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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

DC Fiscal Policy Institute Study Says Uphill Climb for DC Schools

There's an interesting new report out from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute comparing DC CAS in public school and public charter schools from 2008 to 2012.  Among the key findings:

  • The median proficiency level among all publicly funded DC schools fell slightly from 2008 to 2012.
  • Math proficiency improved, while reading proficiency fell. 
  • The typical public charter school showed improvement in proficiency, while the typical DCPS school declined. 

The typical DC schools east of the Anacostia River and in Ward 4 saw proficiency declines. Schools in Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 fell behind in median proficiency levels — between two and six percentage points — while the typical school in all other wards saw increases.

The lowest scoring schools in 2008 saw modest growth, while those in the middle saw declines. 

Read the full report here. It garnered some press coverage as well.

What do you think of the results?


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Monday, March 04, 2013

Accountability and DC Charters: Why We Use the PMF

There was a time in DC, not too long ago, when a parent who wanted to compare two charter school programs was out of luck. Sure they could visit the school, talk to the teachers or other parents, or look up test scores on their own. That put the burden solely on busy parents, and perhaps was not the most effective way to measure how charter schools stacked up against each other. It's a demonstration of how the uniqueness of the charter movement can be both a strength and a weakness. 

 

PCSB, a nationally-recognized high-quality charter authorizer, saw its responsibility in providing parents with a clear measure of school performance.   We developed a tool that would measure how well students were being taught to read and write, how much they grew academically, how often they came to class, at what rate they reenrolled, how many took college entrance exams like the SAT and finally, what percent successfully graduated from high school. These kinds of indicators are central to what parents want to know about a particular charter school.  They don’t replace the soft stuff.  Parents still need to judge whether a school is the right fit for their child.  But they allow parents to rapidly compare dozens of schools across factors which are directly related to the key question on any parent’s mind:— if I send my child here, will he or she be successful?

 

We called this tool the Performance Management Framework (PMF).  We developed it in close collaboration with the charter schools.  Consequently, it has largely been accepted by our 57 charter schools, and the broader community as a valid means of comparing charter schools to each other. It may not be comfortable to see how your school measures up to peers, but PCSB no longer found it acceptable to say that it was impossible to compare apples to oranges to bananas. They are all fruit.

 

Mark Lerner of the Examiner suggests that perhaps the PMF has run amok and is need of a moratorium, because it has become, in his words, the single focus of charter school accountability as a sole driver of charter school closures. "A lack of top tier quality seats means we may end up sending the most vulnerable students back to the same schools charters were meant to supplant."

 

Mark conflates two issues when he makes this suggestion.

 

The first is to trot out the old, and largely discredited idea, that one should not close a low-performing school because other schools in the neighborhood are no better.  Such an approach is the very definition of setting low expectations. To follow it would condemn our city, and our city's children, to decades more of poor schools and poorly-prepared students.  The waste of human potential implied in Mark’s approach is heartbreaking to contemplate.

 

The second is to argue, incorrectly, that the PMF has somehow become the sole standard by which closure decisions are made.   The law establishing charter schools in DC is very clear that the standard for closure is whether or not a school has met the very goals it committed to in its own charter.  That has always been our standard for closure.  The PMF is a guide to school quality; it is not an arbiter of school closings.

 

True – many schools are considering incorporating the PMF as their charter goals.  As described above, the PMF was developed by the DC charter community and incorporates in one simple measure many aspects widely accepted as indicators of school quality.  Adopting the PMF as a school’s charter goals aligns these and makes PCSB’s authorizing function far less intrusive.

 

Other charter schools that were facing closure committed to ambitious turnaround plans – and the PMF is an objective way of measuring the success of these plans.  But the ultimate legal standard for closure of a charter school is simply whether or not the school did what they said they would do.

 

There was a lack to top tier quality seats before the PMF was put into place; its use simply highlighted several education inequities.  

 

But the PMF has done more.  It has given parents a quick guide to school quality – and let them vote with their feet.  And it has provided clarity to school leaders and local boards of trustees  as they focus their resources on school improvement.

Charter school quality has risen every year and remains far higher than the state average.   Higher charter quality, combined with a revived and stronger DCPS, have created a renaissance in public education in our city.  For the first time in 50 years there is sustained growth in public school enrollment.  Parents are choosing quality.  Mr. Lerner should as well.



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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

High Schools as “Dropout Factories”: Fact or Fiction?

There’s been some increased focus as of late on “dropout factories,” a term that refers to high schools that do not graduate a significant portion of their students. U.S. Secretary for Education Arne S. Duncan appeared last month with Alma Powell and America’s Promise, which is working on the issue of high school completion.

Then comes a recent Washington Examiner article on “Dropout Factories” that cites a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education saying, “The number of ‘dropout factory’ high schools in the District has shot up in the past decade, defying state trends nationwide.”

The piece went on to state that DC had 13 “dropout factories” in 2011 and in 2010, of which five were DC charter schools.  

Here’s the problem: Dropout factory is defined as a school with a graduating class less than 60% the size of the freshman class. So if students transfer from the school, and graduate from somewhere else, they are still counted as a “dropout” under this crude measure -- unless the school fills that transferring student’s seat with another student.

This measure has long been supplanted by a more sophisticated way of measuring dropouts, known as the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate.  Under ACGR, which is now the national standard for measuring graduation rates, a student who transfers out is not counted as a dropout if there is documentation that the student enrolled in another high school

According to the outdated way of measuring high school graduation rates, which five charter schools in 2010 qualified as “dropout factories?” Kamit PCS; William E Doar, Jr. PCS;  IDEA PCS; Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill PCS and Thurgood Marshall PCS.

Let’s take a moment to review the record on each of those:

  • Kamit was closed by PCSB for poor academic performance.
  • William E. Doar, Jr. voluntarily closed their high school for poor academic performance.
  • IDEA PCS is executing a turnaround plan after a threatened closure by PCSB.  The school’s graduation rate in 2012 was 78 percent  using ACGR  - 17 percentage points higher than the DC average.
  • Cesar Chavez Capitol Hill had a 2012 graduation rate of 64 percent - far too low, but higher than the DC average.
  • Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS has a 2012 graduation rate of 78 percent - again, 17 percentage points higher than the DC average.

In sum, the article uses outdated data and methodology to claim that there are five charter school “dropout factories” in DC.    Indeed a review of 2012 graduation rates for all DC high schools shows that there are just two charter schools with graduation rates below the state average of 61 percent. Meanwhile, charter school graduation rates in DC are 77 percent.  Far from being “dropout factories”, DC charter high schools are raising graduation rates across the city.


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