If you read the news reports following the announcement of John King as our new Secretary of Education, you'd think he had run some of the most successful schools in the country. Here, for example, is Vox:
1) He's the founder of a successful charter school chainJohn King, hand-picked by President Obama to lead our nation's schools, took the lead in designing Roxbury Prep's discipline policies. How has that played out?
Unlike Duncan, King has been a classroom teacher: He taught for three years, two of them in a charter school, after getting his master's degree in teaching from Columbia University. In 1999, he became co-director of Roxbury Prep, a Boston charter school renowned for getting high test scores despite serving an exclusively low-income black and Latino student body. King, the New York Times wrote in 2011, was instrumental in designing the charter school's curriculum and disciplinary structure — including required school uniforms and rules against talking in the hallways. [emphasis mine]
These are the latest out-of-school suspension rates for school districts in the Boston area, from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.* Roxbury Prep not only has the second highest suspension rate in greater Boston; it's the second largest in the state. The only school with a higher suspension rate is City On Hill; guess who used to teach there (p.12)?
This isn't at all a surprise; as the Boston Globe reported in 2014, Roxbury Prep had previously held the top spot with a suspension rate in 2012-13 of nearly 60 percent.
Later on, Roxbury moved under the umbrella of Uncommon Schools, a charter management organization with schools in New York and New Jersey as well as Massachusetts. John King, consequently, rose to become Managing Director for the entire Uncommon chain. Soon, the high suspension rates that were a hallmark of Roxbury Prep became common in all of Uncommon's schools.
In Brooklyn, for example, Uncommon runs several charters; here are their relative suspension rates, as reported by the NY State Education Department:
Three of Uncommon's charters are close to the top in their suspension rates, and five others are above the median. Here are Uncommon's suspension rates upstate in Rochester, compared to the entire metro area:
And here are the rates in Rensselaer County; Uncommon has a school in Troy, NY:
Finally, here are the suspension rates for all schools in Newark, New Jersey, including North Star Academy, a part of the Uncommon network:
Uncommon Schools, the charter chain John King used to manage, has some of the highest student suspension rates compared to its neighboring schools in three different states.
High suspension rates are not good for students. You know who says so? The very USDOE John King is now going to lead:
This is from a "School Climate and Discipline" page on the USDOE website. John King is now being tasked to lead a department that explicitly questions the very discipline policies he was "instrumental" in creating for his former schools.
Suspension impacts everyone
Suspensions don't work—for schools, teachers, or students
Suspensions have negative consequences
There are effective alternatives to suspension
Recently, King defended the "no excuses" discipline found in Uncommon Schools to noted education scholar Pedro Noguera:
Apparently, John King believes that schools can and should have high suspension rates -- in contradiction to the stated policies of the department he will now lead.I'm not against charter schools, let me be clear, I'm in favor of any good school that's good for kids. But some of the charter schools that are being held up as a model believe that their goal is to regiment, to completely control their students. To control how they sit, control their eye contact, control their movements in the hallway. Many of them have silence in the hallway and no talking in the lunch room. John King, the new commissioner of education of New York state, is held up as a real reformer because he founded a very successful charter school in Boston called Roxbury Prep and went on to found a network the called Uncommon Schools. And I would say that academically this school is far out-performing many public schools that are serving the same population of kids. So I would acknowledge that they are doing a much better job. I would also acknowledge that the model they use does not appeal to me.I've visited this school, and I noticed that children are not allowed to talk in the hall, and they get punished for the most minor infraction. And when I talked with John King afterwards, I said, "I've never seen a school that serves affluent children where they're not allowed to talk in the hall." And he said, "Well, that might be true, but this is the model that works for us, we've found that this is the model that our kids need."So I asked him, "Are you preparing these kids to be leaders or followers? Because leaders get to talk in the hall. They get to talk over lunch, they get to go to the bathroom, and people can trust them. They don't need surveillance and police officers in the bathroom." And he looked at me like I was talking Latin, because his mindset is that these children couldn't do that. [emphasis mine]
From what I read, King will not be officially nominated, serving as the "acting" secretary for the remainder of Obama's term. That's a damn shame. I would have dearly loved to have had a senator bring all this up. I would have loved to hear King explain whether he supports current USDOE policy on suspensions and, if so, how he can align that with his own career history as a school leader.
Maybe someone in the press can fulfill this role and ask John King: does he think high student suspension rates are "the model that our kids need"?
Mr. President, do you think high student suspension rates are "the model that our kids need"?
So apparently it's not enough for some that the press has reported, and Pedro Noguera has confirmed, that King takes responsibility for creating the current discipline structure in the Uncommon charter network. Some have decided I'm not being fair because King hasn't worked at Uncommon since 2009.
The theory behind this, I suppose, is that King's schools had lower suspension rates while he was at Uncommon, and then they shot up after he left for the NY commissioner job. Does that seem likely to you?
Here are the historic suspension rates for North Star Academy in Newark going back to the 2000-01school year. The 13-14 suspension rates are right in line with this history.
John F. Lerner posted the next graph on Twitter yesterday:
2014 was actually a low suspension rate year for Roxbury Prep.
Keep trying, my reformy friends...
* For all of these graphs except Newark, I used the county designation from the USDOE's Common Core of Data to determine which schools were within the county listed. I then matched those schools to the state data from MA and NY. The Newark schools are matched through a file I made of all charter and district schools in the area, based on the NJDOE's charter school directory.