Greater Greater Education

Is DCPS ready to outsource middle schools to charters?

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told a DC Council committee on Friday that DCPS hasn't succeeded in attracting families to its middle schools and suggested that the District should just funnel middle school students to charter schools. What was she thinking?


Photo by DCPS.

The Council's Committee on Education held a roundtable hearing last week on the plan to revise DCPS boundaries and feeder patterns. According to the Washington Post, many parents at the packed hearing complained about the weakness of middle schools in the District.

DCPS elementary schools have been relatively successful in attracting middle class and affluent families, but those families generally peel off once their children reach the middle grades.

According to the Post, Henderson suggested that "perhaps the city should figure out how to funnel children to charter schools in the middle grades, arguing that 'they know how to do middle school really well.'"

Councilmember David Catania, chair of the committee, reportedly bristled at that suggestion. He told Henderson that it was her responsibility to figure out how to improve DCPS middle schools, declaring that he wasn't "about to outsource middle schools to charters."

It's true that many high-performing charters have focused on the middle school years as crucial. The KIPP charter network started with middle schools and then expanded downward and upward, as have several others. And it's true that compared to DCPS, these schools have done a better job with low-income students.

So I can imagine others making the suggestion that DCPS should just throw up its hands on middle schools and let the charters do the job. I just didn't expect to hear that from Henderson.

It was only a few months ago that Henderson was touting the improvement that DCPS middle schools showed on DC's standardized tests this year. "Students in middle grades saw the largest gains," a DCPS press release crowed back in July, with increased proficiency rates of 5 percentage points in reading and 4 in math. At the time, Henderson said she hoped the improvements would help stem the attrition of families from the system after elementary school.

Two middle schools, Kelly Miller and McFarland, had double-digit gains in reading and math on the tests, achieving their highest proficiency rates ever. Henderson held Kelly Miller up as an example of the power of an extended day program, which she hopes to expand to other schools. Its principal, Abdullah Zaki, recently was awarded the title of Principal of the Year. (McFarland, on the other hand, was closed at the end of the last school year, a move that in retrospect may have been a mistake.)

It's odd that Henderson would all but admit defeat at a time when it's beginning to look as though she might be able to turn the tide. It was a misstep that caused gleeful ripples among her detractors, and out of character with her usual determined optimism.

"We're DCPS," goes the catchphrase you can hear at the end of almost any DCPS-produced video. "We can do this." And now she's saying we can't?

Natalie Wexler is a member of the boards of DC Scholars Public Charter School and The Writing Revolution, an organization that promotes the teaching of analytical writing. She has been a lawyer, a historian, and a journalist, and is the author of three novels. 

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Math Proficiency 36% and reading proficiency at 42% at Kelly Miller Middle School. McFarland was 42% and 48%. You consider that a good record and an accomplishment?

by Tom M on Nov 19, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

MacFarland posted record increases, but yet, DCPS closed the school as it was finally being turned around. Too many knee jerk reactions with the lives of our children.

If they spent time on involving communities around these middle schools we might make some progress.

Alice Deal is an exceptional middle school btw. Of course they have gotten a lion share of money to remodel not to mention the demographic breakdown of that school. We need to put the money where it is need most.

by M. Leon on Nov 19, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

It's amazing that this hasn't been discussed more. Everywhere.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Nov 19, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

Please join discussion on this week's Education Town Hall, November 21, on We Act Radio (1480 AM), at 11 a.m. Eastern. Link here http://wp.me/p2YFYH-m1

The Education Town Hall will be following this and offering more opportunities to speak out/discuss. Please let us know if you'd like to be involved in a future conversation.

by Virginia Spatz on Nov 19, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

Isn't it, you know, her job to get DC (middle) schools in good enough shape for all students? And if she isn't willing to do her job, maybe its time for her to resign.

by DAJ on Nov 19, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

The more I think about this, the more I am upset about this. I am one of the Posts heralded Millennials who just bought a house in the city with plans on staying here for a long time and raising a family in the city and through DCPS. I will not send my kids to a charter school. Non-negotiable. If the city outsources all middle schools to charter schools they can count me and my family out as city residents. As much as I want to live in DC, I will not do it if I have to do so with charter schools. If the city makes this decision, or if the leadership supports this nonsense, they can count on losing my family and our tax base.

by DAJ on Nov 19, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

@DAJ

I am in the same boat, but have almost the opposite feelings. I don't even have kids yet, and am already putting in small prayers that my future kid(s) can hit the lottery jackpot and get accepted to EL Haynes.

@M. Leon

I agree money needs to go to where it is needed, but see no reason to disproportionately favor a poorer school, at the expense of one with more resources. If the kids at the W7 middle school have Ipads, the kids at Deal should too..

by Kyle-w on Nov 19, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

Didn't she also propose concentrating all AP and IB courses at a single school? For an expert in education administration, she seems to have a lot of terrible ideas.

by Interested on Nov 20, 2013 2:08 am • linkreport

The traditional public sector is going to have to be more creative than this. THey have to solve the middle school issue: how to attract middle class families to its middle and high school programs outside of upper Northwest?

Unfortunately, they blew the bank on a brand new Dunbar High School without putting as much thought about what would go *into* the building in terms of educational programming. The same can probably said about Cardozo.

I suspect that crappy buildings with top flight teachers and administrators and good peers trumps shiny buildings with beautiful athletic fields.

by Ward 1 Guy on Nov 20, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

The Kaya Henderson endorsement of outsourcing middle schools to charters is a abdication of her job responsibilities. She ought to be fired for suggesting it.

The problem Henderson faces but cannot admit or publicly support is that the easiest, quickest route to higher test scores is to boost high-SES/white enrollment. DCPS cannot mold a middle school's demographics except via school boundaries. Deal is the only middle school that has a neighborhood that is concentrated high-SES/white. It may not be possible to draw boundaries and select feeder schools to create another DCPS middle school with the demographics of Deal. However, the charters (Latin, Basis) may be able to create smaller middle schools with the Deal demographic by pulling students from across the District.

Charters can and do create barriers to participation that are soft but effective in driving the demographics toward high test scores. Outsourcing this sorting function allows a greater number of diverse schools to exist within the District and will grow test scores since it reduces white flight to the suburban school districts.

The following statistics are from the NAEP 8th grade reading scores broken out by [1] free and reduced lunch, [2] ,by race and by percent of race (for [3] black, [4] hispanic and [5]white).

Free and reduced lunch
- eligible for FARL score 241
- non-eligible for FARL score 271
30 point gap.

Race
- White score 297
- Black score 243
- Hispanic score 248

Pct White 0% score 240
1-5% score 243
6-25% score 259
26-50% score is 279

Full report text follows.
=================================================
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
Institute of Education Sciences (IES)
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
This report was generated using the NAEP Data Explorer. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/

Report 1: Table
Average scale scores for reading, grade 8 by National School Lunch Program eligibility, 3 categories [SLUNCH3], year and jurisdiction: 2013 Year Jurisdiction Eligible Not eligible Information not available
Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error
† Not applicable.
‡ Reporting standards not met.
NOTE: The NAEP Reading scale ranges from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013 Reading Assessment.

2013 District of Columbia 241 (1.0) 271 (2.1) ‡ (†)

Report 2: Table
Average scale scores for reading, grade 8 by race/ethnicity used to report trends, school-reported [SDRACE], year and jurisdiction: 2013 Year Jurisdiction White Black Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander American Indian/Alaska Native Two or more races
Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error
† Not applicable.
‡ Reporting standards not met.
NOTE: Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, and Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin. Prior to 2011, students in the "two or more races" category were categorized as "unclassified." The NAEP Reading scale ranges from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013 Reading Assessment.
2013 District of Columbia 297 (3.6) 243 (0.9) 248 (2.8) ‡ (†) ‡ (†) ‡ (†)

Report 3: Table
Average scale scores for reading, grade 8 by percent of Black students [PCTBLKC], year and jurisdiction: 2013 Year Jurisdiction 0 1-5% 6-25% 26-50% 51% or more
Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error
† Not applicable.
‡ Reporting standards not met.
NOTE: The NAEP Reading scale ranges from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013 Reading Assessment.
2013 District of Columbia ‡ (†) ‡ (†) ‡ (†) 269 (2.4) 243 (0.9)

Report 4: Table
Average scale scores for reading, grade 8 by percent of Hispanic students [PCTHSPC], year and jurisdiction: 2013 Year Jurisdiction 0 1-5% 6-25% 26-50% 51% or more
Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error
NOTE: The NAEP Reading scale ranges from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013 Reading Assessment.
2013 District of Columbia 237 (1.6) 241 (1.2) 262 (1.6) 248 (3.7) 251 (3.7)

Report 5: Table
Average scale scores for reading, grade 8 by percent of White students [PCTWHTC], year and jurisdiction: 2013 Year Jurisdiction 0 1-5% 6-25% 26-50% 51% or more
Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error Average scale score Standard Error
† Not applicable.
‡ Reporting standards not met.
NOTE: The NAEP Reading scale ranges from 0 to 500. Some apparent differences between estimates may not be statistically significant.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013 Reading Assessment.
2013 District of Columbia 240 (1.1) 243 (2.0) 259 (3.0) 279 (2.9) ‡ (†)

by Not PC Data Junkie on Nov 20, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

Stuart-Hobson Middle School is part of the Capitol Hill Cluster; seems to be working well.

by DCPS Advocate on Nov 20, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

Stuart-Hobson's budget has been slashed over and over again for years by DCPS. Only the advocacy of the school community has saved it from devastating staff and programming cuts. The facilities modernization remains unfinished, with no clear plan for how and when funding will be in place to complete the project, including the outdoor field space. You can sign a petition here to urge our city leaders to fund the completion of the fields portion of the modernization. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-youth-sports-playing-fields-on-capitol?utm_medium=email&utm_source=system&utm_campaign=Send+to+Friend

by Laura Marks on Nov 20, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

@DAJ - what is your objection to charter schools? I don't agree or disagree, I am just curious...

by Cares about Kids on Nov 20, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

Both leaders of DCPS under mayoral control have been incompetent to lead the DCPS system, let alone bring it back from the level of failure it was in prior to 2007. It is the "traditional" public school district. It's strongest rivals are the public school districts in the surrounding jurisdictions--all highly rated and all governed in the traditional manner of elected school boards and highly qualified school superintendents who have a particular kind of education, specialized training and actual experience in running public school districts. Such a superintendent would never allow an entire segment of the system they are responsible for to degrade the way DCPS's middle schools have nor would they be allowed to 'disappear' so many of them into the K-8 configuration that Rhee was allowed to. I think it has been intentional for DCPS to be put into the hands of incompetent people offering overnight changes rather than the true reforms that DCPS has needed and Henderson is providing a big clue as to what that intention is: weaken the traditional public school system, while the mayor (see his June 20 speech for details) through his deputy mayor for education and OSSE and the "State" Board of Education and the Public Charter School Board and all the Friends of Choice, charter school association and similar organizations strengthen the charter school scene until the two, DCPS and charters are merged into one.

by Sarah on Nov 21, 2013 12:42 am • linkreport

The problem Henderson faces but cannot admit or publicly support is that the easiest, quickest route to higher test scores is to boost high-SES/white enrollment.

I'm not sure anyone disagrees that the easiest, quickest route to higher test scores is to jettison the current at-risk students who make up the super-majority of DCPS, and replace them with wealthy middle-class kids.

But I'm also not sure that really moves the ball forward.

by oboe on Nov 21, 2013 10:07 am • linkreport

Regarding oppostion to charter schools, what if instead we called them "public schools offered autonomy and space to innovate from the central office, run by professional educators, held rigorously accountable for academic achievement, and available to all children in the district regardless of zip code." Would that change one's opinion? We can argue and address implementation and quality, but conceptually they are simply another type of public school as defined above.

by Seke on Nov 21, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

"The problem Henderson faces but cannot admit or publicly support is that the easiest, quickest route to higher test scores is to boost high-SES/white enrollment."

1) Not all white students have high test scores.
2) Not all high SES students have high test scores.

thus

3) No, that's not the "easiest, quickest route to higher test scores"

The easiest, quickest route to high test scores is to attract parents who read to their children when they were toddlers, who provide their children with nutritious meals, who read themselves for pleasure and the other scientifically proven traits connected to high student performance. That people think whiteness or wealth alone are proxy for the aforementioned things is part of the problem, methinks.

by Alan P. on Nov 21, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

As a parent of a DCPS Middle Schooler I'm very disheartened that our school leader would state something like this publicly and from what I've seen our local CM has not said boo about this either. We love Alice Deal Middle School in Ward3 and guess what only 5 years ago no one wanted to go to it.

Now everyone is pointing at it saying how great it is....Well what to know what turned the school around. P A R E N T S. Instead of picking up and moving kids to private schools or moving to Montgomery County, in the community stuck it out; Some doing so only for the good of those coming behind them. And, those of us now there owe it to the next group of parent to stick up for our kids while LAZY CORRUPT PUBLIC OFFICIALS do nothing.

As of those of you without kids in Middle School let alone Elementary school do you really think that this is going to be solved by everyone quitting when it get's tough.

by Ward3er on Nov 21, 2013 4:39 pm • linkreport

If charter schools are doing a great job, why doesn't DCPS take some lessons from them? That's one of the purposes of charter schools -- to spur innovation. Find out what they're doing right and replicate it. And let's not forget that charter schools are PUBLIC SCHOOLS. We're all in this thing together and we share a common goal, right? We want to provide the city's children with the best education possible. If the charter school across town does a better job than your neighborhood school, what will you do? Move your family and tax dollars and voice to Montgomery County? That's how we got into this mess. City kids deserve good schools, wherever they happen to reside, however much money their parents earn.

by andrea barrett on Nov 21, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

I watched the testimony and have seem Kaya speak before, I think she reacted in frustration from the line of questioning and was being somewhat facetious in her answer.

Regardless, middle schools are the Achilles heel of DCPS at the moment.

by erik on Nov 22, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

As a Highly Effective MS teacher in DCPS,I am truly disgusted with Keya. She is so out of touch with the entire structure of education its ridiculous. A small known fact that people are not aware of is that these charter schools have the autonomy to choose which students they want and the ones they do not. This keeps their class sizes down and the behaviors to a minimum. After OSSE does their audits, many of these charter schools get rid of these bad students after the receive they funding for them. And guess where these pushed out students go? To the public schools, where we are under-funded and unsupported. I do agree that we have a responsibility as teachers to push for change and that all teachers are not doing their parts, however if people like Keya remain blind to the real issues of education the matter will get worse. I say go ahead and outsource, let the charter schools experience what we do everyday; and let's see if she has the same argument after 1 year.

by H.E. MS Teacher on Nov 22, 2013 7:26 pm • linkreport

@Alan P.,

The easiest, quickest route to high test scores is to attract parents who read to their children when they were toddlers, who provide their children with nutritious meals, who read themselves for pleasure and the other scientifically proven traits connected to high student performance. That people think whiteness or wealth alone are proxy for the aforementioned things is part of the problem, methinks.

I think you're reading a bit much into the previous comments. High SES parents (and, no, not all high SES parents are white) already do those things in overwhelmingly high numbers. That's not to discount poor and working class parents who also do so. But middle- and upper middle-class parents have greater social and financial resources.

You argue that all we need to do is "attract parents who read to their children when they were toddlers, who provide their children with nutritious meals, who read themselves for pleasure and the other scientifically proven traits connected to high student performance". Not sure how you propose that a DCPS school that must admit students as a matter of right is going to attract these parents. It's going to attract the parents in the neighborhood. Which means we either need to "fix poverty", with the obvious and well-documented problems that come with it.

It just seems a bit odd that "unilaterally fixing poverty in DC" is "the quickest, easiest route to high test scores" in comparison to just allowing uninhibited gentrification. Certainly it's the more moral option.

by oboe on Nov 26, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

If charter schools are doing a great job, why doesn't DCPS take some lessons from them?

Because the charter schools that outperform DCPS do so largely by a) encouraging self-selection by parents, and b) aggressive disciplinary policies (including expulsion).

Since attendance at most DCPS schools is matter-of-right for in-boundary students, a is off the table. b is politically unpalatable.

by oboe on Nov 26, 2013 10:07 am • linkreport

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