For years, some parents, teachers and education advocates have argued that the academic success of charter schools in Chicago was built on an essential unfairness: charter schools routinely expelled troubled or poor-performing students at a much higher rate than public schools.
Tuesday, Chicago Public Schools released data potentially lending credence to that argument:
The data reveal that during the last school year, 307 students were kicked out of charter schools, which have a total enrollment of about 50,000. In district-run schools, there were 182 kids expelled out of a student body of more than 353,000.
That means charters expelled 61 of every 10,000 students while the district-run schools expelled just 5 of every 10,000 students.
For many parents, students, teachers and community activists, questions over charter schools expulsion rates lie at the heart of the debate over whether such schools produce better academic outcomes than public schools.
These advocates have argued that as privately-run schools, they are more able to self-select a more uniform student body, thereby boosting test scores and other academic measures.
While the new numbers represent the first time CPS has released such data, there have been past indications that charters engage in a much higher expulsion rate than public schools.
In 2010, an analysis by Catalyst Chicago found that 11 percent of charter students left their schools in 2009, and that year charters expelled 5 of every 1,000 students—a higher rate of expulsion than traditional schools, which posted an expulsion rate of 1.5 for every 1,000 students.
In 2013, a look at expulsion rates for discipline between charters and non-charters in a number of U.S. cities by Education Week found that in 2011-2012, charters tallied a .54 percent expulsion rate versus a .08 percent rate for traditional public schools.
Also in 2013, data collected by the Voices of Youth in Chicago Education advocacy group found that Chicago Public Schools posted a rate of 1.1 expulsions for every 1,000 students while privately-run Noble Network had an expulsion rate of 8.4 per 1,000 and Perspectives Charter Schools had an expulsion rate of 17.5 per 1,000.
While some charter expulsions are undoubtedly for reasons that occur across any school district anywhere in the country, stricter disciplinary codes and other rules in charters are seen by some as a means to ensure these schools create a student body that more directly matches the school’s academic goals.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel once praised the Noble network of charter schools in Chicago as having a “secret sauce” for success. Part of its “secret sauce” was fining students $5 for every disciplinary infraction. Some families owed the school hundreds or even thousands of dollars. That was one way of pushing out difficult students. It works. But that’s not all.
[The] new report from Chicago Public Schools shows that one important ingredient of the secret sauce is expulsions. It makes perfect sense. If a school can kick out the kids with low scores, the school will have higher scores and the public school that gets the low-scoring kids will have lower scores. How simple!
Charter advocates like to say that public schools should copy the successful strategies of the charter schools. Now, if the Chicago public schools learn from the charters, who will take those kids?