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July 08, 2010

Discipline Data: Suspensions at Charter Schools & Traditional Public Schools

On Tuesday, the Daily News published a report on the rising rate of student suspensions in New York City’s schools. Since charter schools in New York often have discipline policies that differ from their traditional public school counterparts, I was curious to compare suspension rates in charters to those in traditional public schools. Looking at the Basic Education Data System (BEDS) filings for both charter schools and traditional public schools during the 2008-2009 school year, I found that both types of schools suspended, on average, around 8% of their student body. (BEDS data asks schools only to report on the number of students that were suspended, not the number of overall suspensions, which is the number that the Daily News article cited.)

Since school demographics can be correlated with suspension rates, I looked at charter school suspension rates as they compared to their traditional public school counterparts. I found that the results varied by neighborhood. In Harlem and the South Bronx, charter schools suspended a lower percentage of their student body.  In Central Brooklyn, charter schools suspended slightly more students. A breakdown of suspension rates at co-located charter schools is available in this spreadsheet.

Overall, suspension rates among charter schools varied widely, with some suspending no students and others suspending close to 40% of their student body. Out of the 77 schools that were open in 2008-2009, 18 suspended no students and 21 suspended 10% or more of their student body. However, as with all BEDS data, these numbers are self-reported by schools and thus could be unreliable. (This is the same as the traditional public school data, although there the data includes more severe superintendent’s suspensions, which are corroborated by a second person outside of the school itself.)

I did not disaggregate the data by type of school—that is, elementary, middle, or high school—since I didn’t see any noticeable difference in suspension rates between middle and high schools. (Elementary schools had slightly lower rates.) Furthermore, this data only looks at suspensions, not expulsions—a key difference, since expelling a student might be easier at a charter school, where the board only has to approve a principal’s recommendation. At a traditional public school, a student cannot be expelled unless he/she is 17 years of age. If the student is younger than 17, the most severe form of discipline allowed is an extended suspension for a year or an involuntary transfer, both of which can only be given with the consent of the regional superintendent and/or the Director of Suspensions.

For more on traditional public school discipline policies, see this primer. For a sample of charter school discipline policies, see this folder. (N.B. I plan on updating this folder after I look at more charter applications next week.)

As always, I welcome your feedback on ways to improve this data, as well as other questions you might have.

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