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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.

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By Jay Mathews  | December 13, 2009; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  Ideal Academy Public Charter School, President Obama, charter schools  
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Jay, once again you have gone off the deep end. What ever your factual basis is for writing this column, you have managed to generously sprinkle it with unthruths, or downright lies, depending on the point of view, as to make one wonder why the Post continues to allow you to appear in their paper.

Lets go with this paragraph as the graphic example of something you ought to know to be an enduction wirter:

The charter Board has not closed Ideal because they have "a process with no defined end in sight similar to the way districts are trying to improve regular public schools".



You greatly diminish your position and create needless animosity when you continue to write articles without properly researching the facts.

Posted by: topryder1 | December 14, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

The parent is correct as she like many of us are hip to the Educational Reform Ponzi scheme being run primarily on Black and Brown children, families and communities in DC. The parent is looking at individual performance which would lead to one type of reform and data at the school level which advantanges reform results to other demographics. For example Rhee's team has improved test scores by playing the statistical margins. ID students whose tests are low but could be classified not to count, change the paper work so they are not counted. On the other end IDing those borderline proficient students and moving them a few points with special effort from basic to proficient. Our IDing subgroups which tend to have higher scores but don't count because of numbers, but recruiting a few to cross the line to count. BINGO, after some gaming reforms are now working, don't have to listen to the experiences of Black and Brown parents, just the know it all reformers. What a scam.

Posted by: whj123 | December 14, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

"education writer'

I could be a better editor

Posted by: topryder1 | December 14, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

"education writer"

I need to improve my editing

Posted by: topryder1 | December 14, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Jay, you have identified a significant issue within the charter school sector that needs attention and is finally receiving it after years of neglect. Weak charter schools drag down the efforts of good charter schools to grow and to serve more students - to say nothing of the disservice they are doing to their own students.

Charter schools are supposed to achieve measurable student outcomes - not simply try to achieve them and fail. Those outcomes should be consistent across all charter schools that an authorizer oversees. The consequence for failing to achieve those outocomes is supposed to be closure, not years of improvement planning.

Contrary to popular perception, NCLB does not force the closure of any failing school, including failing charter schools. Only the authorizer of a failing charter school can close it.

The organization I lead, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, works with authorizing agencies to strengthen their practices to maintain high standards for charter schools, preserve school autonomy and safeguard student and public interests. We're making progress. This year, for the first time ever, Congress has approriated funds specifically to strengthen the practices of authorizers across the country. The development of a quality charter school sector requires quality authorizers.

Posted by: GregRichmond | December 14, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Jay "...pointed out to Nida that the city has some charter secondary schools with demographic characteristics similar to Ideal." What simplistic thinking!

Similar demographic figures only tell a tiny part of the story. Believe it or not, Jay, there are highly educationally motivated and able-to-be-supportive low income parents. And there are completely unmotivated and unable-to-be-supportive low income parents. In between the two types there is a range, as well as many other variations on this theme.

Of all of them, guess which ones would be most likely to go charter?

I'm still waiting for the "oh so caring" billionaire-funded, corporate-supported charter movement to aggressively seek out and enroll the students in the second category above. These are the ones most negatively impacted in life because of the parents they happened to get stuck with on the day they were conceived. Charters don't deserve a lick of support because they won't take their share of these very most needy kids.

Posted by: pondoora | December 14, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

to topryder1---you just made my point. Indeed, the charters are under the same NCLB system as the regular schools. Seen any regular schools closed lately for academic reasons? Charters are supposed to be different, and be easier to close. We have a board with power to close them rather quickly, since they chartered them, something we don't really have with regular schools. But Nida indicated that he is going to go with the go-slow NCLB system. (And don't worry, as you know I often don't edit miself well ether.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 14, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

for pondoora---you are furthering a myth for which there is no statistical evidence and which one example in the column seems to contradict. We do NOT have some charter schools with well-motivated low-income parents and other charter schools with poorly-motivated low-income parents. I have spoken to a lot of these parents, and spoken to the teachers who deal with them. They do not see great differences in parental quality from school to school. They don't have much money, they have lots of distractions in their lives, and this does affect their parenting, although in every school there are some parents who work very hard to overcome these differences. Notice how motivated was the parent I quoted, even though her son was attending this low-achieving charter school. That seems to contradict your point. If you have any data to prove your point, I would love to see it.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 14, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Are you sure "that temporary disruption in her child's life will give him a better future"? Research consistently indicates that turmoil surrounding moves results in worse performance in the following year. If he's a sophomore now, switching schools might not be in his best interest. Depending, of course, on which school he switches to (which, by the way, you didn't indicate whether there were a bevy of other, better, options for students).

Posted by: coreybower | December 14, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Good point, coreybower. The data about the effect of moving on achievement usually focuses on families that move more frequently than this student. But you are right. For that particular student a move now would be a risk. I was trying, inadequately, to make the point that if the board was tougher on closing schools, more charters would be more motivated to get better, and then offer him that bevy of options.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 14, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Jay, your slant on this story is refreshing, however Pres. Obama and Duncan are beating the same old drum - that if students don't achieve it must be the teachers or type of school that is at fault.

Our teaching staff training, materials, and facilities are, in many cases, state of the art. So, why are U. S. students, especially inner city, chronic low achievers?

To answer that question we have to look at the other end of the equation - the Students. Coinciding with reports of low student performance scores are reports that the health of our children is also declining. Environmentally caused diseases like asthma have dramatically increased. Disease and illness affects student performance.

Part of the reason for sick students is sick schools. "Sick Schools 2009" by Healthy Schools Network is an alarming report about the poor environmental quality of our nation's schools. The most shocking revelation in this report is that no agency - state or national- is in charge of protecting the environmental quality of U. S. schools.

Stimulus funds encourage school facility improvements, but there are no provisions to prevent school renovation and construction while children and personnel are present.

While teaching at a public school, I was seriously injured when a school contractor sprayed on a foam roof and sealant during the school day. Over 2 dozen children were also injured. The chemicals not only caused asthma, they caused brain damage. For story, up to date news about sick schools, and resources see

Jay, all this talk about changing type of schools and demanding teacher accountability has produced no change since I started teaching thirty five years ago. If our students are not achieving it is time we demand student accountability, parent accountability, and most of all, lawmaker accountability.

Posted by: nancyswan | December 14, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I have read for the last two years, the annual reports on charter schools, which include what I've taken to be fragments of education audits. But,I've never seen the complete education audits. (I do not expect to see the financial audits, which get more attention in the annual reports.)

Maybe, Jay, you could expect of the Charter School Board that they audit schools the way examines every English school, including prompt release of the 3-10 page reports to the schools for comment and to the public for reading. I'd think you would be an effective advocate for parents, current and prospective, to learn independently about each charter school, instead of being dependent on what their marketing and advertising departments produce.

Your story would have been stronger if had focused on the breadth of our ignorance, rather than picking on a school which, to my knowledge, may be doing as well as can be done. A single fallible indicator of family income does not adequately indicate parental resources and educational needs.

Posted by: incredulous | December 14, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse


A charter is a contract that should spell out what the school promises to do over a set period of time in exchange for the autonomy and flexibility to do so. I don't know what the DC charter rules are, but in many states a charter is granted for five years, at which point the school must prove it's doing a good job in order to have its charter contract renewed. I find it hard to believe that the DC charter school board has "a process with no defined end in sight." Your column doesn't indicate where the Ideal school is in its charter term, when it comes up for renewal, and what goals it much reach in order for its charter contract to be renewed (these should all be found in the charter contract). The reason charter schools are usually given five years before the renewal process holds them accountable is because they are new organizations, typically adding grades and staff each year, and should be given some time to develop their systems and culture. The fact that you are talking about the poor performance of this school and the possibility of closing it down is a good thing, just make sure you know what the process is before suggesting it doesn't exist.

Posted by: gideon4ed | December 15, 2009 9:08 AM | Report abuse

"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."

Jay: Why do you feel it is your duty or your role to set this parent right on the choices she's made for her child, and why are you so put off that she may not "listen" to you?

So they close his school; what then for him? Back to Deal, where he was languishing? The question you don't seem ponder is, "what next?"

Posted by: Bluejay825 | December 16, 2009 7:42 AM | Report abuse

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