DC: Achievement Gap Capital of the United States

February 12, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So when you have this go on for years (huge gains for the well to do, not so much for low-income kids):

Ladner DC 7

You wind up with this:

DC achievement gap

It is only with some reluctance that I raise this topic. In one of the editions of the Report Card on American Education we spent an entire chapter on achievement gaps and just how tricky they can be. West Virginia for instance, down at the bottom of the chart, had a low achievement gap a few years ago because both White and Black scores were declining, but White scores were falling faster than Black scores…but the achievement gap was closing….Huzzah?

Um, no.

In the end though the situation in DC is much more straightforward: White scores are really, really high while Black scores are really low. In the end there really isn’t much lipstick to put on an almost sixty point achievement gap pig. DC has the highest scores for White kids in the country by a 12 point margin but scores for Black students towards the bottom of the barrel.

In 2015 DC’s White 4th graders had a substantially higher score on the 4th grade math exam (274) than Black students attending DCPS had on the 8th grade exam (248). I’m no social justice warrior, but that should sicken anyone’s soul.

This is again a partially a reflection of the gentrification trend. The fact that more well to do families are staying in the District is very good for the financial health of the city. Most of DC’s school budget is locally generated and the rising affluence of the District has in fact generated an embarrassment of riches on the revenue per pupil statistics ($29k+ per year per kid).

Would that the District of Columbia Public Schools had made better use of it. The charter sector, with approximately half of the resources per pupil, Black students scored 18 points higher on the above exam. This cuts the achievement gap between Black students attending charter schools and White students in their enclaves of excellence in DCPS by approximately a third. Miles and miles to go to be sure, but at least the journey is underway.

Meanwhile back at DCPS…it can be very hard to focus.


Gentrification is the primary driver of District of Columbia Academic Gains

February 9, 2016

The Capital is playing games with some limited success but low-income kids still hunger for academic gains.

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

New study out today from the Heritage Foundation authored by yours truly on education in the District of Columbia. I will serialize the study a bit with a chart or two per post. The view I had of K-12 in the nation’s capital going into the project did not survive my investigation. My initial view going into the project is summarized in this chart:

 

Ladner DC 4

Moving your 8th grade math scores from 230 in 1990 to 263 (combined district and charter) in 2015 is a lot of progress- by far the largest gains in the nation. While things are somewhat worse if we look at District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) scores alone (258) they still are far above the earliest measure. Better yet- when you examine charter scores in isolation from DCPS scores, the scores are higher still. Any actual education going on in DCPS back in 1990 looks to have been mostly accidental- I’m not sure what you would score on the NAEP math test if you just answered “B” every time, but with 3% of DC students scoring proficient and 83% scored “Below Basic” on the NAEP 8th grade math exam in 1990, it could not have been much lower. In 2015 19% of DC students scored proficient and only 49% scored Below Basic. The improvement is undeniable: time to CeleNAEP? Those gains dwarf anything seen out in the states, and the charter school sector getting close to half of the students is clearly a major driver of improvement. Twirl for me, girl on fire!

Alas while this story is true it is far from complete. What is going on in DC is both complex, partially encouraging and in the end very disturbing.

Overall enrollment in DC (district and charter) had been growing in recent years along with average incomes. A complex phenomenon is underway in which sophisticated young parents have figured out that they don’t need to move to Maryland or Virginia if they can find a spot in the right district or charter school in the District. In the end your kid doesn’t get educated by a district or a CMO but rather by a school. DC is the champion for NAEP gains, but it is also the champion for achievement gaps.

You can see the gentrification going on both in DC’s statistics and with the naked eye walking around town. Somebody keeps buying those million plus dollar brown stones and some of them are parents. This begs the question: how much of DC’s apparent academic gains owes to gentrification?

Sadly the answer is- affluent children have banked the vast majority of DC NAEP gains over the last decade.

Ladner DC 7

There is a lot going on in this chart so pay close attention. These are again NAEP 8th grade math gains by family income (FRL status) over the last decade. First look at the light blue columns- gains for FRL eligible kids. DCPS district equals an 8 point gain, which is indistinguishable from the national average of 7 points. The 17 point gain for free and reduced lunch kids attending DC charter schools is the only real bright spot for disadvantaged kids in the public school system despite decades of reform. We used 8th grade math for purposes of illustration but you see a similar pattern across the NAEP exams.

Now observe the dark blue columns- DC kids whose incomes are too high for a Free or Reduced price lunch under federal guidelines. Here the gains are truly extraordinary- a 28 point gain for non-FRL kids attending charter schools and a 39 point gain for middle to high income district students. I’m placing my bet now that this isn’t solely due to schools in Georgetown doing an ever-better job educating kids with law-firm names, but also to the fact that people who once fled to Va and MD finding a spot that suited them in DC.

So in 1990 let’s estimate that the number of DCPS FRL kids scoring proficient on 8th grade math as effectively zero. Twenty five years later, that figure is up to 8 percent for district kids (charters excluded). DCPS in other words remains largely what it has always been- an organization far better at employing adults than meeting the needs of disadvantaged children. As we will see in a future post, the academic results of DCPS continue to disappoint even in comparisons against other urban districts despite 15 years of strong progress and gentrification.

I am Ozymandias-Queen of Queens! Look upon the ineffectiveness of my broom ye mighty and despair!

Overall the situation in DC K-12 is very complex- with both positive trends and heartbreaking stagnation. Regardless of where you are coming from on the political/philosophical side of things, if you are a DC taxpayer you should not stand for this state of affairs as it touches upon economically disadvantaged children. The above chart shows is that despite a truly shocking amount of tax effort and a decade and a half of reform, what DCPS has figured out how to do is to give the most academically to the kids born on third base. Mind you this is much better than giving approximately nothing to anyone a la DCPS circa 1990, but that is in the big picture a cold comfort. In the end it is very positive for the fiscal health of the District of Columbia that third base parents can in fact get a quality education for their children it in the right bits of DCPS. Moreover, those third base parents are paying a mind-numbing level of tax and they deserve a quality education for their children.

So does everyone else.

 


Policymakers are Doing their Part to Kill Private Education in DC

December 30, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve been taking a close look at DC education, and I must say I’ve learned a lot- both good and bad. One of the bad things would be these charts from the Urban Institute showing that private schools are going the way of the Dodo in the District of Columbia. K-5 is above and grades 6-8 below:

 

A couple of notes: we’ve known for some time that charter schools hit private schools harder than districts- and well here you have it again. Also note that the collapse comes in spite of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program starting in 2004. DC’s charter school law effectively operates as a universal school choice program that reliably delivers more than $14k in funding to all comers, but limits the universe of schools to young and/or startup schools.

Now mind you, this is less than half the revenue per pupil in the District of Columbia Public Schools (traditional district-see Census Bureau second bullet Tab 11) and they get better academic results than the district at this lower cost. Bully for them. The law of unintended consequences however is a cruel mistress and she has been whipping DC private schools with a bloody cat o’nine tails.

No but you can have this…

The DC Opportunity Scholarship program meanwhile only offers a maximum of $8,381 per child for students in K-8, and unless it is both reauthorized and redesigned one cannot help but wonder if there will be many private schools for these students to attend in the years ahead. Please someone explain to me how it makes sense for a charter school law to operate as a defacto universal choice program at $14k per child, while the private choice program offers substantially less per child and only to poor children. The Urban Institute data clearly indicates that this is a recipe for extinction of the private school sector outside of elite institutions. To put matters bluntly- who in their right mind would seek to open a private school in preference to a charter school in DC under this system of finance? Did you miss the part where private schools have been dropping like flies while charter schools proliferate? The funding for charters is large, universally available and reliable. The funding for DC Opportunity Scholarships is small, restricted and uncertain.

It’s little wonder why a number of D.C. Catholic schools gave up the ghost a few years ago and converted into charter schools. The school financing system practically clubbed them over the head. I’d like to invite my friends from the pro-means testing wing of the private choice movement to reflect upon the viability of supporting DC style scholarship programs when those programs must compete with defacto universal choice programs with far greater funding. Who wins that battle? Sadly the universal program restricts eligibility to young/startup schools with limited curricular diversity- how does this make sense? If parents decide to extinguish private schools as a result of a remotely equitable competition, you won’t see me shedding any tears. Our currently policies however make it look like we are out to quash private schools kind of like, well, this:

 

 


DC District Schools are Improving Fast but not Fast Enough to Catch DC Charters

January 23, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

When the National Center for Education Statistics first released the 2013 NAEP data, the website refused to cooperate with requests to give charter/district comparisons for the District of Columbia.  This is of especially strong interest given that 43% of DC public school children attend charter schools.

Well lo and behold the NAEP website decided to start cooperating, and the data tells a pretty amazing story: district schools are improving over time in DC, but charters show even stronger growth.

NAEP takes new random samples of students in each testing year, but judges performance consistently across time. Making comparisons between district and charter students isn’t easy.  The percentages of students in special programs for children with disabilities and English Language Learners can potentially impact average scores. So for instance if DC charter schools have fewer children with disabilities enrolled, or fewer ELL students, or fewer low-income children enrolled, they could appear to be doing a better job educating students when the truth could be quite different.

Fortunately NAEP allows us to take these factors into account.  The charts below show NAEP data that gets as close to an “apples to apples” comparison as possible, comparing only the scores of Free and Reduced lunch eligible students in the general education program. Two other sources of bias that could be expected to work against charter schools involve new schools and newly transferred students. Organizations tend to not be at their best during their “shakedown cruise” and schools are no exception.  Also students tend to take a temporary academic hit as they adjust to a new school after transferring.  Charter schools tend to have lots of new schools full of kids who just transferred in-providing a double whammy when looking at any snapshot of performance.

Unfortunately, NAEP does not contain any tools for taking the age or the school or length of enrollment into account. Thus DC charter schools are fighting at a bit of disadvantage, and a very substantial funding disadvantage, in the below charts.

DC charter 1

DC charters may be fighting with one hand tied behind their back, but it did not stop them from scoring a knockout on NAEP. DC charters widened their advantage in the percentage of children scoring “Basic or Better” from 4 points in 2011 to 9 points in 2013.

DC charter vs district 8r

DC district students saw a large improvement in 8th grade reading between the 2011 and 2013 NAEP, but still found themselves trailing the achievement of DC charter students by 5%. In 4th Grade math, district students scored a very large gain, but charter students achieved an even larger improvement.

DC charter 3

On 8th grade math, district students demonstrated impressive gains, but DC charter students were 19% more likely to score “Basic or Better.”

DC charter 4

Hopefully the race to excellence will continue and even accelerate. Meep! Meep!


Expulsion Rates in DC

January 10, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Washington Post has an important story up about expulsion rates in DC district and charter schools.  I can’t figure out how to embed anything but Youtube videos so the link is here.

Go watch it.

I’ll be here when you get back.

Go on…

Ok good. One important item to note: if we were to go and look up the criminal incident reports we would quickly conclude that the expulsion rate in DCPS is far too low.  If I wanted to be cruel, I’d go dig up the crime data. The video specifies that DCPS expelled three students last year, while the charter schools expelled 200.

It seems self-evident to me that 3 was far too low, and it is difficult to know whether 200 is “too many” for the charter sector without a great deal more context.  A district where you have to make the FBI Most Wanted List before getting expelled is not a proper baseline for comparison.

Discuss amongst yourselves…


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,046 other followers