Weighing in

U.S. education chief on changing charter school discipline: ‘We did not do it fast enough’

PHOTO: Katherine Taylor/EWA
John King, former U.S. secretary of education in the Obama administration and current president and CEO of The Education Trust

U.S. Education Secretary John King told charter school leaders Tuesday that it was time to think about whether their discipline policies are giving students the help they need.

His speech reflected a movement that’s been underway for a while: The re-examining of the “no excuses” discipline that has defined the country’s highest-profile charter schools.

“In rethinking discipline, charters also have the opportunity to lead the way on equity,” he said. “The students who are most likely to be suspended and expelled are students who we already fail too often.”

As the co-founder of the high-performing Boston charter school Roxbury Prep, King himself built a school around no-excuses ideas. As he explained to Chalkbeat’s Elizabeth Green in 2012, his school was relentless about making sure students adhered to its uniform policy and other rules in an attempt to create a stable learning environment and to set students up for professional success.

“You’re going to be accountable, and I would much rather you learn that lesson with me here than out in the world when you’re dealing with the way in which the world is going to treat that,” said King, who also helped lead the Uncommon Schools charter network. (We dove deeper into King’s thinking, and the emotional debate about no-excuses discipline, in this March story.)

At many charter schools, such strict discipline has also meant high suspension numbers. In New York, where King served as state education commissioner, a number of charter networks have made changes in a bid to reduce suspensions.

“Today, with the benefit of all that we’ve learned over the last 20 years, the leaders of Uncommon are rightly rethinking discipline,” King said Tuesday, adding that schools in that network now turn more often to counseling, mentoring, and support groups for students. But, he said, “We did not do it fast enough.”

Future of Schools

Spike in refugee students fuels increase in English language learners at two adult charter schools

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Two charter schools serving adults saw Indianapolis’s largest spike in students learning English this year, fueled by a rise in the refugees seeking high school diplomas, officials said.

Excel Center-University Heights and Christel House DORS South, charter schools serving adult students, saw their enrollment of English language learners jump to 44 percent and 63 percent of all students, respectively.

The campuses are less than two miles apart. The south side neighborhood they serve is close to a large population of Burmese refugees, said Jeff Hoover, Senior Director of The Excel Center Network and Operations.

Excel, which has 359 students, overwhelmingly attracts students by word-of-mouth, said Hoover, so enrollment at University Heights has gained momentum among refugees as students graduate and spread the word in their communities.

“They really created a real family type of atmosphere,” he said. “Being in a different country, and feeling that sense of community within a school is certainly … something that would attract me.”

Indiana has a mixed history when it comes to welcoming refugees. Indianapolis has one of the largest Burmese communities in the U.S., and about 14,000 Burmese-Chin refugees now live on the south side of the city, the Indy Star reported last year. Indiana admitted 1,893 refugees in 2016, according to Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nonprofit that works with refugees in Indiana. But under the Trump administration, that number was dramatically cut. At an Indianapolis school dedicated to serving students who are new to the country, enrollment declined in part because of the policy change.

State lawmakers allocated an extra $250 per student this year for schools to help educate students who are English language learners. At schools that have particularly high populations of students learning English, even more money is available.

International students who go to Excel may have high school diplomas or even college or advanced degrees from their home countries, unlike the U.S.-born students there, Hoover said. But Indiana employers and universities don’t always recognize those credentials, so the immigrants go to Excel to earn recognized diplomas.

Students who are English language learners often go through the same program as their peers who are fluent, but it may take them longer to complete diplomas, Hoover said. At the University Heights campus, there is an instructor who can speak some of the dialects spoken by Burmese refugees.

As charter school targeted at serving adults, Excel offers flexible scheduling and onsite childcare.

These 10 Marion County schools saw the number of English language learners enrolled jump over the past year.

  1. Excel Center – University Heights — 44 percent of students are English language learners, up 20 percentage points from last year.
  2. Christel House DORS South — 63 percent of students are English language learners, up 17 percentage points from last year.
  3. James Allison Elementary School in Speedway — 29 percent of students are English language learners, up 12 percentage points from last year.
  4. Homecroft Elementary School in Perry Township — 36 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  5. Southport Elementary School in Perry Township — 46 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  6. Westlake Elementary School in Wayne Township — 34 percent of students are English language learners, up 9 percentage points from last year.
  7. Arlington High School in Indianapolis Public Schools — 11 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  8. James Whitcomb Riley School 43 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 8 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  9. Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Perry Township — 35 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.
  10. Global Preparatory Academy at School 44 in Indianapolis Public Schools — 23 percent of students are English language learners, up 8 percentage points from last year.

Making history

Watch Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off here

Participants in the first-ever Great American Teach-Off Tim Livingston, left, Eleanor Vierling, Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Terrance O’Neil. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

On March 7, two teams of educators met in Austin to teach a math lesson — and make history.

The teachers, Eleanor Vierling and Kaitlin Ruggiero, and Tim Livingston and Terrance O’Neil, taught a 20-minute lesson called “contemplate then calculate.” The teachers were participating in Chalkbeat’s first-ever Great American Teach-Off, an event at the SXSW EDU conference.

The goal of the Teach-Off, inspired by some of our favorite TV shows that celebrate the hidden craftsmanship in other professions, was to elevate the craft of teaching.

After both teams of teachers presented their lessons, there was a robust conversation on stage and on Twitter about the best moments.

Watch the entire Teach-Off here and then tell us your favorite moment using the hashtag #teachoff.