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.

Dayton neighborhood schools: Finally!

Twenty years after I ran for Mayor saying we needed a return to neighborhood schools, the school board has caught on. However, if anyone thinks this process is now going to go over easy- they are sadly mistaken.

After working so hard to “theme” and “brand” schools- and promote “choice” trying to go back is going to tick off all of the very parents whom the school was wooing so hard to believe in their new product. It’s as if after years of saying “buy American” all of a sudden GM was bought by a Chinese car company- and Chevrolet was still advertising “The heartbeat of America.”

Residents who’ve chosen their neighborhoods based on other factors- such as type of home- knowing they could pick their schools- all of a sudden may want to move (and it may not be within the city- esp. now that the residency rule is history), or, we may find principals who’ve ignored their local neighborhoods finally having to build relationships with people who are vested in their community. I know South Park has tried over the years to establish relationships with Patterson Kennedy- with limited results (often thanks to leadership shuffling by the Superintendent). Ruskin is a model of building a community relationship- but, it’s also a merged school between East End’s former Charter and a Dayton Public School. Not many other school principals in Dayton have played in this sandbox ever.

Here is an excerpt of what the Dayton Daily reported:

The Dayton Board of Education on Tuesday, May 18, voiced unanimous support for a proposed policy that would require most pre-K through eighth grade students to attend a school in their neighborhood rather than choosing where to go, as they do now.

Incoming Superintendent Lori Ward and Chief Academic Officer Jane McGee-Rafal outlined the proposed 17 “attendance areas” that would go into effect during the 2011-12 school year if approved by the school board. The board heard a first reading on the policy recommendation Tuesday night and a second could come in December after the public has had plenty of time to comment.

“We are creating a process to redesign the district and nothing will be done in an overnight manner,” McGee-Rafal said.

High school students would not be affected at this time, said Ward, the district’s deputy superintendent who will replace Superintendent Kurt Stanic on July 1.

Ward said the plan would include “an element of grandfathering” but added those details haven’t been worked out yet.

via Dayton kids may have to attend neighborhood schools.

The big question is if this will be a big boost to charters or not? Will DPS be able to draw the same attendance zones for the charters- and not have to bus those kids door-to-door? Will charters soon become the only option for “schools of choice” in Dayton? The DDN article mentioned the following schools as remaining choice schools:

“We would encourage parents to enroll their child in their designated attendance area unless they select what we classify as a districtwide school,” she said.

Those seven designated schools include Charity Adams Earley Girls Academy, Dayton Boys Prep Academy, the River’s Edge Montessori and the Preschool Academy at Jackson. They also include three others where students are assigned by other schools — Gardendale Academy and Gorman School for children with special needs, and Longfellow Learning Academy for students with behavioral issues.

As it stands now- Patterson Kennedy is an English as a Second Language (ESL) school- and looks like a veritable United Nations in the morning. Would that stop as well?

The amazing thing is- she’s not even Superintendent yet (officially she takes the job July 1)  Ward is the first Superintendent to state what’s been obvious since busing was first implemented- “Running kids all over the city isn’t producing the academic results.”  Which is a real gutsy move.

The reality is probably sadder- the cost of gas, buses and drivers- as well as the damage that’s been done to our community fabric over the last 40 years by this failed social experiment- is only finally meeting it’s death thanks to the end of cheap oil and a failing economy- not because it’s really been the right thing to do since day one.

The school choice system will be missed by some (including the smart principals who worked the system to cherry pick student populations to improve their building scores for “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB)- which was more evident at the High School level). However, the added layer of bureaucracy and complexity made choosing Dayton Public Schools even more difficult for exactly the kind of families DPS needed. My former neighbors had 3 kids they wanted to enroll at Horace Mann- but, since they weren’t able to be given any assurances of all three kids going to the same school- they chose to send them to Holy Angels- before they ended up moving to Seattle. I remember the year after this happened- Horace Mann was something like 1 kid short of getting out of academic emergency- so there were ramifications.

I’d planned to write a post about the crazy draconian rules that DPS follows that have hurt them- since I’m experiencing them first hand right now: my girlfriend is planning on moving in with me July 1- Summer is when most people with kids move after all. Yet DPS won’t allow her to register the kids until she has a bill in her name. Which led me to investigate if this holds true for the “audition” school, St. Ivers, I mean Stivers- only to find out that the principal there will “hold spots” for students moving in from out of town, once they’ve aced the audition. These are the dirty little secrets of the “school choice” program- and why going back to making choices based on where you purchase a home make sense.

The real question is how this will affect neighborhoods with the least expensive housing stock- especially on the West Side- where the foreclosure debacle has played out in grand fashion? Will the area around the new rec center become more popular- thanks to this policy (although the school will still be one of the “district wide” schools)? How will test scores change- and will the turnarounds as required by NCLB be more frequent in the poorer neighborhoods?

A lot will depend on the size of the 17 new “districts”- will parents still have some choice in schools- i.e. South Park parents being able to choose between Ruskin, Patterson Kennedy, or will the boundaries be really rigid.

What other carrots can the Superintendent throw in with this new plan? After school care? Neighborhood sports programs? It will be a PR effort of major proportion to properly frame this and implement it without seeing yet another exodus from the Dayton Public School system that cannot take yet another hit.

Your thoughts?