Are DC charter middle schools “better” than DC public middle schools?

According to DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, charter schools “know how to do middle school really well.” When it comes to defining the phrase “really well,” are education reformers basing their narrative on quantity over quality, i.e. proficiency rates versus growth? What do you think? In this piece, you can compare the data between charter and traditional public middle schools within DC’s most notorious ward. The data in this piece is available here and here. After examining the “tale of the tape” between Ward 8 charter and traditional public middle schools, feel free to offer your perspective, or “sound off,” in the comment section.

2013 DC School Equity Reports: Ward 8 Middle Schools

Two PCS

KIPP DC – AIM PCS

Achievement Preparatory Academy PCS – Middle

Three Traditional Public Schools

Hart Middle School

Johnson Middle School

Kramer Middle School

Tale of the Tape

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The chart above illustrates the total number of Ward 8 D.C. middle school students enrolled in one of the five Ward 8 middle schools. According to the data, Hart Middle School enrolls the highest number of students in Ward 8. In fact, Hart Middle School is almost double the size of the two other traditional public middle schools in Ward 8. That said, student enrollment is comparable across the four remaining middle schools, albeit charter or traditional.

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This chart shows the total number of Ward 8 D.C. middle school students receiving free or reduced lunch. Based on the data, all three traditional public middle schools have a 99% rate of students receiving free or reduced lunch. The two public charter schools have less than a 90% rate of students receiving free or reduced lunch. However, both charter schools are over the 85% threshold. That said, do you think the slight differences between traditional and charter schools are a result of selection, or application, bias?

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This chart describes the percentage of special education students enrolled within each middle school. Hart Middle School has the highest percentage of special education students. That said, every middle school has at least an 18% composition rate of students with special needs.

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According to the data, all three traditional public middle schools demonstrated growth in overall proficiency scores for reading comprehension. Conversely, the two charter middle schools recorded a decline in overall proficiency scores for reading comprehension. Interestingly, Johnson Middle School, previously slated for closure in January 2013, earned the highest percentage growth.

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When it comes to the overall math proficiency scores, three of the five Ward 8 middle schools saw a decline in proficiency rates. The only two middle schools that demonstrated growth were both traditional public middle schools. Again, if we focus on growth, and not quantity, then we can interpret the data differently. As with reading comprehension, the two charter middle schools recorded a decline in overall math proficiency rates.

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Given the high percentages of students receiving free or reduced lunch, i.e. >85%, across all five middle schools, the data is comparable to the previous two charts. The only noticeable exception is Hart Middle School, which did not record a percentage increase nor decrease for this category.

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Of all the categories in this piece, the reading comprehension proficiency rate for students with special needs is, by far, the most troubling. Based on the data, not a single traditional public middle school, in Ward 8, demonstrated growth. In fact, only one of the five schools managed to record a percentage increase for their special education student population.

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Although reading comprehension proficiency scores for special education students are on the decline, the same students demonstrated growth, with regards to mathematics. In fact, four of the five middle schools recorded growth. Interestingly, Achievement Preparatory Academy has managed to increase students with special needs’ performance for both subjects. This begs the following question: What is Achievement Preparatory Academy doing well, vis-à-vis special education? And. Can this be replicated throughout the other four middle schools?

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Putting aside proficiency rates, the most unfair advantage between Ward 8 traditional and charter middle schools centers on “student movement.” According to the data, all three traditional public middle schools had a net increase in student enrollment, while, both charter middle schools had a net decrease in student enrollment (2012-2013). Interestingly enough, the most noticeable increase/decrease occurs between March and May. It will be wise to investigate the reasons for such a disparity between the two systems. Are these students moving because of academic or behavior reasons? Are the students / parents dissatisfied with the education offered at either type of school? Is the enrollment/withdrawal spike a case of DC CAS “dumping?” (Note: DC CAS administered in April)

What Do You Think?

So, is DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson correct? Do charter schools “know how to do middle school really well?” When it comes to overall proficiency rates, charter middle schools, in Ward 8, do outperform the traditional public middle schools. However, when it comes to demonstrated growth, all three traditional public middle schools show promising signs. Yes, their overall proficiency rates are still low, but should we not celebrate academic growth, any, and every, time occurs? If the phrase “really well” is simply defined by quantity, i.e. the overall proficiency rate of a school in math or reading comprehension, then are education reformers losing sight of the bigger picture. If a school is demonstrating growth, shouldn’t we continue to support, and invest, in its staff and students? What’s your take on the data presented above? Do you agree with Chancellor Henderson?

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One thought on “Are DC charter middle schools “better” than DC public middle schools?

  1. I personally don’t have a problem with charters. What i do have a problem with is comparing them to traditional schools and acting as if teaching quality is the difference. Folks need to understand Charters are like the modern day equivalent of parochial schools long ago. The families that tend to be stronger and value education will seek out charters as they sought out parochial schools.

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