Fiscal Year 2014-15 Performance Oversight Hearing on the Public Charter School Board

Testimony of Alex Peerman, Policy and Advocacy Associate

Wednesday, February 18, 2015, 10:00 a.m.
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Introduction

Good morning Chairman Grosso, and members of the Committee on Education.  My name is Alex Peerman and I am the Policy and Advocacy Associate at DC Lawyers for Youth, a research, advocacy, and direct service organization that seeks to improve DC’s youth justice system.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at the performance oversight hearing for the Public Charter School Board (PCSB). 

As youth justice advocates, we want the best outcomes for DC children, and being engaged in and successful at school places youth on the path to productive adulthood. My testimony today will focus on trends in the use of suspension in PCSB schools, the negative impact of those suspensions, and steps that PCSB could take to help its schools decrease their use of these practices.

Research shows that suspensions hurt kids, even those who are not themselves suspended.

Research has long shown that being suspended puts a student’s education off track. Suspended students are more likely to repeat a grade and to come in contact with the juvenile justice system.[1] And a recent study has shown that high suspension rates negatively affect the learning of non-suspended students as well.[2] Using longitudinal data, this study found that, independent of student-level factors like poverty and school-level factors like rates of misbehavior, schools with higher-than-average suspension rates had lower student achievement on reading and math standardized tests.[3] This effect may be because harsh disciplinary climates distract students from learning or because high suspension rates create instability and fragmented relationships in the classroom.[4]

The key take-away is that, on average, school exclusions hurt both those students who are pushed out and their peers.

PCSB has made meaningful steps towards transparency on school discipline.

We commend PCSB for its efforts to make discipline data accessible to the public and usable by its school leaders. Independently publishing its school-level suspension and expulsion statistics to the PCSB data portal, for example,[5] is a good step towards accountability. Similarly, we are pleased that PCSB has again participated in the School Equity Reports.[6] Having data that is the same for all schools is a useful tool for outside researchers and for parents comparing school options for their children. We look forward to examining this data in more detail.

It is good news that exclusions from PCSB schools are coming down.

In the past two years, PCSB schools have made significant progress in decreasing the use of school exclusions as a disciplinary tool. Even as charter sector enrollment has increased, the raw numbers of suspensions and expulsions have come down. The combination of these two trends has reduced the rates of suspension and expulsion in charter schools by about half since the 2011-12 school year. Table 1, included in my testimony, shows these trends in more detail. These decreases are laudable, and have presumably helped keep more charter students in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

Table 1: PCSB schools have decreased school exclusions by about half.[7]


 

But PCSB schools are still issuing thousands of counter-productive suspensions.

However, there is still about one suspension for every ten charter school students. These exclusions undermine student achievement and create downstream costs in the juvenile justice system. They are especially concerning in the charter sector given that students who are expelled or otherwise pushed out of school are unlikely to reenroll in the charter sector during that school year.[8] Traditional public schools absorb significantly more mid-year transfers,[9] and thus must face the challenges of educating students that come to them once the school year is already underway. Since PCSB schools are less likely to bear these costs, it is critical for equity that charter schools minimize the number of students who are pushed out of their sector.

Recommendations

PCSB should publish a model school discipline code.

We are aware that PCSB wants its schools to retain their freedom to set their own disciplinary codes. However, a model discipline code published by the Board and adopted by charter schools could help schools bring down their rates of exclusionary discipline. A model code would give new schools a starting point for crafting their own discipline approaches and play a similar role for schools reexamining their discipline policies. Also, it would emphasize for schools the importance of providing fair and appropriate discipline that minimizes exclusions, and show the charter sector’s commitment to decreasing school push-out.

In the Performance Management Framework, PCSB should increase the weight on in-seat attendance, and incorporate mid-year withdrawals to dis-incentivize schools from pushing students out.

In recognition of the costs that exclusionary discipline imposes on students and other public services, PCSB should use the Performance Management Framework (PMF) to further dis-incentivize school push-out. First, the Board should increase the weight placed on in-seat attendance (ISA), since a school’s ISA is hurt by suspensions. Second, the Board should incorporate mid-year withdrawals into the PMF in order to encourage its schools to retain the students who initially enroll in them. This would dis-incentivize both expulsions and less direct forms of push-out.

Conclusion

In closing, I want again to note our approval of PCSB’s data collection policies and analysis tools, and to commend charter schools for decreasing their suspension and expulsion rates.  Finally, I want to thank the Council for its commitment to student achievement and its interest in school engagement issues. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I welcome any questions.



[1] Tony Fabelo et al., Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement (The Council of State Governments Justice Center, July 2011), http://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Breaking_Schools_Rules_Report_Final.pdf.

[2] Brea L. Perry and Edward W. Morris, “Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools,” American Sociological Review 79, no. 6 (2014): 1067–87.

[3] Ibid., 1078–80.

[4] Ibid., 1083–84.

[5] See “DC PCSB | Data Portal,” PCSB, accessed February 16, 2015, https://data.dcpcsb.org/browse?limitTo=datasets&q=discipline&sortBy=relevance&utf8=%E2%9C%93.

[6] “School Equity Reports,” accessed February 19, 2015, http://www.dcpcsb.org/report/school-equity-reports-0.

[7] School Year 2011-2012 Suspension and Expulsion Rates by Public Charter School (District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, September 26, 2012), http://www.dcpubliccharter.com/data/images/copy%20of%20council_attendance_discipline_by_school_09_26_2012.pdf; “DC PCSB | Data Portal.”

[8] Alex Peerman, “In DC Schools, Mid-Year Student Pushout Holds Back Achievement,” DC Lawyers for Youth, accessed February 16, 2015, http://www.dcly.org/in_dc_schools_mid_year_student_pushout_holds_back_achievement.

[9] Ibid.


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