Too Much of a Good Thing: Charters

Kipp- MontgomeryIt would help not to have too many charters. I like school choice, but I also believe you can have too much of a good thing. Yes, you can have too much chocolate, too much fun, and too many clothes. When the DC Public Charter School Board approved 5 new charters, I thought, that’s too many more charters.

I’ve been pouring through a lot of public and charter school data, for the fun of it. There are sucky DCPS schools and there are sucky charter schools. One would hope that the sucky charter schools go away, but like evil robots, they become self-aware and fight their termination. Try a cool idea, succeed and continue, or fail and close.

I looked at the application of one of the approved schools, the Social Justice School. In their statement of why the school is needed, they stated,”Social Justice School meets the needs of a diversifying District where most schools remain highly segregated. We will pursue educational justice as an intentionally integrated community” and further in the piece mentions the need for high performing middle schools. They admit they cannot control who applies to their school (and gets in via the lottery) but they plan on borrowing recruitment techniques from highly sought after charters. For a school that doesn’t seem to have a real world example elsewhere to point to I’m doubtful. But try an idea, and see if it succeeds. If it doesn’t, close it.

I also looked at schools that didn’t make it. Like the Arabic Language School and BOLT Academy. They both seem like really cool ideas, one teaching a language that is in need and the other being a study abroad school, but they had weaknesses which lead to their rejection.

A little less than half of DC students attend charters, but DC still needs DCPS schools. Many DCPS schools do serve a need, just not all. DC Charters serve a need, but let’s not get silly with flooding the market with too many schools when you’re not closing the low performing ones quickly enough.

Fooling Around with Data: Neighborhood schools vs unneighborly schools

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been fooling around with DC Public School (DCPS) and DC Charter School data. Now for my childless friends there are reasons to be nominally aware of what’s going on with DC schools. If you’re in a sought after boundary you could sell your house for more than a similar house just on the other side of the boundary (ex. Deal Middle School). If you have friends or neighbors you like (or don’t like) with kids, schools can mean they stay or go. Your neighborhood can get clogged with SUV driving parents dropping kids off or swarms of teens converging on your neighborhood metro station. For neighborhood policy wonks schools can mean keeping a middle-class tax base from automatically heading to the burbs.

So let me start with some definitions and categories. In-boundary– aka school catchment area, school attendance boundary or zone is a geographic area determining which school kids are assigned. What I’d call magnet schools, DCPS calls city-wide schools. Then there are the selective high schools like Duke Ellington and McKinley Tech. Outside DCPS there are charter schools, a bunch of independent schools, of varying quality, that are free for District of Columbia students.

Anyway, the DC Policy Center has a really cool graphic regarding in-boundary schools on one of their blog posts about in-boundary and charter schools. I have strong negative feelings about their real estate related papers, but regardless, they have very nice graphics.

I was having fun but noticed the data was from 2016-2017, so I went hunting for newer data and found a bunch of ‘fun’ Excel files.

If you really want to know peoples’ values, look at what they do, and that’s been fascinating.

For school year 2017-2018 there were only 4 schools (all elementary) where over 90% of the students attended their in-boundary school. Deal Middle School, the school Mayor Bowser referred to when promising Deal for All, only had 78.9% of the students in the boundary. Deal is also the largest middle school in the city. It is more than three times as big as the next biggest middle school and twice as big as most education campuses, which mix middle and high schools. But abut 20% of students who could go to Deal, the best DCPS middle school, their parents decided, “nah, we’ll pass.”

What’s up with that?

I was having fun looking at the percentages of different schools from the DC Policy Center data and then looking at the 2017-18 Public School Enrollments per DCPS excel sheet. The weirdest thing, I thought, was with schools where a majority of the students came from the boundary but most of the kids in the boundary went to other schools. And those other schools weren’t necessarily charters. It’s like parents saying, “we believe in public schools, just not the one we’re assigned.” And when some lose the school lottery, they move.

Neighborhood schools v unneighborhood schools

The neighborhood school would be the in-boundary school, not necessarily the nearest school. Looking at the excel sheet I mentioned above, if 10 or more students attended a public (DCPS/charter) school other their in-boundary school it was listed. There are some kids in the Seaton boundary going to Cleveland and Garrison elementary. But those are only about a dozen or so kids per school. In the Dunbar boundary, a chunk (total Dunbar enrollment 617) of 128 attended McKinley Tech and 109 attend Wilson. McKinley isn’t that far (by bike) from Dunbar and from what I can tell a huge chunk of kids in the Dunbar boundary make up the student body (128 out of 620). Considering the huge portion of Ward 5 Dunbar’s boundary consists of, McKinley might be closer, since it is further east. Also considering Ward 5 is served more by the red line, you may as well stay on the train for a Wilson, in the middle of the Van Ness and Friendship Heights stations at Tenleytown.

I’ve mentioned that I’m agnostic when it comes to DCPS, but I get the idea of the neighborhood school. I get the idea of kids from the neighborhood going to school with other kids from the neighborhood. But only Mann, Janney, Key and Lafayette have a 90% plus neighborhood participation rate. When I look at where the kids in the Seaton boundary go, majority go to neighborhood charters or nearby DCPS schools. So they are sorta kinda still in the neighborhood.

Education Agnostic

First I fully support the Save Shaw Middle School effort. Regardless of what happens, the effort is needed. Because of efforts by parents and others to save the Shaw campus for Shaw families, I’ve learned what my in-boundary options look like. Seaton, our in-boundary school, currently feeds into Cardozo Education Campus for middle and high school.


When it comes to DC public schools (DCPS), I’m agnostic. I’m a product of several segregated and later sorta desegregated secondary schools, then post-secondary schools with the first name of University of [State]. I have worked with a variety of people who are products of public and or private schools, and known parents who have sent their children to a mix of schools or homeschooled for a variety of reasons. In DC I have witnessed how the option of charter schools kept families from jumping ship as soon as previous families had left.

100_0681.JPGI’m agnostic about DCPS, because I remember what things were like in the mid-nineties and early 00s.  DC schools used to suck. Parents were voting with their feet and the Cook school closed because of low enrollment. A lot of DCPS schools closed due to low enrollment. Then there was the explosion of DC charters, and many of them took over neighborhood school buildings that were doomed to close or had been abandoned. There is a complicated history of the Armstrong School, but it was empty, then a charter fixed it up (but that charter failed) and we didn’t have a crappy abandoned building sitting next to the building that looked like a prison (Dunbar). The Cook/Cooke school also in that part of the TC, was saved from the horrid fate of Langston, which has been abandoned and is falling apart, by a charter. So not even touching the education part, charters have been great in saving Truxton and parts of Shaw from the threat empty school buildings.

But getting back to education, I don’t desire to speak ill of neighborhood schools, but I cannot ignore what previous parents have done. In observing the choices former and current neighbors have made,  they don’t want what DCPS is offering. If they are true believers in public schools, they move. Either they move west of the Park (WOTP) or out to the ‘burbs where the elementary to middle school options are more palatable.

Right now Destructo-toddler’s education needs are unknown. But I am concerned about him as a bi-racial kid. If he sees himself as black as opposed to bi-racial, there are certain pitfalls that knee-cap the success trajectory of black boys where public schools unwittingly play a part that worry me. So unless the school environment he needs exists a few years before he’s supposed to attend that school, it is not an option.

I’m not a true believer in public education. I’m agnostic. When it comes to Shaw Middle, I admire those fighting. Neighborhood-wise, it is necessary to make it a neighborhood asset. But it does not exist as a functional school yet, and I can’t judge its value. Seaton is okay. Playing with (OMG we had so much fun with this spreadsheet!) SY2017-18 Public School Enrollments per DCPS Boundary Excel file, we could see that a lot of parents choose out of boundary schools and charters. You have to go west to find the true believers, but even they eventually lose the faith.

Shaw Middle School – Reprieve

If the Mayor want’s an empty school building to renovate there is one on the unit block of P St NW.

Just a quickie-

Thankfully, yesterday, the DC Council voted against Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to use the Shaw Middle School site for Benjamin Banneker High School. Parents of the elementary schools that surround the empty Shaw Middle School want it to be the stand alone feeder middle school. Currently, the Cardozo Educational Campus is the feeder middle and high school, and parents have said no to that, by voting with their feet.

You could make this about gentrification, but it isn’t. Banneker is a fine school. In fact it is a school one has to qualify for, like Duke Ellington. It is also predominately African American, so that’s where the weak gentrification thing comes in. Thing is, Banneker is currently up near the northern end of the Howard University campus….. not in Shaw. Actually, I’m not sure what neighborhood it is in, as it is too far east to be Columbia Heights and on the wrong side of Howard to be LeDroit. The Shaw Middle School building would theoretically be an in-boundary school for Shaw middle schoolers, should their parents decide to send them there. Banneker would not be an in-boundary school for Shaw high schoolers. No, the in-boundary high schools are Cardozo and Dunbar.

Okay, so for the time being, Shaw Middle School as a concept has been saved.

Yay.   There wasn’t anything guaranteeing that Shaw would get renovated though, just that it wasn’t going to get handed over to a selective school.

Now if the city is just itching to fix up a school somewhere, there is a building on the unit block of P Street NW, across from Mundo Verde I’d like fixed up or torn down.

Voting with your feet or #SaveShawMS

Seal- Board of Education for DC Public SchoolDC schools aren’t of much interest to folks without kids.  They are of interest to people who like their neighbors who have kids. Because if the neighborhood schools suck and if they don’t get into the charter they want, then there is a strong possibility that family is moving. I have seen it with my own eyes.

Back in the 00s, as soon as a couple found out they were pregnant a moving van followed. There were a few who stuck around, a hardy bunch who sent their children to charter schools, but there were many others who left. I can think of a few couples who left before their kid was born, those who left before their kid formed complex sentences, and those whose luck ran out (or figured it would) when the 2nd or 3rd kid didn’t get into their sibling’s charter. These families voted with their feet.

Last night I attended one of many meetings that has occurred and will occur about middle school options for Shaw families. The “elephant in the room” as one parent described it was the currently empty Shaw Junior High School at 925 Rhode Island Ave NW. The meeting organizers focused on the Cardozo Feeder Pattern, see elementary schools in Shaw (Seaton, Garrison, Cleveland, etc) feed into Cardozo Middle School which is the same site as Cardozo High School. The percentage of kids who actually move on to Cardozo from Shaw elementary schools is crazy low. Like 12% low when the city average is 40-some odd percent. Parents are obviously voting with their feet and saying ‘Hell no’ to Cardozo.

At one point in the meeting we broke out into discussion groups. Upon hearing this the Help rolled his eyes and was glad he stayed home. One of the questions for the group was how could parents commit to placing their kids to the Cardozo feeder program. Short answer- yeah that’s not happening. We came up with improving programing, separating the middle school population from the high school population and making the high school better. However earlier in the meeting a woman mentioned that they’ve been talking with the Cardozo principal for 6 years about programing, and she asked can we just say the Cardozo solution is a failure?

My impression of the meeting was that it was local government theatre. These meetings allow the Mayor, the decider, to check off a box to say she let the community be heard. My spidey sense tells me she’s just going to ignore neighborhood parents’ wishes. Parents’ choices will be playing the DC school lottery for a better DCPS school or a charter or voting with their feet out to the ‘burbs.

#SaveShawMS Twitter-
Shaw Middle Site is Best for Shaw Elementary Schools-
Seaton Elementary School-

Cardozo Education Campus-

Strong Start Program

Logo for OSSE Strong Start ProgramThere is a disclaimer at the end.

So I had some interest in Bill B22-0203 – Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act of 2017 or Act 22-453, Birth-to-Three for All DC Amendment Act of 2018 when I saw it mentioned on DCist. Perusing through the amended version of B22-203 I noticed a mention of Strong Start, a program Destructo-Baby participates in, so let me give you the low down on it.

Because of several factors (long hospital stay, being a premmie, and some prenatal things) our adoption agency social worker and later a pediatrician suggested the OSSE Strong Start program. So I filled out the application and got our social worker to sign off on it (I could have used the pediatrician). Eventually they got back to me and had an initial interview in our home. This was followed by an evaluation by an occupational therapist and a physical therapist.

Destructo-Baby was about a month under baked, so he qualified because he was developmentally delayed, compared to babies who pop out at 40 weeks. Looking at his report he needed to be 50% delayed or 25% delayed 2 areas. He was 3 months at the time, so he was delayed in everything, because he was developmentally 2 months.

So what did this mean? For the past 10 months he’s had monthly, and early on bi-monthly visits with a occupational and physical therapist. Some of the visits were at our home, but later several sessions were at the day care. At our home the therapist gave us tips and activities to work on to strengthen the baby. As first time parents, those tips became priceless.

Strong Start is a great program and it only costs us our sick leave. Our precious, precious, precious sick leave. I love my son. I also love my annual leave and my sick leave. Those visits at our home were in the day, during the work week, so yeah, that had its cost in leave. That’s why I began pushing more visits over to the day care, who were happy to accommodate whichever therapist.

This program does not (as far as I can remember) consider parents’ income. Which is good because trying to see the developmental specialist through our HMO has been darned near impossible. Destructo’s doctor is aware of this, and isn’t too concerned because he’s been working with Strong Start.

Disclaimer- If we don’t get renewed for the next year, that’s fine. He’s a little behind in a few things, but not so much that we’re concerned. He’s in the system and if things get serious, I know who to contact. This post is just to share our experience.

Pretty Good Thanksgiving- DC Schools

Formerly Frozen Turkey in Road

We had a pretty good Thanksgiving. How about you?

I, the Help and DestructoBaby trekked out to the hinterlands known as Beltsville, MD to have Thanksgiving at a relative’s house.  DestructoBaby was the life of the party. His presence gave us an opportunity to talk about the DC school system and clear up some misunderstandings…. Hopefully.

The Lottery- You don’t have to pay for it. I have no idea where they got the idea that one had to pay to participate in the school lottery. It’s not like the other Lotto where you buy a ticket and hope to get money. As far as I can tell there is no application fee.

Waitlists are a thing. They were amazed when I mentioned the waitlist for Mundo Verde was over 1000.

Charters are free. They know charters are different.  One of my relatives is a retired Maryland teacher, and I know PG County has some charters.  I really don’t know the difference between PG and DC charters, except in DC charters are a big deal. But yeah, charters, like the regular public schools are free to residents.

Yes, Seaton is that school near Shiloh Baptist. They attend Shiloh so yeah, that’s an operating school when they aren’t there.

Aren’t they all out of the way? Okay this one confused me. They know where my house is. They know where Seaton is. I’m not sure why they think it’s out of the way. Despite being able to pick 12 schools in the lottery, I can only think of 5 or 6 we’d apply to and most of those are in walking distance or along the Help’s commute to work. It must have been those stories about kids with long commutes to school.

Gentrification and Schools

I’ve been in the DC area since the mid 1990s. I remember when a friend described sending your child to DC Public Schools (DCPS) as a form of child abuse. So I really don’t think current residents have an appreciation of DCPS improvements and the options that DC Public Charter Schools (DCPCS) provide.

210 P St NW Open House
View of a charter school and a public school from a new development.

So I found an announcement for a talk about “building healthy, respectful, and equitable communities in gentrifying schools” interesting. Interesting as in curious, not interesting as in actually showing up. The event has a Facebook page if the topic is of interest to you.

Despite DC’s demographic change in the last few decades where the African American population is no longer above 50%, Blacks remain a huge majority in DCPS schools. The percent of AfAm students dropped only from 71% in the 2011-2012 year to 62% in 2016-2017. Still a majority. The Latino and white student population rose from 15% & 10% in 2011-12 to 20% and 14% in 2016-17.  And considering 75% of students participate in the DC school lottery, and that has many students commuting across the city (and some from Maryland… bastards) to goal of “building healthy, respectful, and equitable communities in gentrifying schools” curious.

Now I’m not saying anything against integrating schools. Integration is good. I’ve known some adult white DC natives whose parents sent them, purposefully to their neighborhood DC school at some point in their childhood, and they turned into amazing adults with professional jobs. And I’ve heard from DC Charter school parents about trying to make school events more inclusive, a good thing. I can’t say how those efforts worked out because I didn’t have kids nor married at the time, and thus didn’t really care.

If all things remain constant our little man could go to the neighborhood school Seaton (but I’m aiming for Mundo Verde). He can join the 1% multi-racial demographic. Maybe when we get closer to Kindergarten, I’ll find events like this more interesting.


Views from Dunbar High School

So one night I decided to test my spouse, the Help, about schools in DC. Sadly, despite all our conversations about schools, we were not in agreement about the nature of schools and our choices.

I created this table for the Help, maybe it will help you too.


DC Public School (DCPS) DC Public Charter School (DCPCS)
Free to DC students Free to DC students
DC Government owned buildings Mix (former DCPS buildings, rented commercial space, etc) and locations can change
Available to in boundary K-12 students. Out of boundary & Pre-K must enter My Schools DC Lottery New students must enter My Schools DC Lottery regardless of address
Has wait lists for popular schools Has wait lists for popular schools
Aftercare costs $850.50 for 2018-2019. Before care availability varies. Many have before and after care. Costs on a sliding scale.
More than 1/2 of students are in the DCPS system 47.5% of students are in DC charter schools
Quality varies by school Quality varies by school
State Board of Education members are elected DC Charter School Board members are nominated by Mayor


So the schools question- We lucked out no reason to move, now

Yeah, Babyman is less than a year old and I’ve got the next 17 years planned. But you know what they say about plans.

We will be playing the DC School Lottery in 2 years. I’ve got my first choice in mind, even though Babyman has a better chance of getting into Harvard than Mundo Verde.  So what if he doesn’t get into Mundo Verde, it would not be the end of the world because we happen to be in the boundary for Seaton Elementary, which isn’t that bad.

Actually, it is a bit better than the first elementary school I attended. I looked up my old elementary schools (yes, schools) using Great Schools. GS may have its faults but it allows me to compare my nieces and nephews schools with DC schools. Being in DC can warp ones view of things. My other elementary schools have transformed in the (mumble) forty some odd years since I’ve attended. One is a magnet school the other is some sort of community center. My old elementary school scored 4 out of 10, only because it rated highly on race (34% black, 34% white) everything else was 2 out of 10. The former all black elementary school I attended, which is now a magnet school, scored 10 of 10. Racially it is now 15% black, 62% white, 12% Hispanic, and that’s also rated 10 of 10. Students scored 97%-100% proficiency in math and english tests.

Seaton compared to Munde Verde, if you were just going by test scores (Seaton -math 47%, ELA 31%, Mundo Verde math 42%, ELA 44%) are close enough. I’m attracted to Mundo Verde’s bilingual programming and yes, its proximity to my house. Looking at the 2018-2019 waitlist data, the 1,702 long waitlist is, something to keep in mind. The only problem with Seaton, for my needs as a parent, is the lack of a before school program. Munde Verde has before and after care programs.

We really won’t know what his educational needs are until he gets older. Right now his interaction with books involves trying to eat them. He’s giving off a mechanical engineer vibe, in that he seems like he wants to know how things work…. and then he tries to eat whatever it is.

So our in boundary school is acceptable enough that it doesn’t warrant moving out if we don’t get our desired lottery choices. If the boundary changes, then yes, we’d have to consider other options if we don’t get our preferred school. You know what’s cheaper than daycare for a baby? Pre-K Catholic school, and that’s an option.