Lowest-performing D.C. public schools should become charters, report says

Source: Michael Alison Chandler, The Washington Post, September 15, 2015

D.C. Public Schools is not equipped to improve its lowest-performing schools and should have the ability to convert them to charter schools, according to a report being released this week by the Progressive Policy Institute. What the traditional school system is missing is greater autonomy to create specialty programs, extend school days, shut down failing schools or replicate high-performing ones, the report said. … The report, “A Tale of Two Systems: Education Reform in Washington D.C.,” was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. The Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute promotes market-based solutions to public policy issues.

Progressive Policy Institute Report:

A Tale of Two Systems: Education Reform in Washington D.C.
Source: David Osborne, Progressive Policy Institute, September 15, 2015

The older of the two, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), uses a “unified governance model” that emerged more than a century ago, in which the district operates all but one of its 113 schools and employs all their staff, with central control and most policies applied equally to most schools. Since 2007, when Michelle Rhee became chancellor, DCPS leaders have pursued the most aggressive reform effort of any unified urban district in America. Racing against them—and carrying 44 percent of D.C. public school students—is a very different vehicle, designed and built largely in this century. This model does not own or operate any schools. Instead, it contracts with 62 independent organizations—all of them nonprofits—to operate 115 schools. It negotiates contracts with operators, lets parents choose their schools, shuts down those that repeatedly fail to achieve their performance goals, and replicates those that are most effective. … Most experts agree that DCPS has more students “in crisis”—homeless, coming out of jail, former dropouts, and so on—because families in crisis don’t usually make the effort to apply for charters. And many charters don’t accept students midway through the school year or “backfill” seats after students leave, while most DCPS schools do. Far more students leave charters for DCPS during the school year than the reverse, and sometimes the new entrants set back schools’ test scores, graduation rates, and attendance rates.