» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments

Fixing D.C.'s Schools: The Charter Experiment

Discussing Charter Schools | Interactive Map | Full Report

Monday, Nov. 15, Noon ET

D.C. Charter Schools

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Dan Keating and David Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 15, 2008; 12:00 PM

Staff writers Dan Keating, David Fallis and April Witt were online Monday, Dec. 15 at noon ET to take your questions about The Post's look at D.C. charter schools.

The transcript follows.

____________________

April Witt: Welcome everyone. There is obviously a great deal of interest in this topic. We appreciate you taking your time to join the discussion. Let's get started.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Nida is appointed by the Mayor to the school board. What did Mayor Fenty say when you asked him about what you have uncovered?

April Witt: That's a good question. We haven't heard the mayor's response yet today. We're awaiting it.

_______________________

New Carrollton, Md.: So, if one of these charter groups was to go to the worst school in DC and take it over, (but no vetting of students) would we see the same performance gains?

Dan Keating: Interesting question.

The charters that this story focused on are in the same neighborhoods as their troubled traditional schools. Almost all of the many children interviewed had been at DCPS, and they consistently said that the atmosphere was very different.

It's definitely true that charters have the baseline advantage that their parents/guardians sought out a school. There's no question that matters. But remember that a majority of DCPS kids attend out-of-boundary schools -- so those parents are making choices, too. All of DC is essentially a free-for-all in which parents can choose schools.

Teachers who switched from DCPS to charters said they saw virtually no difference in the kids they were dealing with or their families. They could all be lying, but in different interviews at different schools they said the population was not the big difference -- the difference was having a group of administrators, teachers and students all on the same page. The traditional system has a lot of in-fighting between administration, principals and teachers.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Why is everyone in love with charter schools when the average D.C. CAS test scores for all charter is no better then the average for DCPS?

Dan Keating: Good question.

The overall score gets very caught up in demographics because kids from advantaged backgrounds are much more likely to have success in school.

Since educating kids from disadvantaged backgrounds is the key challenge for ending DC's reputation as one of the worst school district's in the nation, we analyzed just performance of poor kids. That's where we saw that charters are having more success than the traditional public schools.

As we said -- and showed in a graphic the scores are still below national average, but they are much closer.

A lot of people have said there's no way to have success with disadvantaged kids, but the combination of high standards, consistently enforced behavior standards (doing it, not just saying it), safe environments and cohesive environments seems to be making a big difference.

_______________________

Lincoln Park: The Post points out the conflicts of interest of Tom Nida and Karl Jentoft. When Jentoft resigned from the Charter funding board, the Charter School Board moved to appoint another banker one who, like Nida, specializes in charter school loans -- Jeff Stout of City First Bank.

It's just great to be able to regulate the organizations that help provide your salary. The District's anti-bribery laws offer the following definition: "Official Action means any decision, opinion, recommendation, judgment, vote, or other conduct that involves an exercise of discretion on the part of the public servant." D.C. Official Code 22-711(3) (2001). I strongly suspect that any banker who loans to charter schools, whose bonuses and job performance are based on the health of the loans, has an conflict of interest in taking official action with regard to a charter under their supervision as a public official.

April Witt: Thanks for weighing in on this topic. Yes, Jeff Stout does handle charter lending for City First. My colleague David Fallis and I interviewed him on the topic.

Obviously, Mr. Stout was appointed before our stories raised public awareness about the potential for conflicts of interests on these public panels. And to be fair to Mr. Stout, he may well avoid all conflicts in his public conduct. But yes, the city needs to look closely at how they get experts on the credit committee who don't make a living off of loaning money to charters.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: How long does the experiment last? If a charter school is not performing better than public schools, when does it close and that money come back to make public schools better?

April Witt: My understanding is that the experiment gets to last at least five years. I believe that under current law no charter school can be closed in its first five years for merely poor academic performance. I believe it would have to have serious fiscal problems to be shut down during that period.

_______________________

Takoma Park, Md.: Thanks for your coverage,

I am wondering why there is not more reporting on the difficulties charter schools have had with the DC Public School system in terms of acquiring space? Charter schools have been denied use of empty DC school facilities and therefore have been forced to take out loans and refurbish abandoned warehouses. Have you researched this aspect of the story?

David Fallis: Hello there, thanks much for weighing. However, we did research and report on this. It was included in the story, and fairly prominently. You are correct that the schools are forced to take out loans to refurbish warehouses, etc., which contributes to the conditions (the clashing of private interests w/ public roles) we reported.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: What can be done about charter schools who try to put on airs of exclusivity? Aren't lengthy applications, academic testing, interviews, and recommendations prior to enrollment in violation of the requirement that charter schools be open to all city residents? In fact, has anyone considered renaming "Admissions" to "Enrollment?"

As a public school teacher, I can tell you that many of my students' parents had the understanding that some children might not be "good enough" to get into certain charter schools. I've also had parents ask me to write letters of recommendation many times for charter schools.

Dan Keating: That's interesting. Some of the charters are very forceful in promoting their high expectations -- on students and parents. They may be trying to scare off parents or students who will not rise up to that challenge.

The Public Charter School Board and Office of the State Superintendent of Education have to make sure that parents get unfiltered information about the application process. Printing formal letters is not a good way to reach many people. The recruiting is done at fairs and supermarkets, and I don't know if the official word gets out at those locations.

On the other hand, I interviewed many charter parents and they usually said they learned about the charter schools by word of mouth from relatives or neighbors or friends, so it seems that informal communication accounts for a lot of the "recruiting."

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Your stories leave the impression that charters are getting a sweetheart deal because they get a facilities allotment. You don't mention that public schools don't get this allotment because they are funded through the city's capital budget. How could you miss this fundamental fact? You also push the perverse notion that if a school is running a surplus that is a bad thing or somehow scandalous. I'm disappointed.

April Witt: The District is one of the few jurisdictions in the nation to offer charter schools a cash facilities allotment beyond it's basic per pupil funding. The District's facilities allotment is by far the most generous in the nation. Although it is called a facilities allotment schools are free to use it for anything they wish. The allotment is the same whether a school is paying more than $1 million annually in commercial rent or debt service -- or $1. The generous facilities allotment here is one reason that banks have been willing to lend to charters in the District.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: Not a question but a comment. My daughter went to the Stokes charter school in D.C. from K-2 grades. We then moved to Arlington and took her to Claremont (another dual-language immersion school). When my husband and I went to enroll we were treated rudely and told that they wanted to retain her because "D.C. schools really don't compare" based on absolutely nothing but the fact that she came from D.C. She ended up being sent to the county office for academic testing and then being tested again by the principal. At the end of her tests she not only tested on grade level but above grade level in math -- meaning they sent her on to the third grade. She was placed in the highest level reading group in her English class and her first report card was full of A's and B's.

There is no question in my mind that her education at the Stokes school is what has put her on the academic level that she is at. The school told me they had two other students come from D.C. -- one failed the tests and was retained, the other squeaked by and struggled so much that she/he was retained at the end of the following year.

Dan Keating: Thanks for your comment.

Unfortunately, the reputation of DC schools for low performance has real affects on people's lives.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: I know students from DC public schools that are "in need of improvement" according to NCLB are eligible to receive free tutoring. Are students from failing charter schools eligible for the tutoring, and if so, who pays for it -- the charter schools, DCPS, or OSSE?

Dan Keating: As I understand it, the federal law requires that children at a failing school have to be given the opportunity to go elsewhere. Because DC Public Schools doesn't have anough non-failing schools (as judged by NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress, AYP) to absorb all the kids at failing schools, compensatory education in the form of free tutoring is offered.

I'm sorry I do not know if the same offer is extended to children at charters that are judged failing by missing AYP for multiple years. Someone out there know?

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Your stories never posed the question, why are private real estate transactions a reality for charters in the first place? If we've decided that charters are a public good and we want them to exist, then they need a venue in which to exist. If the public won't provide that venue, then schools must look to the private market. Without bank loans, virtually no charters could exist or grow to a meaningful size. You missed the real scandal -- the District has failed to accommodate these schools.

April Witt: I agree with several of your points. The debate over pro-charter or no-charters has provided a smoke screen that distracted people from a key public policy issue. We have ever more empty traditional public schools. We have a growing charter system. District taxpayers have been stuck paying for two separate infrastructures - and one of them they don't own. So why have the powers that be not insisted that charter schools lease space in underused traditional public charter schools? That would mean that taxpayer dollars supported buildings owned by taxpayers. It would, even more importantly, mean that more dollars go torward educating the District's public school children rather than to developers and landlords. If charter activists and charter opponents agreed on one thing, I'd think they could agree on that.

_______________________

District of Columbia: Who appoints the members to the charter school board? And who has oversight of the charter school board? How could no one be monitoring potential conflicts of interest?

David Fallis: Thanks for writing. Individual members of the board are appointed from a list of three candidates provided by the Department of Education to the mayor's office, who in turn makes the final decision. The board is subject to the DC Office of Campaign Finance disclosure requirements, and corresponding laws regarding conflicts of interest. They are required to file annual statements regarding financial interests, etc. One of the roles of that office is to collect the annual forms. But my understanding is tha they do not actively investigate the accuracy of the disclosure forms, or whether people are violating the law unless they receive some sort of complaint alleging that a violation has taken place. Then they will do so.

_______________________

Anonymous: The District government has consistently denied D.C.'s public charter schools access to surplus school space. If the charters weren't locked out of buildings constructed using taxpayer funds -- in violation of D.C. law -- they wouldn't have to pay huge sums for purchasing or leasing commercial space, saving the District millions of dollars. As they do with commercial space, charters would renovate these buildings at about half the cost per square foot that DCPS-led renovations cost the taxpayer.

The major beneficiaries of the city's decision to refuse public charter school students into premises intended for public education are developers whose priorities are new condo buildings and profits rather than public education. These buildings are lost to the District forever.

Charters need these school buildings to house their ever-expanding enrollment. The desire for more money doesn't fuel this expansion -- it's driven by parental demand for the better schooling the charters provide. Charters get no more funding than DCPS, but have more to spend because their funding is not siphoned off by an inefficient bureaucracy. What's more, how the money is spent is controlled at the school site, thanks to the charters' autonomy from the school system.

David Fallis: Thanks for your comments.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Charter schools do not receive more funding than traditional public schools -- in fact, when you take into account the ways in which the District's capital budget supports DCPS, they receive less -- but they have the autonomy to make sure the funding gets into the classroom to help the children, as opposed to central administration. Their priority focus on the children is reflected in where they spend the funds they have.

April Witt: You are right in saying charter schools have more freedom to spend their public funding as they wish. My general sense, however, is that charters are getting more private philanthropic funding than is DCPS. But I can't quantify that. If someone wants to weigh in on that, please be my guest.

_______________________

Are charter schools more successful because of the parents?: Many critics of charters dismiss their achievements in part because they say that at least charter school kids have parents that are involved enough to enroll them.

Did you look into this and find any credence to this view?

Full disclosure: my daughter is in a DC charter school and from my perspective, the parents are markedly invested in their choice.

Dan Keating: Charter schools definitely have -- as an absolutely minimum baseline -- a parent/guardian who was interested enough to sign up rather than just have the child go to the default local school.

On the other hand, a majority of DC Public Schools kids are in out-of-boundary schools, so a majority of DCPS parents/guardians have made a choice, as well.

Many teachers and principals at charters who used to work in DCPS said they did not see a huge difference in parents or kids.

I've seen DCPS schools that have intensely interested, involved and focused parents. I've seen DCPS schools -- like Barnard Elementary under Principal Shirley Hopkinson -- who demand the same involvement of parents that charters have. And they get similar results.

One issue on parent involvement is whether schools REALLY want parents involved. Everybody gives lip service to that idea, but some schools very clearly make parents feel unwelcome while others work very hard to give parents a voice and input.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Thank you for your in-depth work.

I live in a ward where several traditional public schools are being closed for under enrollment yet several charter schools have opened saying they are "serving the local community." How is it possible for those two conditions to co-exist?

April Witt: That seems like a crucial public policy question for the city's leaders to answer.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: You've all spent a lot of time in charter schools for this series. Was there a cultural element common to many of them that you feel allows for a more rewarding educational experience for both the students and their families? It seems as though the word of mouth marketing on the grassroots level would point to this.

April Witt: I'd be interested in my colleague, Dan Keating, weighing in on this. But having toured a lot of public school buildings in the last two years - both charters and DCPS - I found the atmosphere in the best charters very striking. Some of those privately-owned buldings renovated with taxpayer money are gorgeous. They look like clean, bright centers of learning, and the children who attend them behave accordingly. Even the very young children we passed in the halls were orderly and polite.

_______________________

Washington D.C.: Just curious -- can't remember if this was in the articles or not -- but does D.C. have the highest number of charters of any U.S. city? or highest number per capita?

I knew very little of charters, but they seemed to be a good idea, providing choice for low-income families. But I thought the idea was also to provide some good old fashioned capitalist competition that would in turn force the public schools get their act together. That does not seem to have happened.

Thank you for these articles.

Dan Keating: I don't have exact figures on which district is biggest. Different states or counties charter them in different ways, so the biggest "system" depends on that.

I believe New Orleans may be the biggest at this point because the public schools were wiped out by Katrina. Cleveland also has a very big charter system.

The competition plays out by people voting with their feet to change schools. Since charters have opened, DC Public Schools have lost about 25,000 students and charters have grown to 26,000 students. DC Public Schools is closing schools while charters are opening and expanding. In fact, there are so many charters now that they are competing with each other for students as much as they are competing with DCPS.

If the patterns persist, DCPS is likely to keep losing students.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: You seem to attribute the success of public charter schools to funding. The key is not that charters get more funding, it's that they have the freedom to allocate it where it can make the most impact without it going to support a big bureaucracy. In fact, charter schools are shortchanged by the District in a number of ways including the Council's periodic supplemental appropriations to DCPS that don't get reflected in the student funding formula.

April Witt: I think the top charter operators might well say that their ability to raise money from private donors AND their freedom to use that money as they see fit are both factors in their success. It's not an either/or.

_______________________

Anonymous: Can you put in context the statements in the article that United had $65 million in loans out of the $2 billion to CS in D.C. -- isn't that about 3 percent -- and weren't all these deals shopped by the schools for the best financing alternatives -- did any school suggest that they were allowed to expand or obtain favorable treatment if they banked with United?

David Fallis: Thanks much for writing. It was actually a little more than $55 million. This reflects the time for which Mr. Nida was on the board and working at United. It includes loans directly to charter schools, and loans directly to the landlords of buildings that house charter schools. Generally, to secure the loans the banks secure interest in the charter schools' assets (facilities financing, equipment, building if they are the owners), etc. If they are construction loans, the banks are involved in approving the contractors, etc. The loans can be a short term line of credit or a decades-long note. The schools tend to send out packages for financing proposals, and generally try to pick one with the best options.

_______________________

Washington, DC: If a public school were to be built, there would be a long series of hearings before land was bought and the facility built.

The charters locate their schools with minimal review of the impact on the neighborhoods. The PCSB has basically ignored the local ANCs who know best the problems and needs of their neighborhoods. Charter location should be more transparent with maximum public input.

April Witt: The public record supports that your statements are accurate.

_______________________

Dan Keating: to the question above:
Washington, D.C.: You've all spent a lot of time in charter schools for this series. Was there a cultural element common to many of them that you feel allows for a more rewarding educational experience for both the students and their families? It seems as though the word of mouth marketing on the grassroots level would point to this.

Dan:
The clear cultural element was a unified purpose among the administration, teachers and students. I was not in all of them and I was not in any school long enough to prove that they weren't pulling one over on me, but dozens of interviews and many, many hours spent at the schools showed a very positive environment.

I've been in DC Public Schools have have a positive environment, as well. But even in those, teachers and administrators constantly express resentment and anger at DCPS central administration. And I've heard central administration constantly question the work ethic of teachers and administrators. That level of distrust is amazing.

A culture where the grown-ups trust each makes it a lot easier to teach kids. The experts doing research say high expectations and standards of behavior have to be applied consistently across classrooms. That's a lot more evident at charters than most DCPS schools I've visited.

Charter directors were very consistent in saying that they will not hesitate to get rid of teachers who they feel are not performing. On the other hand, they are also very eager to keep the teachers they like, and provide support and encouragement and training to keep them happy.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: April asked for input..."My general sense, however, is that charters are getting more private philanthropic funding than is DCPS. But I can't quantify that. If someone wants to weigh in on that, please be my guest."

Michelle Rhee is quoted frequently as saying she has secured $200M in private philanthropy to support her efforts in DCPS. I would fathom this is 10X+ more than all charter schools have raised philanthropically in the past two years.

April Witt: Thanks for that response. If someone has a supportably number for the total in all private donations to charters in the District, please weigh in.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: You say in your article that credit enhancement funding for District charter schools comes from District taxpayers. That is incorrect. Almost all of this funding is appropriated by Congress directly for this function.

David Fallis: Thanks for writing. The article says it comes from "taxpayers" generally (vs. District). Yes, it is federal funding, but it is at the basic level money from taxpayers.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Charter schools have to have an explicit vision and mission that is then aligned to their curriculum and their detailed accountability plans. This is the foundation of the school culture -- a vital and essential component of an effective school. I would like to see every public school in DC function and hold itself accountable in this way.

Dan Keating: Every DC Public School I've visited in the last two years has a Data Wall just inside the front door showing their test scores. It was a policy of Superintendent Janey that has stayed in place or been bolstered by Chancellor Rhee.

Under Janey, DCPS adopted very high academic standards and the DC CAS test that has been praised for being well aligned to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). All of the charters I spoke with have either adopted those standards or similar ones (Mary McLeod Bethune adopted the North Carolina standards because DC's hadn't been published yet).

From what I've seen, DC Public Schools are being held accountable.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Parents are desperate to find high quality public schools that are a good fit for their particular children. In DC, schools with differing specialities are available on an open enrollment basis primarily in charter schools. There are no charter schools where admission is based upon grades, auditions, or letters of reference. Yet, children who want math and science, art, public policy, leadership development, and performance can apply to charters, and if there is space, get in!

Dan Keating: I'm just guessing you're involved with a charter school or the movement in general. Thanks from the comment from your point of view.

_______________________

Washington: Do you have any indication that the traditional public school system is learning from the charter schools? Is there any possibility that if charter schools were brought under the administration of DCPS, they would be able to retain what they have been successful at doing?

April Witt: I honestly don't know the answer to your questions. One early premise for charters was that they would force failing urban school districts to get better by fostering competion. When I first started asking people about charters, one very smart insider told me that he didn't think that had happened because, in his words, "a dead horse can't run." That person, by the way, is not pro-charter or anti-charter. He's pro educating kids however we can best figure out how to do it. (He made that remark, by the way, before Rhee took over in the District.) If there is anything I've learned in my time reporting on both DCPS and charters is that solving the ills of large urban educational systems is profoundly difficult. There is no silver bullet.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Re: The Charter School Tutoring Question

NCLB does require charter schools to allocate part of their budget to tutoring if the school has not met AYP for two years in a row.

Dan Keating: Thank you for your input.

One thing I like about reporting in DC is that there are ALWAYS readers who know more about the topic of my stories than I do.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Do you think Tom Nida should resign?

Do you think Nida and the others can be prosecuted for their actions?

April Witt: Those are questions for people other than us to answer.

_______________________

April Witt: This just in....The spokesperson for the PCSB, says that the five-year rule was pre-Fenty law. She said that the Fenty law gives the PCSB
the option to close a school at any time for academic reasons.

_______________________

Old City: " I think the top charter operators might well say that their ability to raise money from private donors"

I'm curious: Is there anything preventing traditional public school principals from raising money from private donors? Kind of like a mega-bakesale?

April Witt: Not that I know of. DCPS parents are constantly trying to raise money to pay for things that used to be considered basics like art classes, music lessons, even librarians.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: If you agree that there's "no question" that parental self-selection gives charters an advantage over public schools, why was that not addressed in your article? The truth is that any comparison like the one you made is essentially meaningless, because it doesn't (and can't) control for obvious confounding possible causes of variation. Rather than acknowledge that, you offered a shallow statistical comparison accompanied by a number of anecdotes praising the charter model. Next time try finding a real expert on education statistics; anything less is a disservice to your readers, and, ultimately, policymakers.

Dan Keating: Thank you.

You are absolutely correct that we did not try to do a study in which we could control for any factors.

But in the end it does not matter. If the charters are stealing all the best students and leaving the dregs for DCPS, that's news. If they are taking similar students and producing better results, that's news, too.

If we visited the schools and saw that they looked exactly like DC Public Schools, we'd wonder how they could have significantly better test scores. But when you visit the schools, you see a big difference.

When I spoke with the very experts you describe, they said the factors we saw effectively implemented at the high-performance charters -- longer school days, more schools days (Saturdays and summers), cohesive cultures, consistently applied behavior rules, teachers who show students they are committed to student success -- are the proven factors in educational success, especially among disadvantaged youths.

I've seen those same practices at DC Public Schools. But the principals I've interviewed from both systems made clear that it's much easier to get that cohesive approach at the charters.

Here's an example (I know, I know, anecdotes aren't evidence) I found instructive: DCPS and the union collectively did a staff satisfaction survey last winter. Both Rhee and the teachers union urged cooperation. But just over half of the staff filled out the online questionnaire, and 42 schools had no published findings at all because participation was too low.

That's an indicator of a system where people do not work together in at atmosphere of trust.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: How many DCPS graduates does the Post have on its writing and editorial staff? And, how many of the writers and editors for this story send their children to DCPS?

Assuming the answer is close to zero, I wonder why you would say there are so many "critical questions" about the Charter School alternative that has finally forced DCPS to consider reform.

I applaud your recognition that D.C. Charter Schools are doing a better job educating the poorest D.C. school children, but I wish you would respect the right of D.C. parents to seek a better life for their children.

April Witt: I know lots of people in the newsroom who not only send there children to DCPS schools in their neighborhood, they work hard to support those schools and raise money for things that the per pupil funding doesn't cover.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Some years ago, Congress declared that all surplus vacant DCPS properties should go first to charters. Seems to me with the recent closing of all these schools, charters would have ample space. The groups having the real trouble finding space are nonprofit organizations who get shoved aside in the interest of the charters.

David Fallis: Thanks for your comments.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: High school graduation and college acceptance rates, and securing college scholarship funds, are another area in which the life-changing quality of public charter schools can be seen. The city has pledged to work together to "Double the Numbers" of DC public school students who complete college in five years. We should be working together to learn what works best, for whom, under what conditions -- so that dramatically more of our high school students graduate, get into college, and ocmplete college!

Dan Keating: Thank you for your opinion.

I know Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia found that just sending kids off to college was a problem when kids lacked the great amount of support that college students need. The school set up a fund just for helping alumni who faced fiscal challenges at college that would not trouble wealthy or middle-class kids, but were posing problems for kids who don't have home resources to fall back on.

More of that kind of thinking may be necessary.

_______________________

Capitol Hill: Why are there no transcripts of Public Charter School Board meetings? Especially when they make decisions on locating schools in communities or expanding them? Aren't they bound by DC's Sunshine Laws?

April Witt: Good questions. I believe that the Public Charter School board has over the last year responded to pressure from the public, the elected officials of the ANCs, and a ruling from the attorney general's office by becoming somewhat more open. They gave us, for example, thousands of pages of documents. They now post minutes on their web-site, which they did not always do. I would note, however that there are some meetings for which the PCSB was not able to provide us ANY minutes much less transcriptions.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Do special education children or emotionally troubled children go to charter schools? What other highly difficult to educate groups are left out of charter schools' amazing success rate?

April Witt: Certainly charter schools can and do take emotionally troubled and/or special ed kids. However, critics certainly complain that charters can help their own test scores by wait-listing kids whose disabilities might bring them down. Neighborhood traditional schools have always taken all comers and tried to lift all boats, if you will. I do not know if the criticism of some charters admitting selectively is true or not. But that's certainly a consistent complaint.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Is there a self-selection phenomenon at work that helps to explain the "better than public" statistics that charter schools put forth? Aren't the kids who go to charters generally from families with more involved parents? What about more "difficult" kids who don't come from homes with interested parents? Do the charter schools do their share with that group? What about special education kids?

Dan Keating: Yes, every charter school kids has a parent/guardian who got involved and made that choice. Many of the parents I interviewed said they heard about the schools by word of mouth from friends or neighbors or relatives, so it seems that the schools that are having success are pretty well known in the community. They are expanding as desire to go there is strong.

Many of the kids I spoke with at charters had gone to regular public schools and spoke of struggling academically or having behavioral problems at the traditional schools. So charters are not getting all angels.

Special education is a particular challenge. Educators at DC Public Schools and charters consistently agree that children are being labeled as "learning disabled" in DC when they are really suffering from inadequate academic intervention to overcome disadvantaged backgrounds. They all agree that the system in DC is in desperate need of being corrected. Some special ed parents have said they do not feel welcomed by the charters, while some charters are specifically designed to serve special education students.

As the charter experiment proceeds, dealing with special education and fairness and per-pupil cost have to be ironed out

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Through your research for this series, and, I assume, your compare/contrast with other cities with similar charter school populations, do you feel that the D.C. Public Charter School Board receives adequate support from the city/community?

David Fallis: While we did look at some charter issues in a national context, we did not do a city vs. city comparison on this point, so it is difficult to know what is "adequate."

_______________________

April Witt: Thank you everybody for taking the time to join us. It's been our pleasure. If anyone has ideas for further reporting we need to do on this topic, please email us at fallisd@washpost.com, witta@washpost.com or keatingd@washpost.com

_______________________

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


» This Story:Read +|Watch +|Talk +| Comments
© 2008 The Washington Post Company

Discussion Archive

Viewpoint is a paid discussion. The Washington Post editorial staff was not involved in the moderation.

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity