Should they close this bad charter school?
President Obama wants more good independent public charter schools. He also wants states and cities to close bad charter schools. Which charters in the District could we do without? Let's look at one, the Ideal Academy Public Charter School at 100 Peabody St. NW. It has been open for four years, long enough to show what it can do.
It is a high school with 96 students, according to Ideal instructional coordinator Pearline Humbles. It has small class sizes, no more than 18 students per teacher. I saw one math class with just five kids. It graduated its first senior class last spring.
Based on achievement tests, Ideal is one of the worst schools in the city.
Of the 31 sophomores who took the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test in math last spring, only 25.8 percent scored at the proficient level or above. Only 38.7 percent reached that level in reading. Among secondary schools, only six regular schools and two charter schools had lower math proficiency rates. Only 11 regular schools and three charters were worse in reading proficiency.
So why hasn't this school been closed, as the president suggested?
I got one answer from Thomas Nida, chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the charters that serve nearly 40 percent of D.C. public school children. I got another answer from an Ideal Academy parent, and she may have the final say.
I pointed out to Nida that the city has some charter secondary schools with demographic characteristics similar to Ideal (84 percent low-income) that have reading and math proficiency rates above 70 percent. He said some of those were middle schools and I should compare Ideal only to other high schools.
Okay, here are some charter high school results: Hyde Leadership (70 percent low-income): 66 percent proficiency in reading; SEED (76 percent low-income): 67 percent proficiency in math. Given those differences, why hasn't he closed Ideal?
Nida said his board had not had enough time to turn the school around. Ideal's original overseer, the D.C. school board, only ceded control two years ago. The board needs to evaluate several indicators of academic, financial and other kinds of performance, and give each school goals to shoot for, Nida said.
It is a process with no defined end in sight, similar to the way school districts are trying to improve regular public schools. Charters were supposed to be different, easier to close when slow progress was hurting kids who could not wait for real change to come. Ideal lacks a sense of urgency.
Nida's formula seems unlikely to change that. Closing the school now might motivate other low-performing charters to apply themselves to the board's standards.
But that won't happen if the parent I met at Ideal has anything to say about it. She knew the school's average scores were bad, but her son's scores and grades were good, better than at his previous regular school, Deal Middle. She had far more faith in her assessment of her child's progress than how the school did on standardized tests scores.
A higher standard more quickly and firmly applied might provide plenty of options for her son. But I suspect that on this matter she is not going to listen to me, or the president. We are not going to close many bad charters until we convince her that even that temporary disruption in her child's life will give him a better future.
Follow Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/
For all the Post's Education coverage, please see http://washingtonpost.com/education
| December 13, 2009; 10:00 PM ET
Categories: Metro Monday | Tags: Ideal Academy Public Charter School, President Obama, charter schools
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