Yesterday, the District of Columbia released new sets of school data, including attendance, discipline, student turnover, and test results disaggregated by student groups. We can now see, for example, how many students left a particular school and how many joined the student body throughout the year, as well as expulsions and suspensions.
The policy benefit of such data seems evident: With this data, policymakers can look more deeply into issues that challenge schools differently and re-consider funding systems. But the reports are being promoted, even by the chancellor of DC’s traditional public schools, as tools to support school choice, raising a number of questions…
- Will proving that traditional neighborhood schools experience higher student turnover and related challenges – which advocates have pointed out for decades — help attract more students to those schools?
- Without detail will suspension rates tell us anything useful about school climate? Is this a valid criterion for school shopping?
- How will these “Equity Reports” promote equity?
- Why are the Acting Superintendent (for all DC schools) and the Chancellor (for traditional public schools) promoting “choice” as an essential value across setors?
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Data and “Choice”
These “Equity Reports” are funded in part by the NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports school “choice” through individual charter operations and umbrella groups, like the FOCUS, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. The Equity Reports are described explicitly, in an official announcement by DC’s Acting Superintendent of Education Jesús Aguirre, as a tool for school choice:
“As the District’s population continues to grow and more families are choosing to enroll their children in D.C.’s public education system, it is vital that we equip our parents with a uniform set of metrics when searching for the best fit for their children as they navigate the myriad public school options.”
In the same official announcement, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, also champions choice, saying the new reports “empower parents with accurate, reliable information to help them make the right choices for their students.”
Scott Pearson, executive director of the Public Charter School Board said, stresses that “This first-ever Equity Report shows a strong, viable sector of public charter schools that are achieving strong results while serving a student population that mirrors the District.”
However, the Washington Post explored the data to illustrate how some traditional public schools are faced with substantial student turnover throughout the year, ending with a net gain of students after the enrollment audit in October, while some charter schools lose students after the fall audit but do not replace them. Pearson told the Post that the current funding system for schools, which does not change throughout the school year, is “probably creating the wrong set of incentives.”
The reports are a joint effort of the DCPS, the DC Public Charter School Board, and DC’s State Superintendent and Deputy Mayor for Education. Portions are available within DCPS and PCSB websites. The full data reports are here in two parts:
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