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Middle School Charters — Suspending Their Way to the Top

In June, School Stories published the names of the 10 charter schools with the highest suspension rates. Many of these were middle schools and three had suspension rates at least four times above the city average.

Highest Charter Suspense Rates

Now, the city test results are out, and two additional facts emerge about these schools.

First, students in these schools weren’t just suspended; they also disappeared. Specifically, as classes moved up from one grade to the next, the number of students in them got smaller and smaller. The average reduction was 15% between 5th and 6th grade alone, which is when the size of cohorts is most likely to shrink.

School Grade Span Change in number of students in cohort % Reduction in cohort
Harlem VIll. Acad. Ldrshp 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) 96 to 77 -20%
Bed Stuy Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) 81 to 69 -15%
Kings Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) 80 to 71 -11%

Classes shrink faster at these charters than as just about any other charters in the city. All three, in fact, rank in the top five citywide (and citywide the median reduction from 5th to 6th grade is 6%).1

The second thing we learn about these high-suspension schools from the latest testing results is that as students disappear the passing rates rise dramatically. The average gain between grades 5 and 6 was 21 percentage points.2

School Grade Span % Reduction in Cohort Increase in Number of Percentage Points (ELA) Change in Percent of Students ELA
Harlem VIll. Acad. Ldrshp 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) -20% plus 24 33% to 57%
Bed Stuy Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) -15% plus 20 35% to 55%
Kings Collegiate 5th (2011) to 6th (2012) -11% plus 21 37% to 58%

So what’s the relationship between high suspension rates, shrinking cohorts and rising passing percentages?

The most benign way to tell that story is to claim that attrition and suspension have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Under this scenario, less school time for troubled kids is actually a good thing, so good in fact that these suspended kids experience terrific academic growth — much better than they otherwise would have — which accounts for the rising passing rates. True the cohorts are shrinking, but that’s only because other students, not these troubled students, are disappearing to lower grades-levels or other schools.3


What seems more likely is that some students with behavioral problems, and possibly emotional disabilities, are being pushed out of these schools by repeat suspensions. If that’s the case, then the students who remain are generally those who arrived more ready to learn and then became even more so after seeing what quick work had been made of their more rambunctious peers. We don’t know if that that’s true, but we do know that many charter schools sanction this approach. In a report from the charter community itself, for example, the writers record what some charter operators see as the happy outcome that results from ridding schools of troublesome kids:

“…By this logic, schools should be full of students who share a common culture of learning, provided that the culture is not defined in an exclusive fashion … a student who leaves one school to find a better fit at another should be considered a success story.”

A success?

Was that how we were supposed to be measuring the success of charter schools?

Everyone who works in education understands just how hard it is to create the kinds of school cultures that keep kids focused on their education. And we do not have enough information to know for sure how many struggling students are pushed out of charters by a culture of punishment (though we do have anecdotal evidence). What we do know, however, is that these schools are public schools, and at public schools we take it as our mission to support every student who shows up at the door.

If these charters are suspending students right out of the school, we would not call that a success story.

We’d call it a disgrace.

1Another two middle school charters have similarly high attrition between grades 5 and 6, at 19% and 25%. All five belong to the same two charter networks: Uncommon Schools (the Collegiate schools) and Deborah Kenny’s Harlem Village. In fact, the seven schools with the highest attrition all belong to these networks.

2It should be noted that a fourth charter school, South Bronx Classical, followed the same pattern as these three middles schools — over four times the city average for suspensions, a 39% reduction in size of the cohort, and a 36 point increase in the passing rate. Because this post focuses on middle schools, I have omitted it from the main body of this text.

3While we don’t know for sure that shrinking cohorts indicate that students have left the school altogether, it seems much more likely that they have left than that they have been left back. When students are left back, we expect the class they join to rise in size — or at least to stay the same. But in these schools, the pattern is just the opposite — most cohorts shrink, including the ones that would be receiving students from shrinking cohorts. It seems likely therefore that numbers are shrinking because students left the school.



  • 1 Jonathan Joseph
    · Aug 14, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Great article.
    Just curious: When students are suspended from a charter school, where do they go? Do they go, like their district school counterparts, to a DOE Alternate Learning Center (ALC)?

  • 2 Remainders: Newly extended day for city’s high school seniors | GothamSchools
    · Aug 15, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    [...] A UFT analysis links charters’ suspension rates, shrinking cohorts, and rising pass rates. (Edwize) [...]

  • 3 Ginny Moe
    · Aug 15, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    When they leave the charter school in our district, they come right back to the public schools.

  • 4 nuff said
    · Aug 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    when students are suspended completely out of charters they head back to public school, but thats not the interesting part. The Charters recieve per pupil funding at the beginning of the year and if a kid leaves there is no refund-THEY KEEP the money-AND the public school picks up the tab. So there is a monetary incentive to over enroll and then suspend/shrink the cohort encouraging them to leave-it’s pure PROFIT as soon as they go.

  • 5 bk tchr
    · Aug 20, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Dear writer of this article, please look into the following argument: Oct 31 the student rosters are closed. Schools receive money for the number of students who are on the roster. During the 1st week of November we, a middle school, receive an influx of students (been kicked out of) from charter schools. The money for that student, except students with an active IEP, stays with the charter school; it doesn’t follow the student. So we , non charter, receive the students the charter schools feel do not “fit”while the charter school keeps that students funding. We, non charter, struggle to provide the best with little to nothing. While the charter schools have extra money, less students, misleading higher scores and less children who NEED help. Charter schools know the game and they play it well. Regular public schools have complained about this and nothing gets done. Instead its the blank stare affect. Dear writer, what are your thoughts?

  • 6 Ed in the Apple
    · Aug 21, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Every charter school has a discipline plan … part of the application process. Charter school students have no interaction with public schools. It is commonplace for charter schools to “counsel” parents to remove their kids from the charter school – usually return to the neighborhood school.

    For serious infactions charter school students can be expelled.

  • 7 Missing the Real Story on Student Attrition at Charters | Edwize
    · Oct 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

    [...] the remaining students’ academic performance are major problems with the research in this area. Some charters do have high rates of suspensions, but lower-level types of discipline are much harder to [...]