Is a child disposable?

Do adults get to decide which children are worthy of education paid for by tax dollars?

Depending on whom you ask at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools, the answers may be a resounding, “yes!”
A bombshell discovery at Moskowitz’s network of charters recently revealed the privately run, publicly funded school system maintains a list of students they no longer wish to serve.

Moskowitz claimed several of her schools’ “Got to Go” lists were anomalies, though cherry-picking at charter schools is nothing new. From the Noble network of charter schools in Chicago to KIPP Academy in Washington, D.C., charters have long been accused of removing children deemed undesirable and troublesome from their academic settings.

It’s precisely the thing racial justice activists have warned against.

Parents and community leaders have suspected charter schools artificially inflate test scores by either forcing out students who need extra support or refusing to admit them in the first place.

Through repeated suspensions, multiple calls home for minor infractions or flat out recommendations that parents take their children elsewhere, Success Academy Charter Schools appears to self-select the students they deem worthy of educating.

According to The New York Times, in the 2012-13 school year, Success Academy suspended between four percent and 23 percent of its students at least once. Meanwhile, the suspension rate at traditional public schools that school year was just three percent.

Charter school administrators and their apologists will claim school officials have no other option but to remove students they deem disruptive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Removing students with behavioral challenges has not been proven to increase test scores or improve the learning environment. Quite to the contrary, exclusionary discipline hurts the entire school community.

The American Sociological Association found in a 2014 report, Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools, “that students who attend schools with high rates of out-of-school suspension exhibit lower achievement, though they are not personally suspended, reflecting a hidden cost of the emphasis on punishment and social control in schools.”

As the American Sociological Association found in this same report, the focus on exclusionary discipline – which is punishment that removes or excludes a student from her educational setting – emerged in the early 1980s just as the nation was moving to more stringent forms of social control such as the War on Drugs, mandatory minimums and zero tolerance policies. As society embraced this mindset, school officials reacted accordingly, adopting rigid and punitive forms of disciplinary policies and practices.

These changes had, and continue to have, a disastrous impact. Suspensions have been linked to decreased graduation rates. Education Week reported in 2013 that the graduation rate for Florida students suspended just once was 52 percent; and 38 percent for students suspended more than once. Schools with higher rates of suspension and expulsion appear to have less satisfactory ratings on school climate.

Additionally, recent research indicates a negative relationship between the use of school suspension and expulsion and school-wide academic achievement.

One way to improve school climate and boost academic achievement is to implement restorative justice practices and build stronger relationships between adults and students in the building. These are solutions that have been proven to work.

Moreover, often students are disciplined for actions that are subjective and racially biased or over-reactions to adolescent behavior. To coerce students to withdraw is to run a system tantamount to survival of the fittest, where an education is available solely to students with “desirable” characteristics.

To the rhetorical questions I raised at the outset; no child is disposable and every child deserves access to a high-quality education. Rather than focusing on punishment and a sorting system for education, we should ensure all children have what they need to grow into fully contributing members of society. Success should be for all.

Dianis is a veteran civil rights attorney and co-director of the national racial justice organization, Advancement Project. You can follow her on Twitter via @jbrownedianis.