Are we seeing the beginning of the end of D.C.’s charter school movement?

In what is described as an exit interview by Alexander Russo of Edupulse DCPS Chancellor has some exceptionally interesting comments about charters in the nation’s capital.  Here are her remarks:

“What we have in D.C. is two systems that are pretty similar to each other. Both have a handful of schools that are doing tremendously and a few that are struggling mightily—and a bunch of schools in the messy middle…We’re paying twice as much for not very different outcomes. I think that it’s not a good use of resources. We have experienced positive financial revenue in the city for the past 10 years, but if we were like a lot of other places, there’s no way that we would pay as much as we’re paying to support two different systems that are providing the same results.

The systems should be complementary. Let’s figure out what the district does well and doesn’t do well, and the same for charters. We’re stepping on each other’s toes.”

In a sense, Ms. Henderson is correct.  If you look at the most recent PARCC standardized test results the findings between the two sectors look remarkably similar.  For example, in English charters score three points higher than the traditional schools at 28.5 percent proficient versus 25.5 percent.  In math the story is basically the same with charters at 26.4 percent of those earning a four or five and with DCPS at 23.9 percent on the same scale.

However, perhaps charters are not providing the entire picture.  Because for economically disadvantaged students, those that charters were created to help, there is a significant difference in results between these schools and the regular ones.  Here, charters are at 23 percent of students at grade level and DCPS is at 14.6 percent, a variance of 8.4 points.  Essentially the same difference is present when it comes to math scores.

Perhaps there is little excitement over these numbers because less than a quarter of kids being where they are supposed to be is nothing to jump up and down about.  Still, many charters, such as DC Prep, KIPP, and several of the language immersion schools, posted impressive results.

Therefore, as I’ve argued many times before, in order to increase support for charters we need to be rapidly expanding those that are doing well and eliminating those at the bottom of the academic scale.  Only by replication of high performing schools will we close the case that these alternative schools desperately need to be around today and for hundreds of years from now.


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