Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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The state of school discipline in the District is improving thanks to more-consistent use of student data, according to a new report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Based at the University of Washington at Bothell, CRPE examined schools in D.C. and New Orleans—both cities with robust charter systems—for evidence of how educators are tackling students’ behavioral problems across the public and charter sectors. The report details how in 2012 the District launched “School Equity Reports” to give parents and policymakers a better sense of where all schools stack up in terms of enrollment, attendance, achievement, and other factors, including suspension and expulsion rates. In part because of this increased transparency, CRPE finds, District schools have been able to reduce instances of “unfair [or] inappropriate discipline”; the equity reports give them more of an incentive to do so, since parents will sometimes decline to send their children to schools with high discipline rates.

Credit: CRPE

“Early results from systemic efforts in D.C. and New Orleans suggest that equity and autonomy don’t need to be opposing forces,” Robin Lake, CRPE’s director, said in a statement.

According to the report, which analyzed data from the 2012–2013 to 2013–2014 academic years, “the average overall suspension rate across all [D.C.] schools dropped from 12 percent to 10 percent.” Within those numbers, students with special needs saw their suspension rate drop from 23 to 19 percent, while black students experienced a decline of 16 to 13 percent. The citywide expulsion rate, meanwhile, decreased from 0.22 to 0.13 percent, or 13 per 1,000 students.

Credit: CRPE

“These analyses show that the citywide declines in average short-term (less than 10 days) suspension rates were driven in large part by charter schools,” the report’s authors explain. “In charter schools, short-term suspension rates declined by almost three percentage points relative to comparable schools. This is notable because charter schools started with higher average suspension rates than DCPS schools. Charter schools also showed statistically significant declines in the suspension rate of black students, but not in the suspension rate of special education students.”

CRPE suggests that although the reports have increased accountability across D.C.’s school systems, District leaders, teachers, and education advocates could do more to boost parents’ access to disciplinary data, quantify “the number of learning days lost due to suspension, and craft more nuanced indicators of the most at-risk or vulnerable students.” 

You can read the full report here.