D.C. four year high school graduation rates clearly show the power of charter sector

With the trifecta of controversies recently experienced by D.C.’s traditional school system, it is easy to miss an obvious point about the condition of public education in the nation’s capital:  we desperately need more seats for children in our city’s strong performing charter schools.  My reasoning behind this conclusion is straightforward and compelling.

Last week it was announced that the new estimate for the DCPS 2018 four-year graduation rate will be around 42 percent.  Kate McGee of WAMU presents the background:

“DCPS says it’s releasing this data for the first time to increase transparency after an investigation found that one-third of last year’s graduates received diplomas even though they didn’t meet all the graduation requirements.

‘We are focused on making sure the students who graduate have earned their diploma and the students and communities feels that way as well,’ said Michelle Lerner [no relation], Deputy Chief of Communications for DCPS.”

The low statistic comes after the Office of the State Superintendent of Education just last November claimed that the four-year adjusted cohort high school graduation rate for DCPS was 73.2 percent.  This figure was only slightly lower than the charter school rate of 73.4 percent.  However, we know now that 34 percent of seniors attending the regular schools should not have been given diplomas.  If we subtract the 34 percent from the originally published OSSE rate we get a true percentage of 39.2, exceedingly close to the recent estimate of the size of the graduating class in 2018.

Moreover, as was documented by the OSSE study looking into this mess, the matriculation scandal did not occur at charters.  If this sector’s four-year graduation rate remains the same this year as in 2017, although we certainly hope it will improve, the astonishing reality is that there will be a 31.4 percent delta between the number of pupils that graduate in four years from a charter high school compared to the number that graduate in four years from a facility that is a part of DCPS.

Charters will therefore graduate one-third more of their students.  In addition, these schools will most certainly greatly exceed the DCPS graduation rates for important at-risk subgroups of students.  When the DC Public Charter School Board released its graduation statistics last year it made the following observation:

“For five consecutive years, public charter high schools have consistently exceeded the four-year citywide averages for: African American (72.6% graduated), economically disadvantaged (74% graduated), and Hispanic (79.2% graduated).”

We now know that the charter board was greatly underestimating the groundbreaking and astonishing achievements of the schools it oversees.  It is therefore not in anyway an exaggeration to state that if you are a parent sending your child to a high school in the nation’s capital the choice of whether to choose a charter or traditional school has become a potentially life-changing event.

The problem is that there are not a sufficient number of quality charter high school seats.  For the 2017-to-2018 school year, the PCSB has estimated that there is a 1,600-student wait-list.

As Miss Bowser selects a new Deputy Mayor for Education and a new DCPS Chancellor, and as the City Council grapples with how to restructure its relationship with the Mayor in order to prevent the recent problems from re-occurring any time soon, it is imperative that charters must expand to serve as many of our kids as possible.  In this case the numbers really do tell the story.


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