Charter Schools vs Public Schools in DC – by Erich Martel

A very insightful analysis by retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel:



As you know, although I am a supporter of DCPS and DCPS teachers, I have been a strong critic of the management of DCPS and those who openly colluded with management to undermine standards of achievement and behavior.  Only recently, have I looked more closely at DC public charters.


The first issue, whether one wants to employ the competition model or not, is the fact that DCPS is being managed and run in a manner designed to intimidate teachers and produce a continuous, high rate of replacement (“churn”).  If this were a sport, amateur or pro, DCPS leadership would be jailed for throwing the game to the opposition.  Now in the sixth year of chancellor management, well over 50%, probably 60% or more of the teachers were hired by Rhee and Henderson.  They have a contract that enables them to tweak the annual staffing plan so as to throw several hundred effective or highly effective teachers into excess, where they have no right to existing vacancies (so, we’re not talking about seniority, whose demise preceded this contract) for which they are certified and have effective evaluations.


Most principals are on a one-year contract and know that they should hire short-time TFA more than excessed teachers.  The early May excessing is different from the end of year evaluations that cause some to be terminated for “ineffective” or second year “minimally effective” evaluations.


DCPS’s 120 schools are supervised by approx. 13 or 14 “instructional” supts., probably the highest ratio in the country.  Their main job appears to be seeing that principals support test prep.  Do they ensure that teachers are not being pressured to give passing grades to failing students?

DCPS still has credit recovery classes to provide “remedial” short cuts to boost graduation rates.


Each year, DCPS twists the knife of IMPACT evaluation so it’s a little more difficult to meet.  The follow the termination timetables to the T.  They delay hearings on grievances for months and years.


Who paid for IMPACT?  The funding came from “Fight For Children Foundation,” one of whose officials, Skip McCoy, sits on the DC Public Charter School Bd.  How many charters use IMPACT?  As far as I know, none.  (The funds came from the Robert Foundation, which sponsors “Fight Night)

Why are the charter promoters pushing a teacher evaluation system on DCPS that they don’t push on the charters they authorize?


There is no correlation between IMPACT evaluations and student improvement/performance.  It is, pure and simple, “junk science,” a system designed to make it easier to terminate teachers.


Finally, last year, with great fanfare, Henderson adopted Common Core curricula.  For the previous 4 years, with much better standards than CC, curricula were ignored.


So.  You can’t have competition, if one “competitor” is led by hostile management that is openly pro-charter.


What about the charters’ performance?

How well are they doing?


One can rank them by DC CAS and some are better.


What’s very clear, which you can see from the charts I posted (all public data), charter high schools transfer huge numbers of students after the 9th grade audit.  And more by 12th grade.  As such, they are employing a private school privilege:  they strongly impact their entry level enrollment and very directly and affirmatively their enrollment after that by transferring out those who don’t fit:  Over a five year period: over 40% within 18months, just prior to the 10th grade CAS test.


The charter board has a new 3-tier evaluation instrument (Tier I: 65% or higher performance; Tier II: 35-64%; Tier III: 0-34% performance).  What do they mean?  They compare to nothing outside the realm of DC Charters, not even to DCPS?


What about PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP scores, which offer a national comparison?  Not posted.  Like DCPS, the announce pseudo performance results (% improvement over last year, but without actual numbers that mean something).


Who goes to charters?

The same parents who are more engaged and look for alternatives out of boundary, in private schools, etc., a self-selected group, which is then culled through by the charters, esp. in high schools.  So they end up with a group of students that is higher performing and better behaved.


How many of these parents look to charters, because their local school is marked by disorder in the classroom and halls and because the charter is better managed?


Why is it that the same foundations & FOCUS, et al. that aggressively support the charters:

1)   Promote punitive DCPS management policies (Walton, Arnold, Broad, Robertson) via DC Public Education Fund to excess teachers and give huge bonuses – both expenses now transferred to taxpayers, e.g. DCPS appropriated funds, despite the fact that Rhee’s promise of improvement (“expected gains”) never materialized – which means:  they never held Rhee or Henderson accountable for their failure:  Non-profit accountability?

2)   Are stunningly silent about the huge abuse of the de facto private school privilege of transferring students at any time of the year?

3)   Don’t require the charters to require the same performance standards required.


4)   FOCUS and Charter Bd members proudly announce that bad charters are put out of business.

But charters, like DCPS, are groups of teachers and students.

What happens to the teachers?

Most importantly, what happens to the students?  Where do they go.

Approx 200 charter high school students in the Class of 2012 were left high and dry when their schools were closed (KAMIT, WmDoars HS, Young America Works, Ideal), but they were not included in the calculation of graduation cohort rates?


Why do the charters, that already enjoy special privileges, need to have their own lobbying groups – largely supported by the same group of foundations?


If a charter school is so much better, i.e. actually meeting the needs of students who are years behind when they started in a charter, why aren’t we hearing about it?

What methods are they using that are better?

Are they employing methods that DC PS ignores?

How are they addressing behavior and disruption problems?


I suspect the following:

1)         They recruit a higher level student

2)         They transfer out students with lower scores and poor behavior

3)         They pressure teachers to give higher than earned grades

4)   The charters want to do what Henderson wants to do:  Bring in online companies that will make it easier to pretend that student performance is improving.

Like Rocketship:  Hire teacher technicians for 1/3 of the class day.

5)         There is cheating by those with access to tests and grade records

How can I say this without evidence?

I have seen the evidence in DCPS’s supposedly “best high school” – Wilson .

If there is pressure from above to do well on performance indicators (tests, graduation rate)

And there is no equal pressure to ensure that students have meet standards before receiving a grade, then cutting corners, i.e. cheating will occur.


Get me the authority to look at student achievement data from any charter high school and free access to teachers with the caveats:  I report my findings to the inspector general, mayor and council and, in redacted form, to the media.

If charters are squeaky clean, they should have no problem agreeing to this.

If not, they’re hiding something.


I will be happy to be proven wrong with reliable evidence.


Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 6:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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