I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2015

John King, New SecEd, Is The King of Student Suspensions UPDATED


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 chain

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]
John 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?

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:

Suspension 101

Suspension impacts everyone

  • In 2011-2012, 3.45 million students were suspended out-of-school.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Of the school districts with children participating in preschool programs, 6% reported suspending out of school at least one preschool child.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2011-2012)
  • Students with disabilities and students of color are generally suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers.
    (Civil Rights Data Collection,2011-2012)

Suspensions don't work—for schools, teachers, or students

  • Evidence does not show that discipline practices that remove students from instruction—such as suspensions and expulsions—help to improve either student behavior or school climate.
    (Skiba, Shure, Middelberg & Baker, 2011)

Suspensions have negative consequences

  • Suspensions are associated with negative student outcomes such as lower academic performance, higher rates of dropout, failures to graduate on time, decreased academic engagement, and future disciplinary exclusion.
    (Achilles, McLaughlin, Croninger,2007; Arcia, 2006; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Costenbader & Markson, 1998; Lee, Cornell, Gregory, & Fan, 2011; Raffaele-Mendez, 2003; Rodney et al., 1999; Skiba & Peterson, 1999)

There are effective alternatives to suspension

  • Evidence-based, multi-tiered behavioral frameworks, such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), can help improve overall school climate and safety.
    (Bradshaw, C., Koth, C.W., Thornton, L.A., & Leaf, P.J., 2009)
  • Interventions, school-wide and individual, that use proactive, preventative approaches, address the underlying cause or purpose of the behavior, and reinforce positive behaviors, have been associated with increases in academic engagement, academic achievement, and reductions in suspensions and school dropouts.
    (American Psychological Association, 2008; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2005; Crone & Hawken, 2010; Liaupsin, Umbreit, Ferro, Urso, & Upreti, 2006; Luiselli, Putnam, Handler, & Feinberg, 2005; Putnam, Horner, & Algozzine, 2006; Skiba & Sprague, 2008; Theriot, Craun, & Dupper, 2010)
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.

Recently, King defended the "no excuses" discipline found in Uncommon Schools to noted education scholar Pedro Noguera:
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]
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.

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?

Me neither:

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.


Michael Fiorillo said...

Of course the suspension rates are high: one reason the favored charter chains (KIPP, Success Academies, Uncommon schools, et.al.) receive the subsidies and media promotionthey do is because they insist on their schools being a cross between prison, boot camp and a behavior-modification Skinner Box for Those Children.

You know Those Children, don't you? They are ones who must be conditioned and trained, rather than educated (notwithstanding all the false, insipid talk about "scholars"), the ones society has seen as dangerous since they were toddlers, and which these schools are determined to neuter, emotionally and culturally, before trying to re-make them as passive, unquestioning vessels of future labor productivity.

Needless to say, Those Children are subjected to authoritarian, repressive school environments that King and his ilk would never in a million years subject their own children to, as seen when it was revealed that he sent his own young children to a Montessori school that doesn't use Common Core (though, naturally, he lied about that).

On a more practical basis, high suspension rates are a way for the schools to grease the skids for removing Those Children who might undermine their precious test scores, thereby threatening the false "miracle school" narratives they peddle.

This is education along the Booker T. Washington model of race relations, with no talk of power and wealth disparities, and lots of hot air about "character," "grit" (which in practice translates as docility based on intimidation and sanctions) and up-by-your-bootstraps mythology.

It's more than a little ironic that the first Black President (or as I once heard journalist Gwen Ifill say during an interview, "the so-called Black President") has promoted and insisted upon schools and a pedagogy based upon the once-discredited-but-again-fashionable accommodations of the Jim Crow/Booker T. Washington era.

On the other hand, Obama has shown again and again that he is a political chameleon whose primary allegiance is to the neoliberal wing of the Overclass that has promoted him at least since his years at Columbia, so none of this should be a surprise.

Unknown said...

Great as always! To calculate suspension rates, did you use number of students being suspended at least once/total enrollments? Number of days lost to suspension/total attendance?

Duke said...

Good question, Ajay. I didn't calculate these; they were reported by MA, NY, and NJ.

MA: "Out-of-school suspension is defined as a disciplinary action imposed by school officials to remove a student from participation in school activities for 1 day or more. Students suspended out-of-school are not in school during the period of their suspension at any time."


MA calculates the percentage as the number of unique students disciplined divided by the total count of students.

NJDOE says the suspension rate is "This table presents the percentage of students who were suspended one or more times during the school year."

NYSED says the rate is: "Percent of students suspended."

The USDOE's Office For Civil Rights apparently has some say in how suspension rates are defined:


Unknown said...

I'm guessing that at Roxbury Prep (just like most schools) a lot of the students who are suspended are repeat offenders. So it's safe to say that in MA they prob undercount suspensions since they count unique students disciplined. I wonder how high the suspension rate would be if there were a way to capture total counts of suspensions (including repeaters). Regardless, I don't see how anyone can look at this, shrug their shoulders, and say it isn't John King's fault.

Unknown said...

Is there any correlation with suspensions during "test time"? Maybe that is one reason why these schools are scoring a bit better on their tests.