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Charters get short shrift in D.C. CAS rollout

Even though the numbers were not completely glowing, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) made sure that his Tuesday news conference on DCPS test scores kicked off at 10:30 a.m., in time for early afternoon readers online as well as the Wednesday morning papers. But test data for the city's 57 publicly financed but independently operated charter schools wasn't available until 3:30 p.m. -- late in the news day. How come?

Charter advocates say that's exactly how Fenty wants it. And under the District's peculiar school governance arrangement, Fenty controls the agency that handles test data, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. "The mayor likes to pretend that the only school reform is what he's doing with Michelle Rhee," said Barnaby Towns, spokesman for Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, the organization that speaks for much of the charter community on policy and political matters.

I asked Chad Colby, spokesman for State Superintendent Kerri Briggs, what was up. He said the Public Charter School Board "had all the data and was allowed to release at 10:30 ... I personally spoke to one charter leader who called around noon and told her they could discuss results with anyone."

In any event, Towns said that the 2010 D.C. CAS results underscore several points about charters. One is that mayoral control isn't the only form of school governance that can produce results. (Public Charter School Board members are appointed by the mayor but must be recommended by the Secretary of Education). Although DCPS scores show more overall growth in the three years under Fenty and Rhee, charters maintain a significant edge at the secondary level, exposing DCPS high schools as "the weakest link in the city's public education system," Towns said.

And while the results show DCPS and charter elementary schools performing about the same, that data includes D.C. schools in affluent Ward 3, where there are no charters.

"While the two sectors look even, charters would be ahead if you compared like with like," Towns said.

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By Bill Turque  |  July 14, 2010; 1:26 PM ET
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"The very thing that makes her rich makes me poor."
---Ry Cooder

I like the way this note was written. Easy on the data, directly on the meta of spin.

Yes, charter school enrollment continues to grow more rapidly than DCPS enrollment does. OSSE, the keeper of statistics, but under Fenty control, is restricted in what and when it can publish basic data and release reports. It limits its insight to the public to what the Feds require under NCLB.

So, who knows where new vs. transfer enrollment is coming and going to and from, and by grade? Did expansion of pre-K provide more opps for charter schools to get and keep kids at the earliest age; or did they enable DCPS to grow more or shrink less than otherwise? Dunno; but [Deputy Mayor] Victor's "data dashboard" is either showing "Error 404 Page not Found", or he's still not sharing. The Chinese have nothing on Fenty's OSSE for internet inquiry suppression.

Reflecting back to the Ry Cooder line at the top: Barnaby Town's analysis is fair enough: Fenty / Rhee have been capitalizing on growing white enrollment in early grades for claims of overall test-score growth; but if HS sophomores in charters perform better on DC CAS than DCPS sophs, it may be for the same reason that Ward 3 kids bring up overall DCPS ES scores: they come with advantages.

Posted by: incredulous | July 14, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Are the charter schools allowed to drop non-performing students or must they keep them?

If they are allowed to drop them, then of course we would expect to see higher test scores from them.

However, if they are not allowed to drop students then the difference between charters and the public schools should be looked at more closely.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 14, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Charters have better test scores because they can be selective about who enrolls. Public schools have to take everyone, at the high school that I work at least 1/3 of the students are special education and we test the majority of those students for DC CAS. I wonder how many special education students are enrolled at the charters that are making AYP? Probably none. I have also noticed that after the enrollment count has been performed by the District, we suddenly get charter school students. A practice that is quite unfair to the student who was expelled from a charter school and to the public schools for we are not funded for those students. I am glad charters are making gains that seem satisfactory at the high school level, but we must consider that it is a parallel school system that has been given rights and privileges that we don't have in the public schools.

Posted by: marylight | July 14, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Bill wrote:

"And while the results show DCPS and charter elementary schools performing about the same, that data includes D.C. schools in affluent Ward 3, where there are no charters."

I suspect that some charters enroll large numbers children of Ward 3 or other affluent, well-educated residents even though the school buildings are not located in Ward 3. Capital City, Two Rivers, EL Haynes come to mind. Are these the higher-scoring charter elementary schools?

Posted by: Nemessis | July 15, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Charters have the ability to be selective with their students. I can also tell you that at my school we see students enter around November/Dec/Jan from the charters schools (after the fiscal year). The charter has kicked these students to the curb due to their behavior. So...the charter keeps the money for the student and the public school is now out the money and having to accept the student with behavior problems or possibly for not meeting academic standards. Knowing this information means that charters are a JOKE. They should be performing far better but there are not. Support public education and DO AWAY WITH CHARTERS.

Posted by: DC-NBCT | July 15, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

There are two charters with significant Ward 3 enrollment, and the Ward 3 students are still a minority of the student body: Capitol City and Washington Latin. The former enrolls no more than two dozen; WL may enroll sixty, the migration stream having been established when WL was founded and located closer to the Ward 3 population. Otherwise, Ward 3 and white enrollment is negligible. As in: I have just accounted for over half of Ward 3 OR white enrollment in public charter schools.

Posted by: incredulous | July 15, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse


Could you be more specific? How are you measuring SES? Race is not significant. It's parental affluence and level of education. Do you have stats on students that don't qualify for free/reduced lunch?

What about Haynes and Two Rivers?

Posted by: Nemessis | July 15, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Incredulous is absolutely correct in his assessment.

As for Haynes, I am certain that no more than one percent of the student body is from ward 3. I cannot imagine a lot of Ward 3 parents driving over to Brentwood to drop their children off at Two Rivers.

By the way, Nemesis, stats on race may not be relevant, but stats on free/reduced price lunches are even less so if you are trying to divine who is from Ward 3.

Posted by: gardyloo | July 16, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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