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Grappling With Discipline in Autonomous Schools: New Approaches From D.C. and New Orleans

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This report profiles leading efforts by two cities to bring consistency and fairness to discipline practices in both district and charter schools—with promising early results:

Washington, D.C.

  • Leaders focused on boosting transparency and leveraging public scrutiny of high discipline rates in all public schools by producing School Equity Reports documenting school-level data on suspension, expulsion, student exit, and midyear enrollment.
  • First published for the 2012-13 school year, the equity reports prepared through 2014-15 show citywide drops in suspension rates overall and among specific student groups, such as those with special needs.
  • Expulsion rates fell by almost half, with D.C. charter schools showing sharper declines in expulsion than district schools.

New Orleans

  • The state-run Recovery School District instituted a centralized hearing process in 2012 to review and approve proposed expulsions for all the city’s public schools. Both charter and district public schools must abide by common, agreed-upon standards for expellable offenses.
  • Overall expulsion rates appear to have dropped citywide since the centralized process began.
  • Expelled students are tracked and supported to ensure that they receive appropriate educational services.

Though still early in implementation, these cross-sector efforts suggest that city leaders can help reduce perceived or real inequities and unfair use of suspension and expulsion in charter schools without dampening the possibilities for innovation. Other cities struggling with discipline policies should look to these efforts to help guide them toward successful discipline solutions that can be shared across schools and sectors, to the benefit of all students.

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