FOCUS DC News Wire 9/16/2015

Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS) is now the DC Charter School Alliance!

Please visit to learn about our new organization and to see the latest news and information related to DC charter schools.

The FOCUS DC website is online to see historic information, but is not actively updated.


Progressive group: DC charters outperform public schools
Washington Examiner
By Jason Russell
September 15, 2015

Washington, D.C. charter schools are better at educating students than public schools, according to a new report from the Progressive Policy Institute.

Charter schools help students gain additional days of learning every year in reading, compared to traditional public school students. In math, charter students gain more than half an academic year on their counterparts.

More charter schools than traditional public schools have higher than expected levels of proficiency in math and reading. That measure of expected proficiency took into account students' income and race.

In the poorest sections of Washington, charter schools dramatically outperform traditional public schools, the report says.

It's not that Washington public schools are bad or getting worse, they just aren't improving as fast as Washington's charter schools. "Under both models, student performance is improving," writes David Osborne, director of the Progressive Policy Institute's project on Reinventing America's Schools.

Osborne says D.C. public schools are improving because they now have more autonomy than they had in the past, though not as much independence as charter schools. Giving [District of Columbia Public Charter School Board] the power to authorize charter schools could give it an opportunity to turn around failing schools. "Charters excel not because their people are somehow better than those in DCPS," Osborne writes. "They excel because their governance framework — which includes school autonomy, full parental choice and serious accountability for performance — is superior to the more traditional DCPS approach."

This gives charter schools an advantage in political flexibility. If the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board wants to close a school, only one school community will resist. Indeed, it closes about five schools a year.

This is a big contrast with what D.C. Public Schools faces in a similar situation. "When DCPS contemplates closing schools and laying off teachers, the entire system pushes back: employees, their unions, parents, and neighborhood activists. Since all those people vote, the mayor feels the pressure," Osborne writes.

The Progressive Policy Institute describes itself as "the original 'idea mill' for President Bill Clinton's New Democrats."

School dropout study: ‘You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to help a kid.’
The Washington Post
By Emma Brown
September 16, 2015

Shaun-til Johnson was 15 when she decided to drop out of high school, and no one stood in her way. Her mom was using drugs. Her older sister — who served as a mother — had just been killed in a car accident. And her teachers, she felt, didn’t seem to care whether she showed up for school or not.

“I didn’t have a lot of guidance,” Johnson says now, seven years later. She ran away from home, got locked up and worked minimum-wage and illicit jobs to try to get by. “When I dropped out,” she said, “everything I did from that point on was a terrible decision.”

In many ways, Johnson, who lives in Baltimore, is typical of young people who drop out of school, according to the America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition of groups seeking to boost graduation rates nationwide.

Teens who leave school report twice as many adverse life experiences — such as being suspended, being homeless or having a baby — as those who stay in school, according to a new study by the Alliance.

Supportive relationships with adults at school and in the community can play a buffering role, the study found, increasing the chances that at-risk young people will stay in school — or go back to school after dropping out — despite the challenges they face.

Those conclusions are based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,800 young people, nearly half of whom had dropped out at some point, along with focus-group interviews with more than 100 young people in eight cities.

John Gomperts, the president and CEO of the Alliance, said that the findings are hopeful because they suggest that adults can make a real difference for struggling young people. And they don’t have to be heroes who sacrifice a lot of time or money, he said, in order to provide emotional or practical support — like a bus pass — that can change a teen’s odds.

“You don’t have to be Mother Teresa to help a kid,” Gomperts said.

But even support has its limits, the study found: Young people who report having five or more adverse life experiences between the ages of 14 and 18 have less than a 50-50 chance of graduating no matter how many supportive adults are in their lives. Those young people, the Alliance argues, need more intensive social and emotional services than they are currently getting at school.

Shaun-til Johnson said relationships have played a role in helping her find a path to what she hopes will be a better job and a stable life.

In January, she began a one-year program in Baltimore in that helps young people earn a GED and three health care industry certifications. She passed her GED exams on the first try, and now she is close to becoming a certified nursing assistant, geriatric nursing assistant and certified phlebotomy technician.

“I’m proud of myself,” she said. “I actually worked harder than I ever worked.”

Whenever she is absent, or even late, someone from the program calls her or knocks on her door. “That’s helpful, because you know someone cares whether you were there or not,” she said.

But Johnson said that she is also succeeding now because something changed inside of her. Now 22, she said she has experienced the kind of life she doesn’t want to have, and she knows she is capable of something different.

Eventually, she wants to not just have a job, but be a boss: She wants to own an assisted-living facility.

“I’ve been poor my whole life. I just want to be financially stable, and I have a brain,” she said. “Once I started in this program, I said it’s now or never.”




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