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The D.C. School Equity Report

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Yesterday, for the first time, the D.C. Public Charter School Board, D.C. Public Schools, the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education, and Office of the State Superintendent of Education combined forces to release the D.C. School Equity Report. The document lists detailed data regarding each public school in the District of Columbia, including such statistics as the percentage of special education students served, student body demographics by race, expulsion rates, and DC CAS scores for this year and last. It was produced through support from NewSchools Venture Fund. I'm sure researchers are going to have a field day with all of this information.

The most interesting part, which was also picked up by the Washington Post's Emma Brown, revolves around the student turnover statistics. For each school the Equity Report graphs the number of students exiting and enrolling by month from October to May. Flipping through pages you find a consistent pattern.

For most traditional schools the chart looks like a fork with enrollment stable at the beginning of the school year and then you see two branches with five to ten percent of children leaving and another similar percentage arriving. In many cases the quantity of kids falling into each category is much larger. Can you imagine the academic and cultural challenges these changes bring?

For charter schools the trend is clearly different. For this system the top part of the split is usually missing and the trail turns gradually south. Charters tend to lose students as the term progresses although again there is large variation in this statistic.

I'm sure that this phenomenon is caused by what I will call the Charter Effect. Even though charters have now been around for more than 15 years the high expectations that are set by these schools are often extremely difficult sometimes for parents and children to accept. When a student was getting straight A's in the neighborhood schools and then is struggling in the charter the reality of the situation is startling.

Ms. Brown includes this response from the executive director of the PCSB about the migration of students in charters. "Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said that although there are many valid reasons for a student withdrawing mid-year, he would like to see less mobility among charters. He said that the effort to make data public is meant to nudge schools to change without resorting to new regulations."

Charters would love to provide services to decrease the likelihood that students will leave. However, these institutions still receive significantly less money per child compared to traditional schools. This is where I have a problem with the title of the report. Only when there is true equity between the two education systems in revenue and facilities we can start making apples to apples comparisons.

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