Tulane Study: School Reforms Pushed Up Expulsion Rates, Public Pressure Brought Them Back Down

Mar 19, 2019

A new study from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance looks into how charter school reforms impacted New Orleans' expulsion and suspension rates. Researchers found that the reforms increased expulsion rates in the first few years after the state took over the city's schools, but that after mounting public pressure and a lawsuit, expulsion rates dropped back down.

The study shows that in the first five years after the state took over New Orleans schools following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans schools were expelling a lot more students - not just compared to pre-Katrina years, but compared to similar districts across the country. The jump in expulsion rates in 2009 was driven by expulsions at schools directly run by the Recovery School District.

But in 2010, expulsions dropped dramatically and have continued to decline to pre-Katrina levels. Study author Monica Hernandez says schools corrected course because of public pressure and a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center claiming schools were illegally expelling students with disabilities. Hernandez says the study shows the power of the broader community in improving school climate.

"Citizens, through the courts and the media, can encourage policymakers and practitioners to address or prevent unintended effects of policies or intense changes such as the one that New Orleans went through," Hernandez said.

The Recovery School District created and enforced a centralized expulsion system in 2012, which Hernandez links to the continued decline of expulsion rates.

When it comes to suspensions for violent behavior, the study shows those have increased as a result of the school reforms. The study did not explore why they have increased. Hernandez said she studied these suspensions because the data is the most reliable - other suspensions for lesser infractions may go unreported.

The study did not address suspensions for minor infractions, like school uniform violations or "willful disobedience." Recent data shows the city’s average suspension rate is about 14 percent. But some schools are suspending more than a quarter of their students.