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Numbers say charter migration a trickle, not flood

The first quarter of the year always brings the same anecdotes. A Ward 6 elementary school principal reported that five children from public charter schools showed up on a recent Monday morning.

"The charter schools are letting their favorite children go," she said.
A parent at a Ward 5 middle school says "a record number of kids have been pushed back on us by charters."

The conventional wisdom is that the District's public charter schools, which operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools, shed themselves of undesirable students with impunity as the year goes on. Many of them end up back at their neighborhood public schools, while the money that the children represent -- a District per-pupil funding level that averages about $9,000 -- stays at the charters, forcing DCPS to serve kids they have not budgeted for.

But school officials on both the public and public charter sides say there is no data supporting the phenomenon of some vast annual migration. According to DCPS, of the 2,529 mid-year admissions during the 2008-09 school year, just 264 (7 percent) were from public charter schools. The rest were kids who were either new to city, who had dropped out and returned, or who came from private and parochial schools.

DCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway also said the 264 figure does not represent a net gain, and that it is offset by students who leave. "DCPS students also transfer to charters mid-year--and the funding doesn't follow them either," she said.

Barnaby Towns, communications director for FOCUS (Friends of Choice in Urban Schools) an advocacy group for D.C. Public Charter Schools, calls the migration "something of an urban myth" for which there is no statistical evidence.

"The reality is that children leave both charter and DCPS schools midyear for a variety of reasons," Towns said. Those include parents moving out of the area, moving their kids to schools with access to playing fields (which tends to be movement from public charter to public), and, yes, expulsion for unacceptable behavior.

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By Bill Turque  |  March 17, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
 
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Comments

Bill -- I'm a charter school parent AND a fan of Chancellor Rhee. Several parents whose kids attend my kids' charter school -- Capital City PCS -- also have kids attending DCPS schools. These parents are happy with both and they appreciate having the options that are provided through both the traditional and charter systems.

So, I appreciate this post very much because it raises the issue of who is creating the "conventional wisdom" and the "urban" myth about the alleged charter migration and about other supposed "charter v. DCPS" conflicts. Who gains from drumming up this "wisdom" and "myth"?

Hmmmm.....

Posted by: jmssherman | March 17, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

jmsherman - if you're a Rhee fan, I suppose it means that you've found a way to deal with the "conventional wisdom" that many DC teachers are ineffective, even though their scores have been rising for over a decade under several superintendents, and that you accept the "urban" myth that Rhee took her students in Baltimore from the 13%ile to the 90th, even though there is no evidence of it at all.

Posted by: efavorite | March 17, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

I think a good question to ask is "Are there any policies that cause the public schools to end up with more students with behavioral problems than the charter schools."

This is important because if it is true then the public schools need funding to help them deal with this problem.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 17, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

When data were available for the previous year, the number who went to charters mid year were fewer than thirty, if I recall correctly. The burdens are not close to equal and offsetting, and everyone would be better served if the anecdotal example which is fine for human reporting is supplemented by an estimate of scale.
Of course, public charters have no "obligation to serve", none at all, and certainly not if they are fully enrolled. In contrast, DCPS schools do have that obligation for within-boundary students, whether the school is fully enrolled or not.
The story would have balance if from disclosure protecting privacy, a representative sample of transcripts and reports of students transferring to DCPS from public charters were examined. Then the charge of dumping could be assessed.
Best of all, pay all schools for months of service to full-time attending students with severe penalties for falsification of attendance records. That's the way subsidized day-care has long been paid for in DC.

Posted by: incredulous | March 17, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

What is the source for the data on this and is it publicly available?

Posted by: qazqaz | March 17, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I agree with qazqaz, where is the data?

Posted by: PowerandPride | March 18, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

When i worked at DCPS the problem was not just charters, but the enrollment count post October 1st. the 1st Qtr number is meaningless, it's the end of the year enrollment that proves the trouble.

in many cases schools could prove they could afford or needed an additional teacher during the course of the year from enrollment growth. this phenomenon was more common in some SE schools. The problem was DCPS via the weighted Student formula never had the flexibility to address this challenge.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 19, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

powerandpride;
Every public school student in DC has a school records ID. A year or two ago, the monthly enrollment flows, identifying school migrants by origin and destination, were tabulated by or for OSSE. I've seen more recent reports for a few individual DCPS schools at the beginning of the school year. The coding was error-ridden, probably because of changes in enrollment recorded at the end of the previous school year, over the summer, and during the first month of SY 09-10. But the reports on monthly flows for Dec-March should not have had that problem. The Charter School Urban myth is that they take DCPS students during the school year. Yeah, the way several elite private schools participate in the voucher program: taking exactly 1 student. Not -- repeating my previous post -- that they are under any obligation to do so under current cost-reimbursement schedules or educational plans,
That said, when DCPS schools under pressure to test well receive transfers at this time of year, kids who are likely to be distressed from traumatic severance, whoever is to blame, it is very costly to treat those kids due to the disruption. These kids have mostly failed, so far, and responsible educators feel an obligation for the remainder of the school year not to be a waste, or for the displaced student not to be a distraction.
It is within the power of the Mayor to recommend compensation, adjustment allowances, not differently than grief counselors would be assigned to a school following traumas to the student boy or staff. There are real costs, and Charter Schools are either generating them, or transferring much more of those costs / messes to DCPS schools than flow the other way.
I'd guess that when a charter school takes a kid from DCPS, it is early in the year, the kid has been on a waiting list, and is therefor pre-qualified as a serious student.

Posted by: incredulous | March 19, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

The numbers provided to Bill seem a little fishy. Check out

http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/transfers-from-charters-to-dc-public-schools-are-real/

Posted by: qazqaz | March 24, 2010 9:01 PM | Report abuse

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