Today, I saw this article surrounding a Chicago protest of charter school expulsion policies, and it got me to thinking of the more broad question, “Why do schools expel children at all”? and what our answer implies about our beliefs about education.
An all too quick answer – that expulsion is “punishment” for certain offenses – simply dodges what my real question is here, namely, why is it expulsion that chosen as appropriate punishment.
In a student expulsion, a school is saying that it is either better for the student, or better for the school (or both) for that student to no longer be there.
If it is better for the student for them to be expelled, the school is essentially saying that they do not have the resources to meet that student’s needs. If it is better for the school for that student to be expelled, they are saying that other students will not succeed as much if that student continues to attend.
Put differently, an expulsion states that the school community would be better off by excluding that particular student from participation. Ultimately, expulsions betray the fact that people believe that excluding an individual from a school may, in some cases, result in the benefit of others.
And while I don’t think this particular admission is controversial (for example, if a student brings a loaded gun to school, I don’t know anyone who would argue for his or her non-expulsion), it does make us a bit uncomfortable. After all, we are progressive people who like to talk big about how inclusive we are and how inclusive our school systems are.
Yet fuzzy lines are being drawn between varying definitions of what school officials deem worthy of exclusion. Given the huge nature of peer effects on both student achievement and behavior, it is not surprising that we want to send our own children to schools that are exclusive (literally excluding), whether we’re excluding students that pose a safety risk, excluding students with behavior we deem undesirable, or excluding students with lower levels of demonstrated academic mastery.
I am not arguing the rightness (or wrongness) of the expelling that Chicago charter schools are doing. Rather, I’m simply raising the question of how comfortable we are with the idea that different schools exclude different students for different reasons. All schools exclude some students (again, bringing weapons will result in automatic expulsion in most districts). Once we’re honest about which schools do which excluding, perhaps we can have a more honest conversation about how to measure the effectiveness of these schools.