Greater Greater Washington

DC drifting towards separate school systems. Are they equal?

DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced yesterday that DCPS plans to close 20 schools. All of the closed schools are east of Rock Creek Park, and 9 are east of the Anacostia River.


Ron Brown Middle School in Ward 7, slated for closure

In these areas, charter schools continue to grow and DCPS neighborhood schools shrink, while families are clamoring to attend neighborhood schools in the wealthiest parts of the District.

The danger of this trend is that the District will drift toward two, completely separate public school systems: a neighborhood-based school system primarily in the city's west, and a charter school system in the east.

These two systems are very different and geographically separate. But are they equal? That's the central question that yesterday's announcement raises. And it's a question not for Henderson, who is responsible just for DCPS, but for the Mayor and Council.

DC is splitting into 2 separate school systems

For the past decade, more and more children who live in boundary for some traditional public schools, particularly west of Rock Creek Park, have wanted to enroll. The result has been a network of high-quality and popular local elementary schoolsJanney, Key, LaFayette, Hyde-Addison, Murch, and so onfeeding into strong middle schools and ultimately into Wilson High School.

The Wilson boundary runs along 16th Street, next to the park that is re-dividing the city into the educational haves on the west and charter lottery applicants on the east. There are a few exceptions, like schools on Capitol Hill, or Ross Elementary in Dupont Circle, but even in these neighborhoods, most families leave DCPS after elementary school because they're not yet comfortable enough with the middle and high schools.

For decades, this boundary mattered far less as schools west of the park had spare capacity for many students east of the park in the out-of-boundary lottery. However, rising in-boundary enrollment west of the park will soon make bus trips across the park a thing of the past.

Wilson High was designed to serve 400 students per grade. Yet there are 750 4th grade students in the schools that feed into Wilson.

In much of the rest of the city, the local elementary school, anchor and civic space of the community, is too becoming a relic. As school closures due to under-enrollment eviscerate the institution of the neighborhood school, car and bus trips criss-crossing the city to charters are increasing in number.

Meanwhile, middle and high schools east of the park struggle to coordinate programming with schools in their feeder patterns as schools open and close and students come and go in droves.

These two public school systems are as separate as they could possibly be. Are they equal?

Is separation a problem?

Should we worry about this? Some, such as perhaps the Washington Post editorial board, might say there's not a problem. If one type of schools works well in some neighborhoods, but is failing in others, why not keep it where it's working and ditch it where it's not? Maybe we need a completely different educational approach for the poorest neighborhoods versus the richest.

However, even education experts still don't agree about whether a system of all charters will actually work better. Charter school critics repeatedly point to studies that show charter schools do not, on the whole, deliver better results than do traditional public schools. Of course, parents across the city know several charter schools that deliver amazing results.

The Public Charter School Board is supposed to address this problem by closing under-performing charter schools. However, they have been more likely to give charters extensions of time to improve. If that works, perhaps that is wise, but there's a real danger it just means more under-performing schools linger for years while doing their students a real disservice.

As out-of-boundary students get pushed out of the most desirable schools, many of them become less diverse. Many wealthier families choosing between public and private school cite diversity, both ethnic, income, and otherwise, as a major advantage of public education. And one of the best ways to help students with disadvantaged backgrounds is to include them in schools with many higher-performing peers.

Having 2 separate school systems could also create political problems. If there is one system that serves rich neighborhoods, and another service the poor neighborhoods, would well-meaning parents in the wealthier and more politically powerful neighborhoods lobby for more funding for traditional public education and inadvertently disadvantage less affluent areas? Or would politicians from the poorer wards of the District end up opposing DCPS's needs? A battle for resources between the haves and have-nots is not what we need, regardless of how it turns out.

From a transportation standpoint, it's not great to have most kids riding buses or being driven long distances to charter schools that might be nowhere near their neighborhoods, if there can be a good alternative nearby.

It's not like residents of the poorest wards want to abolish all of their neighborhood schools. Staffers for Councilmember Marion Barry explained that most of their constituents want neighborhood schools to stay open, to improve and succeed.

What can be done?

Both traditional public schools and charter schools clearly have important roles to play in our public school system. Few deny that. The question is, how do their roles fit together such that we don't end up with separate and unequal school systems?

For one, there needs to be leadership at a high level to reconcile these two systems. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson will come in for the most strident and vocal criticism of the school closures. This is unfortunate, as she only controls DCPS.

It's difficult to fault Henderson for closing schools left under-enrolled by students leaving for charters. What is the alternativekeep many mostly-empty schools around?

The Deputy Mayor for Education and the DC Council are the bodies that should be thinking about the public school system as a whole, not Chancellor Henderson. Yet both bodies claim organizational impotence. The result is that no one is leading our public school system.

Second, these leaders need to think about this problem and explore ways to address it. For the more successful schools, they could consider a "controlled choice" system, which Michael Petrilli mentioned when interviewed for a recent Washington Post article, and which David Alpert discussed in a series of articles this year.

A related idea on the other side, which Councilmember Tommy Wells has been pushing and I previously discussed, is to give children who live near a non-specialized charter school a preference to attend. Charters would set aside some percentage of their spots for in-boundary families.

This would engage charters in the struggles of their community. While many charters will object that they need parents who are committed to their program, these objections miss the point of charter autonomy. Autonomy is supposed to be autonomy from the bureaucracy and red-tape of DC Public Schools, not autonomy from the educational challenges that students in one neighborhood present.

Ideas such as these for aligning and situating our two public school systems for the good of the entire system come up periodically from isolated councilmembers, advocates, and in the press. It's time for someone to rise to the moment, and forestall a return to separate and unequal school systems in the nation's capital.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

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Ahh, "separate but equal" as applied to socioeconomic class; the ultimate civil differentiator.

by Bossi on Nov 16, 2012 10:16 am • linkreport

With all due respect, I don't think playing the race card is at all appropriate here. "Separate but equal" represents something very ugly from our nation's past and isn't at all analogous to the present situation.

by aaa on Nov 16, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

Why? Just because segregation is no legal that doesn't mean government policies can still allow de facto segregation to exist or even become more pronounced.

by drumz on Nov 16, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

This entire article skirts over the primary reason for charters, that as a whole in this city they are outperforming DCPS. This despite the fact that per-pupil funding is higher in DCPS.

Charters are not a weakness, they are a strength -- they enable parents to remain in DC, where otherwise (as in the past) they would have moved to the suburbs, where the schools are undeniably better.

Competition and choice provides advantages. To suggest that the two systems should somehow be merged would thwart was so far has been responsible for the revival of public education in DC.

by goldfish on Nov 16, 2012 11:31 am • linkreport

It's always wise to follow the money. Charter schools make money for the private sector while often draining the best students from public schools and hiring nonunionized teachers. It's not just about school reform.

by Ethan on Nov 16, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

This is a thoughtful piece, but overly simplistic in parts. First of all, charter education is not only utilized in the poorer parts of the city. There are a number of Ward 2 and Ward 3 students who, for example, cross the Park every day to attend Washington Latin, rather than attending Hardy or Deal. Second, even if areas of DC that are seen as more affluent, there are non-affluent families, where kids may be using walk-in closets in tiny apartments as their bedrooms, so that they can go to good schools. (I know this for a fact.) Third, there are "third way" speciality or magnet schools like Walls that are not mentioned but are options. Finally, I would be curious if the author is a DCPS parent, since that would help to understand his perspective.

by Bob on Nov 16, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

The question is Why have the schools EOTR seen such huge declines in enrollment? Are there fewer children? Or has everyone just abandoned the neighborhood school? It's the latter; it's not a matter of DCPS abandoning the neighborhoods, but the opposite.

At the bottom of all this is the cripplingly high amount of concentrated poverty we have in DC, which can be traced to the historic policies of ensuring that middle-class white people can live in the suburbs and have no responsibility to the region's poor.

Poor people move their kids out of the neighborhood schools because those schools are terrible. And they're terrible because they have a very high proportion of children from very poor families attending. You cannot have a functioning neighborhood school where 80%+ percent of the student population is living in griding poverty. The *only* solution that's been shown to work is to break up concentrations of poverty--either by forced bussing, which is politically untenable, or by the current (inadequate) system, which is essentially unilateral bussing.

The only thing that makes the current system "work" at all is that most middle-class kids leave the system by 4th grade, which opens up slots in out-of-boundary schools for these kids. This is why you end up with "neighborhood" middle schools with huge numbers of out-of-boundary populations. It's also why those schools are resistant to any kind of changes that would increase the number of in-boundary students. The administrators at those schools feel a responsibility first-and-foremst to the kids who go to school there. And "reform" would eliminate the only viable education option for a lot of out-of-boundary kids.

The only long-term solution is a reduction in concentrated poverty in DC, and that means a greater share of the region's poor people are going to have to live in MD and VA in the coming years. If DC were serious about improving the educational opportunities for poor kids, we'd provide housing services that specifically concentrated on allowing poor parents to use vouchers to move out of the city to better school districts in the suburbs.

by oboe on Nov 16, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

Charter schools make money for the private sector while often draining the best students from public schools and hiring nonunionized teachers.

The reason the "best" students are not attending schools EOTR is that their parents are more engaged, and have their kids in OOB/charter schools outside of the neighborhood.

by oboe on Nov 16, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

@goldfish
This entire article skirts over the primary reason for charters, that as a whole in this city they are outperforming DCPS. This despite the fact that per-pupil funding is higher in DCPS.

Citation needed if you're going to say charters outperform DCPS as a whole. Most of the studies say charters do no better when you actually control for the kinds of students in each.

That's because the problem with schools now is the poverty trap, not bureaucracy or systematically bad teachers or bad administration. Perhaps in the past there were examples of excessive negligence (teachers who didn't teach at all) but the system in place now that evaluates teachers actually does a good job of getting rid of those terrible people.

All I'll say on the matter is that people in the "have not" areas wanted this, they wanted school choice and they continue to push for it. They wanted to get out from under the bureaucracy and have schools where administrators could do what they wanted without someone examining their every move. And it seems they got that.

by MLD on Nov 16, 2012 11:48 am • linkreport

There's a reason why the schools that are closing are in the east: it's because they are the ones with falling enrollment and because they are the ones with the fewest prospects of getting new students from the return of families into DC. They were also the schools that families were most determined to escape from in favor of charters.

by JustMe on Nov 16, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

Citation needed if you're going to say charters outperform DCPS as a whole.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-public-and-charter-schools-show-gains-in-math-scores/2012/07/26/gJQAwcMSCX_story.html

by goldfish on Nov 16, 2012 12:18 pm • linkreport

Except comparing those numbers is meaningless - charter schools and regular DCPS schools do not serve the same student populations. As everyone else has pointed out, they get to take better students with more motivated parents.

If you look at the changes in proficiency between DCPS and charters, which one would think would show how good these schools are at improving the students they have, it's a wash.

by MLD on Nov 16, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Except comparing those numbers is meaningless - charter schools and regular DCPS schools do not serve the same student populations.

You are correct, DCPS and charters serve different populations. But how are they different?

The most successful DCPS schools, the ones that bring the test score averages up, are in the wealthiest parts of town, ward 3, which has ZERO charter schools. So despite the fact that DCPS has the benefit of the most well-prepared, socioeconomically advantaged students, it has lower overall test scores.

Take an apples-apples comparison: among poor students, the overall performance charters is clearly superior.

Claiming that overall charters do better than DCPS is not controversial. I was at a community meeting a few days back with Tommy Wells, with representatives from both the Charter School Board and the DCPS Board -- this very same statement went unchallenged by all present.

The fact that the charters outperform DCPS is, in the final analysis, born out by the growth of the charters. Thousands of parents have considered their choices and opted for a charter over a DCPS school. Is it because they don't know what is best for their children? I don't think so.

by goldfish on Nov 16, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

Broken link comparing low income students: http://jaypgreene.com/tag/dcps-charter-schools/

by goldfish on Nov 16, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

I'd presume that DCPS overall and Charter schools perform about equally, but that the charter schools perform better than the DCPS schools that the students there would have otherwise had to attend.

by JustMe on Nov 16, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

I think for the engaged parent who lives in a bad (school wise)part of town. Charter schools are a far and away great way to get the best education you can for your child.

The challenge for DCPS and the city at large is to figure out how to improve the non-charter schools and educate a child who comes from a situation where the parent isn't pushing them education wise. It's easy to write a kid off in school because he has a crappy home life that affects his performance but it's still the school's responsibility to educate the child.

tl;dr I think charters are a great solution for parents but now we're back at square one in some respects in how to improve the system as a whole.

by drumz on Nov 16, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

As a former educator in DCPS, a fourth generation Washingtonian,and a product of the DCPS system, I am saddened by the plight of our school system.I taught some of the brightest children in some of the worst areas of the district. Since when did we summize that children can't thrive in low income areas? Strong educators and strong support from our school leaders and communities,is the only way to ensure and maintain success in our public schools. When we stop beating up our teachers by constructing ineffective ways of measuring their performance and begin aiding them with tools to teach to the "whole" child, the healing can begin. Let us get back to the realization that children don't care how much we know, until they know much we care!

by Lois on Nov 16, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

Since when did we [surmise] that children can't thrive in low income areas?

I don't think anyone is claiming that no child can thrive in "low income areas", only that, in general, children in uniformly low income areas will do poorly.

The evidence for this is pretty much every US school system over the last half century.

by oboe on Nov 16, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

"Let us get back to the realization that children don't care how much we know, until they know much we care!"

I am fairly certain that teachers in South Korea, Singapore, or Hungary would not subscribe to that theory.

by charlie on Nov 16, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

@Ethan writes It's always wise to follow the money. Charter schools make money for the private sector while often draining the best students from public schools and hiring nonunionized teachers.

DC law does allow any entity to propose a charter school. However, as a rule, the most successful and sought-after-by-the-middle-class charter schools (Stokes, Two Rivers, Yu Ying, LAMB, Mundo Verdi, Inspired Teaching, and probably a few more that I can't remember right now) are 501(c)3 non-profits. Nobody is siphoning the money off here.

by thm on Nov 16, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

Poverty-related stress is the problem.

http://www.nih.gov/news/health/aug2012/nichd-28.htm
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/28/opinion/nocera-addressing-poverty-in-schools.html

If DC could unilaterally fix the stressors that come from growing up poor, we could fix the schools. Of course, the District government has about as much chance of unilaterally "fixing" this regional problem as Ward 8 has of unilaterally fixing it. It's an issue that needs to be addressed at the regional/national level. And that's unlikely to happen in this suburban-oriented country so long as poverty is an "urban" issue.

by oboe on Nov 16, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

I find it funny that Wilson is always held up on GGW as, basically, the only good high school in the city. Some of the writers need to do their homework; I'd send my kid (if I had one) to Banneker before Wilson based on the students I have met from both and their levels of achievement. And I've heard more good stories than I can count about School Without Walls and Ellington too. I don't meet many people raving about Wilson; it may be a good school too, but if so it's only one of many.

by Joe on Nov 16, 2012 5:38 pm • linkreport

@Joe,

Wilson is usually mentioned because it's the only good *traditional* high school. Banneker, SWW, Ellington are great schools, but you have to test into them. They're not comparable to Wilson, Eastern, Coolidge, Ballou, etc...

by oboe on Nov 16, 2012 5:44 pm • linkreport

The school systems are unequal, in part to the vast differences in class and education. That you cannot change. What we can, and should, do is ensure that kids outside NW get the best possible education that we can give them. I It won't guarantee the same outcome (which have large parental factors), but it will minimize the divide and the tendancy to just give up in poor areas.

by SJE on Nov 16, 2012 10:26 pm • linkreport

On the issue of are charters doing better than DCPS, they are doing a better marketing job. They are doing a better job of attracting motivated parents. The latest data on OSSE would indicate that 1 percentage point more children in charters are advanced than DCPS and about 3 percentage points more children proficient. DCPS has a much higher percentage of children with special needs, and a slightly lower poverty though it is high for both sectors. (check http://nclb.osse.dc.gov/) Considering the Charter Board now publishes data showing charters expel about 4% of their kids each year back to DCPS, it would seem that just like NW schools, Banneker, Walls, Elington and McKinley Tech, the charters are probably getting what success they are by having a better selection of kids and more engaged parents.

When it comes to school choice I think it is clear at this point school choice is largely for parents with internet access, a car and luck, because even if you do all the research to and enter a number of charter lotteries, you still have to win the lottery to get in.

I wonder to what degree the audience here at GGW isn't concerned with the issue that our education policy in this city is undermining efforts to have a walkable city. Without functional neighborhood schools that children can walk to, the idea of walkability is limited to residents without school age children. I know a number of families in this city who were transit and bike oriented in their transportation choice, but now the pressure to get kids to school half way across town, and then to work soon after has gotten them back in cars. We are directly undermining the effort to make the city less car dependent with our education policy.

by Mary Melchior on Nov 17, 2012 1:29 am • linkreport

what degree the audience here at GGW isn't concerned with the issue that our education policy in this city is undermining efforts to have a walkable city. Without functional neighborhood schools that children can walk to, the idea of walkability is limited to residents without school age children.

While it is true that charters do put more kids in cars, it is not as black-and-white as you imply, because many charter students take the bus. I am personally familiar with a number of BASIS and Latin students that do.

And even if more students are driven to school, I say that it is worth it. You can have a schools that residents can walk to, but because they are so bad nobody does and they are empty because parents move out of the city, or you can tolerate the extra traffic for the sake of retaining residents that have children.

The competition from the charters caused DCPS to get serious about its own performance -- they lost 35% of their students before they work up and realized that if they did not get better, they were going to become so small as to be irrelevant. School performance did not improve until the charters arrived.

Given that, I think the charters are part of the reason DC has started to grow, after around 50 years of decline.

by goldfish on Nov 17, 2012 1:45 am • linkreport

Interesting that you think charters attract people to the city. I know that the charters are an important factor in my considering to leave, or at least stop fighting my husband's desire to leave. Unless you live in certain zip codes in DC, DCPS is not a good option, and you don't have the option to attend a good charter you have an option to get a lottery ticket. If you pull the right number you get in, otherwise...

I also think you could not have been paying attention to education issues in DC for very long if you think people haven't been serious about getting DCPS to function until recently. I unfortunately think we have followed one educational fad after another and a number of very bad ones. There is a lot of hype about the current fad we are pursuing but not much actual success. DC NAEP scores had increased slowly but steadily before IMPACT 2003-2009, in 2011 they dropped for the first time since 2003. (They are only administered every other year.) One year could be a blip. DC-CAS scores have been mixed, charting them it looks fairly crazy, but they are a less consistent measure because we change tests and curriculum and standards every couple years as well as test companies. I'm worried the emperor has no clothes.

by Mary Melchior on Nov 17, 2012 2:51 am • linkreport

Here's the real question - what is it about the charters that makes them so much better.

Why couldn't the neighborhood schools just do that?

by Tom A on Nov 17, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

Here's the real question - what is it about the charters that makes them so much better. Why couldn't the neighborhood schools just do that?

Yes, that's a critical question. DCPS school closures are treating the symptom, not the cause.

The reality is, though, that our advocacy to improve DCPS schools, and to explain away the outcomes of charters as the outcomes of self-selected motivated families with means to transport kids around town, is going unheard. The reasons for this are complex - there's no one to advocate to anymore, loss of funding for effective advocacy (e.g. Parents United).

We can either continue to fight and lose yesterday's battles or we can also pivot to fight the new battle that few if any even notice yet - how to address the geographic, and largely socioeconomic, separation of school systems resulting from charter expansion east-of-the-park, DCPS success west-of-the-park and DCPS closures east-of-the-park.

Imagine a future - future as in a couple years from now - in which affluent families and CMs west-of-the-park take DCPS' side in DCPS-charter funding and facilities disputes while families and CMs east-of-the-park take charters' side, because DCPS and charters have become parochial interests.

What are the solutions to preserving high-quality and diversity? To avoiding the "crack down the middle of our city" as CM Bowser thundered at Thursday's hearing? David Alpert lays them out.

(1) Expand capacity (e.g. bring back Western High) west-of-the-park.

(2) Entice west-of-the-park students to east-of-the-park magnet schools, as many other cities do (the best public high school in my hometown of Tulsa, Booker T Washington, is a magnet school in the roughest, poorest part of town).

(3) Allocate spots in west-of-the-park schools for OOB students.

(4) Require neighborhood preference for non-specialized charters, so that the separate systems aren't as unequal by at least saving the institution of the neighborhood school east-of-the-park. This also addresses the substantive concerns advocates have always had about charters, that their outcomes are produces by self-selected motivated families with better means to transport around town.

by Ken Archer on Nov 17, 2012 10:14 am • linkreport

@Mary Melchior: Interesting that you think charters attract people to the city. I know that the charters are an important factor in my considering to leave, or at least stop fighting my husband's desire to leave.

Your corrected your erroneous first statement with your second. What attracts people to DC is employment and is cultural life (such as it is), NOT its school system. Once here, what the charters do is provide enough incentive to stay. So in terms of population, what the charters do is stem the outward migration.

I also think you could not have been paying attention to education issues in DC for very long if you think people haven't been serious about getting DCPS to function until recently.

Oh I have been paying attention! There have been many, many initiatives by the most well intentioned, well-qualified, and well-placed people, but no results. For example, there was a former 3-star general with tremendous promise, who did indeed get things done, but in the end got beat down by the politics and the system after only one year. Around this time I bought my house and looked over the test scores, which drive real estate prices -- it could easily account for a 50% price difference between two otherwise identical houses. I was appalled at what was going on at the higher grades -- not even ONE student in ALL of DC scored at the advanced level in 11th grade math. Appalling! So despite the best intentions, nothing was succeeding. Approaching this a parent preparing my children for life and work, it is ONLY results that matter.

@Mr Archer: in which affluent families and CMs west-of-the-park take DCPS' side in DCPS-charter funding and facilities disputes while families and CMs east-of-the-park take charters' side...

Um, in the olden days before charters, there was also a two-tiered school system: east of the park there were the good schools, and west of the park there were the crummy schools. The difference with today's system is that BETTER schools are available east of the park.

Never argue with success.

by goldfish on Nov 17, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

east of the park there were the good schools, and west of the park there were the crummy schools.

Vice versa! Sorry.

by goldfish on Nov 17, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

If I had a 5 yo today, I would certainly move to DC to take advantage of the Hebrew language charter school instead of paying around 15k a year for Jewish day school. Pay for a lot of house that way.

by NotAffluentJew on Nov 17, 2012 6:23 pm • linkreport

(1) Expand capacity (e.g. bring back Western High) west-of-the-park...
3) Allocate spots in west-of-the-park schools for OOB students.

Is the idea that we can make a dent in the DCPS' systemic problems by setting aside OOB slots in the handful of successful west-of-the-park schools? The logical (and obviously unworkable) extreme to this idea would be if we just had one giant west-of-the-park school where every student in the city could attend. Setting aside the fact that it wouldn't be a neighborhood school, it *would* be a failed school. Schools like Deal and Wilson aren't successful because of some magical property of the geology west of the river--they're successful because their student bodies are almost exclusively wealthy. If you give them the same demographics as most east of the park schools, they'll fail too.

(2) Entice west-of-the-park students to east-of-the-park magnet schools, as many other cities do (the best public high school in my hometown of Tulsa, Booker T Washington, is a magnet school in the roughest, poorest part of town).

What would this accomplish? How would sending high-performing west-of-the-park students east create more opportunities for the under-served and low-performing students who live east?

(4) Require neighborhood preference for non-specialized charters, so that the separate systems aren't as unequal by at least saving the institution of the neighborhood school east-of-the-park. This also addresses the substantive concerns advocates have always had about charters, that their outcomes are produces by self-selected motivated families with better means to transport around town.

But all this will do is ensure we wouldn't have any successful non-specialized charters east-of-the-park. Worse yet, you'd see the rise of elite charters in wealthy east-of-the-park enclaves like Capitol Hill (assuming they could find the facilities).

Let's simplify this: if you remove the politics from it the "ideal" solution for a school system where you have huge disparities in income and student performance is busing. So what would DCPS look like if we had mandatory busing? Overnight, there wouldn't be a single public school in the city that works. That's because the schools in the city that "work" only do so because they've got some sort of mechanism for escaping the demographic realities of the city at large.

For some DCPS schools it's the in-boundary/out-of-boundary system. For some charters, it's the self-selecting process. (Yu Ying's a great charter. But you've got to be a damned motivated poor single mother of 5 to get your kid(s) to Ft Totten every morning, and the "Mandarin immersion" is as likely to be a turn off as it is an attraction).

by oboe on Nov 18, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

(1) Expand capacity (e.g. bring back Western High) west-of-the-park.
(3) Allocate spots in west-of-the-park schools for OOB students.

If the goal is to avoid "a crack down the middle of our city," this doesn't seem top be the best way to go about it. It's not as simple as just "allocating" WoTP spots to OOB kids - DCPS would have to overbuild capacity, and keep adding seats as to keep the overcapacity (unless the thought it to limit attendance of IB kids to create that excess capacity, and I don't think that's eother politically viabel or desirable.) And as Oboe points out, these steps, taken together, would dramatically increase seats WoTP, leading to more DCPS closures EoTP, forcing kids EoTP to travel for their "neighborhood" school, and creating a greater incentive for charters.

Require neighborhood preference for non-specialized charters, so that the separate systems aren't as unequal by at least saving the institution of the neighborhood school east-of-the-park. This also addresses the substantive concerns advocates have always had about charters, that their outcomes are produces by self-selected motivated families with better means to transport around town.

I really don't get the logic here. Why the focus on the neighborhood school as an institution, rather than creating the best possible education for as many kids as possible? I agree that the differences between charters and DCPS make it difficult, if not impossible, to do an apples-to-apples comparison. But so what? The goal here is not seamless data integration, it's to provide good educations to the greatest number of kids possible.

Charters (institutionally) may have advantages DCPS, though those advantages are either intangable (the self-selection advantage) or speculative (the oft-repeated theory that charters rig the admissions system). Conversely, DCPS has advantages over charters, primarily in the areas of funding and facilities. I agree that the differences make it difficult, if not impossible, to do an apples-to-apples comparison. But so what? The goal here is not seamless data integration, it's to provide good educations to the greatest number of kids possible.

The differences are part of the reason charters exist in the first place - for years, DCSP worked, if at all, for a very small number of kids, and charters were permitted as an alternative. Now there are efforts to strip away some of those differences (neighborhood preference, WTU organizing charters)and create some sort of parallel DCPS - but why?

All that said, I agree with Oboe - the "solution" to these issues largely is outside of the real of educational policy. To really address issues of education inequality, the city - and region - have to address the crushing, institutional that exists in large swaths of the city.

by dcd on Nov 19, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

The use of the term "separate but equal" throughout this piece is inappropriate and misleading.

That term applied to state laws that mandated discrimination in private businesses. The situation you're describing is poor children escaping terrible schools that don't teach children the basics, like reading and writing.

If we give DCPS more control over charters we should expect them to fail for the same reasons that the DCPS schools did.

by Michael Hamilton on Nov 19, 2012 10:18 am • linkreport

The basic idea of a two-tiered system is essentially correct, but you've got the dividing line wrong. It's not The Park -- it's schools within the Deal boundaries, and everyone else.

The WOTP schools that feed Hardy -- Mann, Stoddert, Key, Hyde-Addison * -- have more in common with EOTP schools than they do with schools in the Deal district. Hardy is not considered a viable middle school choice, and kids start peeling off for charters and privates by third grade. At Key there are 100 second graders and less than 30 fifth graders.

The in-boundary schools for Hardy have a combined enrollment of about 1800 kids. Simply dividing by the seven years of elementary gives over 250 kids per grade; I suspect at the peak years of 1-2 grade it's around 400 kids combined. Hardy has fewer than 20 in-boundary kids per grade -- 19 out of 20 kids who attend a Hardy-inbound elementary school go somewhere else for middle school.

* Eaton is also a feeder for Hardy but it feeds Deal as well so I left it off the list.

by contrarian on Nov 19, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

@contrarian,

Right. As you point out the reason Hardy is not considered a viable middle school for middle-class parents is that it's got a very high percentage of out-of-boundary kids. Obviously this is because Hardy is better than the neighborhood schools the OOB kids are in-boundary for.

In order to "normalize" DCPS we need to be getting middle-class kids into the system. But you can only get middle-class kids into the system by pushing out-of-boundary kids out of the schools for which the middle-class kids are in-boundary. The only feasible way of jump-starting a school like Hardy (or on the Hill, the equivalent, Eliot-Hine) is by getting a critical mass of high-performing students to enter the school en masse. Of course, this would deny out-of-boundary spots to incoming, out-of-boundary kids who have few other options. And since the school administrators have a responsibility first and foremost to their students (not in-boundary families) they're going to have little desire to encourage that transformation.

So, in short, the only hope of turning DCPS into a normal, healthy, functioning school system is to transform it into a system where middle-class kids are the majority. The only way to do that is to carve out more and more space for high-achieving students who would otherwise move out of the city, go charter, or go private. But the only way to do that is to reduce the educational options of the kids who are the most vulnerable. There's just no solution at this stage, and everybody loses.

The whole thing is an intractable mess. It's the reason I think that the slow, steady process of economic normalization (e.g. gentrification) of the city is the only way out. At some point we'll get to a point where it would at least be possible to do busing and have schools where the poverty rate is below 40-50%. As it is right now, that's not the case.

by oboe on Nov 19, 2012 8:38 pm • linkreport

@oboe: demographics is not destiny. There a lots of middle-class families EotR that have found good schools that work for their children, even within DCPS.

by goldfish on Nov 19, 2012 9:02 pm • linkreport

Is the idea that we can make a dent in the DCPS' systemic problems by setting aside OOB slots in the handful of successful west-of-the-park schools?

No, we will make a dent in DCPS' systemic problems by addressing their root causes, which IMHO are lack of teacher support by principals/other teachers.

However, while we have been losing the battle for better DCPS management of schools, a new problem has emerged as a result - so many kids are choosing charters EOTP, and most DCPS schools WOTP have less and less room for OOB students, that our city is splitting into geographically separate public schools systems.

Whether that divide is acceptable is the question I'm raising, and I think the answer is no.

Do you think moving the Wilson boundary west is acceptable? Because that's what Chancellor Henderson will be forced to propose next June after she reviews boundaries/feeder patterns next semester unless a better option comes along.

I've laid out what I think those options are, and I personally support moving the Wilson boundary north (by reopening Western High).

by Ken Archer on Nov 19, 2012 9:23 pm • linkreport

re: charter in-boundary preference

But all this will do [in-boundary preference for non-specialized charters] is ensure we wouldn't have any successful non-specialized charters east-of-the-park. Worse yet, you'd see the rise of elite charters in wealthy east-of-the-park enclaves like Capitol Hill (assuming they could find the facilities).

If non-specialized charters can't succeed with the students in their neighborhood, why are we chartering them?

What's wrong with charters appearing WOTP, competing with traditional public schools? This doesn't mean WOTP students somehow get more money spent on them. Charters are public schools, not private.

I really don't get the logic here. Why the focus on the neighborhood school as an institution, rather than creating the best possible education for as many kids as possible? I agree that the differences between charters and DCPS make it difficult, if not impossible, to do an apples-to-apples comparison. But so what?

So what? How do we know we are "creating the best possible education for as many kids as possible" if we can't compare schools at all?

by Ken Archer on Nov 19, 2012 9:33 pm • linkreport

@goldfish,

demographics is not destiny. There a lots of middle-class families EotR that have found good schools that work for their children, even within DCPS.

Sure. They've found them outside of their neighborhood school. In an environment with lots of other middle-class kids. The reason they can't attend their neighborhood school is that it's got 80% FARMs students and is completely dysfunctional. So they're at a charter, private, or clustered with other middle-class kids in an OOB DCPS school. In the case of school success or failure on the district level, demographics is absolutely destiny.

by oboe on Nov 19, 2012 10:38 pm • linkreport

@Ken

If non-specialized charters can't succeed with the students in their neighborhood, why are we chartering them?

Because by allowing charters to rig the game somewhat, the number of total functional schools in the city is increased. And they have enough political support from parents of students and non-parents to make shutting them down an act of political suicide.

If I agreed with you that the fundamental
problem with DCPS is that the school administrators are inhibiting teachers from performing in some meaningful way, I'd probably be against charters as well.

But I think the evidence points pretty starkly at the fact that DCPS is a failure because it has to try to undo generations of poverty on a massive scale. That's going to overwhelm any system that's in place, whether we're talking about housing, public health, jobs programs, schools, or anything else for that matter.

People look at the DC AIDS crisis, the homeless crisis, employment services, the school crisis, etc, etc... And of course it looks like incompetence and corruption. But the reason all of these institutions are failing is that they're simply crushed by sheer numbers. It's a function of a long term regional policy of concentrating the regions poorest and most dysfunctional in the center city, then exploiting DC's unique political status to allow the region's middle class to decouple themselves from the region's poor.

The only way we're going to address these issues in any meaningful sense is by forcing suburban jurisdictions (where most of the region's people live) to pick up their fair portion of the region's poverty load. Otherwise we're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

by oboe on Nov 19, 2012 11:03 pm • linkreport

@Oboe & Mr Archer: of note is the announcement that new charters are opening in Ward 8. So while DSPC finds these grounds "infertile", other school operators see an opportunity.

by goldfish on Nov 20, 2012 12:13 am • linkreport

@goldfish,

Sure but you've got to keep in mind that, on average public charter schools perform no better than DCPS schools. This means that for every Haynes or Yu Ying there are many, many ineffective schools. The percentage of failing charter schools is just as high as failing traditional schools.

That private organizations are willing to start up new schools in high poverty neighborhoods doesn't mean that they'll be successful.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 8:13 am • linkreport

So what? How do we know we are "creating the best possible education for as many kids as possible" if we can't compare schools at all?

Just because a perfect apples to apples comparison isn't possible doesn't mean no comparison is possible at all. And creating conforming data sets as an end goal strikes me an odd way to go about educational reform.

DC has one system in decline, and one system on the rise. (According to enrollment numbers - I'm not suggesting that all charters are successful, and all DCPS schools are not. But it is clear that the number of parents who prefer charters is rising, and the number of charters who prefer DCPS is falling.) But there are enought differences in the systems that identical comparisons are difficult. So rather than accept that an apples-to-apples comparison is not possible and that we shodul look for other, perhaps less precise comparisons, your proposed solution to this problem (if it is a problem at all) is to make structural changes in the system that is in the rise to make it more like the system that is in decline. That's a bit of a head scratcher.

Let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees - in the last decade the number of good to very good public schools in DC - charter or DCPS - has increased dramatically. This is good news, any way you slice it.

Many of the advocates for neighborhood preference, by the way, are in it for purely economic reasons. If you happen to live "in-bounds" for a popular charter, and you can market your home as a guarantee that kids who live there will get into the Chinese immersion program, or the year-round program, or the Spanish immersion program - well, of course the neighbors want neighborhood preference. It does nice things for property values.

by dcd on Nov 20, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

@oboe: No -- on average charters are doing better than DCPS (note that I provided this link above). Controlling of income level, the advantage of charters over DCPS is outstandingly distinct where it counts, students from low income families (also linked above).

by goldfish on Nov 20, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

@Mr Archer: So what? How do we know we are "creating the best possible education for as many kids as possible" if we can't compare schools at all?

We can and do compare them. Parents do this every day. Just because the comparison is imperfect does not relieve us of our responsibility to do it, in order to the best for our children.

by goldfish on Nov 20, 2012 9:30 am • linkreport

DC has one system in decline, and one system on the rise...according to enrollment numbers

How do you know that much of the enrollment increase in charters isn't simply the separation of families with (a) greater motivation/agency and (b) the means to transport kids around town from families with neither?

I don't want to hurt charters. Just the opposite, I want to leverage charter innovation to tackle the hardest educational challenges. By insulating charters from the educational challenges of teaching the kids in their neighborhood, we aren't fully leveraging charter innovation.

by Ken Archer on Nov 20, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

Just to pull out the numbers from the Post:

DCPS Proficiency
Math: 46%
Reading: 44%

Carter Proficiency
Math: 55%
Reading: 49%

Obviously there's a meaningful difference here, but small enough to be explained by self-selection bias and advantages in expelling problem students we've been talking about. If we somehow replaced DCPS tomorrow with nothing but charters, we'd expect to see the same struggling system.

In your second link, you'll note that special education students are specifically excluded from the comparison. Charter schools tend to have fewer special ed students, and the majority of special ed students in DC are classified as such because they have poverty-related learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303379204577477003893836734.html

Again, the significantly lower number of special ed students in charters may be due to self-selection bias on the part of parents (who may feel DCPS provides a greater depth of services) or it may be due to charter schools' policies.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 9:37 am • linkreport

By the way, for whatever their flaws, I support charters as the refuge of last resort for parents who are in failing neighborhoods. The only other alternative for middle-class parents who want to stay in town and participate in public education would be test-in magnet schools, and that would be less fair to lower-income kids than the current lottery/sweat-equity system we have today.

(I mean "sweat-equity" in the sense that parents usually have to be willing to travel long distances as the price of admission.)

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 9:43 am • linkreport

@oboe: Obviously there's a meaningful difference here, but small enough to be explained by self-selection bias and advantages in expelling problem students we've been talking about.

Claimed but not shown -- and regardless is a fine example of laying the blame for DCPS's failures on its victims.

by goldfish on Nov 20, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

@goldfish,
[It's] a fine example of laying the blame for DCPS's failures on its victims.

That's just rhetoric. That we have large numbers of poor in the US and do very little to alleviate their suffering is a crime. But the reason we seek to address poverty as a social issue is that being poor sucks, and it has all sorts of negative side-effects, and those side-effects wreak havoc on educational outcomes. This isn't even debatable. But it isn't poor kids' fault they're poor.

Perhaps charters are the magic bullet that's going to save DC's high-poverty student population. I'm skeptical and I don't think a marginal advantage in test scores is evidence of that. Especially when we're still in the early stages of the charter experiment. As I said, I think charters overall are a good thing. They provide a handful of additional options for motivated parents. That they're not a panacea is not a reason to shut them down. Also, that they can't provide high-quality educational opportunities for every child in the city is also not a reason to shut them down.

They marginally increase the options available to parents of all economic classes, and that's a good thing.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

Also, a refutation of the claim that charters are outperforming DCPS in any meaningful sense (linked from Diane Ravich's blog):

http://gfbrandenburg.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/if-youre-keeping-score/

However you want to slice it, there's no way you can argue that charters definitively perform better than traditional public schools in DC. (Especially when you factor in the self-selection effect and the disparity in special ed students served by school).

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

How do you know that much of the enrollment increase in charters isn't simply the separation of families with (a) greater motivation/agency and (b) the means to transport kids around town from families with neither?

I'm not sure how either one of those points changes the conclusion (unless I'm not understanding fully). No one is forced to attend any particular charter. Parents have a choice. And despite the geographic and financial challenges of attending a charter, they choose, in increasing numbers, to attend charters. That means that charters are preferable to the local DCPS option or the available OOB options. It's not like parents with the motivation and means to attend charters would decide to go through the hassle if the local options were better. If anything, your comment reinforces my point - despite the logistical difficulties in attending, attendance at charters is increasing.

Now, if you're suggesting that the logistical difficulties for make it difficult for the most at-risk kids to attend charters, that's a fair point. But I'm not sure how a neighborhood preference addresses that. I don't have a distribution handy, but I believe that many (if not most) charters are in areas close to those at-risk kids. I do know there are no charters in Ward 3.

By insulating charters from the educational challenges of teaching the kids in their neighborhood, we aren't fully leveraging charter innovation.

I don't know how charters are insulated from anything - neighborhood kids have just as good a chance at getting in as kids from other parts of the city. If there are abuses in the system, they should absolutely be addressed. But that's an enforcement issue, not a plicy issue.

I admit my point of reference is narrow - my daughter's highly-regarded elementary charter school is classified as nearly 69% "economically disadvantaged." So I'm naturally a little skeptical when I see claims that charters aren't meeting "educational challenges." Do you have any data that suggests that this percentage is unusual - that other charters have a much higher (or lower) percentage?

by dcd on Nov 20, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Perhaps charters are the magic bullet that's going to save DC's high-poverty student population.

Make the comparison from the other point of view. The richest, most well-prepared students in DC live in Ward 3, where there are no charter schools. These are the kids that score the highest in DC CAS, and are responsible for all high scores in DCPS. Despite this clear advantage for DCPS, its scores are lower that the charters.

I get SOOOO tired about hearing how poverty has ruined schools. Crap -- this is just people deflecting legitimate criticism of DCPS, which btw is spending >$18000 per pupil, more than any other major school system in the country. The difference in performance is not due to lack of resources. Given that poor students do better in charters, the poor performance of DCPS clearly is beyond its student demographics.

by goldfish on Nov 20, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

I get SOOOO tired about hearing how poverty has ruined schools.

That's fine, but you'll need to come up with a compelling reason why educational outcomes track so closely with socioeconomic status across the country. Particularly in urban settings. DCPS doesn't run every school district in the nation. If DC had the same demographic makeup of Loudon County, DCPS would be hailed as a model of school excellence. As would likely be the case for every other DC government service.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

Given that poor students do better in charters, the poor performance of DCPS clearly is beyond its student demographics.

Also, as the links I posted show, the jury is out whether poor students do better in charters on the whole. It's not even clear that the students who are *in* charters do better than they would in non-charters, all things being equal.

What we do know is that the charter movement has provided some opportunities for those in neighborhoods with poor performing schools which otherwise would not exist. But that's very different.

by oboe on Nov 20, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

The built in disparity between charter and public schools is attitude towards education. While charter schools may not take the "best" students from DCPS, they certainly take the most motivated. It takes effort and resources to sign up for lotteries and drive or take public transportation to school. Parents who exert that kind of time, energy and money are more likely to stress the importance of education and produce higher achievers. Despite being from 16th Street Heights and in Alice Deal's boundary, my parents chose Jefferson JHS [in its heyday, under Vera White] because of the directed focus on math and science. My parents were at EVERY Parent Teacher Association meeting and even as a kid I noticed that the majority of parents/students at PTAs were out of boundary. They weren't just from the traditionally higher income 16StHeights/Michigan Park/Hillcrest families, but also from Trinidad, Fairfax Village and Anacostia. It wouldn’t be crazy to guess that a charter school full of similarly motivated and educationally minded families, despite socioeconomic differences, would produce better test scores.

by Aj on Nov 27, 2012 4:31 am • linkreport

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