The D.C. charter school experiment is over

Yesterday, the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the 2019 PARCC standardized test results and the findings could not be more disappointing. Coming off an anemic year in 2018, charters failed miserably in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the traditional schools. We will be concentrating today on the percentage of students that scored a four or above on the examination, meaning that they are judged to be career or college ready, which is a measure of proficiency. Let’s delve into the details.

For all students in English Language Arts, charters saw an increase compared to 2018 going from 31.5 percent to 34.2 percent, a 2.7 percent change. However, DCPS students gained 4.8 percent, increasing from 35.1 percent to 39.9 percent. For black students, charters had 29.2 percent of pupils in the four plus category, a jump of 2.6 percent from last year’s 26.6 percent. DCPS had a slightly lower proportion of students in this group at 26.8 percent but the improvement over last year was larger at 3.9 percent. Hispanic students in charter schools were proficient at a rate of 33.8 percent, 1.5 percent compared to last year, while DCPS experienced a 7.4 percent increase in this subgroup’s results coming in at 39.4 percent.

For at-risk students, the proficiency rate in charters is 22.2 percent, similar to DCPS at 20.6 percent. However, again DCPS gained at a faster clip improving by 3.6 percent compared to 1.9 percent for charters. For English Language Learners, charters actually decreased its score by 1.5 percent to 14.0 while DCPS rose in this category by 2.0 percent to 22.2.

In Math the patterns are basically the same. Overall, charters improved from 2018 by just 0.3 percent to 28.7 percent proficient. DCPS improved to 32.4 percent, going up 1.9 percent from the previous year. Black students scored better in charters in this subject at 24.4 percent, compared to 18.1 percent for the regular schools, but for Hispanic students the trend was reversed with charters at 24.5 percent and DCPS at 33.0 percent. In charters, at-risk students came in at 18.6 percent proficient, an upward change of only 0.1 percent from last year. DCPS scored at 14.6 percent, improving by 1.2 percent from 12 months ago. Interestingly, for homeless students in math, charters actually experienced a 3.9 percent decrease for those recording a four or higher, going from 22.0 percent in 2018 to 18.1 percent, while DCPS increased 2.8 percent in this category to 12.8 percent. Again, for English Language Learners, DCPS tops charters at 25.9 percent versus 15.3 percent, respectively.

In case anyone wants to know, the academic achievement gap in the nation’s capital remained essentially the same as last year at 63.9 percent.

How can we tell just how devastating these results are as a group for the charter sector? We need to look no farther than the comments by Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, contained in an article that appeared yesterday by Perry Stein regarding the 2019 PARCC assessment:

“Pearson also noted that English-language learners are performing better in the traditional public school system — a trend that has endured in recent years. He says he has encouraged charter leaders to learn from the traditional public system’s strategies in working with English-language learners.”

Excuse me, charters are supposed to learn from DCPS how to teach English Language Learners? Isn’t this one of the areas where charters are supposed to excel? Is this what we have come to, charters turning to the regular schools to figure out how best to educate its students? It is truly a sad day.

There are many reasons that charters are failing to perform when it comes to the PARCC. The facility issue is still proving to be a significant drain on the attention span of school leaders. The financial challenges, especially around teacher salaries, are not helped by the substantial inequity in funding compared to DCPS. The pressure placed on these schools by the PCSB in the way of accountability through the Performance Management Framework, and other regulatory burdens, makes it almost impossible for them to be the centers of innovative learning envisioned when they were created.

Charter schools have been charged with siphoning students away from the traditional school system, which results in loss of funds for our neighborhood schools. With test results such as these, it is logical to ask whether they should continue to exist.

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