FOCUS DC News Wire 9/17/2015

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Students with disabilities involved in third of complaints filed with D.C. ombudsman
The Washington Post
By Michael Alison Chandler
September 16, 2015

More than a third — 35 percent — of complaints filed with the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education in the last school year in D.C. involved students with disabilities, according to its annual report, released Wednesday.

Family members said requests for evaluations for potential disabilities went unanswered, that they received little advance notice about a new school assignment, and that they did not understand their child’s diagnosed disability well enough to know if they were getting adequate services. Some parents reported that their charter schools required them to provide additional supervision for their children in the classroom rather than providing services for behavioral issues.

In all, the office fielded 469 complaints in the 2014-2015 school year, and resolved nearly 90 percent of them, according to the report.

Washington is one of a handful of U.S. jurisdictions that have independent ombudsmen dedicated to education. The office was revived in February 2014 after a four-year hiatus. It fielded 150 complaints in its first partial year.

The office is designed to be a neutral third party that can address concerns so that they do not fester or escalate into court cases. It is staffed by a full-time ombudsman, Joyanna Smith, and associate ombudsman, Elizabeth Tossell, and several fellows.

“We also act as an early warning system for schools, alerting them to emerging problems before they become systemic issues,” Smith said in the  report.

Almost half of the complaints in 2014-2015 came from Wards 7 and 8. Most were from parents of children in D.C. Public Schools, while about a third came from families of students enrolled in charter schools.

The ombudsman reported that the office helped enroll multiple homeless children after schools turned them away, despite federal laws that allowed them to attend, and that it facilitated mediation between a school and a family to resolve some parents’ concerns about bullying and communication.

Much of the 2014-2015 report focused on issues with school discipline. Student discipline issues comprised 16 percent of the calls. Many of the students involved have disabilities.

The report noted many concerns about violations of students’ due process rights. Parents reported that the administrative hearings regarding long-term suspensions or expulsions were delayed, even though city regulations require that they take place no more than four school days after a written notice of disciplinary action is issued.

The law also says that a student is allowed to stay in school before the hearing takes place, unless he or she is contributing to an “emergency situation” at the school. But the report said this measure appears to be “broadly applied,” and students were often out of school while their hearings were pending.

Some parents reported that their children were told to stay home from school without formal suspension papers ever being issued. Other parents said they were asked to waive their right to a disciplinary hearing.

Many students home on suspension also did not get support from the school to continue studying and went days without receiving work packets. D.C. Public Schools offers an alternative school, where students can go while on long-term suspension, but they can’t attend until they receive a final decision from the office of administrative hearings, which can take a week or longer.

The report also noted charter schools that suspend students for uniform violations or repeated tardiness or expel students for infractions, such as marijuana possession.

“Overall, we find that too many schools rely on exclusionary discipline and offer too few in-school interventions to encourage positive behavior,” the report said.

KIPP’s explosive growth came with slight dip in performance, study says
The Washington Post
By Lyndsey Layton
September 17, 2015

KIPP, the nation’s largest chain of public charter schools, significantly improves the academic performance of its elementary and middle school students, but after the students enter a KIPP high school, their performance does not statistically differ from peers who attend other schools, according to a new study.

The study is the first independent analysis of how KIPP schools perform at every level, from elementary through high school, and it shows that when KIPP students reach high school, the academic growth that they experienced in younger grades does not continue at the same pace. But students who enroll in KIPP high schools from outside the charter network do show significant academic achievement at KIPP high schools.

“This is a tribute to all the teachers who are working so hard,” said Steve Mancini, a KIPP spokesman. “There are gains, they’re significant and sustained, and we’re going back to the drawing board to figure out how to do better.”

KIPP has more than 5,000 students at 16 charter schools in the District.

For the analysis, researchers looked at eight elementary, 43 middle and 18 high schools in 20 cities, including Washington. They compared test scores of KIPP students with those of students who had applied to a KIPP school but failed to win a seat through a lottery and enrolled elsewhere. They also conducted student and parent surveys.

One reason the KIPP high school students did not statistically outperform their peers at other high schools is that many of those students attend magnet schools, private schools or other selective high schools where academic achievement is fairly strong, Mancini said.

The study was performed as part of a $50 million grant KIPP received in 2010 from the U.S. Department of Education to rapidly expand. KIPP began as a middle school program in 1994, but it branched out into elementary and high school levels.

The charter network went from 27,000 students in 2010 to about 68,000 students in 183 schools in the school year that just began.

One of the key questions investigated by Mathematica Policy Research, the firm that conducted the study, was whether KIPP could maintain academic achievement as it rapidly added schools and students.

That issue — how to take a successful school model and bring it to a significant scale — is at the heart of current discussions about the best way to improve the nation’s public schools.

And it’s hard to accomplish, said Philip M. Gleason, a senior fellow at Mathematica and one of the study’s authors.

Significant academic achievement is “hard to maintain as the network has grown,” he said. “The performance of KIPP schools seems to have dropped a bit as they . . . faced a lot of growth during the 2006 to 2011 period. Since that time, it looks as though there has been a kind of rebounding but still not as high as they were in the early period. The schools opening now are successful but not quite as good as the early schools.”

When it comes to elementary school, students who have been enrolled in KIPP schools after three years show significant achievement in math and reading compared to children who attend non-KIPP schools, the researchers found. The gains were stronger in math than reading, and this year KIPP is rolling out a new English Language Arts curriculum in response, Mancini said.

KIPP middle school students outpaced non-KIPP peers in math, reading, social studies and science, according to the Mathematica study.

Across grade levels, the researchers found that KIPP schools did not affect student motivation, engagement, educational aspirations or behavior. But parents of KIPP students reported high levels of satisfaction.

“We’re trying to create as many kids as possible who are ready for college and have a life full of choices,” Mancini said. “This report shows our kids are making progress, doing things getting them ready for college, but we still have a lot of work to do.”




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