FOCUS DC News Wire 2/2/2015

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Should GED lead to a diploma? District considers changing policy to help outcomes [The Next Step PCS mentioned]​
The Washington Post
By Michael Alison Chandler
January 31, 2015

The graduates wore royal blue and white robes. The principal talked about “closing one chapter and beginning another.” Students got awards. Parents cried.

Thursday night’s ceremony was like those at most high schools, with one exception: The piece of paper inside the gold-embossed folders school leaders handed to students at the end.

“The principal signs it and we stamp it with a seal so it looks very official, but it’s really not a diploma,” said Juan Carlos Martinez, principal of the night school at the Next Step Public Charter School in Columbia Heights.

Because the students were graduating from a GED program, the District granted them a high school equivalency certificate. In the future, though, these GED graduates could earn a traditional high school diploma under a proposal the Office of the State Superintendent of Education is developing.

Advocates say that offering the students a diploma, as Maryland and 12 other states do, would wipe clean a stigma that makes it harder for GED graduates to get a job or pursue higher education.

The proposal is part of a broader conversation about what a high school diploma should mean. Does it acknowledge a student’s understanding of a set of skills and knowledge, or should it also recognize academic and social experiences, such as lectures, labs, electives and daily routines that aren’t measurable on tests?

It’s a pressing question for education leaders in the District as they seek to restructure high schools to raise graduation rates and give high school dropouts a chance to earn a living wage. About 60,000 adults in the District lack a diploma or an equivalency certificate.

In December, the State Board of Education considered a policy change that would untether high school credit from time spent in class — a century-old metric — and create more flexible paths toward a diploma, such as passing a test or doing an internship or project. A vote was delayed to give the community more time to respond. The “superintendent’s diploma” for GED graduates was included in the plan.

Some board members said they are in favor of the concept of a GED diploma as a means of opening more doors for poor District residents.

Ruth Wattenberg (Ward 3), a new board member, said she thinks GED graduates should be recognized for their effort and skills, but she is concerned that offering a diploma for GEDs might send mixed messages to students after the board spent several years increasing academic expectations for what students should learn at school.

“On the one hand, we are raising standards, and on the other hand, we are saying ‘Oh, look: Here’s a back door you can go through,’ ” Wattenberg said.

The battery of tests known as the GED, for General Educational Development, recently underwent its largest overhaul in 70 years in an effort to make it more rigorous and reflective of the expectations of colleges and employers.

Starting in January 2014, the test moved completely online with new questions that reflect the Common Core State Standards and updated science standards. As with the old test, the score required to pass is set so that test takers must outperform 40 percent of traditional high school students.

In its first year, pass rates dropped. According to preliminary numbers, out of 444 test takers in the District, 298 completed the exams and 63 passed. At Next Step, just two passed all four tests in 2014, but 13 more students passed in January.

The overhaul followed criticism that the GED has failed to live up to its promise of providing a second chance to high school dropouts. Historically, GED recipients have not fared as well as high school graduates in college and the job market. Studies show significant gaps in earnings and job turnover.

A 2011 GED Testing Service study found that about 60 percent of test takers said they planned to pursue post-secondary education, but just 43 percent enrolled; about a third of those students dropped out after a single semester, and just 12 percent graduated.

Advocates say the difference in outcomes has more to do with the difficult life circumstances that lead people to drop out of school as well as the perception that a GED is inferior, and they argued to the board in December that a diploma would give GED students a lift.

Maryland has offered diplomas to GED graduates for decades. Virginia gives GED recipients a certificate.

Patricia Tyler, Maryland’s director of adult education and literacy services, said she is not aware of any research about whether the diploma has made a difference in employability. But she said recipients can say they have a high school diploma.

Harry Wingo, president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said he is in favor of giving GED graduates the benefit of the doubt: “We should be more about creating paths to success and not setting up barriers.”

The U.S. military is more cautious about the GED. The government has found that attrition rates are higher for recruits who earned a GED, and military recruiters have a cap on the number of GED graduates they can enlist.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman and other economists have studied outcomes for GED graduates and concluded that the test is not a good predictor of success because it measures only cognitive ability.

“There certainly are situations where employers need people who understand math better, but for a lot of jobs, that’s not why people get fired,” said John Eric Humphries, a University of Chicago economist. “It’s because they yelled at a customer, they were late to work or they didn’t call when they didn’t come in.”

Attending high school gives students more opportunities to learn such noncognitive skills, he said.

Next Step is designed to offer some parts of a traditional high school experience along with GED preparation. The school has about 500 students annually, many of them immigrants who have experienced hardships and breaks in their education. For those who enter at the eighth- or ninth-grade level, it usually takes about a year and a half to graduate, school administrators said.

Students move at their own pace. They build relationships with teachers and each other, and counselors help them work through personal challenges and, as they get closer to the test, make plans for college or work-training programs.

When students do get their GED certificate, “they guard it with their lives,” said Martinez, the principal.

Graduate David Marquez held his certificate proudly after Thursday’s ceremony.

“This is my first step,” he said. Next comes more English classes, then community college. He was too old to enroll in a typical American high school when he came to the United States from El Salvador at 19, he said. He started working and then enrolled at Next Step last year. He accelerated through the material and passed the Spanish-language GED.

“My mother all the time tells me, ‘Make real your dreams,’ ” Marquez said. “My dream is to be a graphic designer.”

Exclusive Interview with Justin Rydstrom, IDEA PCS head of school [IDEA PCS and Thurgood Marshall PCS mentioned]
The Examiner​ LAST​
By Mark Lerner
February 2, 2015

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down recently with Justin Rydstrom, the newly appointed head of school of Integrated Design Electronics Academy or IDEA PCS. IDEA was recognized last December by then D.C. Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, and executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board Scott Pearson for their remarkable turnaround and extraordinary growth in student academic standardized test scores. Our conversation began with Mr. Rydstrom explaining to me that IDEA is unique among charter schools in the nation’s capital.

“It is one of the original charters approved under the Board of Education,” Mr. Rydstrom informed me. IDEA is housed in the old Carver School on 45th Street, N.E. which closed in 1988. The school began as a joint project of Phelps Career High School in conjunction with the University of the District of Columbia. It had, and continues to have, a vocational bent combined with Army JROTC. Funding came from Federal grant dollars, local money, the Department of Education, and the Department of Defense. The founding board members and school leadership, headed by Col. Norm Johnson, largely consisted of former military officers.

“The founders were wonderful people who were in this solely for the benefit of the children,” Mr. Rydstrom related. “They were in it with all of their hearts and they deserve recognition for their commitment to founding this school. Having already served in the U.S. Army, they chose to give back to their country once again, this time in the community. However, they lacked some of the experience necessary to run a high performing charter school and over time the school’s performance declined."

At the beginning of 2012, IDEA was facing revocation of its charter after the school posted a decade of horribly low DC CAS results. At a hearing following the decision, attorney Stephen Marcus challenged the closure on legal grounds and, as the Washington Post reported at the time, hundreds of students and parents showed up to make the case that the school should continue operating. Only after the charter promised to replace the school’s leadership, restructure the board, and hire TenSquare, the charter school support organization run by Thurgood Marshall Academy co-founder Josh Kern, was the school allowed to keep its doors open on a conditional basis.

Mr. Rydstrom had gotten to know Mr. Kern as a social studies teacher during the early years of Thurgood Marshall Academy when Mr. Kern was the charter’s executive director. In Spring 2012, Mr. Kern informed Mr. Rydstrom about IDEA’s work and introduced him to the newly formed IDEA board, under the leadership of David Owens, an energy executive leading the restructuring work of the trustees. After a national search for new leadership, the board hired Mr. Rydstrom, along with John Goldman, an experienced businessman and charter school leader as executive director, to take the reins for the 2012 to2013 school year.

For Mr. Rydstrom, accepting the offer had much to do with its location in Ward 7, where Mr. Rydstrom already lived with his family, and the school’s rich history. The facility, built in 1903 and previously called the Deanwood School, is named after George Washington Carver, a former slave who became a prominent scientist specializing in botany. It was the first school to serve African Americans in the community. Mr. Rydstrom believed this opportunity was a calling.

The following January the charter faced its 15 year review before the PCSB. It was denied. However, with the restructuring plan that had been put into effect by the board, the PCSB permitted IDEA to continue operating on probation, along with Mayor Gray's consent, only as long as it met strict targets on its Performance Management Framework: 40 percent, 2012 to 2013 school year; 45 percent, 2013 to 2014 school year; and 50 percent, 2014 to 2015 school year. This was at a time that the PMF score for the school was approximately 30 percent. In order to increase the likelihood that these goals could be met, the school proactively agreed to close its middle school at the end of the 2012 to 2103 term. The charter at this time had 362 students in grades seven to twelve. The following year it had 220 kids in high school.

Now let’s fast forward. Regarding the IDEA’s 2014 DC CAS results (from the school’s website):

• Named a Reward School by the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education. IDEA received Reward status for the second consecutive year of student’s academic growth in the top 5 percent of all DC schools;

• Overall rating from the DC PCSB on the annual Performance Management Framework increased by 10 percentage points;

• Achievement on the DC CAS math test increased by 29 percentage points, the greatest student gain of any DC high school in 2013 to 2014.

When IDEA appeared before the PCSB for consideration of its 15 year review, the math and reading student proficiency rates were at 35.8 percent and 32.1 percent, respectively. In 2014, the percent proficient is math was 67.4 percent and in reading was 56.6 percent. The extraordinary academic improvement resulted in the Mayor, at the recommendation of the DC PCSB, deciding to end the school’s probation one year early. I asked Mr. Rydstrom how they did it.

“We have an incredible team," the head of IDEA replied. "Our tireless board, our committed partners, especially TenSquare, our top-notch teachers, our loyal families, and we are all focused on the achievement of our great learners. We’ve built an incredible school culture based upon respect and responsibility, with the belief that excellence is attainable. Most importantly, we all believe in IDEA’s mission to prepare our students for post-secondary success, whether that’s college, career, or military. Just like the school’s founders demonstrated, responsible citizenship remains at the heart of IDEA.”

Mr. Rydstrom concluded our conversation by saying that their work is not yet finished. “We won’t be satisfied until we are a Tier 1 school. We are well on our way. We've accomplished so much in so little time. It's not rocket science but it requires hard and disciplined work. It is a real team effort."

Spotlight on helping D.C.’s male black and Latino students
The Washington Post
Editorial Board
February 1, 2015

“FOR BLACK youths, a path to ruination, not success.” That was the headline on the recent account by The Post’s Courtland Milloy of the death of Phillip Jones, who was shot at the age of 17 while waiting for a bus. Sadly, this waste of the life of a young man of color is all too familiar in the District. That is why a new education initiative focusing attention and resources on young men of color is so urgently needed.

District school and city officials announced on Jan. 21, coincidentally the same day Phillip Jones’s story was chronicled, the launch of a $20 million program targeting black and Latino male students. “Empowering Males of Color” is part of the White House’s nationwide My Brother’s Keeper effort to improve opportunities for African American and Hispanic youth and is in keeping with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s promise to make young minority men a priority of her administration.

Male students of color make up 43 percent of those enrolled in the city’s traditional public schools, but they lag their counterparts by nearly every measure, including reading and math proficiency and graduation rates. That lack of success in school too often has dire, lifelong consequences, including higher rates of incarceration and unemployment, lower wages and death at an earlier age.

“The boys are not the problem. We are not doing enough to empower them, support and engage them,” said Robert Simmons, the school system’s chief of innovation and research, in outlining how the District will use a mix of public and private monies on proven strategies like mentoring, school engagement programs and recruiting more minority teachers. Most exciting are plans to open an all-male college preparatory high school east of the Anacostia River by the 2016-2017 school year. The city will partner with the Chicago-based Urban Prep Academies, a highly successful network that has achieved a 100 percent college acceptance rate for seniors for the past five years.

The District will gauge effectiveness by benchmarking things like test scores, attendance rates and Advanced Placement enrollment. Perhaps the truest measure, though, will be when the death of a young man like Phillip Jones is seen not as just another tragic — but routine — event.

Can Students Have Too Much Tech?
The New York Times
By Susan Pinker
January 30, 2015

PRESIDENT OBAMA’s domestic agenda, which he announced in his State of the Union address this month, has a lot to like: health care, maternity leave, affordable college. But there was one thing he got wrong. As part of his promise to educate American children for an increasingly competitive world, he vowed to “protect a free and open Internet” and “extend its reach to every classroom and every community.”

More technology in the classroom has long been a policy-making panacea. But mounting evidence shows that showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices will not shrink the class divide in education. If anything, it will widen it.

In the early 2000s, the Duke University economists Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd tracked the academic progress of nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students against the dates they were given networked computers. The researchers assessed the students’ math and reading skills annually for five years, and recorded how they spent their time. The news was not good.

“Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” the economists wrote, adding that license to surf the Internet was also linked to lower grades in younger children.

In fact, the students’ academic scores dropped and remained depressed for as long as the researchers kept tabs on them. What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest. When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.

We don’t know why this is, but we can speculate. With no adults to supervise them, many kids used their networked devices not for schoolwork, but to play games, troll social media and download entertainment. (And why not? Given their druthers, most adults would do the same.)

The problem is the differential impact on children from poor families. Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.

If children who spend more time with electronic devices are also more likely to be out of sync with their peers’ behavior and learning by the fourth grade, why would adding more viewing and clicking to their school days be considered a good idea?

An unquestioned belief in the power of gadgetry has already led to educational snafus. Beginning in 2006, the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project envisioned a digital utopia in which all students over 6 years old, worldwide, would own their own laptops. Impoverished children would thus have the power to go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required. With laptops for poor children initially priced at $400, donations poured in.

But the program didn’t live up to the ballyhoo. For one thing, the machines were buggy and often broke down. And when they did work, the impoverished students who received free laptops spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before, according to the education researchers Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames. It’s drive-by education — adults distribute the laptops and then walk away.

It’s true that there is often an initial uptick in students’ engagement with their studies — interactive apps can be fun. But the novelty wears off after a few months, said Larry Cuban, an emeritus education professor at Stanford.

Technology does have a role in education. But as Randy Yerrick, a professor of education at the University at Buffalo, told me, it is worth the investment only when it’s perfectly suited to the task, in science simulations, for example, or to teach students with learning disabilities.

And, of course, technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific, highly trained teacher. As extensive research shows, just one year with a gifted teacher in middle school makes it far less likely that a student will get pregnant in high school, and much more likely that she will go to college, earn a decent salary, live in a good neighborhood and save for retirement. To the extent that such a teacher can benefit from classroom technology, he or she should get it. But only when such teachers are effectively trained to apply a specific application to teaching a particular topic to a particular set of students — only then does classroom technology really work.

Even then, we still have no proof that the newly acquired, tech-centric skills that students learn in the classroom transfer to novel problems that they need to solve in other areas. While we’re waiting to find out, the public money spent on wiring up classrooms should be matched by training and mentorship programs for teachers, so that a free and open Internet, reached through constantly evolving, beautifully packaged and compelling electronic tools, helps — not hampers — the progress of children who need help the most.





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