FOCUS DC News Wire 9/24/2015

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.


DC panel of politicians, experts agree charter schools ‘work’
Education Watchdog
By Nicholas C. Fondacaro
September 22, 2015

On Tuesday, Politico Magazine held its latest installment of its “What Works” series on what state and local governments could do to improve their education systems. According to a panel of politicians and education experts who gathered in Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, there is no question that charter schools are what work.

“Speaking for Nashville, I certainly thought that charter schools needed to be part of the mix,” said Mayor Karl Dean (D), of his city [far left in the image]. “They can change the atmosphere, they can actually change the lives of individuals by giving them a real chance.”

Dean believes in charter schools because he had done his homework. He traveled to cities and saw that the cities with thriving education systems were ones that allowed charters to flourish. He also said that charters could provide a chance for Nashville to improve in education. A better education system would allow for Nashville to have a “plus facture” for families and businesses looking to relocate.

Panelist Margaret Raymond [second from the right in the image], director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, stressed that there are key points that a state must hit to help charter schools be successful.

“We have to have a strong authorizing organization,” Raymond elaborated “Strong because they have very clear parameters about what constitutes a good application in order to get a charter in the first place. And they have very clear standards and are unambiguous about what it takes to continue on.”

According to Raymond, the biggest thing that state and local governments could do for charter schools is to have a “legislative and regulatory environment that really provides autonomy, real genuine autonomy. And that gives schools, and school networks, the flexibility to design programs that can meet the needs of the students where the students are.”

Raymond admitted that teachers unions are a factor for some parents who choose charters school over public schools. She explained that public schools could have the same flexibility that charter schools enjoy if there was some give from teachers unions. The more flexible the teachers union allows the school to be, the better it could serve the needs of students.

“In DC about half of our students go to charter schools, public charter schools, about half go to traditional public schools and the two compete like crazy and raise standards in both,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board. “And we’re seeing rising enrollment in both charters and traditional public schools, and rising test scores in both sectors.”

Cities and states have found answers to some of their education problems through charter schools. Charter schools have found success through the cities and states that allow them to be flexible and innovate. The arrangement is working as a political quid pro quo that at actually benefits the public.

Testing Plays a Key Role in Education Accountability [DC Prep PCS mentioned]
U.S. News
By Ulrich Boser
September 23, 2015

When I sat in on biology professor Jennifer Doherty's course at the University of Washington, it was hard to miss all the quizzes. At one point, Doherty asked the class to answer a quiz using a clicker, a small device that allowed the students to submit their answers via radio waves. Other times, Doherty would ask the students to pair up and then she'd ask their small group for an answer. Doherty would also simply randomly call on students, asking things like, "How do plants get their food if not from the soil?"

Students – and many parents – have all sorts of reasons to hate testing, whether it's a classroom quiz about plants or a high-stakes graduate school exam. After all, exams can spark cheating, waste valuable instructional time and dominate the curriculum.

But tests also play a key role in education. In fact, assessments can often work to improve teaching and learning, as a growing number of experts have argued, and as states roll out the Common Core standards, schools and districts should do more to support better testing practices and programs that align to the new standards.

In recent years, there's been a lot of research showing that quizzes can boost student outcomes. As writer Annie Murphy Paul argued in The New York Times earlier this month, more engaging, test-based approaches to learning appear to be particularly important for individuals from low-income backgrounds. "Women, minorities, and low-income and first-generation students benefit more, on average, from these approaches than white males from more affluent, educated families," Paul wrote. In fact, classes with more quizzing "reduced by 50 percent the achievement gap between more affluent and less affluent students."

Doherty's University of Washington biology class gave some insights into why quizzes can be so beneficial. The regular use of assessments made students pay more attention, and when I looked around the room, there weren't many students dozing off or logging into Instagram. In other words, the more engaging, quiz-infused classroom seemed a lot more interesting to the students.

Testing also gives both teachers and students more real-time information on how much people are actually learning in class. "Constant assessment," says Doherty, "let's me know where students are in their understanding so I know where to go next with instruction."

The nation also needs standardized tests so that the public can have clear data on whether kids are on track. In other words, assessments serve as a check on school systems and help ensure that all students, regardless of family background, are learning.

There are certainly issues with tests. For a long time, many schools relied on weak assessments that did not measure richer thinking skills like critical thinking or problem solving, and the tests often didn't fully measure what teachers actually taught in the classroom.

The nation can right-size the role of tests, though. The new Common Core-based exams are a great start, and they do a much better job measuring important skills like critical thinking.

But educators also need more training and access to good testing practices and programs. While the evidence on the use of clickers is strong, for instance, not nearly enough K-12 schools use them.

Many teachers also don't have the time to fully interpret testing data, whether that data comes from state exams or local ones. To address this issue, some schools will block out time for teachers to examine assessment results. One Washington, D.C.-based charter school, DC Prep, devotes an entire day every few months to help staff analyze test data.

At end of Doherty's class at the University of Washington, I spoke with professor Mary Pat Wenderoth, who co-teaches the biology class. As we walked out of the classroom, Wenderoth underscored the idea that regular tests help create a classroom culture that's focused on learning, on creating norms that support robust educational practices. Or as she told me, "we are holding people accountable for their learning."


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