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Posted at 11:38 AM ET, 01/10/2011

Young D.C. families check out the charters

By Bill Turque

Scott and Kim Yarnish live just across the street from Brookland Education Campus @ Bunker Hill, making it the most obvious choice when the time comes for their 2-year-old son, Theo, to begin preschool. But the Ward 5 couple, like most of the young families at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday afternoon, were searching for alternatives to their traditional neighborhood public schools.

Attendance figures were not available, but the third-floor exhibition hall was packed for the second annual D.C. Public Charter School Recruitment Expo, where the city's 52 publicly financed and independently operated schools set up tables to answer questions and offer enrollment forms. The crowd included Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who has promised that his new administration will be more charter-friendly. His appearance alone was a change, according to Nona Richardson, communications director for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, who said that then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty did not visit the inaugural expo last year.

Scott Yarnish said he came "to get the lay of the land" and because he'd received mixed reports about Brookland, a PS-8 school where less than half of the students read at proficiency level or higher on the 2010 DC CAS.

"It's disappointing to me that charter schools are necessary," he said, although he added that the competition they've created is probably a good thing. The Yarnishes said they were looking at Washington Yu Ying, another school in Ward 5, which offers a Chinese-language immersion program.

Ramon Baruca strolled through the expo with his daughter Tatiana, a fourth-grader at Powell Elementary, part of the Lincoln Hill Cluster in Ward 4. Her official "destination" school is MacFarland Middle, where 28 percent of the students read at proficiency level or better. They were looking at the Capital City PCS Lower School campus on 15th St. N.W.

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By Bill Turque  | January 10, 2011; 11:38 AM ET
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I wonder if they mentioned to all the prospective parents that study after study show that charters do NOT outperform traditional public schools.

"'It's disappointing to me that charter schools are necessary,' he said, although he added that the competition they've created is probably a good thing."

Mr. Yarnish, charter schools aren't necessary. If traditional public schools could screen and select their students like charter schools do then we'd see a big difference in our traditional public schools. The problem students always filter back into the public schools later in the fall.

Consider enrolling your child in your neighborhood school and working for change.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | January 10, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Again, OneCity and two school systems. I thinking with one swipe you could have had this school-fair to encompass all of the school systems at once.

I have to agree with previous poster, many of the statistics quoted were about what the DC schools' didn't achieve and not really bragging on what the charter-schools have accomplished.

How does one compete if both schools systems are kept completely apart?

Posted by: PowerandPride | January 10, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I am still amazed at the idea that charter schools are allowed to select any students they choose to attend their schools. This is NOT true. Charter schools have to choose students on a non-discriminatory basis. The application forms are strictly ruled by federal and state law and may not ask basic questions above and beyond name and where the student lives. There are other things on the forms but nothing to identify discipline issues or special education status. Charters have to admit any student who meets residency and immunization requirements. If more students apply than there are slots available, a lottery goes into place. There are many spreading the notion that charter schools "choose" their students. It is simply not true. Even the claim that they kick out problem students at the drop of a hat is not accurate. Charter schools use behavioral intervention supports and offer due process for proposed expulsions. I am not writing this to say that charters are the answer to all problems or are preferable to public school systems. I am simply tired of reading patently untrue statements and seeing that the people who comment on this board either are unaware or too biased to correctly state the truth.

Posted by: lafilleverte | January 10, 2011 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Lafilleverte-You're skirting the issue here. Charter schools, by design are choice schools. The parent must care enough about their child's education enough to make an active choice for their child. This requirement of choice ensures that the many students who don't get support from their parents don't even show up at the charter's door. Those students parents don't choose to choose other than choosing the path of least resistance which is the traditional public school. This is the glaring reality in public vs charter schools. A motivated student population almost always does better. This is a way that charter schools inactively choose their students. They aren't actively choosing their student population, but they are ensuring that they get the students who have support at home. That's real, and that's true. Also, here in Sacramento, we have a charter school run by our horrible mayor Kevin Johnson. He claims to have raised scores compared to the public high school he took over. What people don't realize is his school had 419 students leave in one year for other schools. With an enrollment of less than 1000 students, their attrition rate is disgusting. Why do so many students leave charter schools yet the charters claim they are superior? That's a question everyone needs to be looking at. Students leave, test scores rise. There is a correlation - it's not bias, it's fact.

Posted by: sactown1 | January 10, 2011 4:59 PM | Report abuse


I think whether or not charter schools can choose depends where they are located. Charters aren't all the same.

Posted by: jlp19 | January 10, 2011 5:53 PM | Report abuse

to lafilleverte: Sorry, but you're wrong. I teach in DCPS. Charters do NOT operate under all the same constraints traditional public schools do. I see if every fall after the "official count." Students filter back into traditional public schools, i.e., their neighborhood schools which MUST accept them by law. This is after charter schools have gotten the $ for the students but the neighborhood can NOT now receive $ for the students. The majority of the time it is because of discipline problems.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | January 10, 2011 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Urbandweller is right. Charters are an alternative. Some are better the regular public school, but most are not - they are similar or worse.

Don't go just by what you read in the paper, see in "Waiting for Superman" or hear from charter school recruiters.

If you really want to make the best choice for your kids, go to the osse website and check out the performance ratings for charters and regular public schools. It's all there for you to see:

Posted by: efavorite | January 10, 2011 11:08 PM | Report abuse

It's rare that I disagree with UrbanDweller, but I do here.

I'm a parent who tried to make DCPS work for our family. We were very happy at a Title I school that had a lot of good things going on and my children were thriving.

Rhee-form was pretty tough on a lot of schools and the things and people that made our school special are all gone now.

Efavorite is right, only 17% of charters out perform their public counterparts. That said, Michelle Rhee left my family with little choice and a really bad taste in my mouth.

My family is headed to greener pastures and I'm happy to say this is our last year in DCPS. That said, I can say that for years, I tried to make things better for my children and every child at our school.

What is that they say, you can't fight city hall? Right now, parents can't fight the stupidity of Rhee/Henderson, teacher's being depicted as enemies and standardized test scores as the only measure of a school's success.

I will never, ever let my children attend a Title I school again. High concentrations of poverty are destructive and as long as "reform" is focused on bashing teachers and unions and ignores poverty, I believe DCPS is hopeless.


Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | January 11, 2011 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Soccermom - I don't see where you're disagreeing with Urbandweller. It seems like you're addressing another issue -- your bad personal experience with DCPS and your option to choose a different school setting for your children.

Some parents, depending on their school, might be responding differently - switching from a charter to DCPS.

Posted by: efavorite | January 11, 2011 8:32 AM | Report abuse

If and when the children of the President and those of members of congress attend DC schools then you can believe. Meanwhile the Charter's and the Special Ed schools operate more as a 'free' money deal that the taxpayers have to support.

Posted by: KBlit | January 11, 2011 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Green Girl is right on with her concern. This constant sniping that charter schools select students is groundless, yet keeps being repeated with the hopes--one should imagine--that people begin to accept it as valid. Next we'll hear claims that charters possess weapons of mass destruction.

Likewise, claiming that charters have an advantage because they are "choice" schools is less clear than writers above would assert. It assumes that all families who make a choice where to send their children to school send them to charters, which is not true. It also assumes that families who choose charters do so because of the educational opportunities. From my experience, I know that a good number of families choose an elementary charter because it is closer to the parents' home or workplace than the neighborhood DCPS school.

Finally, about the contention that charters routinely push students with behavioral problems to the curb--I only know enough about one school to comment on this. I know that this school is acutely aware of this stigmatizing claim, and takes serious and exhaustive measures to retain any student who chooses to enroll. Sometimes, this means coming up with plan after plan, in consultation with the families, to incentivize appropriate behavior while trying to tackle the root causes of the disruptive tendencies. This school's highly trained support staff spends hours and hours with these students, interacting and documenting. The files grow until they are thick as phone book (or, as thick as a bound copy of the collected commentary of efavorite). Not all students who have behavior issues can be retained, but how is that different from any school? There will be some students who have grave psychological issues and can present a physical danger to their classmates and teachers, and some of these are referred for private placement (hence the documentation). Each time this happens, and it happens rarely, I know the school staff is heartbroken.

I have one final suggestion for charter school leaders. Change the names of your schools, from, for example, "Urbandweller Public Charter School" to "Urbandweller Chartered Public School." It's more accurate.

Posted by: gardyloo | January 11, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

"Not all students who have behavior issues can be retained, but how is that different from any school?"

Because it happens much more frequently at charter schools, and that is not myth

Posted by: efavorite | January 11, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller- how surprising that you tell me I'm wrong. You work for DCPS; I worked in a charter and now at the state level in DC. I know what I am talking about. Charter schools are NOT allowed to discriminate. This is patently stated by OSSE and the Public Charter School Board. An allegation of discrimination is serious and a charter could be shut down if evidence is found that it discriminated in "choosing" students. Charters receive public money. They therefore, are PUBLIC schools. They have to accept all that apply. If more students apply than the enrollment can take, the students will be chosen in a lottery, with a sibling preference granted. I have routinely found that DCPS employees have certain notions about charters which are unfounded. They feel threatened as charters decrease DCPS enrollment every year. They hear rumors from other employees and take them as fact. This is all easily available information. You can find it on OSSE's website.

The last point about charters lucking out since parents choose to enroll them there is a total red herring. That is the function of a charter school. It is a choice school. It is like having Safeway next door, but you choose instead to drive to Whole Foods for your groceries. Should Safeway whine and complain that you don't choose their options? Is Whole Foods really better because of your choice? Criticize charters on their merits and functions, not on what "they" say charters do.

Posted by: lafilleverte | January 11, 2011 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Again, OneCity and two school systems. I thinking with one swipe you could have had this school-fair to encompass all of the school systems at once.

I have to agree with previous poster, many of the statistics quoted were about what the DC schools' didn't achieve and not really bragging on what the charter-schools have accomplished.

How does one compete if both schools systems are kept completely apart?

Posted by: PowerandPride | January 10, 2011 2:02 PM

Um... Each charter LEA is its own "school system, so there are not 2 seperate ones, there are almost 60, and charters compete with other charters. Whether they are better than DCPS is debateable, but there is no question that the vast majority of DCPS schools stink. Charters don't have the bad rep yet and some of them are FAR better than DCPS

UrbanDweller, DCPS is well known for dumping SPED kids to charters, often level 4s. I think DCPS and the charters both do it. I can tell you work for DCPS though, you are on WAPO all the time! Keep helping the kids!

Posted by: eor11 | January 11, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

to Title1: Wow, I'm flattered that you tend to agree with me. Thanks! I don't see where you disagreed with me in your post. I totally agree that poverty wreaks havoc on our schools. That is the problem in our urban public schools NOT the teachers. Surprise to many who read these comments: We teachers DO NOT use poverty as an excuse. We go in every day and bust our humps to help children learn. Many times it's like swimming upstream. We make very little headway and it's not our fault. There are so many other factors beyond our control which are working against us. But we continue to try and try every day.

I'm sorry to see you go but I understand you have to do what's in the best interest of your child(ren). I wish you and your child(ren) the best of luck.

to lafilleverte: Sorry, you're still wrong. My best friend is an Assistant Principal for KIPP. I know for a fact they DO screen students and they also transition out students who aren't meeting KIPP standards. Of course they don't call it "discrimination"--they're not stupid.

I even tried to work to get one of my students in DCPS into the KIPP school where my friend is an AP. After a series of interviews with both the student and the parent he was NOT accepted. I forgot what the official reason was but my friend told me that he would never have made it at KIPP and they would have transitioned him out eventually because he just didn't have what it takes to make it at a KIPP school.

There's a big difference between what is official and what happens unofficially.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | January 11, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

UrbanDweller- if what you say is happening is really happening, then you need to report it. Discrimination is a violation of a student's civil rights. If the AP at KIPP stated that, then they are knowingly doing something illegal. However, since you haven't reported it, and I have heard no allegations against KIPP or any other charter schools, I tend to not believe it. Again, it is simple. If there are 100 slots open at KIPP (or any other charter school) and 50 kids apply, ALL 50 KIDS GET IN. If someone is turned away, they immediately have cause to file a complaint with OSSE. If 150 kids apply for those 100 spots, a lottery has to be put into place. Here's an easy way to show you that what you claim isn't the way that charters actually operate in DC. Go to any of their websites and pull their enrollment forms. If there is anything on those forms about race, special education status, or previous grades, you have found a discriminatory form. OSSE has created and posted regulations about this very issue and any charter that refuses to follow these regulations would be in a heap of trouble. In addition to the standard application forms, charters are not allowed to force students into interview situations, require recommendations or written essays. A parent need never step foot into a charter to apply for and enroll their child. How does this AP at KIPP discriminate against students? If they only have generic enrollment forms and can't compel the families to come in for interviews, require recommendations or essays, how exactly do they discriminate? You are making a very serious allegation against KIPP. If you truly know that this is happening, bring it to the attention of OSSE so it may be thoroughly investigated. If instead, you are referring to some other issue, then please be clear in what you say. It would be unfair and wrong for KIPP or any other charter to be investigated due to a mistaken comment on the WAPO.

Posted by: lafilleverte | January 12, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I'm thinking about Enron, Madoff, and Wall Street. Investigate the for-profit "charter managers" before offering your child or children to be used in the money-making scheme. Most of the charter scams are promoted by hedge fund managers and financial insiders. Few scammers go to jail and they know the odds.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | January 14, 2011 7:48 PM | Report abuse

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