Greater Greater Washington

Education


Don't favor local kids in charter admissions, says task force

Charter schools don't give priority to kids who live nearby, instead choosing all students from a citywide lottery. Some other big cities, like New York, allow or require a neighborhood preference in charter admissions. In a report released Friday, a DC task force set up to consider this idea recommended against DC following the lead of these cities.


Photo by Derek Bridges on Flickr.

The task force did recommend a common lottery across charter and traditional public schools. Currently, parents enter separate lotteries for each charter, as well as the out-of-boundary lottery for DCPS neighborhood schools. As a result, they can't indicate neighborhood preference by ranking schools when applying.

But the 12-member task force, which included 7 members from charter organizations, also concluded that other cities' reasons for neighborhood preference don't apply to DC. While there are valid arguments in favor and against neighborhood preference, the report appears to present and engage only the opposing arguments.

Arguments for neighborhood preference in charter admissions

Charter school critics often question whether the education outcomes of top tier charter schools results from selection bias, the idea that generally more dedicated students and families apply to charter schools. Charter advocates often validate this concern by claiming that the "model" of charter schools, even non-specialized ones, is somehow incompatible with educating neighborhood students.

The task force report, for example, asserts that "charter schools are not well suited to be neighborhood schools." In a post earlier this year criticizing neighborhood preference, Steven Glazerman similarly argued, "Charters need families who are committed to the program, rather than just attending for the short commute."

Traditional schools don't have the luxury of distinguishing between students who are committed to their program and students who are attending for the short commute. Until charters are unable to make these kinds of distinctions, critics argue, their educational outcomes won't be taken as seriously.

Charter schools aren't alone in preferring students from a citywide lottery. According to a high-level education administrator who served in the Fenty administration, many big-city school systems find that principals try to fill their buildings with out-of-boundary students.

Out-of-boundary students who are admitted through a citywide lottery, the administrator explained, are more likely to be committed to their program, and less likely to get into trouble around the building because the building is outside of their neighborhood. The kids and their parents are more likely to be grateful for the opportunity to attend the school and less likely to complain about minor issues.

If charters in DC had to give priority in admissions to students from their neighborhood, they would face many of the same educational challenges that neighborhood schools have faced for years. Charters in New York City, the school district with the most charters (136), have to face these same challenges. Why should DC be different?

Task force report argues against neighborhood preference

The task force report did not mention this central argument in favor of neighborhood preference in charter admissions. Instead, the report focused on the number of "quality seats" (a spot at a high-performing school) and access to existing high-quality charter seats.

The report concluded that "neighborhood preference would not increase the number of quality seats but simply ration them based on the location of a student's home."

Furthermore, the report argues that "wards east of the [Anacostia] River would be most negatively impacted." This is based on the large number of students from Ward 7 & 8 in charter schools outside of their ward compared to low number of charter seats in their ward occupied by students from other wards.

The unstated assumption, of course, is that "quality seats" in charter schools are due to the school and not to selection bias. That's the central issue, and it is not raised anywhere in the report.

During the 2nd task force meeting, members asserted that "this Task Force was commissioned to focus on access to education, not quality of education." The legislation creating the task force, however, asserts no such restriction, asking instead for a report on "the pros and cons of a weighted lottery."

The report didn't hear the pros of a lottery weighted by neighborhood for 2 reasons: 1) the report argues that the models of other cities don't apply to DC, and 2) the task force failed to solicit public comment.

Other cities use neighborhood preference

New York, Chicago, Denver and New Orleans all have varying models of neighborhood preference in charter admissions. Neighborhood preference is optional for Chicago charter schools (12 of 110 prioritize neighborhood kids in admissions) and mandatory for charters in the other 3 cities.

After reviewing the models of these 4 cities, "the task force concluded that the models used in other jurisdictions are not closely applicable to DC." They say that is because of DC's "charter school market share," "distribution of charter schools across seven of eight wards," "the relative small size of the District," and "widespread availability of public transportation."

The report doesn't mention why these differences make the charter admissions policies of other cities inapplicable to DC, concluding simply that "DC's unique public education history and current state" should make us "cautious about implementing neighborhood preference similar to any of the models explained above."

If you didn't know about the public comment period for the task force, you are not alone. Only 4 people provided public comment. 2 of them were charter school leaders. The hearing was scheduled on November 15, at the same time as the DC Council hearing on DCPS school consolidation.

The minutes to the subsequent task force meeting note "the low participation in public testimony" and the suspected "scheduling conflict with the DCPS school closure meeting," but the task force decided against extending the public comment period.

Everyone agrees we need a common lottery

The task force does recommend a common lottery across charter schools and the out-of-boundary lottery for DCPS neighborhood schools.

The benefits of a common lottery are many, but the task force focused in particular on parents' ability to indicate neighborhood preferences by ranking schools accordingly.

Currently, 2 children on opposite ends of town can apply to charters next to their homes and across town, and each win a spot at the charter across town but not at the local school even if they would both prefer to swap places.

In April 2012, Denver and New Orleans both implemented a common lottery across all charter schools. New Orleans parents rank their top 8 schools (families choose 2.5 on average) while Denver parents rank their top 5 schools (2.8 average).

If the Deputy Mayor for Education makes no progress toward a common lottery in time for the Spring 2014 lotteries, the DC Council will likely have to legislate a common lottery.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that, while DC is a leader in charters as a share of the education market, other cities are leading DC in figuring out how to organize charters and non-charters into a single public school system.

A common lottery and neighborhood preference in charter admissions are becoming standard in other cities with charters while in DC there is either lack of leadership to implement these polices or outright opposition from charters.

While the Neighborhood Preference Task Force moves us close to a common lottery, it sets us further behind other school districts when it comes to neighborhood preference in charter admissions.

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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As a parent of a charter school student, I am pleased that they have come to both conclusions, and I hope the city follows the recommendations. My child's school is a specialized school that works best for those families that are committed to the program. But, it is also a very good school, so some attend only because they are close by. Those families tend to be the least happy, as it really isn't a great fit if you don't actualy agree with the philosophy. Now, those choosing only due to neighborhood are a small percentage so they can be assimilated. A forced neighborhood preference would likely make this balance tip, and the school would lose the very reason why it is so beloved, and why so many parents take a very active role in it. I am a little more split on the non-specialized schools, as I think that a common lottery would solve a lot of the neighborhood preference issues for those schools, but I would be concerned that we would lose almost all of the progress that we have made with the specialized schools if they were forced to take a neighborhood preference.

by Danielle on Dec 17, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

My child's school is a specialized school that works best for those families that are committed to the program.

I definitely don't think specialized charter schools should be subject to any neighborhood preference in admissions. The charters that are more specialized than DCPS neighborhood schools is a small minority of the charters.

The problem is when non-specialized charters oppose neighborhood preference on the grounds that they want families "who are committed to the program". DCPS neighborhood schools don't get to make these distinctions. It seems like we should leverage charter innovation to tackle the same educational challenges that DCPS neighborhood schools face, including educating kids who aren't committed to a school's program.

by Ken Archer on Dec 17, 2012 2:05 pm • linkreport

I would say that as long as you need a lottery for your school system, you have an education problem. Good schools should grow, and bad ones should die.

It is thoroughly disheartening to see parents allowing their kids' education to be influenced by a lottery.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

How specialized does a school have to be for it to be considered specialized in your scenario? For instance, what about a school like Inspired Teaching? It is not an immersion school, but it has a very particularized method of instruction that is very different from that at say, KIPP. I would think that these two schools may not be considered specialized, but there is great reason for a family to choose one over the other.

Also, if you start giving neighborhood preference, what does that do for the ability to find space? Finding space is one of the most difficult things that a charter school in this city has to do. Most move several times before they settle. Should the children in the first neighborhood get preference even though it is clear that the school will be moving shortly thereafter?

Also, one of the things that charter school innovation does best is find the kids that are committed (or at least the families that are committed) to a school's program. Thus, the kids and the families have additional incentive and desire to participate more in the school. Why would we want to take that away to make them have "to tackle the same educational challenges that DCPS neighborhood schools face." It isn't a competition between the systems, the goal is to get the best level of education to the most children. I would love that to be through neighborhood schools, but that isn't working for many of the children here.

by Danielle on Dec 17, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

Actually, Ken. Many DCPS schools HAVE cherry picked their students. It's since stopped, so I won't out them here, but I know of one school on the Hill that used to go through their lottery applicants and chose which ones to select first.

That's (more or less) gone away, but several still do it exactly like charters do: suggest to kids/parents that "they may be comfortable somewhere else". DCPS doesn't have high ground to stand here. Maybe slightly elevated ground.

by Tim Krepp on Dec 17, 2012 2:31 pm • linkreport

Also, one of the things that charter school innovation does best is find the kids that are committed (or at least the families that are committed) to a school's program....Why would we want to take that away to make them have "to tackle the same educational challenges that DCPS neighborhood schools face." It isn't a competition between the systems, the goal is to get the best level of education to the most children.

Is that the goal? I thought it was to educate everyone.

What about the families whose parents lack the motivation and commitment that you are talking about? Do we just leave them in DCPS neighborhood schools, which are left to educate the hardest-to-educate kids because their families lack the motivation and commitment to navigate the charter system?

by Ken Archer on Dec 17, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

Actually, Ken. Many DCPS schools HAVE cherry picked their students. It's since stopped, so I won't out them here, but I know of one school on the Hill that used to go through their lottery applicants and chose which ones to select first.

I couldn't agree more, and say as much in the article above. See the section starting, "Charter schools aren't alone in preferring students from a citywide lottery."

by Ken Archer on Dec 17, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper,

The lottery has nothing to do with good schools growing and poor ones dying. The problem is finding enough spaces in schools parents want to send their kids to.

I agree a well run application system that helped put kids in the most appropriate schools could be a plus, but deciding what criteria should be used to put kids in specific schools is a huge can of worms. Should we look at testing, grades, race, neighborhoods, siblings, interviews or parental income? The lottery seems pretty fair to me.

by Turtleshell on Dec 17, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport

Of course the goal is to educate everyone. But, that is not inconsistent with the goal of providing the best education possible to the most number of children. We would hope that "most number" equals all as soon as possible. We are a long way from that right now though, but luckily most is increasing. Our short term goal needs to be to continue to increase both "best" and "most" understanding that what is best for one child may not be best for all.

You are right that some neighborhood schools may be left with only those students whose parents do not have the motivation to seek out better options. Obviously, those children are at a huge disadvantage in every aspect of life, not just in terms of institutional education. In those situations, the neighborhood schools should be tailored to deal with the populations that they are serving. I am not an expert, but maybe that means that DCPS should concentrate on integrating more KIPP-like policies at those schools, providing a longer, more structured day to meet the needs of that population. In the meantime, we should also consider their neighbors who may not have the funds to live in the nicer school districts, but who have motivated parents: They don't have to wait, they can apply to lotteries and not be stuck in the underperforming schools. Thus, they are getting access to the better schools now, without having to compete on uneven terms with children that live in neighborhoods with good charters nearby.

by Danielle on Dec 17, 2012 3:10 pm • linkreport

You are right that some neighborhood schools may be left with only those students whose parents do not have the motivation to seek out better options.

I think the central question is whether this is an acceptable outcome - a two-tier system east of the park with (a) schools of choice and (b) safety net neighborhood schools. In that outcome, neighborhood schools would become like Medicaid for education.

I'm surprised by how man people regard this as an acceptable outcome. If it is acceptable, then our current education policies in DC - expanding citywide schools of choice (charters & magnets) while closing neighborhood schools - are fine.

by Ken Archer on Dec 17, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

How would neighborhood preference really make a difference in this situation? There will still be parents that won't pay attention and won't try to find the right fit, even if it is close by. Maybe one of the things that the neighborhood schools could do is to really make efforts to engage the parents and help them see the alternatives if there are alternatives that would be a better fit for their families.

Providing a single lottery system (or at least a single charter school lottery) will help this problem to the degree that it will be helped. If all non-specialized schools are equal, as you seem to imply above, people will naturally rank nearer schools higher. In fact, the schools only have to be somewhat comparable for most to do so. That is one of the biggest difficulties that I see in the current system and what is preventing charters from being neighborhood schools in some instances, there is no way to tell whether everyone will get their first choice if they all turn down their second (possibly further) choice in the current system, so nobody is willing to risk it and some students end up at a further school when they would have preferred a closer one (and the same may be true in reverse for the same exact schools). This will help equalize the factors. But, still the parents have to be engaged in any scenario enough to make a choice.

by Danielle on Dec 17, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

I just skimmed the report, but the committee seemed to find competing issues:

One one hand, the self-selection issue (motivated and committed parents are more likely to select charters, and every school community wants them), whereby students at many local DCPS schools are those whose parents lack motivation and committment.

On the other hand, the communities most in need of charters (wards 7 amd 8) are the ones who would be most adversely impacted by a neighborhood preference because of the fewer number of charters in Wards 7 & 8.

It appears that the Committee thought that the later issue was the most significant, and that they'd rather live with the self-selection issue than limit the ability of kids in the most underserved communities to attend desperately needed charters. (There likely was a political consideration as well - giving kids in more affluent (relatively speaking) communities preference at charters would create a significant backlash, I'd think.)

Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I have a hard time accepting that it is so egregiously bad that it reflects a "lack of leadership" that "sets us behind other school districts" that have charters.

by dcd on Dec 17, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

On the motivated parents issue, I imagine that even some motivated parents are frustrated by the current system. As an educated parent, I had little sense if my 3 or 4 year old was a better fit for language immersion, expeditionary learning, or montessori. I know my children well, but have only a limited sense of how they perform in different classroom settings. I think there are a small number of parents who choose charter schools because of the educational model and a much larger number of parents who choose schools because they perceive the quality of the school to be better than their neighborhood option.

On top of not knowing the best fit for my child, I found that finding the time to visit school open houses to be difficult, especially combined with the fact that the probability of being accepted into some schools through the lottery is so low.

by se on Dec 17, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

Good post. I believe that neighborhood preferencing is key to recapturing charter schools as neighborhood-civic assets. I also have no problem with allowing certain schools functioning as specialized or magnet type programs with not having neighborhood preferencing.

As pointed out to Jasper, the lottery is used to give out spaces, since there are more applicants than there are places.

Rather than a lottery, I would recommend a system set up like how Medical School residency programs do "matches".

2. The post demonstrates how f*ed the school situation is in DC. We don't have a master education plan. Charters are able to open without concern about "demand" and supply impacts. DCPS is still almost congenitally unable to "compete" in a market system for students. Charter schools are disconnected from neighborhoods. And neighborhoods are losing functioning elementary schools as foundational civic assets necessary to community building and neighborhood stabilization.

Plus, no school board. The Council doesn't really do adequate oversight. The PCSB doesn't have real public oversight either.

It's unbelievable.

by Richard Layman on Dec 17, 2012 5:59 pm • linkreport

Here's a thought experiment: if all schools were absolutely equal in desirability, would it make more sense to assign students by lottery to a school somewhere in the city, or to have students go to the school geographically closest? I think the answer to that is pretty obvious, that for nothing more than the strain on the transportation system neighborhood schools would be preferable. What that tells me is that the problem isn't neighborhood preference, it's the vast gulf in desirability among the various public school options. What we should be talking about is closing that divide.

School choice doesn't increase the number of "quality seats," as the report points out. However, what it does do is provide a mechanism for quantifying the gulf in desirability. The lottery is a particularly good mechanism because it is well-designed: there are no incentives to lie about your true preference, so the preferences that parents enter are a true reflection of their desires, and in the aggregate present a true picture of the desirability of schools in the system. (Which is another reason for combining the DCPS and DCPCS lotteries). Being able to measure a problem is the first step in being able to solve it.

If the DC schools were able to achieve rough parity in desirability, school choice would become much more meaningful, as parents would be able to focus on second-tier criteria like educational philosophy, family connections, and yes, convenience, in choosing a school. Surprisingly, perhaps, I've never seen any discussion at a policy level in DC about trying to make the schools more appealing as measured by the lottery. To come close you have to go back to the bad old days when Arlene Ackerman was superintendent (1997-2000). She launched a conscious policy of stripping resources away from the desirable schools, under a philosophy that if we can't have good schools for everyone we shouldn't have them for anyone.

If there is rough parity among schools, then a neighborhood focus becomes one tool that schools can use to distinguish themselves. It would be completely reasonable for charter schools, as part of the chartering process, to declare themselves as either a neighborhood school or a specialized school, and have that be a factor in the charter board's decision to grant the charter. I can't recommend the DCPS model, but I think there is a place for neighborhood preference for charters. For instance, they could make it a preference, but not a right: living in the neighborhood helps your chances in the lottery but doesn't guarantee a seat.

by contrarian on Dec 17, 2012 8:23 pm • linkreport

If the DC schools were able to achieve rough parity in desirability, school choice would become much more meaningful, as parents would be able to focus on second-tier criteria like educational philosophy, family connections, and yes, convenience, in choosing a school. Surprisingly, perhaps, I've never seen any discussion at a policy level in DC about trying to make the schools more appealing as measured by the lottery.

While this is absolutely true, the problem is that the poverty rate in DC is just too high to achieve some sort of functional equilibrium. If DC schools were to achieve "rough parity" they would all be equally shitty.

Which is why I argue that the only long-term solution is gentrification and the suburbs taking on a greater share of the regional poverty load.

by oboe on Dec 17, 2012 9:15 pm • linkreport

@ Turtleshell:I agree a well run application system that helped put kids in the most appropriate schools could be a plus, but deciding what criteria should be used to put kids in specific schools is a huge can of worms.

How about you just leave it to the parents?

I'm from a place with free school choice. If you want to send your kid to a school on the other side of the country and can get your kid there, so it is. You want a nice neutral school. Done. You want a catholic school? No problem. You want a Montessori school? Find yourself and off your kids go. And all are financed by the government and must participate in the same national exam for graduation.

I had a buddy who biked 18km up and down every single day because his parents (and him) wanted to be in this particular school. Since the national government keeps the quality in all schools more or less the same, almost all kids can go to the school they want. The exceptions are cases of statistical fluctuations and cases in new suburbs where school building is lagging a little.

It is appalling that many kids in DC are stuck in sub par schools while kids across the State line in MoCo County and across the river in Arlington site in some of the best schools in the nation. It is not that we lack the teachers, or the schools. It's that DC can not figure out how to copy the success of Fairfax, Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria and MoCo County. It is a disgrace.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2012 9:43 pm • linkreport

I am a DC Charter parent. I want local preference because I can see one of DC's best charter's from my house but have to drive my daughter to another charter. Yet I actually want more barriers to charter school access. Let on the /really/ commited parents have kids in charters. Lazy parents & slow/issue kids can go to DCPS. Cold, but that's reality. No school system is equal. At least we now have good public (charter) schools east of the park. Do anything that might reduce entry barriers, and student quality drops and we are off to MoCo.

@Jasper: when MoCo and VA have our poverty, then you can compare. Until then, the only disgrace is trying to compare DC to them.

by Wayan on Dec 17, 2012 10:26 pm • linkreport

It is appalling that many kids in DC are stuck in sub par schools while kids across the State line in MoCo County and across the river in Arlington site in some of the best schools in the nation. It is not that we lack the teachers, or the schools. It's that DC can not figure out how to copy the success of Fairfax, Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria and MoCo County. It is a disgrace.

Are you being serious? Do you really not understand why there is such a huge chasm between one school district an another in the US?

DC public schools were once quite successful. Then DC public schools were desegregated. And that was the moment when the white middle-class fled en masse to Fairfax, etc... Since it wasn't possible to maintain Jim Crow through legal means within DC, folks used the state borders (and racist suburban housing policies) to segregate themselves from their obligation to their poor (and black) neighbors.

You seem to have a blind spot where you point to your home country and say "If you want to send your kid to a school on the other side of the country and can get your kid there, so it is." How great would that be if the parents of a kid in Ward 8 could just drive to Fairfax county and enroll their kid? Goodness, I wonder why that doesn't happen in the US?

Here's a thought experiment: Imagine a situation where parents in the Netherlands *don't* have the right to send their kids to any school they want. Imagine what things would be like if schools were strictly segregated by municipality (or even smaller). Imagine if municipalities were segregated by socioeconomic status.

In that situation, you'd have a huge disparity in education, where the rich districts would be doing great, and the poor would be doing terribly. This is basically the situation in most of the US.

An analogous situation would be if we suddenly decided to segregate education in DC strictly by ward. Imagine all revenue raised in Ward 3 would stay in Ward 3. Imagine Ward 8 schools funded solely by revenues raised in Ward 8.

Now fast forward 10 years into such an experiment, and imagine someone bloviating about how the incompetent Ward 8 school system can't pull its head out of its butt long enough to copy the success of Ward 3.

by oboe on Dec 17, 2012 10:28 pm • linkreport

Oh and the "specialized" designation is a joke. If there is any advantage to a charter being specialized, /all/ of them will claim it.

As to location, thinking about it more, smart charters would all want to start in upper nw to get the best/richest/most committed (yes, there is correlation) parents in the core cohort and then move within range of their commutes. They could then take other students, but they would have a good start.

by Wayan on Dec 17, 2012 10:32 pm • linkreport

@Wayan,

Given that a "specialized" designation is an opportunity to filter out potential problem students ("Sorry, your child with oppositional disorder is not a good fit...") your first point is spot on.

And given that, as the story goes, there is a (surprise!) shortage of charters in Ward 7 and Ward 8, it seems you're not the only one to make the connection about location either. Given that charters often complain about the lack of available facilities, you'd think they'd all be located in Ward 8 where space is cheap and plentiful. Very odd.

by oboe on Dec 17, 2012 10:37 pm • linkreport

And given that, as the story goes, there is a (surprise!) shortage of charters in Ward 7 and Ward 8, it seems you're not the only one to make the connection about location either. Given that charters often complain about the lack of available facilities, you'd think they'd all be located in Ward 8 where space is cheap and plentiful. Very odd.

Not odd at all. Since they are currently required to serve the entire city, they locate themselves centrally where the transportation network is. No charters in Ward 3 either.

by contrarian on Dec 17, 2012 11:29 pm • linkreport

Imagine this: what if DC decided that the purpose of public education is actually to educate the students, not build a school system, and really dropped the bomb on school choice: DC would pay for students to go to any school, as long as the per-pupil cost was less than DCPS. What would it look like? Montgomery County out-of-county tuition is only 13K.

Would that be a good thing? Why?

by contrarian on Dec 17, 2012 11:34 pm • linkreport

I am a DC Charter parent. I want local preference because I can see one of DC's best charter's from my house but have to drive my daughter to another charter. Yet I actually want more barriers to charter school access. Let on the /really/ commited parents have kids in charters. Lazy parents & slow/issue kids can go to DCPS. Cold, but that's reality. No school system is equal. At least we now have good public (charter) schools east of the park. Do anything that might reduce entry barriers, and student quality drops and we are off to MoCo.

Sorry, but this is completely backwards. I may not agree with Ken about everything, but there's no denying that self-selection by motivated parents is a significant benefit to charters, and conversely a significant detriment to local DCPS schools. It's a zero-sum game - there is a finite amount of committed parents, and the more who are in charters, the fewer left for DCPS, with predictable results. I don't agree that local preference is the best way to address this issue, but it is a budding problem, perhaps already a significant problem, because it just makes educating those kids not fortunate enough to be born to motivated parents that much harder (and it's no picnic to begin with).

Conversely, I simply don't see why someone who (i) won the lucky real estate lottery when a popular charter located near her, or (ii) can afford to purchase a place "in bounds" for a good charter is more entitled to a spot at that charter that some other kid in Ward 7 or 8.

As Oboe frequently points out, reaching some sort of critical mass of middle-class, motivated kids in a school makes a huge difference. Many of the successful charters are successful BECAUSE they accomplish that (hopefully through the lottery and not less acceptable means). The local preference would make it that much harder, and concentrate poor kids in their local schools, just like DCPS does. Charters don't need to emulate the parts of DCPS that hinder educational improvements.

As an aside, I find this sentiment:

"Let on the /really/ commited parents have kids in charters. Lazy parents & slow/issue kids can go to DCPS."

really distasteful. Writing off a significant block of children in DC because of who their parents are, or because they have a learning disability (!), or just might be "slow" (!!!) cannot be the foundation of any public school system, whether it is DCPS or charters. You should be ashamed you wrote that.

by dcd on Dec 18, 2012 8:47 am • linkreport

@contrarian: Montgomery County out-of-county tuition is only 13K. Would that be a good thing? Why?

I like the twisted and absurd way you think, this is refreshing!

I dare say this would run into the teeth of a bunch of laws. Maryland and DC have different schooling requirements. But I think this is a good idea.

by goldfish on Dec 18, 2012 9:01 am • linkreport

The barriers to DC just sending kids to MoCo schools:
1. $13K per student is more than DCPS' per student costs.
2. Obviously MOST of the "per student" costs are rooted in things that do not change on a per student basis - administrative costs for school, building costs, teachers in classrooms, etc. So moving one student out doesn't save DCPS its "per student cost" amount.
3. So if you really wanted to save money and improve incomes you could shuffle off an entire school's worth of disadvantaged kids to the MCPS system. But the people who live there and their elected officials would probably have a conniption about that, right?

Of course it's a good idea - it's basically forced busing. So it would have all the same political issues that forced busing had.

by MLD on Dec 18, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

Imagine this: what if DC decided that the purpose of public education is actually to educate the students, not build a school system

And really, this is what people think? That the people running the school system don't actually care about educating students?

That's fucking ridiculous.

by MLD on Dec 18, 2012 9:17 am • linkreport

@DCD: I don't believe we can ever achieve or even come close to parity between schools - no school system in the USA does. So we have to be practical.

We have limited resources for education - that zero-sum game reality you point out - so let's do what medicine does with limited resources: triage. Focus our resources on those with the highest propensity to use those resources to excel.

Yes, this means a future where committed parents jump through incredible hoops to get into charters (thereby self-selecting for those that care and will instill that motivation in their children) and we have high-performing charters that rival anything in MoCo or NoVa. Those charters draw in parents to the city that who otherwise leave for the burbs, who can live anywhere as charter access is by lottery vs. location. All neighbourhoods in the city could prosper with these newcomers.

And then we have no-barrier-to-entry schools with everyone else who isn't focused on their children's future.

I would argue that this has already happened - just look at any non-upper NW/CapHill DCPS school. The vast majority of motivated parents who live(d) in the neighbourhood already either went charter or suburbs.

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

@contririan & goldfish & MLD: I am all for sending DC kids to MoCo - we can either send all our low-performing ones and see DC jump and MoCo fall, or send our smart ones and.... wait, the latter already happened.

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 9:24 am • linkreport

@wayan
And then we have no-barrier-to-entry schools with everyone else who isn't focused on their children's future.

That's not really a solution to the problem, since the problem is that those exact kids don't have a chance at a good education.

The only real permanent solution will be more economic integration of schools, which means either decoupling school attendance from jurisdictional barriers or deconcentrating poverty or both.

by MLD on Dec 18, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

Tell me how trying to make things 'fair' won't put the educational choices for parents back ten years when motivated parents were motivated to move away to NoVa or MoCo (not so much PG)?
It is horribly unfair that some kids have crappy parents or parents uninterested in their education. So to make things fair motivated parents should be disincentivized in caring about the schools they are or will send their kids to? It's also unfair that DC residents even have to think about this whereas our friends in NoVa and MoCo can take their public school system for granted.
The current system isn't perfect but it has been the best way of keeping young families in the District, because the older fairer system was chasing them out. But if keeping middle class (also called wealthy within District lines) families in DC isn't your goal, nor is providing some options for motivated low income parents, then by all means, go ahead and screw with the system to fit your idea of 'fair'.

by Mari on Dec 18, 2012 9:45 am • linkreport

@MLD I am a realist. There will always be poverty and low-performing kids - both usually linked. The only solution is dilution - bring in new wealth from outside DC to dilute the poverty we have here.

The only way to do that is to attract youth who stay after reaching child-bearing years. To do that, you need good schools, and you need them now. So yes, there will be a generation that's given up on. There have been many already. But at least this way, we can increase the density of parents who care, and over time (a generation again) lower the proportional poverty rate, even if absolute numbers don't change.

Yeah, that means there is a permanent underclass. Well, there always has been one and will always be one. That isn't a problem - its a reality.

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

@Mari - exactly!

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 9:50 am • linkreport

A criticial mass of motivated parents along with a supportive principal can make a neighborhood school great. This strategy was successful in a couple of Capitol Hill schools and worked to the benefit of the kids with motivated arents and to the kids who aren't so lucky. In addition to high quality instruction, a neighborhood school has benefits that charters don't. Many parents can walk their kids to school, the school has generally adequate facilties and won't move, and a strong community forms around the school presumably more easily than at a charter.

Local preference at charters can potentially reap some of these benefits with the added benefit of having more freedom than the average DCPS school in how to allocate their resources.

by se on Dec 18, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

DLD/wayan -- DC spends a lot of money on schooling. Not as much as you think because 1/3 of the budget goes to special education, which covers less than 10% of the population, but still a lot of money. $1B/year for PCS and DCPS. That's 10% of the city budget.

So there should be no excuse in terms of financial resources available to schools.

Yes there are tremendous issues in terms of poverty. That's why the W3 schools do well and some of the W6 schools, but really it's that white kids do well and the others don't, so much, with some exceptions. (cf. what they do in Montgomery County, which I have written about quite a bit).

But what's f*ing (to quote MLD) amazing to me is that DCPS can't run successful schools and charter schools can. Yes the charters have some advantages in terms of creaming off the most motivated parents and massaging enrollment to avoid dealing with real problems, but...

And DCPS f*s up some of the comparatively successful schools, e.g., the Montessori program at Langdon, while the Latin American _Montessori_ Bilingual school(s) is one of the fastest growing charters around (3 kids on my face block go there)

Note that all the Rhee bulls**t I still can't believe, that when people bring up "poverty" she says that's code for "poor kids can't learn." What bullshit. The reality is that all the charter schools touted nationally for success with poor kids bring in extra resources to bear on the problems. The Harlem Childrens Zone is a key example. But DCPS won't create a HCZ type system in W7 and W8. Why not? That's what needs to be done schools, they need to be reborn in a HCZ type system. NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's basically, although not to that extent, what MoCo is doing with the Title I schools there.

And while it would take a long time, it would begin to arrest other problems in those communities as well (e.g., see my writings on positive deviance and a school system in Brazil).

I think of the two "relatively new" charters I see regularly on my travels--Haynes on KS Ave. and the now CCPCS two blocks from my house--and how they thrive while the DCPS schools that they once were did not, and it just kills me.

Unbelieveable.

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 10:11 am • linkreport

@Richard: that's the key issue. DCPS has failed so many times over so many decades with so many actors to blame that I'm tired of throwing good money after bad. Carve out the good schools & make them charters. Leave the rest to be educational Medicaid.

Then let us get radical & creative with new charters & parents who care. I agree on the HCZ approach - so much happens outside of school that effects what happens inside schools that we have to take a holistic approach. Yet we can't do it with everyone, so there has to be a barrier to entry, a hurtle that separates the committed from the rest.

What may surprise @DCD is that I am willing to invest in those who need help - when they show they will work for it.

PS: I can see Haynes from my house and if my kids got in, I would be a happy DC parent till retirement. As it is, we have 1 kid in Montessori (not, LAMB - but I wish!) and 1 who will join her thanks to sibling preference, but only till 6th grade, when its charter middle/high school or MoCo.

So that's why I would want location preference for charter, but I agree with others that doing so would negatively impact charter success or make them all move to upper northwest.

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

Paul is supposed to be good for middle schools.

2. I think that HCZ for W7 and W8 should be the topmost education and human services priority for DC.

So much so that I will waste a few hours this afternoon reading Tough's book in preparation for a blog entry on the topic.

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 10:43 am • linkreport

@Richard: by the way, Haynes thrives because its so hard to get in. Parents have to research schools, fill out the lottery forms, have to follow up after the lottery, and then have to transport their child x-town every day for years. That's commitment to education. You know when a Haynes kid comes home the parent is asking about the school day.

A parent who just walked their kid down to the nearest DCPS - not so much.

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

Haynes thrives because its so hard to get in. Parents have to research schools, fill out the lottery forms, have to follow up after the lottery, and then have to transport their child x-town every day for years. That's commitment to education. You know when a Haynes kid comes home the parent is asking about the school day.

It's interesting that, when I did the article about Patrick Pope at Hardy Middle School doing cream skimming to rescue motivated families from failing public schools, Hardy parents defended the practice while DCPS administrators denied it was happening at all. Several charter parents on this thread and elsewhere likewise defend charter admissions practices that lead to selection bias while charter leaders deny that it's even happening.

It's also interesting that when DCPS principles, like Patrick Pope at Hardy, take this approach they get transferred to another school, whereas charters defend admissions policies that lead to selection bias with no repercussions.

by Ken Archer on Dec 18, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

@Ken: I'm all for schools selecting motivated families over passive ones. That's why my kids are in charters and I really do hope my charter does the same. That should be celebrated not reprimanded - it improves a school & the education its students receive.

As to DCPS... there are many, many reasons its in a world of hurt. One huge one is pretending it can be equitable with every student.

by wayan on Dec 18, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

@mari is exactly right as is @se. Every school wants (or should want) the motivated and involved parents, and if there's a critical mass of such parents, the school will be successful. But that's a big IF. DC demographics are such that there aren't enough of such families to have a critical mass at every school.

The motivated parents of a 5-year old need a Kindergarten with a critical mass of motivated parents TODAY; no waiting for a better plan. The involvement of motivated parents is synergistic; one or a small handful alone cannot turn a school around. @Mari remarks speak to an undertone that makes many charter supporters bristle: the notion that the motivated parents should be made to put up with a substandard situation--that is, one in which there aren't enough similarly motivated parents with which to form the critical mass--in order to satisfy some idealist's or bureaucrat's notion of fairness, perhaps in the hopes that if this was done universally then all the schools be good. Sorry, no, there aren't enough motivated and involved parents to go around. The current system actually does maximize the number of students who are able to be in schools with a critical mass of motivated and involved parents.

@Richard Layman's suggestion to create a Harlem Childrens' Zone-type system for all of EOTR is of course good, and if it would work as advertised it might even pay for itself in terms of reduced future social services needs. I would also say that the presently limited success of the HCZ is also an illustration of how hard a problem the education of at-risk students is.

by thm on Dec 18, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

And also: creating the critical mass of motivated and involved parents is rather hard, because it has to be a critical mass of kids who are in the same age cohort and in the same school attendance boundary. Take a look at the way the (self-identified) greater Brookland area is carved up into zones for Brookland@Bunker Hill, Noyes, Burroughs, and perhaps Langdon (RI-Ave is both a neighborhood-sense and school boundary). So even if a family knows several other motivated and involved families, the distribution of their kids' ages and the school boundaries could result in a situation where there would be no similarly situated in the same school-cohort.

by thm on Dec 18, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

It's also interesting that when DCPS principles, like Patrick Pope at Hardy, take this approach they get transferred to another school, whereas charters defend admissions policies that lead to selection bias with no repercussions.

What got Pope in trouble was that he went just too far with his attitude toward in-boundary parents. They were the ones who raised a ruckus and got him moved. There was never a peep from anyone about how he handled OOB admissions. He could have saved himself a boatload of trouble and his job if he had just been a little more accommodating.

The irony is that with a new principal who actively courts the in-boundary families there still are very few who go to Hardy. Pope could have been sweet as sugar to the in-boundary families and the outcome would have been the same.

by contrarian on Dec 18, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

@MLD:And really, this is what people think? That the people running the school system don't actually care about educating students?

That's fucking ridiculous.

Having observed DCPS for 20 years, I can say there's a lot of evidence that there have been people running DCPS who have higher priorities than educating students.

by contrarian on Dec 18, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

Do we just leave them in DCPS neighborhood schools, which are left to educate the hardest-to-educate kids because their families lack the motivation and commitment to navigate the charter system?

Are you saying that DCPS can't educate the hardest-to-educate kids? As you said, the goal is to "educate everyone." Some parents are going to be more motivated to get a better education for their children than other parents. DCPS needs to figure out how to grapple with that reality.

by JustMe on Dec 18, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

While most parents are understandably primarily concerned with their own child's education, I think its worthwhile as a parent or a policymaker to consider the impact of "motivated parents" on the outcomes of all students.

If there were no school choice, motivated parents are mixed with unmotivated parents and the gains that motivated parents achieve for their own kids often spillover to all students. Of course, even if DCPS were to decide that all students had to attend a neighborhood school parents can (and often did) choose to leave the district or send their children to private schools. It's not a zero-sum game. And, the schools are segregated by race and class to the extent that neighborhoods are segregated by race and class.

However, the current system seems ideal for no one other than maybe those who are happy with their in bound school or found a specialized charter that they truly felt was the best educational model for their child. The reality seems to be that many charter parents choose charters (and jump through the appropriate hoops for learning about schools, the lottery, and daily commute) because they're primarily concerned with the school's quality. They would potentially be just as happy to attend their neighborhood school if other motivated parents did the same.

by se on Dec 18, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

@ oboe:Goodness, I wonder why that doesn't happen in the US?

Well, because America decided to run its school system through the counties. Segregation did not change that.

Imagine a situation where parents in the Netherlands *don't* have the right to send their kids to any school they want.

The country would rise up, because Holland is one of the most socialistic egalitarian countries in the world. And that's exactly why is does not exist.

In that situation, you'd have a huge disparity in education, where the rich districts would be doing great, and the poor would be doing terribly. This is basically the situation in most of the US.

I understand that. And I am calling it appalling.

@ MLD:And really, this is what people think? That the people running the school system don't actually care about educating students?

They may care, but the results show that the care is not transformed in actual education.

@DCD: I don't believe we can ever achieve or even come close to parity between schools - no school system in the USA does.

Yet school systems outside the US manage too. Why can't the US do what other countries do? The US has more money, and is bigger, so it has more economy of scale.

@ wayan: The only solution is dilution - bring in new wealth from outside DC to dilute the poverty we have here.

You can do that in DC. There are very rich parts in DC. Take NW DC for instance.

by Jasper on Dec 18, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

@ oboe:Goodness, I wonder why that doesn't happen in the US?
Well, because America decided to run its school system through the counties. Segregation did not change that.

We had a racist system before desegregation based on explicit apartheid laws. After segregation, we had a racist system based on economic apartheid (with an assist from racist housing and banking codes). When those fell in the 70s, the black middle-class was finally able to abandon the poor just as the whites did previously. And that's the DCPS of today.

Imagine a situation where parents in the Netherlands *don't* have the right to send their kids to any school they want.
[...]
In that situation, you'd have a huge disparity in education, where the rich districts would be doing great, and the poor would be doing terribly. This is basically the situation in most of the US.
I understand that. And I am calling it appalling.

No, what you've done is (inadvertently?) blamed the victims of this apartheid system. "If only DCPS would do what Reston/Fairfax did, these kids would get a great education?"

What NoVa schools did was provide a place where upper middle-class white people could shelter when the courts overturned racial segregation. Should DCPS "copy" that?

Pointing at the education disparity between the wealthy suburbs and the impoverished inner city and blaming the city is like comparing the public schools in Juarez City, Mexico to those up the road in Las Cruces, NM, and blaming disparities on the incompetence of Mexican local officials. it ignores a few hundred years of history, and a massive institutional prejudice in favor of privilege.

by oboe on Dec 18, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

You can do that in DC. There are very rich parts in DC. Take NW DC for instance.

Interesting. Why do we have to take DC as an isolated ecosystem, as though it were an island in the south pacific? We live in a metropolitan area, and for over a half century it's been public policy to keep the worst poverty in the region isolated and concentrated in a couple of wards in DC.

That's why I still maintain that Section 8 housing vouchers and housing counseling services (so poor people can find decent places in the suburbs just like the middle-class) is the only solution to this mess.

by oboe on Dec 18, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

In other words:

It is appalling that many kids in DC are stuck in sub par schools while kids across the State line in MoCo County and across the river in Arlington site in some of the best schools in the nation.

Absolutely true.

It is not that we lack the teachers, or the schools. It's that DC can not figure out how to copy the success of Fairfax, Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria and MoCo County. It is a disgrace.

Completely misses the point.

by oboe on Dec 18, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

@DCD: I don't believe we can ever achieve or even come close to parity between schools - no school system in the USA does.

I don't know who wrote that, but it wasn't me.

The only solution is dilution - bring in new wealth from outside DC to dilute the poverty we have here.

You can do that in DC. There are very rich parts in DC. Take NW DC for instance.

So your suggestion is to spread the rich kids from NW to other parts of the city to dillute the poverty there? So, busing.

Even if it was politically feasible, which it isn't, the practical fly in the ointment is the speed with which families who all of a sudden were faced with their kids attending a chronically underperforming school in Wards 7 or 8 would decamp to Virginia, Maryland, or private schools. That's why any solution needs to be a regional effort. Since that won't happen, the solution is just what Oboe suggests - diluting the concentrated poverty by dispersing it so the suburbs shoulder their fair share of the burden, and gentrifying low SES sections of DC, is the only solution.

by dcd on Dec 18, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

The poor get worked up when you try to gentrify their neighborhoods and are quite hostile to middle class (inside the District read wealthy). It's a hostility that doesn't really make you want to raise children there. Also moving the poor around, HOPE Ving their homes, also makes them unhappy too. I've heard the section 8 system has helped moved the poor out to the suburbs, PG County that is, thus annoying the Black middle class there. Housing vouchers and other housing policies have not seemed to flood the suburbs with the great school systems with the inner city poor. Maybe because those parents are more interested in affordable housing (or other factors I can think of) over great school performance.

by Mari on Dec 18, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

The poor get worked up when you try to gentrify their neighborhoods and are quite hostile to middle class (inside the District read wealthy). I've heard the section 8 system has helped moved the poor out to the suburbs. Maybe because those parents are more interested in affordable housing (or other factors I can think of) over great school performance.

Is there anything you mentioned that was part of your own personal experience wrt working w/the poor, their hostility towards middle class residents, PG's black middle class and their preferences for housing over education. I'm rather confident that the conclusions you've drawn are so far on the fringes of reasonable thought that you likely stand alone and most certainly will not make any inroads with the overwhelming majority of those posting here.

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

Hogwash: I have personally experienced all 4 and heard of others with similar experiences. Anecdotal yes, yet real too

by Wayan on Dec 18, 2012 6:32 pm • linkreport

I have personally experienced all 4 and heard of others with similar experiences.

Wow! Well there's a first time for everything. I can say that I haven't seen the poor get worked up and become hostile to "middle class." I don't know any parents who are more interested in housing than in education. I personally don't know any of my middle/upper PG friends who are annoyed by the poor...not one. But as I said, it's a first time for everything and your experiences with the poor, and middle class black folk in PG rests well on the outskirts of what most consider reality.

by HogWash on Dec 18, 2012 7:10 pm • linkreport

dcd/oboe -- you might want to look up the results of the "Moving to opportunity" program. It was/is in the Chicago region, and in NC too I think. Results are mixed. For various reasons (specifically related to the "use value of place" arguments from _Urban Fortunes_, the idea is repeated without credit in Fullilove's _Root Shock_) it doesn't work out like you would think. It's especially hard on older children, who feel cut off from the life that they are familiar with.

http://www.urban.org/projects/mto.cfm

FWIW, for a long time I've made arguments similar to oboe, that the concentration of poverty in DC is a kind of quality of life subsidy to the suburbs. My counter argument is that dealing with poverty should be funded regionally, not exclusively the responsibility of the place where the impoverished live specifically.

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 8:33 pm • linkreport

oboe -- I don't understand this at all.

It is not that we lack the teachers, or the schools. It's that DC can not figure out how to copy the success of Fairfax, Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria and MoCo County. It is a disgrace.

Where you respond: Completely misses the point.

---because, I believe this wholeheartedly. Not so much for Fairfax, I just don't know (with one exception) and I don't know anything about Falls CHurch, and to some extent Alexandria actually hasn't been successfully structurally in dealing with Title I poverty issues although they have many examples of individual success (I miss the pieces that writer-teacher Patrick Welsh used to publish in the Post).

Arlington, Manassas Park and MoCo's program with Title I schools are all national best practice examples that yes, DC can't seem to f*ing learning from. Disgrace is a polite word to describe this failure. Instead, we've destroyed much of the school system for very little in return.

Manassas Park - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/13/AR2010081306137.html

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/12/dc-schools-test-score-gap-by-race.html

MoCo -- http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/02/20/24zones.h27.html?qs=montgomery+county+maryland

Wakefield High School, Arlington, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/13/AR2010061304050.html

Mount Vernon High School, Fairfax, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/class-struggle/post/international-baccaureate-drop-hurts-mount-vernon-high/2012/02/17/gIQAX9AJLR_blog.html

Note that were I the DC Mayor, I'd have hired Kathleen Cashin to the be the schools superintendent...

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/04/nyregion/04schools.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

ANd I've written a lot about the Brazilian example in this HBR piece, which is really quite a mentally challenging article: http://www.activate-ed.org/sites/default/files/resources/yourcompanyssecretchangeagentspdf.pdf

by Richard Layman on Dec 18, 2012 8:47 pm • linkreport

@ oboe:Why do we have to take DC as an isolated ecosystem, as though it were an island in the south pacific? We live in a metropolitan area, and for over a half century it's been public policy to keep the worst poverty in the region isolated and concentrated in a couple of wards in DC.

You don't have to. But you also can't pretend that everybody in DC is poor. Plenty of people in DC are plenty rich.

Completely misses the point.

The point is that kids in DC most likely will get a crap education. Kids across the river and state lines do not. There is no reason for DC to be the second worst education place in the US. DC is not the second poorest place, nor the second most segregated.

by Jasper on Dec 18, 2012 9:02 pm • linkreport

The point is that kids in DC most likely will get a crap education. Kids across the river and state lines do not.

You either don't--or choose not to--understand. DC is unique in that it is isolated from the greater region politically. There's no other municipality in the country that has the combination of political isolation, poverty, and segregation.

The bizarre thing is that you seem to intuitively understand that the same scenario would be a great injustice and intolerable if it were in your home country, but that it's only natural to blame the victims of this long-term segregation when it's your adopted country. A lot of cognitive dissonance going on here.

by oboe on Dec 18, 2012 9:42 pm • linkreport

FWIW, for a long time I've made arguments similar to oboe, that the concentration of poverty in DC is a kind of quality of life subsidy to the suburbs. My counter argument is that dealing with poverty should be funded regionally, not exclusively the responsibility of the place where the impoverished live specifically.

How is the argument that poverty mitigation should be funded regionally a counter-argument to the idea that concentration of poverty in DC is a quality of life subsidy to the suburbs?

by oboe on Dec 18, 2012 9:45 pm • linkreport

It's not. I left out a sentence which had I written it would have been a lot like one of yours:

There's no other municipality in the country that has the combination of political isolation, poverty, and segregation.

Although I don't agree with you exactly about political isolation, but do about the relative permanence of those parts of the city that are highly impoverished and segregated.

And instead of using the term "counter argument" I should have said, "the proper response is to..."

The Gazette changes their indexing system every few years so I can't find the article but about 7 years ago they ran the most amazing piece (two full inside pages) about the social and economic impact on Prince George's County of DC's HOPEVI program and the displacement of high numbers of the extremely impoverished in DC to Prince George's County.

(OTOH, they probably never ran a story about the positive economic impact of middle class DC government employees leaving DC and going to live in PG County either.)

Interestingly, if not for "political isolation" but an embrace of "political mediocrity" (cf. _Dream City_) for roughly the same reasons both DC and PG County have similar issues in terms of governmental failure and poverty.

Interestingly/2, is County Executive Rushern Baker's initiative focused on improving those neighborhoods that are highly impoverished.

http://cms.princegeorgescountymd.gov/ExecutiveNews/default.aspx?itemid=650

That's like the Promise Neighborhood program, but it needs to be practically ward-wide in DC. (I will be writing about that today or tomorrow). DC hasn't ever done something like this on the scale that it needs to be. The developments that WC Smith has taken on get towards that, as does the intent of DCHD's New Communities program (like HOPEVI but locally initiated) but still probably not at the scale they need to be.

by Richard Layman on Dec 19, 2012 6:09 am • linkreport

There's no other municipality in the country that has the combination of political isolation, poverty, and segregation.

This description makes the problem seem hopeless.

1. Besides the disadvantages so well pointed out, DC has enormous advantages. Many nationally recognized, top quality institutions; number one in federal support; (over) educated, accomplished, and energetic people; fabulous culture.

2. Given (1), to claim that the "problem" can only be accomplished "regionally" is lay the blame at the suburbs without putting in DC's own sweat equity. Until people in the suburbs see an honest effort that shows some success (which I think is coming to pass), they keep their backs turned on DC's problems. That is why they moved there to begin with.

I still like the idea of setting up a system where DC residents can go to suburban schools (and vice versa). It would solve two problems: (1) children EofR could go to good schools where their parents work, and (2) it would legitimize the "ward 9" students holding slots at some of the good charters.

by goldfish on Dec 19, 2012 8:59 am • linkreport

@ oboe:DC is unique in that it is isolated from the greater region politically. There's no other municipality in the country that has the combination of political isolation, poverty, and segregation.

Look, segregation plays an important role in the history of DC. I am not denying that. However, you can not maintain that DC was designed to hoard poor people in. DC was created as a random diamond on the map, at a location favored by a bunch of guys that happened to live here. At the time, there was nothing here but Georgetown, Alexandria and swamp.

Also, there are plenty of other places in the US that are oddly located and isolated. San Francisco is an oddly small county in a geographically odd place. New York City is factually divided over three states, and many islands. Cincinnati is in the corner of a tri-state area. Philly is on a state border. Even Baltimore City is a relatively small city within its own area. There are many locations in the US that are much, much poorer than DC. Many of those places suffer much more from the past than DC.

DC is unique. But that uniqueness is not an excuse to fail your children.

by Jasper on Dec 19, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

If you want examples of shared education systems, look at Marble Cliff and Grandview Heights, which are both specs on the map and surrounded by Columbus, OH.

by Jasper on Dec 19, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

However, you can not maintain that DC was designed to hoard poor people in.

Obviously not, but its political isolation made it particularly well-suited to the task, particularly in a post-Brown v BOE environment.

Also, there are plenty of other places in the US that are oddly located and isolated.

Politically isolated, politically being the key point here.

by oboe on Dec 19, 2012 1:44 pm • linkreport

I would go even further and say that every big-city school system in the country suffers from the same problems as DC. Sure, DC is unique in its political and geographic situation, but so are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland and Sacramento. It's a cop-out and provincial to say that DC has unique problems.

by contrarian on Dec 19, 2012 3:37 pm • linkreport

@contraian: amen. We should meet f2f.

by goldfish on Dec 19, 2012 5:31 pm • linkreport

see the work of the urban education NSF study from the mid-1990s. Many papers and dissertations came out of it, including the book _Black Social Capital_ by Marion Orr, on Baltimore. It's fully generalizable.

There are a bunch of issues. Obviously.

by Richard Layman on Dec 19, 2012 7:53 pm • linkreport

If anyone was making the point that all DCPS had to do was emulate Baltimore (or Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, etc...) and every school-aged child in DC would be on their way to academic success, you guys might have an argument.

But at least those districts exist within a state regime. And their parent/students have both state and Congressional representation.

Sorry, but given that every big city public school system is a failure to a greater or lesser extent, I still think the argument that "all DCPS has to do is emulate Loudon County" is pretty tone deaf.

by oboe on Dec 19, 2012 9:18 pm • linkreport

@oboe: you are correct, the school situation in DC is unique, with terrible historical injustices, corrupted political support, and no federal or state representation. The problems are so grave I do not see any way to get a quality education for our children. We should move to the suburbs.

by goldfish on Dec 20, 2012 7:49 am • linkreport

@Goldfish - you say that glibly as sarcasm, but the reality is that many, many parents do exactly that every day.

Here we are, fighting every day to have the best DC can offer for our children when those in MD and NoVA cruise along with systems whose worst schools still beat our best ones.

So every time I hear someone say that we should make all DC schools equal or that high-barrier-to-entry charters are anything but a godsend to urban parents, I too take another small step towards following those parents to the burbs. And remember, I made a conscious choice to move to and stay in the city, so its not like I would make a burb move decision easily.

by wayan on Dec 20, 2012 8:27 am • linkreport

@wayan, First of all please see my previous post in this thread.

Second, I like that you understand your choices -- this is the true meaning of freedom. Given that, I respect your decisions to do the best for your children, whatever they may be.

Third, in the vein of improving choices for parents, I fully agree with your point. I think that charters are one of the main reasons for the DC's renaissance of late, enabling parents to stay that otherwise would have been driven to the suburbs. Due to the competition, they have also prodded the improvements in DCPS. This is no small improvement in city life.

Fourth, (if I may be allowed to be sincere after my sarcasm) characterizing the schools in DC as unique and therefore beyond all repair from its own residents' efforts, due to historical or political issues or whatever, is very much a part of the problem. I reject that. DC must look to itself to fix its schools. Apparently you are part of this effort, thanks.

by goldfish on Dec 20, 2012 9:28 am • linkreport

@oboe: you are correct, the school situation in DC is unique, with terrible historical injustices, corrupted political support, and no federal or state representation. The problems are so grave I do not see any way to get a quality education for our children. We should move to the suburbs.

That's one solution. Or course, it's the solution that's been shown to have the worst outcome for poor kids. The other solution is to continue to pursue policies which balance (and deconcentrate) the poverty between the city and its sububurbs.

by oboe on Dec 20, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

@oboe, every time you write "pursue policies which balance (and deconcentrate) the poverty between the city and its sububurbs" or some such with regard to education, you imply poor kids can't learn.

by goldfish on Dec 20, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

@oboe, every time you write "pursue policies which balance (and deconcentrate) the poverty between the city and its sububurbs" or some such with regard to education, you imply poor kids can't learn.

Nonsense. Of course poor kids can learn. Poor kids learn in DCPS every day. It's just that the vast majority of poor kids have much worse outcomes than they would otherwise have. School districts with a super-majority of poor kids have terrible educational outcomes for the whole of the school population. And I'm not implying that, I'm stating it explicitly.

Inevitably, when we talk about this stuff you get a link du jour to some program where a pilot project has shown some limited success. as an indicator that the problem is quite easy to overcome. After all, there was a school district in Missouri where a pilot school showed a 20% increase in student reading scores! Just do what they did!

When I read this stuff, it always reminds me of well-meaning conservatives who scoff at the notion that poverty should have any meaning in the US. If *I* was poor, the first thing I'd do is buy a 50 lb sack of rice, a 50 lb sack of beans, then 5 gallons of cooking oil, yadda yadda, problem solved.

by oboe on Dec 20, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

@oboe: School districts with a super-majority of poor kids have terrible educational outcomes for the whole of the school population.

And why is that, because they are poor? Or is it because the parents and the school district fails them? If you think that there is nothing inherently uneducatable about the poor -- basically that all children are created equal -- then you are left with the latter. But then if you think that the children were failed by the system and their parents, what is it particular that failed them?

I submit you are confusing cause with effect. Cities with bad school systems drive away the motivated parents, who also happen to be the ambitious, well educated and well-paid. My home town in the midwest is just like that. It is a medium-size that just can't get a break. Why? Because despite the basically good force, no company would locate there because the school system has been disfunctional for 30 years. You name it -- lawsuits followed by court takeovers, race riots in the high schools, entrenched school bureaucracy cohabitating with entitled teacher's union. DC is not unique at all in this respect, and as you point out there many other examples of how a bad school system can undermine a city.

OTOH if there is a school system that takes poor kids with few advantages and elevates them to ivy league colleges, such a town or city will quickly gentrify. Thus if you close your eyes to what is really happening and just plot "test scores" (or some other measure of school success) vs. income you find the strong correlation that we are all familiar with.

Need an example? look no further than DC. Neighborhoods with improving schools rapidly gentrify, such as capitol hill. Gentrification follows school improvement, not the other way around. In fact, as the test scores for both DCPS and the charters have markedly improved over the past 6 years or so, real estate values have remained strong while in the rest of the country they have tanked.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 1:56 am • linkreport

"Neighborhoods with improving schools rapidly gentrify, such as capitol hill. Gentrification follows school improvement, not the other way around."

Sorry, while I understand why some would love to believe this it's 100% wrong. (Speaking of confusing cause and effect!) Wrong enough that I had to go back and read your comments a few times to make sure your intended point wasn't the opposite of what you'd written.

Anyone who lives in Columbia Heights, Brookland, or Capitol Hill for that matter is probably shaking their head in disbelief right now (if anyone's still reading).

Getting back to your first point: that poor kids can't learn not because they're poor, but because their parents *and* their schools have "failed" them. What a coincidence that this happens at staggering rate to poor kids, but has nothing to do with poverty, whereas wealthy kids are never systematically failed their parents and schools, which also has nothing to do with wealth. What luck!

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 7:32 am • linkreport

Pretty interesting coverage of these issues (with a focus on DC) in "The Diverse School Dilemma" by Michael Petrilli

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 8:16 am • linkreport

The amazing thing is, this is all stuff we used to know--going back to before the Coleman Report in 1966--when we were fighting the desegregation battles of the 60s. It's almost as though our collective memory was erased during the Reagan era and the years to follow.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 8:29 am • linkreport

Anyone who lives in Columbia Heights, Brookland, or Capitol Hill for that matter is probably shaking their head in disbelief right now (if anyone's still reading).

I'm still reading, and my neck hurts from shaking my head so much. In Columbia Heights, "gentrification follows improved schools" most certainly isn't the case. I could drop a golf ball on Harriet Tubman with a sand wedge from my front porch, and there was no chance of my kindergartener attending there. Gentrification here is a result of the metro stop, the northward creep of the Logan Circle/U street gentrification, the eastward creep of the Adams Morgan gentrification, rising gas prices, increased distaste for sitting in traffic, and (on the tail end of these other things) the commercial presence (DCUSA, the no longer new Giant, etc.) If anything, the lack of a good local DCPS option limits further improvement, because people who aren't lucky in the lottery (or who are risk averse and don't want to deal with it in the first place) don't regard Columbia Heights as a long-term housing option.

While that's only one example, I expect it mirrors the experience of other neighborhoods. Much more common than, "DCPS magically improved the outcomes of the local elementary school so the while neighborhood gentrified). In fact, though I'm not as up on the history, I don't even believe that's true for Capitol Hill, where gentrification has been going on for decades, and it's only recently that the schools have improved dramatically.

by dcd on Dec 21, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

@dcd: gentrification proceeds from a core of colonizers that see other advantages of a run-down neighborhood -- usually convenient central location and/or interesting, historic housing stock. They put the effort into improving the schools, and if that succeeds, the area takes off.

Capitol hill has had many ups and downs. When I bought in 15 years ago, we were the pioneers as the couple we bought from left for the burbs. He said they were moving because "DC schools are crap." We did not have children at the time and needed a starter home. We could tolerate the shortcomings, but we expected to move to the burbs when our children were in middle school. Then we got involved with organizing one of those newfangled charter schools that happen to take off dramatically, and voila! the housing prices jumped by a factor of two in a couple of years.

If on the other hand the pioneers do NOT succeed in improving the schools or for some other reason the schools decline, the gentrification will not take. This is what happened in previous capitol hill real estate cycles. Due to the proximity to the Capitol, the neighborhood has always been attractive to colonizers. However in the late 80s, the real estate prices crashed and the neighborhood declined.

If the schools improve in Columbia heights, the real estate will boom there. Ask yourself, do you see many families with well-educated parents with toddlers? If you do, don't sell your property.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

If the schools improve in Columbia heights, the real estate will boom there. Ask yourself, do you see many families with well-educated parents with toddlers? If you do, don't sell your property.

The boom is happening, or already happened - in Columbia Heights, Brookland, Bloomingdale, and lots of other places. (Seriously, are you suggesting that CH is in for ANOTHER real estate boom? Because while I hope you're right, I'd be astonished.) There are TONS of educated families with young children. The schools still suck, and none (or virtually none) of those young kids are in the DCPS in-bound option.

It appears you contradicted yourself. Compare:

Gentrification follows school improvement, not the other way around.

with

gentrification proceeds from a core of colonizers that see other advantages of a run-down neighborhood -- usually convenient central location and/or interesting, historic housing stock. They put the effort into improving the schools, and if that succeeds, the area takes off.

by dcd on Dec 21, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

@dcd: no contradiction. If the colonizers do not succeed in improving the school, the gentrification will not occur. In that case what happens is another interesting neighborhood that people wonder, why don't people see that advantages and move here? (Then when potential buyers see a hopeless school system, such as my home town in the midwest, they go elsewhere.)

Improving schools --> gentrification.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

We did not have children at the time and needed a starter home. We could tolerate the shortcomings, but we expected to move to the burbs when our children were in middle school. Then we got involved with organizing one of those newfangled charter schools that happen to take off dramatically, and voila! the housing prices jumped by a factor of two in a couple of years.

This is like a textbook definition of post hoc ergo propter hoc. You might want to check out Zillow. Apparently your efforts at organizing a charter middle school in DC increased not only Capitol Hill housing prices by a factor of two, but also Petworth, Columbia Heights, Langdon, Anacostia, the greater DC region, and in fact, the national housing market. Heck, internationally we saw the housing markets in the developed nations show similar increases over the 00s.

DC's public schools have improved because a) young people having families don't have a cheap option of moving to Chevy Chase or McLean; and b) regional growth has increased the total cost of commuting for those who have jobs downtown; and c) in some cases the collapse of the housing bubble has left recent homebuyers underwater.

These three factors combine to force parents into taking extra steps in either improving their local school, or finding a charter alternative before taking the increasingly egregious step of moving to the far-flung suburbs.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

If the schools improve in Columbia heights, the real estate will boom there. Ask yourself, do you see many families with well-educated parents with toddlers? If you do, don't sell your property.

One last point for now: If the schools improve in Columbia heights, the real estate values will largely stay the same. The difference is that we'll see less turnover among residents as people with children stay, rather than selling every 5-6 years to new childless owners (or renting).

House prices there will slowly increase as older, poor residents continue to sell, old houses that are currently rented continue to be rehabilitated, and wealthier newcomers continue to buy and rehabilitate the housing stock. Just as has happened on east capitol hill, the H Street corridor, and Trinidad in the last 3-4 years.

At the end of that process, the schools will begin to improve. Just as happened on Captiol Hill with schools like Brent and Maury.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 12:40 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Apparently your efforts at organizing a charter middle school in DC increased not only Capitol Hill housing prices by a factor of two, but also Petworth, Columbia Heights, Langdon, Anacostia, the greater DC region, and in fact, the national housing market.

Never said that, but thanks for the credit.

I think you are well aware that I was fleshing out my big-picture descriptions with on-the-ground examples. I hope the other readers (if any) do not think less of you for the snipe.

DC's public schools have improved because a) young people having families don't have a cheap option of moving to Chevy Chase or McLean..

They do indeed have the option of moving to FFX county where the schools are excellent and you get a lot more house for your dollar, and put up with the commute. The schools have improved due to competition from the charters. This gives parents alternatives if their local DCPS is not good enough. BTW this enables more colonizers. If there were not such choices parents would indeed move -- as would I.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 12:47 pm • linkreport

I am not against charters (to much experience with public schools in "good" districts to not support more choice) but I would point out that gentrification has proceeded apace in recent year in South Arlington and in the City of Alexandria, where there are no charter schools.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 21, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

This is like a textbook definition of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

by HogWash on Dec 21, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
The schools have improved due to competition from the charters.

By what method? Their teachers are magically able to teach better? They didn't give a crap about educating kids before but the charters made them want to do that suddenly?

I agree with oboe that you are switching around the cause and effect here.

by MLD on Dec 21, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

@MLD: The magic moment arrives with a new principal. In DCPS to hire a new principal is a very involved process that requires community input. For one school that I know of, a certain group of parents of young children banded together and vetoed the original duds selected by DCPS; they held out for a winner. The one they approved made improvements to the faculty, and got new programs.

In another school, DCPS decided that they were going to make it an showcase. This would have failed given the revolving-door of principals that came and went -- and it is still having problems -- but the parents got behind the program and got a lot of external support. There was a long-term core of competent teachers that previously lacked the support they needed to improve matters, when this arrived things improved substantially. But not as much as in my former example, a school with a better principal.

In both cases the nearby neighborhoods has seen incredible jumps in the housing prices. A few blocks away, the houses have not done so well.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

So families who wanted to use DCPS moved into the area, and then they lobbied the schools to do a better job. Got it.

That sounds like the exact opposite of:
Gentrification follows school improvement, not the other way around.

Except for your insistence that "colonizers" are not "gentrification" which is wrong.

by MLD on Dec 21, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

Never said that, but thanks for the credit.

You said that you were involved in starting up a public charter school, and then claimed, "Voila! prices jumped by a factor of two in a couple of years!" Taking the question of how a new public charter school (open to everyone in the city, presumably, by lottery) could have such an effect on only Capitol Hill housing, it seems more plausible that support for the charter was a byproduct of gentrification, not the other way around.

They do indeed have the option of moving to FFX county where the schools are excellent and you get a lot more house for your dollar, and put up with the commute.

Right, that was the point. They could move to Centreville, where schools are good and housing is cheap. So long as they put up with the commute. Point is, "putting up with the commute" costs a hell of a lot more these days than it used to.

Talk to some of your neighbors on Capitol Hill, especially the ones who work on the Hill or for government agencies, or on K Street. Ask them what they think of the prospect of commuting from Burke or Vienna. Heck, the idea of commuting from Alexandria and having to cross the 14th street bridge during rush hour twice a day scares me.

Once upon a time middle-class District residents would just move to Kensington where schools were good, houses were cheap, and there was a 20 min drive to downtown. Those days are over.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
Note that this process you've described works exactly the same as when we say "certain demographic changes improve school outcomes." People who are better off financially have more time, money, and education to devote to things like getting involved in their school's choice of principal.

Nobody's arguing with you on the fact that housing prices continue to improve once the schools are a viable option. Our argument is that the demographic changes come first and the school improvement follows. That is exactly what you have described.

by MLD on Dec 21, 2012 2:02 pm • linkreport

MLD, no, the jump in property values occurred after the a small core of parents got the schools improved. If the families had not succeeded, the neighborhood would have remained average and underwhelming, without two-fold increases in property values in a few years. Like a lot of neighborhoods that could be gentrified, but have not -- such as in PG county.

You are confusing the colonization the happens before gentrification with the the gentrification itself. The number of parents necessary to cause a significant improvement in schools can be quite small, especially in this day of listserves (see MOTH), too small to have any effect on property values. What house buyers respond to is the schools, not vice versa.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 2:07 pm • linkreport

"Heck, the idea of commuting from Alexandria and having to cross the 14th street bridge during rush hour twice a day scares me."

are you allergic to the Yellow line?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 21, 2012 2:09 pm • linkreport

"What house buyers respond to is the schools, not vice versa."

do ALL the DINKs, singles,and empty nesters live in multifamily housing? That was not my impression.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 21, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Taking the question of how a new public charter school (open to everyone in the city, presumably, by lottery) could have such an effect on only Capitol Hill housing, it seems more plausible that support for the charter was a byproduct of gentrification, not the other way around.

This was a handful of people sitting around a living room. Again, if they had not succeeded and the charter failed to open (as often happens), you would not be debating this with me because there would be nothing to discuss -- capitol hill would not have changed.

I am not suggesting that I was responsible here, far from it. But if the new law enabling charters was not available, none of that would have happened. Suppose there was no such opportunity. Parents would have fretted and many would have moved away, and DCPS would have continued to flounder. And the real estate would have remained cheap.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 2:16 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Nobody's arguing with you on the fact that housing prices continue to improve once the schools are a viable option. Our argument is that the demographic changes come first and the school improvement follows. That is exactly what you have described.

No, you and @oboe have argued and needled with every single goddam point I have made. But regardless, what constitutes a "demographic change?" Certainly in capitol hill, which has been a mixed neighborhood for many decades, capable people have been moving in and out forever. The few of families that were the nuclei of the school improvement do not constitute the "demographic change." As I sat there in those meetings, the people were not all middle class and educated; far from it.

What enabled the change was the new charter school law.

by goldfish on Dec 21, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

are you allergic to the Yellow line?

No, but you hear from a lot of Metro riders who are pretty burnt out about service cuts, etc... And if I lived at the Braddock Road Metro station, and worked at Union Station, it would take at least 40 minutes to get to work via Metro. (Add to that whatever the distance to the Metro station is. Say another 15-20 min.)

If I ride my bike from Lincoln Park that's about 6 minutes. Add to that the fact that I can walk the block and a half to school with my kid (thanks to the hard work of early gentrifiers like @goldfish) and you've got someone who's extremely averse to packing it in and moving to Reston.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 2:49 pm • linkreport

@oboe

well of course if you worked at Union station, the optimal inner suburb for you would be Silver Spring. And in the parts of downtown most dependent on the blue line (where there have been weekday service cuts) you'd live out on the Orange line. Alex is best for Lenfant and beyond on the Yellow line - no weekday cuts on that.

but of course I realize that commuting is a reason for gentrification - just thought the "captive to the 14th street bridge" (which honestly, isnt THAT bad - its the sheer distance in traffic thats the problem - folks with a short drive to the bridge - notably folks in South Arlington - have a pretty decent commute, still - and the gentrification of South Arlington reflects that) was bit odd.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 21, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

@AWITC,

Sorry, that (i.e. 14th St bridge) wasn't meant to be a critique of anyone else's choices, but rather an admission of my own phobias. :)

by oboe on Dec 21, 2012 6:17 pm • linkreport

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