We can no longer accept the academic achievement gap

Towards the end of this past summer Washington, D.C.’s annual public school PARCC standardized test scores were released and the academic achievement gap between white and poor students was unambiguously visible for all to see.  For example, when it came to English Language Arts for those students scoring in the college readiness range of four and five the variance between white and low-income children was 56 points.  In math the difference in results between these two groups was exactly the same.  White kids hit the 74 percent range while those living in poverty recorded a proficiency rate of 17 percent.  For the charter sector the disparity was smaller coming in at just under 50 percent for reading and math.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  One of the tremendous highlights of the Amplify School Choice Conference I attended last August sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity was a visit to the Denver School of Science and Technology.  DSST is a network of 12 Denver charter middle and high schools with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 children, with plans to grow to 22 schools educating 10,000 pupils.  64 percent of its scholars qualify for free or reduced priced meals. Once there, besides hearing from three impressive alumni students, one of whom is currently attending Yale University, we learned about the school from its founding principal and chief executive officer Bill Kurtz.   In 2016, Mr. Kurtz was inducted in the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s Charter School Hall of Fame.

I was instantly completely taken with Mr. Kurtz’s remarks.  He started his presentation to the 50 bloggers in the room by talking about the values that his charters endeavor to instill in its student body.  These include respect, courage, integrity, responsibility, curiosity, and doing your best.  Next he described the cooperation DSST promotes with the traditional school system.  Now, the DSST CEO was ready to review the most recent PARCC results.

For all Denver Public Schools, the quantity of students that scored college-ready on the PARCC exam was 67 percent.  But for low-income pupils the percentile that had the same result was only at 22.  This equates to a 45 percent disparity, somewhat narrower than that of D.C. charter schools.  However, the findings of DSST students were dramatically different.  At the charter school network 89 percent of pupils posted a four or five.  For low-income children the proficiency rate came in at 77 percent.  This means that the achievement gap was an impressively slim 12 percent.

What happened next was truly amazing.  Mr. Kurtz paused for what wasn’t but seemed like a full 60 seconds and looked around the room.  Then in a solemn voice he stated, “This twelve point difference is totally unacceptable to us.”

The mission of DSST “is to transform urban public education by eliminating educational inequity and preparing all students for success in college and the 21st century.”  Mr. Kurtz revealed that 100 percent of students from its high schools have been accepted to four year colleges or universities since the founding of the charter network nine years ago.  Perhaps when values are the first subject brought up in a lecture and the initial words that appear when visiting the school’s website, you can obtain academic results such as those of the Denver School of Science and Technology.

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