Charter school network selected to open on D.C. military base posts low standardized test scores

Yesterday, the D.C. public charter school board announced that a group of four military and four non-military families entitled the Ward 8 Parent Operator Selection Team (Post) settled on the LEARN Charter School Network to open a new pre-Kindergarten three through eighth grade charter school on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB). Last year, the Post group conducted a request for proposal for a charter to operate on JBAB in the aftermath of the D.C. Council passing in 2016 the Military Installation Public Charter School Amendment. The act permits a charter to open on seven acres of land next to the base.  The law includes an admission preference for children of parents in the military of up to 50 percent of total enrollment. The work of Post was supported by an advisory board that included Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) and other members of the local community, and it received financial backing from Education Forward. The charter would open during the 2021 to 2022 school year and eventually serve 712 students.

Here is how LEARN describes itself in its application to the DC Public Charter School Board:

“LEARN Charter School Network, an Illinois 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a proven provider of K-8 college preparatory education for traditionally underserved students. Since opening our first school in 2001, LEARN has grown from one school serving 110 students to a thriving network of ten charter schools serving over 4,000 students in the Chicagoland area. Our schools include LEARN 6 and LEARN 10 in North Chicago, Illinois, which serve military families of the Naval Station Great Lakes as well as the surrounding low-income community.”

LEARN is proud of its academic results and states that it outperforms schools in its neighborhoods. But frankly, the scores are nothing to get excited about. On the PARCC assessment for 2015, the latest statistics featured on the CMO’s website, the percentage of students earning a three or four, meaning they are career or college ready in the subject of math, is 17 percent. For reading this number goes up to 25 percent. This compares to the local school percentages of 13 percent and 18 percent for these subjects, respectively. For subgroups of students the numbers are also not impressive. For low-income students, also for 2015 PARCC scores, the LEARN proficiency rate is 22 percent, compared to 20 percent for Chicago Public Schools. In regard to Black students, its proficiency rate is 17 percent with CPS coming in at 15 percent, and for Hispanic students CPS has a proficiency rate of 25 percent compared to LEARN students’ 22 percent.

The application includes PARCC scores from the year 2017. These demonstrate combined math and reading proficiency rates of around 30 percent, which are similar to the state average. They are, however, significantly above those of the neighborhood schools that are in the basement at eight percent. When you look at subgroup results they come in again at about the 30 percent mark. This proportion is also significantly higher than those of the neighborhood schools. However, I would not call these findings closing the achievement gap.

It would be extremely interesting and valuable to input the charter network’s indicators into the Performance Management Framework and see where it tiers.

There are statistics on the school’s website that show some impressive student academic growth for pupils who have been at the school for at least five years. This may be one of those schools whose standardized test scores are low but whose scholars show great progress over time. But since we are talking about a charter serving military families, whose students are less likely to stay at the school for more than a couple of years, I don’t believe this fact is relevant.

The network’s PARCC test results call into question whether one of D.C.’s local charter schools should instead be selected to operate this new charter. After all, many post much stronger results with at-risk kids and they already are familiar with D.C.’s exceptionally unique public education environment and student population, although they may not have experience teaching military families.

A public hearing will be held October 15th on the LEARN application with a vote being taken by the PCSB at its November meeting.

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