23 percent to 19 percent and suspensions of black students fell from 16 percent to 13 percent.
Because there is no comparable data prior to the 2012-2013 academic year, it is impossible to conclusively determine whether these declines are related to the increased transparency or other factors.
“City leaders expected that reliable data comparing schools would encourage schools to examine and, where necessary, change their own discipline policies,” according to the report. “City leaders also wanted to give parents the chance to consider schools’ discipline rates when making school choices, expecting that parents would steer clear of schools with high discipline rates.”
Charter schools — publicly funded schools that operate independently of the traditional school system and account for nearly half of D.C. public school students — have historically had a higher expulsion rate than traditional public schools. When they expel or remove difficult students, those students often end up in the city’s school system, which is required to take them.
A 2013 Washington Post review of school data found that D.C. charter schools expelled 676 students in the previous three years, compared with the 23 students that traditional public schools expelled. While some charter schools rarely expel any students, seven D.C. charters expelled at least 10 students during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the 2013 review.
Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said the changes are happening “because school leaders have more information and better strategies to keep students in the classroom.” A spokeswoman for D.C. Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.
Nationwide, reports found that minority students are suspended and expelled at disproportionately higher rates than white students.
In response, city school officials said in 2013 they would make this data across traditional and charter schools more transparent, and D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education included the information in annual “Equity Reports.”
The Center on Reinventing Public Education’s report, which culled data from the “Equity Reports,” wrote that charter schools with the highest rates are now made aware of their status and can potentially face not having their charter renewed. The D.C. Public Charter School Board, however, has never revoked a charter because of discipline rates alone.
Since 2013, expulsion rate declines at charter schools outpaced the declines in D.C.’s traditional public schools, according to the report.
The report’s authors argue that the city should make the “Equity Reports” more accessible to parents so that they can use them while selecting a school. The authors caution that parents might interpret the data differently.
“A high number of suspensions may signal to parents that the school strictly enforces a disruptive-free learning environment, which they could see as a positive,” the report says. “But it may also signal that the school is highly disruptive or that students are treated harshly, which they could see as negative.”