Posts about DCPS
Eastern High School's slogan is "The Pride of Capitol Hill," but much of its student body doesn't actually live in the neighborhood. This fall the school will begin offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate program, which it hopes will both benefit its current students and also attract more families who live nearby, including more affluent families.
Eastern has an illustrious past that includes a history of champion athletic teams and award-winning musical groups. But beginning in the 1990s the school fell on hard times, churning through 11 principals in 10 years.
DCPS decided to phase out the old Eastern, so that by the 2010-11 school year it had only a 12th grade. In the fall of 2011, after an extensive renovation and the hiring of a new principal, Eastern restarted with only a 9th grade. This year the school also has a 10th grade, and it will keep adding a grade a year until it reaches its full capacity.
The new Eastern has many strengths. The renovated building is beautiful, the faculty is largely young and energetic, and the principal, Rachel Skerritt, is universally admired for her combination of warmth and authority.
The school has a student newspaper and TV station. And, amazingly, its mock trial team recently made it to the finals to compete against Banneker and School Without Walls, both of which are application high schools with four-year student bodies.
But the school, located at 1700 East Capitol Street on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill, hasn't yet been able to attract many of the more affluent families living in the charming row houses to its west. 77% of Eastern's 500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 25% need special education services. Nor is its population racially diverse, with 98% of its students African-American.
In recent years, some middle-class and upper-middle-class Capitol Hill families have been enrolling their children in preschool and elementary school at neighborhood public schools. But as their children get older, they begin to depart for private or charter schools or compete for out-of-boundary slots at public schools in Ward 3. By middle school, almost all of them are gone.
Administrators and area parents push for IB program
For the past several years DCPS and some Capitol Hill parents have been working on a plan they hope will entice more families to stay. Two middle schools that are feeders for Eastern, Eliot-Hine and Jefferson, have applied for authorization to offer a prestigious international educational program designed for 6th to 10th graders, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years program.
With the rebirth of Eastern, DCPS extended that application to include the 9th and 10th grades at Eastern as well. Bob Smith, the IB manager for DCPS, says that the IB organization probably won't decide on the Middle Years application until the summer of 2015.
At the same time, Eastern applied for a separate IB program, the Diploma program, designed for 11th and 12th grades. Just last week the IB organization granted that application, and this fall the school will begin offering it to a hand-picked group of 18-20 students.
The Middle Years and Diploma programs use similar methods and both aim to inspire creative and analytical thinking, but they're implemented differently. The Middle Years program extends to an entire school, with all teachers and all students participating.
The Diploma program, on the other hand, is limited to a subgroup of students who commit to following a challenging curriculum. Students must learn two foreign languages, take a course on critical thinking called "Theory of Knowledge," and write an "extended essay" on a topic of "global significance." At the end of the program students take exams that are graded by outside examiners, and they receive an IB diploma only if they achieve a minimum score. Students outside the program can take one or more individual IB classes, but they won't get the IB diploma.
Overall, the IB approach stands in marked contrast to the current focus on standardized testing, and it may well appeal to middle-class families. But will it be enough to induce Capitol Hill parents to keep their kids in neighborhood schools?
Joe Weedon, a parent of two children at Maury Elementary on Capitol Hill, is part of a group of 20 or so families who intend to do just that. His children, he says, are "class of 2023 and 2025" at Eastern. But Weedon, who has been involved in bringing the Middle Years IB program to Jefferson and Eliot-Hine, has also had his frustrations. He says that DCPS has failed to stick to its timeline for implementing the Middle Years program and has reneged on some of its budgetary commitments. (Weedon is also a contributor to Greater Greater Education.)
Affluent families would obviously benefit from having the option of sending their kids to what they feel is a high-quality local school. But they might not be the only ones who benefit. Recent research indicates that low-income students do better when they attend schools with high-income peers.
IB program will serve existing students, who aren't the typical IB student body
In any event, Eastern administrators say their primary focus is on the students they have now rather than the ones they might attract. Those are the students who will be starting the rigorous Diploma program this fall.
Many of the schools that offer the program are either private schools or public schools serving affluent suburban populations. One DCPS school, Banneker, offers the Diploma program, but it's an application-only school. Will an IB Diploma program work at a non-selective, high-poverty school like Eastern?
Absolutely, says Bob Smith at DCPS, citing examples in Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit.
But Amy Boccardi, the IB coordinator at Eastern, says that when she saw a video of IB schools at a training session recently, she thought, "Those kids don't look like our kids."
Not that Boccardi was discouraged. Her next thought was, "We're going to have to make a video ourselves and send it to IB," to show that kids like those at Eastern can succeed in the program. Still, the question remains.
And Eastern's challenges continue. With Spingarn High School closing next year, for example, Eastern expects to receive about 50 new students, and it's unclear how easy it will be to integrate them into the student body.
But there are lots of people rooting for the school's success. It has the support of an active alumni association, and a group of local businesses called Companies for Causes has committed to helping the school reach its goal of a 100% graduation rate. Perhaps most important, it has a clear-eyed but inspirational leader in Principal Skerritt.
Whatever Eastern's demographics may become in the long term, here's hoping that by the summer of 2015 there's an IB video featuring a group of graduating Eastern seniors proudly holding their IB Diplomas.
One of the best effects of open data is when people correlate data sets from very different places to generate interesting information. This graph cleverly combines DC's school quality tiers (known as "accountability categories") with Walk Score:
Sandra Moscoso wrote yesterday about how Code for DC's School Decisions Project has been gathering coders who want to use open data to help parents, students, and policymakers. This is one of the graphs they created at the recent Open Data Day using data from the Office of State Superintendent of Eduaction (OSSE).
I've asked to get access to the raw spreadsheet for this graph so we can look at, for example, which schools each dot represents. Here are the accountability categories by school. I will add the spreadsheet with WalkScore matched up with category when it's available. Update: here's the data as a CSV file.
A few things immediately jump out. The most successful DCPS schools have high Walk Scores, while the least successful ones mostly (but not entirely) cluster in the lower range. This may reflect the fact that a public school's success has a lot to do with the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, and the local retail that is a big part of Walk Score locates in areas with higher incomes.
That income effect is also very pronounced in the graph Sandra posted yesterday:
That's not the case with charter schools. 3 of the 5 "reward" charters are in low-Walk Score areas (which could mean something, or just be a consequence of little data), while the "Rising" charters are basically all over the place. This may have a lot to do with the simple fact that since charters have to find and pay for their own space, they're in all manner of locations.
An interesting future step might be to correlate the school tiers with some data set about land prices or rents, or resident incomes. That could help illuminate whether charters end up locating in less-expensive areas, because they want to serve poorer residents and/or because they need cheaper land.
What do you see from looking at this data?
561 students in public charter schools, or 1 in 56 charter students, transferred to traditional public schools during the 2011-2012 school year. That means that, in addition to the 277 students charters expelled during that year, another 284 transferred to DCPS schools.
The Washington Post profiled involuntary transfers, students who were offered the chance to withdraw under threat of expulsion. Expulsions become part of a student's record, while transfers do not.
Only 44 students transferred from DCPS schools to charter schools in the 2011-2012 school year, according to new data released by the State Superintendent of Education. DCPS schools expelled only 24 students in that year.
DCPS teachers have long complained of having to absorb mid-year transfers of disruptive students into their classrooms. The newly released data appears to validate their claims.
The 561 students transferred from charter to DCPS schools makes up 1 in 80 of the total DCPS enrollment. That means that each year 1 in 4 DCPS classrooms, on average, absorb a transferred charter school student mid-year.
Because students who were expelled, or involuntarily withdrew, from charter schools are unlikely to apply again, the cumulative affect of transfers over multiple years is notable. Over 4 years, every DCPS classroom on average would have a student who transferred or was expelled from a charter school at this rate.
Is this a problem?
The discrepancy between the expulsion and involuntary transfer rates of charters and traditional public schools creates several problems.
First, parents rely on test scores when comparing schools. Transparent, comparable test scores are thus critical to school choice.
However, neighborhood public schools are disproportionately burdened with disruptive students expelled or involuntarily transferred from charter schools. This casts doubt on the comparability of test scores between charter and non-charter schools.
Second, charters are not given the opportunity and the challenge to innovate ways to reach these students when they can expel and involuntary transfer them at rates far in excess of DCPS schools.
Charters are supposed to be test beds of innovation, and they must have autonomy in how they teach students in order to innovate.
However, granting charters autonomy from the students themselves who are disruptive and problematic undermines the very structural incentives to innovate that led to the granting of charters in the first place.
Are there any viable solutions?
Advocates have offered three solutions to the discrepancy between the expulsion and involuntary transfer rates of charters and traditional public schools. Unfortunately, none of them seem to be politically viable.
Harmonized disciplinary rules: OSSE proposed a harmonized set of expulsion policies last year that would apply to all public schools, both charter and traditional.
While youth advocates testified in strong support of the move, charter operators and advocates launched a coordinated opposition to the proposal. They argued that OSSE had no legal authority to dictate disciplinary policies of charter schools.
OSSE has not replied to questions asking for their response to the legal claims of charter operators.
Greater charter accountability: Charter advocates generally called for greater accountability and investigation of "problem" charter schools with particularly high expulsion and transfer rates.
However, charter advocates contend that no one has the authority to authorize investigations except for the Public Charter School Board. PCSB has been criticized recently for a lack of charter accountability.
StudentsFirst, the national school reform advocacy launched by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee, last month created report cards for each state including DC. The DC report card gave the PCSB a 0 out of 4 grade in charter accountability.
Allow DCPS to expel students at same rate as charters: Many advocates, particularly charter parents, have defended charter schools' expulsion policies. DCPS should be allowed to expel students at the same rate, they argue, into a school that is specialized to meet their needs.
However, if DCPS schools had the same rate of expulsions and of transfers, the total number of students expelled or involuntary transferred per year would be 1,364.
After 6 years, a school absorbing all of these students would have 8,184 rejected students, or 11% of all public school students. There appears to be little to no political will to segregate such a large portion of DC schoolchildren into a safety-net school system.
Drifting towards an outcome that no one wants
The fundamental problem with education reform in DC is that we are drifting towards an unattractive outcome with little discussion or debate.
It's now painfully clear that we are drifting towards a set of parallel, unequal school systems. First, we have thriving neighborhood schools west of Rock Creek Park and on Capitol Hill. Second, we have charter schools and magnet schools east of Rock Creek Park.
Third, and most distressingly, we have neighborhood schools east of Rock Creek Park that are becoming safety net schools. We can think of them as Medicaid for education.
There's a common misconception that DC is on the cutting edge of charter development because DC has the highest rate of charter enrollment except for New Orleans. New York City, Denver, Chicago and other cities have charters. New York City has more charters than any city.
Where DC lags, as the StudentsFirst report card made clear, is in the development of institutions and policies that align charter schools with the interests of all students across the public school system. The other cities with charters have a common lottery, neighborhood preference and greater charter accountability.
Without these policies aligning charters with the interests of all kids, not just their own, charters possess competitive advantages that have led to overwhelming demand from parents. It's this discrepancy with other cities that accounts for the high rate of charter enrollment in DC.
Are there viable solutions to this discrepancy between charter and traditional public schools in DC? Do you find the outcome towards which DC schools are headed to be acceptable?
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