Tale of Two Cities: DC Charter Schools Outperform Baltimore Schools
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Careers (PARCC) test results for school districts were released earlier this week. Maryland’s statewide results showed proficiency rise by 2 percentage points in English to 43.7%, while math scores fell or stayed relatively flat at every level of elementary and middle schools. The results for Baltimore City, however, lagged the rest of the state. Fewer than one in five city students were proficient in English (19.7%) and fewer than one in seven (14.1%) passed in math.[i]
These results fuel the debate over funding the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission to hike Maryland’s K-12 education spending by $3.8 billion a year. These Kirwan dollars would be focused on underperforming schools in order to reverse the achievement gap. The Maryland Department of Budget and Management estimates that the Kirwan price tag could require a 39% increase in the personal income tax, an 89% increase in the sales tax, or a 535% increase in the property tax.
Democrats, such as Montgomery Delegate Eric Luedtke, have challenged the tax increase number. Says Luedtke: “We’re one of the richest states in the country and we can afford to do right by our kids. And it isn’t going to require a $6,000 tax per person.”[ii] Luedtke, a Montgomery County Public Schools Social Studies teacher and one-time director of the Montgomery County teachers union, should never be allowed near a MCPS math class. Consider the math, spending $3.8 billion more per year really does work out to $6,000 per person over ten years. ($3.8 billion times 10, divided by 6 million people = $6,000)
However, the price tag is the least of the Kirwan Commission’s flaws. The Commission makes few provisions for reforming how money is spent or in holding schools more accountable for their performance. Kirwan assumes that by just writing bigger checks, education results will improve. This is much like an earlier so-called “blue ribbon” commission, Thornton. We have seen this movie before and know how it turns out. Baltimore City’s PARCC results provide the verdict.
Washington D.C.’s Public Charter Schools, provides an instructive alternative to Maryland’s and Baltimore City’s educational status quo. Washington shares with Baltimore a student population that is too often on the wrong side of the educational equity divide.
The success of the Capitol’s charter school system has emerged as a key difference between the two city’s schools. The District of Columbia’s Charter School system now attracts nearly 44,000 students to 123 schools managed by 62 independently run nonprofit organizations. This includes as a broad a cross-section of students as can be found in any large city school district.
The program’s success stands in sharp contrast to Baltimore’s continued shortcomings. Proportionally twice as many DC Charter students were proficient in Math as in Baltimore City. Seventy per-cent more are proficient in English. (For more, see https://www.dcpcsb.org/evaluating/test-results-parcc)
All too often public school educators try to excuse their failures by referencing the racial and ethnic composition of their student bodies. And yet, in every single individual ethnic and racial category, DC Charter Schools has higher PARCC scores than the Baltimore Public schools. This includes both African American and Hispanic students.
When a DC Charter schools fail to produce results, parents stop sending their students and the DC Charter School Board can remove them from the program. That competition produces results.
The Kirwan Commission fails Maryland students by not challenging a failed status quo or in not considering successes in other cities. When the Commission’s recommendations were labeled by Governor Hogan as “half-baked,” Commission Chair Kirwan pleaded that the criticism “demeans the hard work of so many people” and “such a negative signal to the state.”
Kirwan’s response is the equivalent of a student who fails their final exams and pleads for a social promotion to the next grade based on having tried really, really hard. This response is illustrative of the Commission’s failure to not just accept, but to demand, the kind of accountability for school performance that is making DC’s Charter Schools a success.