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February 2012, Week 4

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Sun, 26 Feb 2012 22:38:22 -0500
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Charters Quick To Suspend, Expel, Council Told
By Bill Turque
Washington Post
February 17, 2012
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-schools-insider/post/charters-quick-to-suspend-expel-council-told/2012/02/17/gIQAQRGlKR_blog.html

Public charter school officials pushed rarely seen
suspension and expulsion data into public view at
Friday's D.C. Council oversight hearing, some of it
astonishing if accurate--and some school leaders contend
that it is not.

Perhaps the most alarming stat comes from Friendship
Collegiate Academy-Woodson, the Ward 7 high school,
which expelled eight percent (102 of 1,231) of its
students in 2010-11, according to numbers compiled by
the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

"How do you expel eight percent of your total
population?" asked an incredulous Council Chairman Kwame
Brown, who requested the data from the board. At Tech
Prep, a Friendship middle school in Ward 8, 35 percent
of the student body (35 of 100) was suspended for ten
days or more in 2009-10, officials reported.

No one from Friendship, which educates 8,000 District
students on 7 campuses (including Anacostia High
School), was around to respond. Friendship chairman
Donald Hense said in an e-mail that he was traveling but
that there would be some comment soon.

The discipline numbers are kind of a muddle. Figures
reported to the charter board often conflict with those
collected internally by the schools, according to the
spreadsheet supplied to the council. Friendship
Collegiate, for example, claims only 67 expulsions (5.4
percent) in 2010-11. We're still getting comfortable
with the data," said charter board executive director
Scott Pearson, a benign way of saying that the exact
figures are still in doubt.

While the numbers are in dispute, they will likely
stimulate more debate about whether charter schools -
which are free to frame their own disciplinary
policies-- "dump" challenging kids who then wind up in
DCPS. The board also reported to the Council Friday that
charters shed 1,223 students between Oct. 5, 2010 and
May 1 2011, about four percent of total enrollment
during that period.

Pearson said that about a third moved to DCPS and a
third left the city. Poor coding of data, he said, has
so far made it impossible to determine what happened to
the other third. Pearson added that it's not clear that
all 400 left because of academic or discipline problems.

He also said his staff was still working identifying the
specific schools where attrition occurred, but that it
was likely concentrated in lower-ranked schools. But he
said the numbers don't support the notion that charters
push students out in large groups after the Oct. 5
enrollment count. The attrition is steady across the
academic year, Pearson said.

Other data suggests that charters are pretty quick to
lower the disciplinary hammer on their smallest
students. Officials reported 434 "suspension incidences"
at the Pre-K (76) Kindergarten (112) and first grade
(246) at public charter schools in 2010-11

"Incidences" means the total includes kids who drew
multiple suspensions for offenses that included biting
and hitting teachers and classmates. Some other
suspensions were in response to chronic tardiness,
officials said.

Even allowing for multiple offenders, Brown said the
situation was alarming. :"That's an incredible set of
numbers," he said.

Pearson, on the job for all of five weeks, didn't have
much of an explanation. "I share your concern," he said.

The statistics dovetail with reporting by my colleague
Donna St. George, whose story last Sunday described
suspensions of kindergartners in school systems across
the region. Comparisons between charters and DCPS are
problematic because the charter data may contain
duplications. But for what it's worth, DCPS suspended
192 small children in 2010-11: in preschool (5), preK
(16) Kindergarten (21) and first grade (121).

Unlike traditional public schools, charters enjoy broad
latitude when it comes to instructional methods and
internal policies covering matters such as discipline.
But Pearson said the charter laws give the board more
than enough power to intervene, and that he intended to
investigate. Still, he said he did not anticipate
setting citywide guidelines.

"I don't think this problem has to be solved by creating
a uniform discipline policy," he said.

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