Dayton Public Schools and the state report card

If I ran a dating site and described each member by height, weight, and eye color and nothing else, how many people do you think would be happy about their dates?
The state report card has become the metric for measuring schools of late- leaving out all the nuances that make up a school or a district.
That the Dayton Public Schools have been continuously improving isn’t what makes the local paper- or any big jumps in performance at schools like Thurgood Marshall High School. No, what makes the paper is that:

Eight of the 10 best performing schools in the city of Dayton are now charter schools, according to 2009-10 state Report Card data.

via Eight of city’s top 10 schools are charters.

It’s headlines like these that hurt Dayton Public Schools- but, aren’t brutal because most Dayton Public Schools parents don’t read the paper. What’s brutal is how these stories will get manipulated and spun and then “telephoned” to other parents. The difference being- charter schools are businesses that depend on recruiting students to stay open and get funding (right out of the DPS budget) and Dayton Public Schools, well, they just sit there and take it.

Emerson Academy down the street has had a sign up for months saying “Be a part of a top ten school”- they have a nice big four-color brochure (8 pages, not a little trifold) that sells the school and is mailed to households without kids- just because they know they need to toot their horn to everyone, and they need to recruit the students with parents who care and get involved- because parental involvement is probably the second highest indicator for success in school- right after income level.

Dayton Public Schools on the other hand- takes all comers, including those with special needs. Twenty percent of DPS students fall into that category- making it incredibly hard to pull average report card numbers up- and keep budgets under control. Special needs by the way- besides including those with learning handicaps, also includes students who don’t speak English as a primary language. DPS has a school, Patterson Kennedy, that would give the UN a run for its money on number of languages spoken. And, DPS also includes programs that the state report card doesn’t measure- like music, arts, and athletics (there isn’t a charter school with a basketball team- yet, I keep waiting for a charter prep boys basketball school, that can recruit regionally and screw the OSHSAA)

Because it’s the biggest school district (even after losing so many students to charter schools) it becomes the focal point of the region. Dayton Public Schools aren’t very good is a message that gets broadcast across the state- instead of a message like “Stivers School of the Arts” is one of the top in the country- or, we have four Gates scholars almost every year. This hurts in not only recruiting better students, with higher parental involvement- and higher income- but the whole region as we get lumped in as a loser community. Sure, Dunbar won the state hoops title, but, the scores for the school are low (forget about those special needs students or poverty levels).

These shallow one-sided looks at the district performance hurt our property values, hurt our communities’ ability to recruit new people, and sustain an image problem- that’s been in place since the deseg order of the seventies (which built the suburbs- as those who could afford to move did- causing the economic segregation gap to grow phenomenally).

Charter School Enrollment

Charter school Enrollment

How much is at stake? Because each charter school gets about $5k from DPS for each student, plus DPS has to pay for transportation and other services, it gets expensive. With 27% of the students choosing charters- that’s about 5,200 students, times $5 k each – you are seeing $26 million get drained from DPS coffers. Not exactly chump change- but when you start seeing these students help the charters become 8 of the top 10 schools- you can either draw one of two conclusions:

  1. Dayton Public Schools can’t educate and Charters can.
  2. Charters are siphoning off the best students and filtering out the poorest and special needs students.

Somehow I just don’t buy the first answer. I’m sure there are many who will disagree, but considering how many charters also end up on the bottom of the scale – I think we’re seeing the results of some good marketing and cherry-picking of students.

With Dayton Public Schools finally working their way back to “neighborhood schools” they should be able to boost parental involvement and create true learning communities. This has been the method of the charter that became a conversion school up the street in Twin Towers. Ruskin Elementary, in partnership with East End Community Services is working toward a complete learning community modeled after the work done by Geoffery Canada in Harlem.

Also, the Dayton Public Schools has managed to mismanage their PR for something like the last 11 superintendents. Somehow, the good parts of Dayton Public Schools haven’t come to the forefront of public perception. A lot of this can be blamed on the Dayton Daily News, the newspaper that loathes its host community. Nevermind that DPS has also been more likely to hire PR consultants for their political connections- instead of the quality of their work: Avakian Consulting, Penny Ohlman Neiman and now Burges & Burges of Cleveland on a no-bid contract. If there has been anything done to change the DPS brand- it’s been with the aide of the incompetent. (If you’d like examples- I have them- just not the time to post them all).

There is $26 million at stake in lost revenue. There are perception issues that can continue to make it harder for DPS to recruit and retain students who can perform well on standardized testing. It’s time to see a plan to counter these trends and work to solving this problem that will continue to fester and eventually kill the district if not dealt with properly.