Poverty vs Proficiency In DC Public and Charter Schools

You’ve all heard the slogan:

“A child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in.” Source

Reformers like Bush2, Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Adrian Fenty, Bill Gates, the Bradleys and the Waltons, all said they were going to bust the educational effects of poverty in DC and other places around the country. Their chosen methods were gutting the teachers’ unions, establishing lots of charter schools, firing or forcing into retirement thousands of teachers, establishing a revolving door of inexperienced teachers who almost all crash and burn out after a few years, and transforming schooling into all testing and test prep, all the time, especially on-line, so as to collect lots of data.

Have they been successful at solving the zip-code-and-destiny problem?

If we look at the only publicly-available data that we have for Washington, DC, namely PARCC scores and percentages of students who are designated as ‘At Risk’, the answer is:


Look at these two graphs, which I’ve prepared by matching the percentages of students scoring ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ in Washington, DC, at every single DC public school and charter school, versus OSSE’s official list of the percentages and numbers of students officially designated as being ‘At Risk’.

Unfortunately, the correlation is extremely strong, and negative. In other words, the fewer the kids who are officially ‘At Risk’ at any given school, the higher the percentage of kids scoring ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ on the PARCC – the Big Standardized test given in April of 2017. And obversely the greater the percentage of students at risk at any school, the lower the percentage of students ‘passing’ the PARCC.

The effect is particularly strong in the English and Reading part of the test.

(Note: I didn’t make up the ‘At Risk’ category. It’s relatively new, but combines statistics regarding homelessness, receiving food, living in poverty, divorces, family members being incarcerated, and so on.)

Here is the graph I made for the English Language Arts test. That R-squared correlation, 0.7016, is one of the strongest correlations you will find anywhere in the social sciences.

2017 ELA Parcc, proficient vs at risk, public and charter

Now here is the graph for the Math section of the PARCC:

2017 math PARCC proficiency vs at risk, public and charter

This is certainly not an indication that education ‘reform’ in DC has been a success. After more than a decade.

Next time I’ll break this down into charters and public schools. I think you will find that many of the charter schools have populations near the middle of these charts, while the regular DC public schools have populations near the extremes.

Many thanks to Ruth Wattenberg, Mary Levy and Matthew Frumin for showing me where these data files were kept – here and here. Any errors are my own.




A Few PARCC Scores Have Been Released for DC Public Schools

If you would like to see how District of Columbia public high school students did on the PARCC, you can look here at a press release from DCPS administration. This test was on ELA (reading) and Geometry. The scores for grades 3-8 have not yet been released.

The disparities in ‘pass’ rates between the DCPS magnet schools (Banneker and Walls) and every other DC public high school are amazing, particularly in geometry. Notice that several schools had not a single student ‘pass’. This year’s test gives students scores from 1 to 5; only a score of 4 or 5 is considered ‘college and career ready’ — although no studies have actually been done to determine whether that statement is actually true. Banneker and Walls have the lowest rates of students labeled ‘at risk’.

Here are two graphs which I cut-and-pasted from the press release. Click on them to enlarge them.


HS-PARCC geometry

Given what I’ve seen of the convoluted questions asked on released sample PARCC questions, it is no wonder that ‘pass’ rates dropped a lot this year, compared with previous years. The DC-CAS wasn’t a very good test, but PARCC is terrible.

Please keep in mind that public education in the District of Columbia has been under the control of DEformers like Michelle Rhee, Kaya Henderson, and the Gates and Broad foundations, for over 8 years now. The students taking this test last spring have been under their rule since they were rising third graders. Every single teacher in DCPS was either hired by Rhee or by Henderson or else passed numerous strict evaluations with flying colors, year after year, and has been teaching just as they were directed to – or else.

And this is the best that the DEformers can do?

A closer look at charter and regular public school enrollments, percentages of students at risk, and percentages of students ‘proficient’

Here is 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 size of the student body.

1. Is this a regular public school, or a charter school (blue or red):

2. What fraction of the kids at that school are officially considered to be At Risk? (That’s the scale along the x-axis at the bottom of the page)

3. What is the average percentage of the kids at that school are ‘proficient’ in reading and math on the DC-CAS? (That’s the scale along the y-axis at the left-hand side of the page)

4. How big is the school? (That’s the size of the dot, more or less; the legend is at the bottom left-hand corner of the graph)

Time spent looking carefully at this graph will be well-spent. If you click on it, it will expand.

It will certainly show that charter schools have not revolutionized education for the better in DC: for both types of schools, there remains a very strong, negative correlation between the percentages of kids At Risk and ‘pass’ rates on the DC-CAS.

Note that most schools have between 200 and 500 students and that most of the ones that are smaller are actually charter schools. As I wrote a couple of days ago, the schools with the largest fraction of At-Risk students (say, over 2/3 of the student body) are almost all regular DC public schools.

On the second graph, which is otherwise identical to the first, I’ve labeled some of the larger schools.

fixed bicolor, size of school and at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

Here is the one with names of some of the larger schools, so you can see how individual schools fall on this graph.

(Sorry, I there was not enough room to label every single one, and my non-existent HTML skills won’t allow me to make it so that any of the dots are clickable. If any of my readers know how to do that and would like to offer to make that happen, then please let me know in the comments.)

again fixed and revised names and bicolor, size of school and at risk vs average dc cas 2014 proficiency, both regular public and charter, dc

And here is the entire data table. So you can see where every single school lies on these three dimensions.

(PS: I added a few more names of schools and corrected four other small errors, two pointed out by an alert reader.. 2/22/2015)

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.


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.
%d bloggers like this: