Which groups are over- or under-represented in regular DC public schools and the DC charter schools?

I’ve been taking a careful look at where various groups of students in Washington DC are enrolled, using various official DCPS and OSSE documents, to see which groups are under- or over-represented in my city’s regular public schools and charter schools.

Here is the bottom line:

Black students are over-represented in the charter schools, but every other single group I calculated (special education students, English-language learners, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, Hispanic students, students deemed officially At Risk, white or Asian students, multiracial students and even students who got ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ on the DC-CAS) are over-represented in the regular DC public schools.

I will present my results below in the form of circle graphs, and I made it so that the area of each circle is proportional to the total number of students in each group. I also showed where the division line between the public school population and the charter school population would be if the subgroup’s population was split evenly among the two school systems. If you want to take a closer look at any of the graph, merely click on it.

All Publicly-Funded DC Students

First, the overall student population. As you can see, the regular DC public schools enrolled 57.2% of all publicly-funded students last year, while the charter schools enrolled 42.8%, and the total population was 76,659 students.

pie chart all students dc 2014 dcps vs charter

African-American students

Next, let’s look at where Black (African-American) students are enrolled. You may be surprised to find that they are over-represented in the DC charter schools, and under-represented in the regular DC public schools. They are the ONLY group to be divided in that manner.The dotted circle represents the entire population of publicly-funded students; last year, Black students represented 71.6% of that entire enrollment, or 54.894 students. Only 52.7% of those (Black) students were enrolled in the regular DC public schools, which is a smaller percentage than the percentage seen in the orange slice of the pie chart just above this paragraph. And 47.3% of all African-American students in publicly funded schools are in the charter sector, which is a larger percentage than the percentage shown in the green slice in the previous pie chart.

pie chart black students charter vs public dc 2014

Students in Poverty

Next, let’s look at students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, but keep in mind that this statistic is no longer very accurate, since for the last two years, quite a few schools have been permitted to designate every single one of their students as eligible, no matter what the family income might be, if the school as a whole fits various conditions. For what it’s worth, here is the graph:

pie chart free or reduced lunch charters vs public 2014

As you can see, 70.8% of all students in regular public schools and in the charter sector (or 54,270 students) are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is a measure of family poverty. Of those students, 60.4% are in the regular public schools, which means that students in poverty are somewhat over-represented in the regular DC public schools.

Special Education Students

pie chart special education charters vs public 2014

Here, the green-and-orange circle is fairly small, because according to the official statistics, only about one student in eight (or 12.5%, or 9,592) is officially considered to be in special education. Once again, the outer dotted circle shows the size of the entire DC publicly-funded student population, both public and charter, and you can see that special education students are over-represented in the regular public school sector and under-represented in the charter school sector.

Students Learning English as a Second Language

pie chart ESL students charters vs public 2014

Here we are looking at students who are learning English as a second language (the acronyms for this status change nearly every year – ESL, ESOL, ELL, etc). Not all of them are of Hispanic origin! There are probably over a hundred different languages spoken by the parents and families of students enrolled in DC’s public and charter schools.Once again, this group of English-language-learners is over-represented in the regular DC public school sector; as a whole, they make up about 9.2% of the entire student population.

Hispanic Students

pie chart hispanic students charter vs public 2014

Here we are looking at the entire population of Hispanic students (quite a few of whom are fully fluent in English!). Once again, this subgroup is over-represented in the DC public school system and under-represented in the charter school sector. They compose about one student in seven of the grand total (14.4%), and of that group, 65.0% are enrolled in the regular DC public schools.As a reminder, the percentage of students enrolled in the regular DC public school system is only about 57%, so this is about an eight percentage-point gap.

At-Risk Students

You may recall that this is a fairly new, official subgroup of students, comprising students who are homeless, are over-age, on welfare or food stamps, and various other indications of risk. I have heard from some charter advocates that these numbers are not always accurate. I don’t have access to school-level official records; I only have what  DCPS and the charter sector provide to OSSE and then OSSE disseminates.

pie chart at risk students charters vs public 2014

Notice here that the dotted line for equal division is very close to the dark line separating the orange wedge (regular public schools) from the green wedge (charter schools). So while this group of students is over-represented in the regular public schools, it’s not by a lot (1.4 percentage points). Note that At-Risk students make up nearly half (45.2%) of the entire DC publicly-funded student body!

White or Asian Students

pie chart white or asian students charter vs public dc 2014You may wonder why I combined the populations of white (caucasian) and Asian students. Simple answer: both groups are pretty small; in fact, many schools have none at all of either group. In cases where there were some students enrolled, but there were too few for them to be enumerated, that meant there were fewer than 10 students. I arbitrarily decided to make that number five (5) at each such school. I also omitted Native American students altogether because their numbers were so tiny you couldn’t even see the circle if I were to draw one.

Unlike in some cities, where white students are self-segregating themselves into charter schools, DC’s self-segregation pattern is different in that about half-a-dozen elementary schools in upper Northwest are located in overwhelmingly affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods. For various reasons, white families there are sending their students to those local public schools (and to Deal and Wilson) in greater and greater numbers, so the proportions of white students at those schools has been pretty steadily increasing for the past 10 years or so. By contrast, there is only a very small number of charter schools that have any significant number of white or asian students.

As a result of these historical patterns, you can see that white and asian students are very strongly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector: 78.8%. White or asian students make up about 10% of all publicly-funded students in DC.

Multi-Racial Students

This is another relatively small group, comprising less than two percent of all publicly-funded preK-12 students in DC. It is strongly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector.

pie chart multiracial students charters vs public 2014

Students Who Scored ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ on the DC-CAS

You may be surprised to discover that students who “passed” the DC-CAS in 2014, that is, who were marked ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ on that test, are slightly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector. Caveat: in my calculations, I averaged the percentages of those ‘passing’ in reading and those ‘passing’ in math, to come up with a single number for each school. I then calculated how many students that was at each school who ‘passed’, and then added all those totals together, for each school in each sector, and then compared those totals to the entire population in that sector. (Not by hand! I used Excel!)

pie chart prof or adv on dc-cas charters vs public 2014

So there you have it: for all of the subgroups I calculated, every single one was somewhat or slightly or strongly over-represented in the regular DC public school sector, except for the total numbers of African-American students.

Published in: on March 19, 2015 at 3:30 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Is there any way to get data on retention/dismissal rates?


  2. Do you mean holding students back in a grade, and/or suspension rates?


  3. LearnDC has data on “mobility” between schools. It doesn’t get into expulsions vs. voluntary transfers, but there is lots of anecdotal information about how schools “counsel out” kids and call them voluntary transfers but they are expulsions in all but name.


    • I’m playing with that mobility data right now. The vast majority of the charters admit nobody at all after school starts; they all lose students, anywhere from 1% to 20%. The regular public schools on the average gain about as many as they lose.
      In addition, the official suspension rates at the charter schools are much higher than the official suspension rates at the regular public schools.


  4. Guy, if you control for the very affluent and very white ward 3 schools, what happens to this information. Charters are located generally in poorer parts of the city due to cost of real estate and how does that skew the data.

    It would also be interesting to see the racial and poverty characteristics of students who move school mid year. Doubt OSSE will share the data on that, but you can be surprised.


    • I’m positive that the kids who move from one school to another mid-year are predominantly poor, at risk, and black or hispanic. I don’t see how to show that via data though.


  5. You can find charter school data at data.dcpcsb.org.


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