The Post recently ran a story about the opening of a new Ward 4 DCPS middle school in 2019 to feed into Coolidge high school.
Titled “Can gentrifying Ward 4 support two new middle schools?,” the story took on the current real estate/gentrification boom in the ward, along with the fact that DCPS’s MacFarland middle school, closed in 2013, just reopened as a Spanish dual-language school–all the while Coolidge itself is underenrolled with students who do poorly on tests.
The piece went on to note that “a [new] strong [DCPS] middle school could mean a higher-performing crop of students feeding into Coolidge.”
Now let’s parse this:
“Gentrifying” means a process by which people with higher incomes move in to an area. Kids from households with higher incomes do better on standardized tests. And standardized tests are the bellwether of school performance in DC. Ergo, grow your household incomes, Ward 4, and you will get a “higher-performing crop of students”!
But all this is getting a bit ahead of the, um, educational “harvest” cart:
Right now, there are as many DCPS schools as charter schools in the ward–both at 15.
In the last decade, moreover, six (6) charter schools have been started in Ward 4, at least one of which is a middle school. But in that same period, only two (2) DCPS schools have been opened: MacFarland and DCPS taking over a closed charter, now DCPS’s Dorothy Height elementary. The new middle school would be the third DCPS school to open.
So given the disproportionate growth of charter versus DCPS schools in Ward 4 in the last decade, why the heavy breathing about accommodating two DCPS middle schools in the ward?
Not addressing that goes right into the fault lines of public education real estate. That is, several of Ward 4’s charter schools occupy closed DCPS school buildings:
Paul PCS occupies the closed DCPS Paul Junior High (closed 2000)
EL Haynes PCS occupies DCPS’s Clark Elementary (closed 2008)
Washington Latin occupies DCPS’s Rudolph Elementary (closed 2008)
Bridges PCS occupies DCPS’s Sharpe Health high school (closed 2014)
Capital City PCS occupies DCPS’s Rabaut Junior High (closed 1993)
Latin American Montessori PCS occupies the Military Road School (long-closed and used for other city purposes)
DC Bilingual PCS occupies DCPS’s Keene Elementary, which had been in Ward 4 and was closed in 1997; the school was formerly occupied by a campus of the Dorothy Height charter school, which was closed in financial scandal.
Moreover, one of that charter school’s former campuses, DCPS’s Dorothy Height Elementary, had been DCPS’s Burdick high school until it was closed in 1996 and then re-opened as that failed charter school—only to be turned back into a DCPS school.
As important (and apparently ignored) as this numerical accounting of school growth in Ward 4 is, it is still secondary to the effects of such DCPS school closures, which benefit charter school enrollment to the detriment of other DCPS schools and their students.
Indeed, an article from 2013, about that year’s round of DCPS school closures and a lawsuit filed against the city on the basis of racial discrimination in those closures, discussed the judge’s opinion that there was no intent to discriminate by such closures and that the students from the closed schools—almost entirely African American–would be transferred into “better performing, more integrated schools.”
[Ed. Note: Of course, everyone knows that harm occurs only when it’s intentional. Gotta remind my insurers of that this year, so we can stop paying for insurance for potential harm we don’t intend!]
In the article, DC school budget analyst Mary Levy disputed the judge’s rationale, noting that “of 11 closing schools, students at nine will attend schools that are almost 100 percent African-American” and that “virtually all the proficiency levels at receiving schools are below the DCPS average for their level.”
So, to recap:
Ward 4 has 15 charter schools, six of which are housed in closed DCPS schools.
Ward 4 has 15 DCPS schools—and would have had 21 but for those closures.
Ward 4 has gained three DCPS schools in the last decade—two of them middle schools and one that was actually once a DCPS school.
Ward 4 has gained six charter schools in that same period—at least one of which is a middle school.
And Ward 4 may be getting more charter schools of any kind at any moment–since there is no coordination of DC’s public schools in terms of siting, size, grade levels, or even neighborhood buy-in. (And apparently no discussion of this in the cross sector task force.) And the only determinant for whether a charter school is providing a needed and/or desired educational service in a particular area is the word of each applicant charter school.
But we need to ask whether Ward 4 can support two new DCPS schools. Got it.