Expulsion rates higher at charter schools in Chicago

Chicago Public Schools released data on Feb 25 showing that privately run charter schools expel a higher percentage of students than other schools in the district, the Chicago Tribune reports.

During the last school year, 307 of about 50,000 students enrolled at charter schools were expelled, representing a rate of a little more than 6 students for every 1,000. In schools run by the district, a total of 182 students were expelled out of more than 353,000, a rate of about 0.5 students per 1,000, less than one-tenth the rate of expulsions at privately run charter schools.

It’s the first time the district has released data related to suspensions and expulsions.

“Releasing our suspension and expulsion data is an important step in this process to develop better school climates and a more equitable approach to student discipline,” said CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a press release. “The next phase of our work includes engaging community and strategic partners to work in tandem with us to strengthen professional development around social-emotional learning for students, helping ensure that our students graduate 100-percent college ready and 100-percent college bound.”

This statement reflects a disconnect from reality that is unparalleled in the history of school reform, even when considering No Child Left Behind’s “100% grade-level proficiency” goal. Before 100 percent of students can graduate “college ready and … college bound,” they must first graduate. Furthermore, not all students who attend Chicago Public Schools and graduate from the high schools will even want to go to college. Ms Byrd-Bennett’s statements continue to boggle the mind.

Diane Ravitch writes, regarding the idea of high school graduates being 100-percent college-ready and college bound, “Many people—especially policymakers and financiers who went to Ivy League colleges—would like to believe that all students are college-bound. But their beliefs are contradicted by reality when it turns out that a substantial number of youngsters would rather work than go to college, and that there are many jobs that pay well, don’t require college, and can’t be outsourced.”

Another thing to consider is the sheer nonsense of the term “college-ready.” Kris Nielsen wrote about the terms “college-ready” and “career-ready” @ The Chalk Face blog about a year ago:

Because, to me, it sounds like nonsense. You see, what being “career-ready” means to one kid can mean something completely different for another kid. The same goes for being “college-ready.” While one child may someday want to join a college that will lead him to culinary greatness, another may want to join a different college that will lead her to be the best ambulance chaser in the land. Still others may opt out of college and follow their own paths to develop their trades and talents. And you [know] what? There’s nothing wrong with that—it’s that type of freedom to choose that gives America more entrepreneurs than any other country.

I wouldn’t normally include a paragraph like the one above, since it reads, to me, like stating the obvious—sort of like writing a headline such as “Humans breathe oxygen.” But so far, school reform experts don’t seem to get it, even though it was first put on the record a long time ago. Are we just supposed to forget about individuality and freedom as we reform our schools? Because that’s what Ms Byrd-Bennett’s use of “college-ready” implies.

And another thing: Many kids in our schools have no practical use for college. It’s completely the wrong goal to set our sights on for these students. I see no reason to ensure that a few special ed kids, for instance, will be “college-bound,” because making them go to college would cause great harm. This is why I can’t understand why so many school leaders, including US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, use the term “college-ready” as if we all just knew what it meant.

Consistent with trends in other cities

The Washington Post reported last month that DC charter schools expelled 676 students in the past three years, while traditional public schools expelled 24. During the 2011-12 school year, when charters enrolled 41 percent of the city’s students, they had an expulsion rate of 72 per 10,000 students; the District school system had an expulsion rate of less than 1 per 10,000 students.

As Chicago revises its student discipline code, as many school districts are doing, in an attempt to keep more students in classrooms and set more of them on a path to college readiness, there’s a lot of work to do, especially in the charter schools.

“There’s tons of informal ways students are being expelled: either they’re being counseled out or it’s strongly suggested they leave without putting them through a formal process,” the Tribune quoted Mariame Kaba as saying. She’s the founding director of Project NIA, a local group that focuses on reducing youth incarceration, that worked with a coalition of community and student groups to change the district’s discipline code. “The same thing is happening in traditional schools, but not to the same degree as in charters.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.