Off the top of their head, most education experts would probably guess that public charter school students are suspended more often than students from traditional public schools. Much of that has to do with the "no-excuses" disciplinary policies in many charter schools. But a new study from the conservative American Enterprise Institute shows that charter schools suspend students less often than neighboring traditional public schools.
The study compared charter schools with the five traditional public schools geographically closest to them. It found that a majority of charter schools had a suspension rate within 5 percentage points of their neighboring traditional public schools. Almost one-third of charters had a somewhat or substantially lower suspension rate, while roughly one-sixth of charters had a somewhat or substantially higher suspension rate.
"The 29 percent of charter schools that have lower suspension rates than their neighbors are a noteworthy counterpoint to the frequent criticism that charters often counsel out students using discipline," writes Nat Malkus, the AEI fellow who authored study. "While the 17 percent of charters with higher suspension rates provide weak circumstantial evidence that some charter schools may do this, higher rates of student discipline are clearly not an attribute of charter schools generally."
School suspensions have become more controversial in recent years. The Democratic Party platform took a stand against them, though without mentioning suspensions by name. "We will end the school-to-prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect African-Americans and Latinos, Native Americans and Alaska Natives, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT," the platform reads.
Instead of suspensions, the platform says Democrats support "the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully."
The Republican Party platform doesn't explicitly support suspensions, but seems to support empowering teachers to do what they feel is necessary when it comes to discipline. "We applaud America's great teachers, who should … be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom."
The study also found that charter schools disproportionately serve more black students than their neighboring traditional public schools. But charter schools serve fewer Hispanic, special-education and English-as-a-second-language students than neighboring schools.
Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition fees. Compared to traditional public schools, charters have more independence and flexibility in their operations and curricula, which is why many families find them desirable. They are open to all students, but due to demand must often use a lottery system to allocate spaces.
Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.