When does 46 percent student enrollment in D.C. charters equal 43 percent?

The answer is when it comes to the DC Public Charter School Board reporting enrollment statistics.  I know it seems confusing, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, so let’s dive in.

Yesterday, with much fanfare, I revealed that unaudited statistics provided by the Office of the State Superintendent of  Education, showed that charters in the nation’s capital now teach 47 percent of all students attending public school in our city, an increase of one percentage point from the last school term.  This much is true.  But I was alerted that there is another way to look at these numbers.

When you navigate to the DC Public Charter School Board website it states on the homepage that 43 percent of all students are attending charters.  The number is important because it is a reflection of the relative share of the charters versus DCPS.  There has been much angst expressed from traditional school supporters around the notion that, as the proportion of students in charter schools approaches 50 percent, this movement has grown too large and may eventually overtake the number going to neighborhood facilities.  This fear makes the way enrollment is reported on the DC PCSB site interesting.

The 43 percent number makes sense when you consider that it is illustrating pre-Kindergarten to twelfth grade students across both sectors.  It is an apples-to-apples comparison, although I must point out that this is the first time I’ve seen enrollment numbers reported in such a fashion.  The much more common and historical approach is simply to use the total enrollment numbers for DCPS and charters as reported by OSSE.  To get to the 43 percent figure you have to remove the adults attending our public schools.

But here is where it gets more complicated.  Right beside the chart with the 43 percent number is the statement that “41,506 students attend public charter schools.”  This was correct for the 2016-to-2017 school year, but it includes those attending programs for adults.  If you click on the chart you are then taken to a data page that shows that the charter sector last year taught 46 percent of all public school students.

The charter board points out that for the statistics released by OSSE last Friday 10.5 percent of students, equating to 4,549 pupils, are adult learners.  It also reveals that the number attending Tier 1 schools has gone up from last year, growing to 42.4 percent from 42.1 percent.  Yesterday, I calculated that almost 96 percent of those enrolled in charters attend either a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school.





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