2017 national report card on student proficiency shows little progress in D.C.

Today, the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores are being released and it appears that District of Columbia students have made little progress compared to when these results were revealed a couple of years ago.  In addition, the achievement gap between rich and poor is basically unchanged.

Let’s get right to the results for D.C. on this examination known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”  In 2015, the proficiency rate for fourth grade white students in math was 85 percent.  Last year it was 80.  For black students the math proficiency rate was 20 percent in 2015 and in 2017 it was 23 percent.  Hispanic students scored 28 percent proficiency in 2017, and that number was 30 percent in 2015.  For students living in poverty, the math proficiency rate was 18 percent in 2015 and two years later it stands at 22 percent.

In reading, white students as a group were 77 percent proficient in the fourth grade for 2017 compared to 81 percent in 2015.  Black students went from 18 percent proficient in 2015 to 11 percent last year.  Hispanic students went down from 22 percent proficient in 2015 to 18 percent proficient in 2017, and those qualifying for free or reduced lunch went from 14 percent proficient in reading in 2015 to 11 percent in 2017.

For the eighth grade the patterns are basically the same.  In math, white proficiency was at 74 percent proficiency in 2015; it went to 77 percent proficiency in 2017.  For black students the math proficiency was basically the same at 12 percent in 2017 and 13 percent in 2015.  Hispanic student results were 19 percent proficient in 2015 and 18 percent in 2017.  Low-income students were 11 percent proficient in 2015 and 10 percent proficient in 2017.

The reading results for eighth grade included white students being 76 percent proficient in 2015 and 77 percent proficient in 2017.  Black students went from 12 percent proficiency in 2015 to 11 percent in 2017.  Hispanic students went down a point from 19 percent proficient in 2015 to 18 percent proficient a couple of years ago.  Low-income students remained almost the same regarding proficiency, going from 10 percent in 2015 to 11 percent in 2017.

If we take a look at trends over time, students in the nation’s capital continue to make exceedingly slow improvements compared to national averages.  The city is eight points below the average score in fourth grade math and seven points away from the mean in reading.  These are the lowest variances ever recorded, but that’s only one point from the previous report card.  In fourth grade math, the difference from the national average is 16 points, again a record low.  But for fourth grade reading, the D.C. average went up from 2015 going to a variance of 19 points in 2017 from 16 percent in 2015.

The Washington D.C. results on the NAEP roughly follow the pattern seen across the U.S.  Writing for the Washington Post, 

“Averages for fourth- and eighth-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card, were mostly unchanged between 2015 and 2017. The exception was eighth-grade reading scores, which rose slightly.

But scores for the bottom 25 percent of students dropped slightly in all but eighth-grade reading. Scores for the top quartile rose slightly in eighth-grade reading and math.”

The bottom line of all this data is that if you are an affluent student in the District you are doing quite well academically.  If you are not so fortunate to be born into a well-off family, then the odds of being proficient in math and reading is low.

Nothing has really changed.

 

 

Perhaps we should admit that college is not for every child

Yesterday’s New York Times “The Corner Office” column featured an interview by David Gelles with Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the social networking website Reddit.  It includes this question and answer:

What’s your advice for college grads?

Do you really need to go to college? There is a huge student loan debt problem in this country. I think there’s going to need to be a drastic change in how these universities work. And I also think we’ve lambasted the trades for way too long. You can make six figures as a welder.

Mr. Ohanian’s response reminds me of the conversations my wife and I had recently with Allison Fansler, KIPP DC’s president and chief operating officer; and Susan Schaeffler, the charter school’s founder and CEO.  At this year’s KIPProm, Ms. Fansler related that she was extremely proud of the fact that for her students half of those that are accepted to college obtain a degree, while across the country for the population of students that KIPP serves this number is only nine percent.  She added that KIPP is striving to get this number even higher.

But this still leaves 50 percent of students needing a path toward a career and there are going to be some students who don’t obtain a post-secondary education.  During the 2018 FOCUS Gala we discussed with Ms. Schaeffler her school’s efforts to address both of these populations.

These discussions remind me of the tremendous work being done at IDEA Academy PCS regarding its Academy of Construction and Design.  Michele wrote about this program for The Washington Post in 2016:

“ACAD was established not just to provide training and workers for the construction industry but to give options to D.C. kids and teach them skills they can use for life,” said Shelly Karriem, director of ACAD since 2015. “We wanted to help kids who can’t go to college or don’t want to go to college, as well as those who do go.”

I have to say that my thinking is becoming more aligned with Mr. Ohanian’s opinion on the importance of going to college.  Many kids today graduate with humongous financial debt and no real job skills.  While there is no doubt that over an individual’s lifespan there is tremendous financial value in having a college degree, maybe the curriculum at these institutions needs to be revamped to increase the likelihood of employment.  In addition, there is nothing wrong with young people learning a trade and then going back to school.  They could then tailor their college education to more closely track with their chosen profession.

There is another point to made here.  The cost of college is way too high and it continues to grow seemingly unabated.  If enough individuals decided to focus on a career first it would force universities to lower the price of admission.  We are experiencing rapid changes in the American economy.  It is time for our schools to react in a way that better prepares them for success in life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington Math Science and Technology PCS should not be closed

When we last discussed Washington Math Science and Technology PCS, the DC Public Charter School Board had voted in a strange emergency meeting to begin the revocation process against the school.  The action was taken because WMST has found itself in exceedingly dire financial straits, illustrated by the findings of a forensic accounting firm that were pointed out during the March 12, 2018 session:

  • The school is unlikely to have sufficient cash to meet its March 23 payroll, unless it delays paying many bills due now, such as utilities.
  • Even with delaying payables, the school will not have sufficient cash to meet its April 6 payroll.
  • The school is forecast to require $833,991 of additional cash between now and the end of its fiscal year on June 30, 2018 to cover all expenses, including payroll, operating costs, mortgage payments, and required debt
    repayment. This number grows to over $1,164,853 when adding the payroll due the current teaching staff in July and August for their work over the
    2017-18 school year.
  • The school has a $300,000 line of credit which is presently fully drawn down.
  • It currently has no other source of new cash or financing.
  • The school’s largest asset is its building. The school has a Letter of Intent from a buyer, indicating a possible, but not certain sale. However, the net proceeds from the sale, at the current proposed purchase price and after closing costs and repayment of the mortgage, is insufficient to cover the $833,991 projected deficit.

I wrote at the time:

“The PCSB executive director hinted that the charter was going to have difficulty even reaching its current enrollment in the fall, based I believe on My Schools DC data.  Moreover, with the vote yesterday it appears that the school’s fate is sealed.  I don’t see why parents would not start trying to move their kids now.  But if the charter will continue to teach until the end of the year,  it seems that this presents more time for WMST to find additional revenue.  I have been in similar situations with each of the three charters I have volunteered with as a board member.  It is a harrowing and difficult place to be, but there is almost always something that can be done.”

Well this school, on the verge of being vanished out of existence, and as I’ve witnessed on multiple occasions during my more than twenty years of following the D.C. charter movement movement, in a matter of four weeks has pulled out nothing less than a miracle.  As reported by PCSB executive director Scott Pearson at last night’s public hearing regarding the decision to close the charter:

  • WMST has secured $97,000 in short term debt and other contributions that enabled it to meet the March 23rd payroll and pay other expenses.
  • The school’s staff has agreed to defer the April 6th payroll until the charter receives its fourth quarter annual payment which is due next week.
  • It has sold its building for $6.25 million with a July closing.
  • The charter has negotiated with the purchaser, Douglass Development, to occupy the building during the next school year rent-free.
  • WMST has reached an agreement with its mortgage and line-of-credit holders to delay payments of principal dollars until the purchase of the building has been finalized.
  • The charter has hired Building Hope to provide back-office financial services.
  • Building Hope has completed a financial forecast that shows that the school will have sufficient funds to complete the 2018-to-2019 term.

This effort is simply stunning.   Even Mr. Pearson, who is not easily impressed, admitted it was a lot.

But even after this heroic effort by school leaders and its board of directors, the school is not yet out of the woods.  It needs another $500,000 to continue operating, and the charter board must assess the projected budget to make sure that WMST can meet its program commitments, especially in the area of special education.  In addition, there is still concern that the charter may not meet its projected enrollment target of approximately 200 students next year.  It should be noted that the school has received $30,000 from an anonymous donor toward hiring a consulting group to assist the school in reaching this goal.

So here’s what we need.  I see that Building Hope is on board, and it has agreed to provide an additional line-of-credit if needed.  The school is negotiating with Industrial Bank to cover the $500,000.  However, there are a number of fine groups out there that could help this school.  You know who you are.  Please pick up the telephone today and offer your support.

The charter board is scheduled to take a final vote on charter revocation this coming Monday.  Mr. Pearson stated that if the board was convinced that there was a real possibility that WMST could successfully line up all of the needed financing it would move the meeting to Thursday April 12th.  Mr. Stephen Marcus, the attorney representing the charter, has requested a delay of a couple of weeks to allow everything to be worked out, especially since the School Reform Act gives the board 30 days to make a decision.

The final vote by the PCSB should be postponed by 14 days and WMST should be allowed to continue to serve its students.