Expulsion, transfer or … ?

D.C. Charter Schools Expel Students at Far Higher Rates than Traditional Public Schools, reported the Washington Post‘s Emma Brown. District-run schools rarely expel disruptive or dangerous students, instead using long-term suspensions, involuntary transfers and assignment to alternative schools.

The “culture of compliance” in district offices “has crippled their ability to maintain safe and orderly schools,” writes John Thompson on This Week In Education. It’s easier to transfer a belligerent student to a new school than to fill out reams of paperwork to document “students’ patterns of misbehavior” and “the resulting interventions.”

In D.C., a student cannot be suspended for more than ten days without the approval of an administrative law judge.  When everyone involved – principals, teachers, families and, above all, students – know that it is virtually impossible to follow through with longterm suspensions, then it is harder to draw the line regarding smaller infractions.  It becomes far more difficult to teach challenging kids how to become students.  Consequently, shuttling discipline problems to other schools becomes a rational response.

Troubled schools should focus on “improving learning climates” as the first step to improving learning, Thompson writes.

It’s not fair to charge that charters “push out” troubled students, he concludes. Charter educators sincerely believe they’re doing what’s best for their students by enforcing discipline.

As Brown reports, some charters with “zero tolerance” policies allow expulsion for repeated, minor nonviolent offenses, such as skipping class, or violating dress codes. I oppose those policies. . . . Having experience with the anarchy that often comes from the refusal of systems to enforce their codes of conduct, however, I can understand why some charters have gone too far the other way.

Some charter supporters have slandered educators in traditional schools. They should stop implying that it is “low expectations” that causes the disorder which undermines teaching and learning. But if we do unto them what has been done unto neighborhood school teachers, and charge charters with intentionally pushing out students, we will lose the opportunity to discuss better ways of building respectful learning climates. We will reinforce the impression that neighborhood schools will never become serious about raising behavioral standards, and hasten the day when traditional urban schools are merely the alternative schools for the students who could not make it in charters, magnets, or low-poverty schools.

By refusing to tolerate disruptive students, charters provide an opportunity for strivers, “high-potential low-income students . . . who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by supportive parents,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

. . .  the traditional system has been downright hostile to the needs of such striving children and families—as have been many charter critics. Magnet “exam schools,” such as those recently profiled by Checker Finn and Jessica Hockett, are viewed with suspicion; tracking or ability grouping is seen as elitist; any effort to provide special classes, environments, or challenges for motivated or high-achieving kids is cast as perpetuating inequality—even when all the kids are poor, and even though there’s a ton of evidence that high achievers do best around other high achievers.

And now these “social justice” types want to berate schools for asking disruptive students to leave.

For sure, there should be checks on pushing kids out willy-nilly. Thankfully, charter officials in D.C. are already on the case, publicizing discipline data and prodding the handful of schools with sky-high expulsion and suspension rates to find better approaches.

But let’s not forget about the needs (even rights) of the other kids to learn.

Parents like strict discipline policies, adds Eduwonk. That’s why 41 percent of D.C.’s public students now attend charter schools.

The problem is that too little attention is paid to what to do for students who need an alternative learning environment rather than a traditional school and there are too few learning environments like that – and too often alternative schools become the place where you put all the people who struggle in the regular system, adults and kids.

Washington D.C. charter schools are considering getting together to create an alternative school where disruptive students could be transferred instead of expelled. That could be great for troubled kids — or another dumping ground.

About Joanne


  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    It can never be said enough:

    The fact that traditional schools find it almost impossible to expel kids is not a law of nature. It is policy. It was made by people and can be changed by people.

    Nor is it a law of nature that all 5-16 year olds have to go to a place called “school” where older college graduates try to turn them into pre-college students.

    True alternative schools would be a wonderful thing. However, I’m not sure it is possible to get enough “outside the box” thinking in the educational system for that to happen.

  2. It’s the same “dance of the lemons” that districts play with bad teachers.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    The question is, what are these charters expelling students for doing? Are the kids being expelled for pulling a knife on a teacher, or for wearing the wrong color T-shirt? Getting rid of low achievers or problem kids is a very tempting way of making your results look better. But the job of public education is not to educate the easy, compliant kids, but to educate all of them.

  4. If the public schools want to keep the kids who are capable and willing to behave and to work, then the schools should offer them classes suitable to their needs and disallow any harassment from the other kids. Charter schools foster a climate that values education enough to work for it. Obviously, the public schools don’t value the “easy-to-educate” kids enough to do anything to keep them. Let no child escape.

    • My name is Snake Plisskin and perhaps it’s time for Escape from Public Schooling.

      Call me Snake…the name’s Plisskin!

  5. John Thompson says:

    I have no problem with the term, “dance of the lemons” when it applies to adults. It should never be applied to kids.

    • J.D. Salinger says:

      Reading momof4’s comment, it appears she’s talking about teachers not students.

      • The same thing is done with both problem teachers and problem students; don’t address the issue and take appropriate action (firing, suspension, alternative placement for XYZ, etc ), just pass the problem along to another schools. Rinse and repeat.

  6. Yesterdays’ NYT had a good article on a almost all black neighborhood in Chicago, Chatham, that has a relatively low crime rate. One of the things that differentiated it from other, similar neighborhoods is that adults in that neighborhood generally agreed on how kids should behave — and worked together to get that behavior.

  7. lightly seasoned says:

    “and too often alternative schools become the place where you put all the people who struggle in the regular system, adults and kids.”

    Wait, isn’t that what the alternative school is for? What am I missing? I hear the same thing with regard to remedial classes, btw. The problem with them is there are no high achievers in there… ????