How Well are Charter Schools in DC Educating Students Who are Officially At-Risk?

The results may surprise you.

To answer this question, I used some recent data. I just found out that the DC City Council has begun requiring that schools enumerate the number of students who are officially At-Risk. They define this as students who are

“homeless, in the District’s foster care system, qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or high school students that are one year older, or more, than the expected age for the grade in which the students are enrolled.” (That last group is high school students who have been held back at least one time at some point in their school career.)

So, it’s a simple (but tedious) affair for me to plot the percentage of such at risk students, at each of the roughly 200 publicly-funded schools in Washington, DC, versus the average percentage of students who were proficient or advanced in math and reading on the 2014 DC-CAS.

I was rather shocked by the results. Here are my main conclusions:

1. For almost all of the schools, to get a rough idea of the percent of students passing the DC-CAS, simply subtract 90% minus the number of students ‘At-Risk’. The correlation is very, very strong.

2. There are only THREE DC charter schools with 70% or more of their students At-Risk, whereas there are THIRTY-ONE such regular public schools. So much for the idea that the charter schools would do a better job of educating the hardest-to-reach students (the homeless, those on food stamps, those who have already failed one or more grades, etc).

3. The only schools that have more than 90% of their students ‘passing’ the DC-CAS standardized tests remain, to this day, the small handful of schools in relatively-affluent upper Northwest DC with relatively high percentages of white and Asian students..(Unless you include Sharpe Health school, where students who cannot feed or dress themselves or hold a pencil are somehow deemed ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ by methods I can only guess at…)

4. As I’ve indicated before, it appears that for the most part, DC’s charter schools are mostly enrolling smaller percentages of At-Risk, high-poverty students but higher fractions of the students in the middle of the wealth/family-cohesion spectrum than the regular DC public schools. There are a few exceptions among the charter schools: BASIS, Yu Ying, Washington Latin and a few others are succeeding in attracting families and students at the high end of the socio-economic and academic scales.

5. It looks like we are now turning into a tripartite school system: one for affluent and well-educated familes (relatively high fractions of whites and Asians; mostly but not all in regular Ward 3 public schools); one for those in the middle (mostly blacks and hispanics, many enrolled in charter schools), and one for those at the seriously low end of the socio-economic spectrum, overwhelmingly African-American, largely At Risk, and mostly in highly-segregated regular public schools.

Very, very sad.

Here is the graph that sums it all up. Click on it to see a larger version.

bicolor, at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

In blue we have the regular public schools of Washington DC for which I have DC-CAS data for 2014, from grades 3 through 8 and grade 10. In red we have the privately-run but publicly-funded charter schools. Along the horizontal axis, we have the percentage of students who are officially At Risk as defined by the DC CIty Council. Along the vertical axis, we have the average percentage of students who scored ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in math and reading on the DC-CAS at those schools. The green line is the line of best fit as calculated by Excel. Notice that the data points pretty much follow that green line, slanting down and to the right.

To nobody’s surprise, at both the charter and regular public schools, on the whole, the greater the percentage of students at a school who are At Risk, the smaller the percentage of students who ‘pass’ the DC-CAS standardized tests.

The colors do help us see that at the far right-hand end of the graph, there are lots of blue dots and only a small number of red ones. This means that the vast majority of schools with high percentages of At Risk students are regular DC public schools. You could interpret that to mean that parents in more stable families in those neighborhoods are fleeing from what they see as the bad influence of potential classmates who are extremely poor, homeless, have already repeated a grade, and so on, and are flocking to charter schools who have the freedom to expel or ‘counsel out’ such students and to impose a relatively strict behavior code that the DC Council forbids the regular public schools from using. (Their latest initiative is to forbit ALL out-of-school suspensions, no matter what…)

Dots that are above the slanted green line supposedly represent schools that are doing a better job at teaching to the tests than would be predicted by the At-Risk status alone. Dots below the line are doing a worse job than would be predicted. Notice that there are dots of both colors both above and below the line.

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I wish to thank the indefatigable Mary Levy for collecting and passing on this data. You can find the original data source at the OSSE website, but I’ve saved the larger table (all 2008-2014 DC-CAS data) on Google Drive at this link. I took the average of the percentage of students ‘passing’ the DC-CAS in math and in reading as the proficiency rate. The note on the at-risk data table reads as follows:

Data Source: SY2013-14 student-level data from OSSE. The list includes DCPS traditional, DCPS citywide specialized, DCPS selective schools, and public charter schools, but excludes any DCPS or public charter adult education or alternative school. The definition of at risk students includes students who are homeless, in the District’s foster care system, qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or high school students that are one year older, or more, than the expected age for the grade in which the students are enrolled.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The students at the Health School likely participate in an alternate sassessment. I’m not sure about what the one in DC looks like, but the ones in NY aren’t very appropriate for the students. They are, however, relatively easy to fudge.

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    • In the past, they definitely got an alternative assessment with which nearly 100% were proficient or advanced. I was told that they now had to take the same one as everybody else. Who knows? I don’t.

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  2. […] another look at the brand-new data concerning four variables in the District of Columbia schools, about which I wrote a couple of days ago. The difference here is that the dots representing the schools are more-or=less proportional to the […]

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  3. […] Anyway, let’s get to some data. G.F. Branderburg put together the following dataset: […]

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