Gauging The Health Of The District's Schools (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Gauging The Health Of The District's Schools

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So medical school, presumably comes after many, many years spent on the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. And we're getting information this week about how healthy D.C. Public Schools are when it comes to educating the city's young people. Joining us now with the details is education reporter, Kavitha Cardoza. Hi, Kavitha.

MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA

00:00:20
Hi, Rebecca.

SHEIR

00:00:21
Now, this week, we saw the release of something known as the nation's report card. How did the District do?

CARDOZA

00:00:28
Well, the nation's report card is a federal education study conducted every two years that compares 21 large open school districts. And what's most striking this year is D.C.'s public schools have the largest achievement gap between black and white students in the U.S., more than twice the average gap seen in other cities. At the fourth grade level the gap math proficiency is 60 points and in reading it's 64. In cities such as Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, the gap is closer to 20.

SHEIR

00:00:57
So I guess the most obvious question here would be, why? You know, why is our achievement gap so much higher than that of other cities?

CARDOZA

00:01:04
I spoke with Michael Cassarly with Council of the Great City Schools. He says this is definitely an issue city leaders need to address, but he says it's also not as simple as comparing a white school to a black school because it's also about income.

MR. MICHAEL CASSARLY

00:01:18
You're comparing white students in wealthier sections of town who are among the highest performing white students any place in the country, with much poorer African-American students in the District of Columbia Public Schools.

CARDOZA

00:01:33
Cassarly says in a city such as Cleveland, the black-white gap is much narrower.

CASSARLY

00:01:38
And it's not because Cleveland has figured out what to do to narrow the achievement gap, but what you're looking in a place like Cleveland is very poor whites compared with very poor blacks.

SHEIR

00:01:50
Okay. So apart from the achievement gap, how did our students fair compared with the last time they were tested?

CARDOZA

00:01:56
Sort of one step forward, one step backward. D.C.'s fourth and eighth graders improved slightly in math but their scores went down slightly in reading. And it's worth noting that charter schools aren't included in the study, even though approximately 40 percent of children in District attend charter schools.

SHEIR

00:02:12
Well, speaking of charter schools, I understand there's some news related to them as well.

CARDOZA

00:02:16
Well, they've been working for three years on a new evaluation tool called performance management framework, which will show how different charter schools are performing academically.

SHEIR

00:02:26
But my understanding is charter schools, you know, they can vary quite a bit right? One might focus on math and science, another might be all about, you know, foreign languages.

CARDOZA

00:02:34
Right. And charter school leaders say they've worked hard to take all that into consideration. So parents looking for a school can compare apples to apples. The performance management framework is a three-tier system based 100 point scale. It looks at multiple academic measures, including test scores, growth over time, attendance and re-enrollment.

SHEIR

00:02:54
So, now that we have this new system, do we know yet how schools are actually fairing under it?

CARDOZA

00:02:58
We do. 30 percent of the schools received between 65 and 100 points and are considered the best charter schools in the District. Approximately half of the schools fell into the second category of 35 to 64 points, which means they met minimum overall standards. The lowest 20 percent are in the third tier, meaning they received 34 points and below. Four schools in that category received fewer than 20 points, which means the board may close them at the end of this academic year.

CARDOZA

00:03:28
Brian Jones is the charter board chairman. He says the performance management framework holds schools more accountable.

MR. BRIAN JONES

00:03:34
PMF evaluates schools and what we believe is a very fair and objective and transparent manner. The idea here is that we really do want to be shining the light on what's really happening in our charter schools, really underscoring what's happening inside those walls so that parents and families and other stakeholders in the District have a real meaningful way of being able to measure a school's...

CARDOZA

00:03:54
We should point out though that the evaluation system doesn't take into consideration financial management of each school, which is one of the main reasons charter schools fail. Charter board leaders say they'll continue to monitor the financials but for simplicity sake, they only included academics in this new framework.

SHEIR

00:04:12
Well, Kavitha, thanks so much for coming in and sharing this report card on the city's schools.

CARDOZA

00:04:17
Thanks for having me.

SHEIR

00:04:18
If you want more information on how the District's public and charter schools are fairing, you can find links to these new reports on our website. That's metroconnection.org.
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