Black students and disabled students are suspended from charter schools at much higher rates than white and nondisabled students, according to a new report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles that analyzed U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights data.
Compared to white students, black students were four times as likely to be suspended; compared to students who aren’t disabled, students with disabilities were two to three times as likely to be suspended. This lines up with previous research on teacher biases against black students and disabled students.
Last year, for example, Stanford researchers found that black students were more three times more likely to be suspended or expelled. According to that study, teachers interpreted student misbehavior differently depending on the child’s race. For example, although teachers may not have let racial stereotypes guide their reactions after a student’s first infraction, after the second infraction, teachers judged a black student’s infraction more severely than for a white student. Another report from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative found that 25 percent of black students with disabilities received at least one suspension in the 2009–2010 school year.
These suspensions could contribute to the oft-discussed “school-to-prison pipeline,” meaning that students of color are pushed into the criminal justice system through factors such as a heavy police presence in schools, zero tolerance policies, and faculty’s racial biases. Even small children have been arrested at school.
But even when students of color and disabled students who get suspended more often don’t enter the criminal justice system, there are still consequences, because the Common Application, which many colleges use, asks about students’ disciplinary records. An overwhelming majority of colleges surveyed by The Center for Community Alternatives — 89 percent — said disciplinary records influence their admissions decision-making.
According to the new UCLA report, black students were also suspended at higher rates at segregated schools where the student population is predominantly African American, and black students at charter schools are more likely to be educated in “intensely segregated settings.”
Although charter schools’ suspension rates were higher than the rates at traditional public schools, there was only a slight difference. Charter schools suspended 7.8 percent of students, compared to 6.7 percent of students outside of charter schools. When looking at rates for students with disabilities, 15.5 percent of students with disabilities were suspended, while 13.7 percent of disabled students outside of charter schools were.
Recent investigations into charter schools are bringing more attention to the issue of discrimination in student discipline. The New York Times published multiple investigative pieces on Success Academy’s student discipline practices and teacher conduct, and released a video of a teacher yelling at a student and ripping up her paper. The video caused controversy and added fuel for critics who have long called out the charter school network’s treatment of students of color and students with disabilities.
Parents recently filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education against the charter school network, claiming it discriminated against students with disabilities. The department has been investigating the charter school network for years, ThinkProgress confirmed with a source at the department last month.
Of course, public schools have also been investigated for their high suspension rates. The Syracuse City School District, one of the largest school districts in New York, has been under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office since 2013, after the office found that student discipline rates were disproportionately high for black students. The U.S. Department of Justice had to instruct the district to enact a new code of conduct in the hope it would reduce suspensions. And the now-infamous video of a police officer throwing a black female student on the floor happened at a public school, Spring Valley High School in South Carolina.
There are questions of whether or not charter schools have enough accountability and oversight, however, when it comes to issues such as addressing the needs of disabled students — especially since charter schools have expanded so quickly across the country.
Charter school enrollment doubled three times since 2000, according to data gathered by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University released recommendations for charter school regulation in 2014, such as making information about charter schools more transparent and preventing schools from exercising exclusionary enrollment practices. The school board for Metro Nashville Public Schools voted to adopt the standards last spring.
This year, the scandal over Ohio’s charter school chief’s admission that he didn’t include grades of online charter schools in oversight agency ratings only exacerbated fears about poor oversight in this area. The Ohio Department of Education had to revise the number of poor-performing charter schools for federal regulators after it stated in a grant application that only six charter schools performed poorly, The Columbus-Dispatch reported. The actual number of poor-performing charter schools was 57.