February 10, 2017
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser
DC Council Education Committee Chairman David Grosso
Dear Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor Niles, Chairman Grosso, Council Members, Task Force Members,
The linked Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report on DC Public Charter Schools' suspension rates for school year 2015-16, which was released on 2/9/17, raises several issues:
1. The high rates of suspension in many DC charter schools:
Š Five schools, including two KIPP schools, have rates of 30% or higher
Š Eleven schools, including three KIPP schools and two EL Haynes schools, have suspension rates greater than 20%
Š Thirty schools with over 10% suspension rates.
2. The report describes the lack of legal clarity regarding the responsibilities of the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE):
"…OSSE, in commenting on the report, agreed that there is some ambiguity around its authority with respect to D.C. charter schools. Specifically, OSSE stated that the complex D.C. regulatory framework is unclear regarding oversight authority in some instances. As such, the agency’s current view of its authority to regulate charter schools on discipline differs from previous administrations’ interests in that area.
“Specifically, OSSE stated that its current conclusion is that the D.C. code does not provide OSSE clear authority to regulate charter schools with respect to discipline. Such views about D.C.’s regulatory framework are an example of the importance of clarifying agency roles and responsibilities with respect to D.C. charter school discipline." (p.35)
3. The weakness of intra-charter sector collaboration suggests that inter-sector collaboration is premature. The Cross-Sector Task Force should be suspended.
4. It's high time to cap charter growth. After 20 years of charter promises, the discipline rate, an indicator of student engagement and achievement, should not be so high. The original idea for charter schools as alternatives and experiments in learning means that charter schools should be one of the solutions for students with discipline problems.
5. The report only examines discipline data and the disproportionate breakdown of the data. It does not address the reasons for suspensions.
The Council and the public need to know the details and rates by school - in both sectors - of the infractions and incidents that led to suspensions and other major discipline. I assume that teachers and ultimately principals choose suspension as a very last resort - in both DCPS and charter schools. In many classrooms and schools, lowering suspensions means returning disruptive students to the classroom and disrupting learning.
It would be nice, if the mayor and deputy mayor would empower honest conversation about this difficult topic.
Retired DCPS high school teacher
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