Cincinnati Community Schools Update


The success of the Cincinnati Community schools has brought positive national attention to the Cincinnati Public Schools. The most exciting news from Cincinnati is how high the graduation rate has climbed, from 51% to 82%.  The Urban Teachers Federation (UTF) reports, “the district has moved from academic emergency to “academic watch” to “continuous improvement” to “effective” as of 2010, the only urban district in the state with that distinction.” These great changes have been accredited to the adoption of community schools, full service schools that provide a range of resources for students, both academic and health related. For example, the UTF also notes that 49 of Cincinnati’s 55 public schools have two mental health clinicians on school premises.

Started in 2001, the Cincinnati Community Learning Centers (CLCs) seek to “support student achievement, revitalize neighborhoods and maximize the community’s return on their financial investments…providing access for students, families and community to health, safety and social services, as well as recreational, educational and cultural opportunities.” The Cincinnati model has been described as a “cradle to career” educational support system.
Urban school districts like New York, Knoxville, Los Angeles and Washington have mulled over the implementation of community schools in their districts. The success of Cincinnati may be replicable, but implementing these systems may take time. Community schools ideologies have been adopted by successful private charter enterprises, in example Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and the Harlem Children’s Zone. Both provide additional and remedial support services to promote a more holistic methodology of learning to children.
So what does this mean for schools in Washington, DC?  The good news is that DC VOICE, a community-based organization, has researched and promoted the development of community schools here in DC. The City Council passed legislation to establish at least five community schools, and allotted $1 million in the 2013 budget for building community schools.  The Mayor has placed the responsibility for implementing this initiative in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).  The bad news is that progress has stalled and the legislatively mandated Community Schools Advisory Committee that will plan and oversee implementation has not yet convened. The good news is that the Office of Boards and Commissions (OBC) has begun soliciting membership on this Committee and reports being in the final stages of identifying the Committee's full membership.   OSSE is working with the OBC to have appointments made as soon as possible, so the Community Schools Advisory Committee can convene.
DC VOICE will continue to press for action to establish Community Schools here.  The Cincinnati story shows not only that it can be done, but that that approach to education makes a great difference in how well schools perform and how well children achieve.  We’ve come too far to stop now.
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The Common Core Curriculum: Is It Right for DC?


Following the lead of 40 other states, DC has adopted the Common Core Standards for its public schools. These standards are designed to provide a framework for comparison among states and keep students and educators on the same page nationwide. Supported by DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, The DC State Board of Education voted in the standards on July 21, 2010 by a margin of 6 to 1. Unfortunately, since little public discourse regarding the standards occurred prior to their adoption, some citizens are skeptical of their applicability here.

 The standards are comprised of long term and grade specific standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. According to the Common Core Standards Initiative, the body that produces reports outlining the standards, the core standards seek to promote higher level learning processes. For example, the ELA standards approach reading, writing, speaking/listening and language as related skills and integrate their assessment. They also embed media and research skills within the ELA standards. The Math standards provide clear and specific benchmarks for proficiency, but also stress conceptual understanding, measured through one’s ability to justify their work.

The Common Core Standards have been central to a local and national discourse on the standardization of education. One common criticism of the standards is that they water down education through standardization. According to educator Marion Brady the common core standards are flawed because they “assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields is vast.” Others argue that national standards stifle teacher independence within the classroom. But documents from the Common Core Standards Initiative assert that the standards do not dictate instruction methods: “The standards define what all students should know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.” Nor do standards set a ceiling on what kids can be taught, just a floor.

If implementation continues here as planned,  the current standardized assessment, the DC CAS will be replaced by an assessment based on the Common Core Standards by 2014 DC. Hopefully, there will be opportunities for public discourse in preparation for the change, so that parents and communities  gain a  greater understanding of the Common Core Standards and what they mean for students and their teachers.

Opinion/Editorial: A More Honest Discussion about Public Charter Schools: The Importance of Information to Promote School Choice


The District of Columbia has increased student enrollment in charter schools, well above the national enrollment numbers. Almost 44% of District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) students are enrolled in charter schools, yet only 4% of students are enrolled in charter schools nationally.[1] But despite the popularity of charter schools, especially within the District of Columbia, are these schools effective and accountable?

The Stanford University Center on Research for Education Outcomes (CREDO) published, Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States,” declaring that charter schools may not be more effective than regular schools, in the aggregate. Published in 2009, CREDO’s “analysis looks at student achievement growth on state achievement tests in both reading and math, controlling for student demographics and eligibility for program support such as free or reduced-price lunch and special education”.[2] CREDO maintains that most charter schools are not better than public schools; in fact, almost 37% of charter schools perform worse and only 17% of charter schools perform better than regular public schools. On the individual level, the CREDO found that the charter students in the District of Columbia receive no significant advantage than their public school peers of the same race and class.[3]
The report has been controversial; especially as the popularity of the charter school movement grows. Many have critiqued the study for being misleading in its interpretation and for having internal structural, methodological problems with collecting data. For example, disadvantaged students (English Language Learners, students with special needs, low-income students, and black students) are recorded as performing better in charter schools than their peers in public schools.[4] These are great gains for minority classes and disadvantaged students. 

Despite these critiques, there have been other studies that confirm the Stanford results. Mathematica, a policy and public research institute, suggests that the findings are reputable.[5] Charter schools are popular, but there may be some perceptual issues with how much all charter schools (not only the high-performing charter schools) can reform education. These independent structures alone are probably not enough to fix the entire education system. 

There is some evidence to suggest that lacking legal frameworks for holding charter schools accountable and poor results are intertwined. For example, this  Economist article ties Ohio’s lack of charter school regulation with Ohio’s poor performing charter schools.[6] On the other hand, Ohio’s public school system, particularly the Cincinnati Public School’s have flourished under the community schools, comprehensive approach to learning model. Others, such as Bill Perkins, the Harlem Senate representative, see charter schools as the public sector scrimping on the democratic promise to educate the general public.[7]
Some may suggest that these flaws are naturally fixable, as charters with low enrollment due to poor performance are easily closeable. There must be a greater public transparency and legal oversight over charter schools to ensure that their successes are well deserved. Immediate intervention that holds charter schools up to some standards of educational achievement must be observed, especially as these schools receive increasing amounts of federal funding. A proper measure of accountability is an important feature in assessing charter school’s performance. These processes are an important step in continuing a realistic discussion of the role of charter schools in public education; especially as more and more urban public school systems, like DC, rely on charters to educate children. 

The District of Columbia maintains that there charter schools are regulated, so DC public charter schools are of the highest quality. The Office of the Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has set up the Office of Public Charter School Financing and Support (OPCSFS), with the quality assurance program to regulate the amount of public funding that charter schools are receiving and their annual progress of students. The OPCSFS financing, technical assistance, and grants to improve the quality of public charter schools and supports the exchange of best practices between traditional public and public charter schools.[8], [9]  The “Quality Initiatives” program is “designed to improve the academic achievement of students attending DC public charter schools”.8 However, the Initiative neglects to mention what it means to be a successful charter school, nor what happens to charter schools when they fail to meet appropriate standards. It would be important to see how these two programs interact with the DC public to provide the most accurate and up to date information about the success of public schools (both traditional and charter). This will be an important tool in promoting transparency of all schools, facilitating better school choice within the District. 

If charter schools may not be as effective as advertised, then they need to be more accountable to the public. I would not say that charter schools are a poor choice, but I would hold that the perception of them as naturally superior to public schools might be misleading. I would urge for a greater release of school performance information, by all types of schools as the greatest tool that families need to make the best choice for their children. The academic performance of students is a school’s product—families must be able to compare all products to make the best decision.

Claire Bocage, Opinion Author 

[1] Stanford University. Center for Research on Education Outcomes. New Stanford Report Finds Serious Quality Challenge in National Charter School Sector. Palo Alto: Stanford University, 2009. Print.
[2] Stanford University. Center for Research on Education Outcomes. New Stanford Report Finds Serious Quality Challenge in National Charter School Sector. Palo Alto: Stanford University, 2009. Print.
[3] Stanford University. Center for Research on Education Outcomes, “CHARTER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA FOUND TO BE SIMILAR TO THEIR TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOL PEERS”. National Release, 2009. Print
[4] Charting a better course: Charter schools raise educational standards for vulnerable children
The Economist, July 5 2012
[5] Charting a better course: Charter schools raise educational standards for vulnerable children
The Economist, July 5 2012

[6] Charting a better course: Charter schools raise educational standards for vulnerable children
The Economist, July 5 2012

[7] “A great day in Harlem: Charter schools”. The Economist, March 30, 2010



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