Good news: D.C. public schools forced to actually convince people to go to them

posted at 10:11 pm on July 7, 2014 by Mary Katharine Ham

The Washington Post reported last week a surge in recruitment efforts by Washington, D.C. principals and administrators trying to maintain market share in a city with a burgeoning landscape of charter school and private school scholarship programs for the low-income population the district has historically served so poorly. Given choice, many students go elsewhere, and public schools must make change to earn the students that were previously required by law to too often languish within their walls:

The District’s traditional public school system is sending principals out to knock on doors in a campaign to sell itself to city families, an aggressive move to boost enrollment and maintain market share after years of ceding ground to charter schools.

The move is a sign of the tremendous pressure on the District’s traditional public schools. Charter schools, which appeared less than two decades ago, now enroll nearly half the city’s public school students, and they continue to gain popularity. It is a trend that many believe threatens the long-term survival of the traditional school system.

To train principals in old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing, school officials have hired political campaign experts who helped Barack Obama win the presidency. These experts are also adapting data-analytic methods used to target voters in 2008 and 2012 to help identify those students most likely to bolt the school system and, therefore, most in need of personal attention.

“I’ve got to keep my school open and growing,” said Principal Kennard Branch of Southeast Washington’s Garfield Elementary, one of about 30 principals who left recent student-recruitment training sessions with plans to knock on hundreds of doors during the first weeks of summer.

You can change the marketing all you want. But Obama-style campaign efforts can only help so much if the underlying product doesn’t improve. You may well wonder why this same dynamic didn’t prevent Obama from being elected, but in 2008 he was an untested product that looked really good to many people, more of an idea than anything else. And, in 2012, he was able to sell the same now-weathered brand to just enough people because they didn’t view the alternative as viable. In the case of D.C. public schools, the schools have largely been tested and failed their consumers. And charter schools and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship offer real alternatives to those failures that many people have tried and enjoyed. The school educating your children can’t just be an idea you check the box for every four years, as voting for president is for many. It’s something you experience every day, and it’s why the idea of school choice scrambles partisan allegiances in unconventional ways. Thus:

Gone are the days when public schools could sit back and wait for students to show up on the first day of class. In this era of school choice, families have become consumers, and educators have become marketers as responsible for selling their academic offerings as they are for teaching and learning…

“We know that we have to fight for our students and win over hearts and minds because there are so many great choices out there,” said Christopher Rinkus, who oversees the school system’s enrollment efforts. “There’s a mind-set we’re working to change, that enrollment happens when it happens. . . . We’re in a climate where you can’t afford that mind-set.”

Good, that’s a healthier attitude than school administrators have often had toward students and their parents. Lindsey Burke of The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation runs through the research on what this competition actually means.

It’s good schools increasingly must compete for students. Competition encourages schools to create safe learning environments that are desirable to parents and perform academically.

University of Arkansas researchers Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken tested this theory by investigating whether school district officials responded to competitive pressure from school choice, and whether they thought they needed to compete for students as a result. The authors found “evidence of significant changes in district policy and practice.” Notably, Lueken et. al found that “across all four regions [Northeast, Midwest, South, and West], districts have increased marketing efforts to recruit and compete for students.”

Not only does the research suggest school leaders themselves respond to competitive pressure, but that response appears to manifest itself in positive gains for students who remain in traditional public schools.

In Florida, researchers Cassandra Hart and David Figlio examined whether the test scores of students in public schools that risked losing students to private schools through the tax credit program improved relative to students in public schools that were less affected by the scholarship program. “We find that they do,” said Hart and Figlio, “and that this improvement occurs before any students have actually used a scholarship to switch schools. In other words, it occurs from the threat of competition alone.” Similar findings revealed that students in the Milwaukee public school system were “performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program.”

Meanwhile in Denver, competition will soon be knocking at the door of public schools, thanks to a pilot program that lets the money meant for a student follow that student to whichever school he or she chooses:

Because there are no boundaries to where and how at-risk students receive their education, the money that supports them should be based on the district of enrollment. Essentially, we are making sure that the federal funds follow the student.

While some observers have expressed concern about redirecting funds in this way, many more parents and community leaders support the change.

In setting forth the pilot program, the Colorado Department of Education established a rigorous and comprehensive set of criteria that removes the current bias in the guidelines that keeps federal funding from following students outside of their district of residence.

Schools in the pilot program must:

• Be among the multidistrict online schools in the state;

• Have a school district as its local authorizer;

• Have at least 10 students from low-income families outside its own district and more students from low-income families than the local district;

• Be eligible for federal Title I funds for low-income students and participate in the free and reduced lunch program.

These stringent requirements are aimed at guaranteeing that schools that receive any additional federal Title I dollars are truly serving enough needy students to merit the change in policy — even in the wealthier districts.

Ultimately, HOPE Online Learning Academy’s elementary school was the only multidistrict online school that met all of the requirements. With 65 percent of HOPE Online’s elementary students eligible, it is the perfect pilot as it serves the exact population, both in terms of population and reach, that Title I funds are designed to support.

Again, good. My mother is an awesome, career public-school teacher. I went to public schools and had an educational experience, even when the technical education wasn’t great, with my parents filling in gaps where needed. But a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education, which is too often what traditional schools and unions are saddled with, doesn’t offer students and parents the flexibility and innovation modern technology and new ideas can give them. And, it’s ultimately the most challenging populations of kids who will benefit most from more of just that.

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The dog ate their, err I mean their hard drives, err, they’re scroomed almost as much as the American people are.

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:16 PM

It’s good schools increasingly must compete for students.

That’s twice in as many hours I’ve had to decipher an unintelligible sentence, and for the same reason. Are we just done with the word “that,” or what?

Anyway:

Charter schools, which appeared less than two decades ago, now enroll nearly half the city’s public school students, and they continue to gain popularity.

^ Surprisingly awesome.

Axe on July 7, 2014 at 10:17 PM

They better learn Spanish.

docflash on July 7, 2014 at 10:20 PM

Are we just done with the word “that,” or what?

Axe on July 7, 2014 at 10:17 PM

Silence peasant…

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:21 PM

I went to public schools and had an educational experience,

No way!/

That speaks volumes right there.

mankai on July 7, 2014 at 10:22 PM

The problem with government K-12 is that American black culture is a rotten stinking carcass that tells students that studying and seeking academic achievement is “acting white”.

Read this and weep for our nation, from 2009: A White Teacher Speaks Out

slickwillie2001 on July 7, 2014 at 10:22 PM

They better learn Spanish.

docflash on July 7, 2014 at 10:20 PM

LOL.

And poetry, as they’ll likely be freed from job-lock once they’re young adults …

ShainS on July 7, 2014 at 10:24 PM

But a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to education, which is too often what traditional schools and unions are saddled with, doesn’t offer students and parents the flexibility and innovation modern technology and new ideas can give them. And, it’s ultimately the most challenging populations of kids who will benefit most from more of just that.

Technology could be the means of opening a whole new world of education methodology for American students! Privacy issues are a major concern, I know, but greater utilization of technology could go a long way to getting our STEM levels back up.

I really wish we had an entire army of Conservative software developers working on this! So many options out there.

lineholder on July 7, 2014 at 10:24 PM

plans to knock on hundreds of doors during the first weeks of summer.

Heh.

I can imagine the conversation between smart, black D.C parents and the public education union hucksters :

“Get off my lawn.”

MichaelGabriel on July 7, 2014 at 10:28 PM

Good thing they are giving children a solid foundation in their future, default career path: Begging.

V7_Sport on July 7, 2014 at 10:28 PM

I really wish we had an entire army of Conservative software developers working on this! So many options out there.

lineholder on July 7, 2014 at 10:24 PM

Agreed.

Since I started using the interwebs in ’93, I thought it had the potential to, and would — eventually — make public education obsolete.

I suspect the gubmint will eventually step in and criminalize such advancements or something someday …

ShainS on July 7, 2014 at 10:29 PM

slickwillie2001 on July 7, 2014 at 10:22 PM

Yep.

I used to listen to Larry Elder, a libertarian-conservative radio talk show host in Los Angeles (who grew up in SouthCentral L.A.), and he continually blasted and referred to that phenomenon as “Crabs in a Bucket”

ShainS on July 7, 2014 at 10:34 PM

I really wish someone would build an entire educational course, with lectures a-la Khan Academy but more systematic, and offered it to the public as well as to private schools. In a few years, it will make NEA almost entirely obsolete.

Rix on July 7, 2014 at 10:35 PM

Well, golly, maybe this is why the NEA fought so hard against Competition Charter Schools, eh comrades?

Tard on July 7, 2014 at 10:35 PM

Silence peasant…

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:21 PM

Harder to read each day, passing quickly, and unimportantly classified as “standard” or “non-standard” (which isn’t the point), it’s.

Axe on July 7, 2014 at 10:36 PM

ShainS on July 7, 2014 at 10:29 PM

I’d love to see a top-notch interactive software prototype developed! We definitely have the capability for it now. And this generation of students is much technologically literate than either their parents or grandparents at that age.

lineholder on July 7, 2014 at 10:42 PM

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:21 PM

Harder to read each day, passing quickly, and unimportantly classified as “standard” or “non-standard” (which isn’t the point), it’s.

Axe on July 7, 2014 at 10:36 PM

Cry havoc and let slip the literature dogs of Wor.f, because “You’ve not experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read it in the original Klingonese”…

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:50 PM

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:21 PM

Harder to read each day, passing quickly, and unimportantly classified as “standard” or “non-standard” (which isn’t the point), it’s.

Axe on July 7, 2014 at 10:36 PM

Cry havoc and let slip the literature dogs of Wor.f, because “You’ve not experienced Shakespeare until you’ve read it in the original K.lingonese”…

oscarwilde on July 7, 2014 at 10:50 PM

The District’s traditional public school system is sending principals out to knock on doors in a campaign to sell itself to city families, an aggressive move to boost enrollment and maintain market share after years of ceding ground to charter schools.

Not to worry.

Tens of thousands of “Unaccompanied Minors” will be there soon to fill these schools.

Can I assume teachers in D.C. can all speak Spanish?

Oh well, that’s ok. I’m sure there are plenty of Spanish speaking teachers who will happily take these jobs.

The Unions really don’t care who pays Union Dues, as long as somebody does.

wren on July 7, 2014 at 10:53 PM

The District’s (Washington, DC) traditional public school system is sending principals out to knock on doors in a campaign to sell itself to city families, an aggressive move to boost enrollment and maintain market share after years of ceding ground to charter schools.

The move is a sign of the tremendous pressure on the District’s traditional public schools. Charter schools, which appeared less than two decades ago, now enroll nearly half the city’s public school students, and they continue to gain popularity. It is a trend that many believe threatens the long-term survival of the traditional school system.

Emma Brown @washingtonpost.com on July 1, 2014

.
Why doesn’t Mayor Vincent Gray just order the Charter Schools to close, like Mayor “Dictator” de Blasio did in NYC ?

listens2glenn on July 7, 2014 at 11:03 PM

These experts are also adapting data-analytic methods used to target voters in 2008 and 2012…

Obama’s own. But for all their smarts, they are pretty useless. Why weren’t they turned loose onto the ObamaCare web design? Why can’t they tease the working statistics out of the insurance runs? Why can’t they target their data-analytic methods toward resolution of Obama’s signature legacy screw-up?

Why indeed! probably because they truly do only have one client: Obama. And they truly do only have one goal: Obama’s election. Outside of that paradigm, they are every bit a clueless, narrow, ignorant, and useless as their employer.

I would not place a lot of hope in them; they are out of their depth.

ss396 on July 7, 2014 at 11:11 PM

As career teacher in public education and libertarian conservative, I have mixed feelings about charter schools. I wish that public schools were free of many of the mandates that charter schools don’t have to abide by and that my students and their parents cared as much about their education as the typical charter school family does. Those are the things that make charter schools more effective when they work ( about half of all charter schools are no better and in some cases actually worse than public schools). Technology is great but schools can’t afford all the new toys and updates or the training for teachers to use it effectively. The biggest problems with public schools can’t be fixed. The anti-education, acting white thing is a definite problem for educating black kids but a bigger problem is the breakdown in families- of all races. Single parents have a hard time getting kids ready for education. I know as I was a single father for several years after my divorce. This is even worse for young mothers who are dropouts.

dgolfnut on July 7, 2014 at 11:17 PM

I have begun tutoring local high school and college students. It is scary out there!!!!

1. A 35 YO college GRADUATE kept flunking her math test for her teaching certificate so she came to me for help. Although she knew how to solve decimal fraction problems, she had no idea what a simple fraction was, what to do with it, or what it was good for. She had been taught in college in her EDUCATION classes to use a calculator to convert any fraction to decimal, work the problem on the calculator, then convert the result back to a fraction. She had been taught to AVOID FRACTIONS. I asked her if I ate 1/5 of a whole pizza, how much was left? No clue. After 2 hours she was beaming with a new feeling of power.

Also, when I showed that a 3,4,5 triangle was one of many Pythagorean triples, and was the key to all the “map problems” on her test, she thought I had invented sliced bread. (When I looked at a map and saw right triangle legs of 6 and 8, and told her the hypotenuse was 10 by inspection, she thought I was a magician.)

2. A 22 YO practicing nurse was taking “college algebra”. He said he was stuck on dividing polynomials. Problem was he had no idea how to subtract -4 from +7, and no concept of range of negative, through zero, to positive numbers.

Woe is us.

fred5678 on July 7, 2014 at 11:22 PM

… but in 2008 he was an untested product that looked really good to many people….

He never ever looked good to me.

He apparently looked good to idiots of which we obviously have an abundance.

Sherman1864 on July 7, 2014 at 11:34 PM

Don’t know which is worse-the bureaucratic controlled school systems or those who pretend they never went to public schools and everyone besides them or those who think like them are idiots.

We are indeed Rome.

Let it burn.

Dr. ZhivBlago on July 7, 2014 at 11:56 PM

fred5678 on July 7, 2014 at 11:22 PM

I’ve tutored math.

It is a really satisfying feeling when they get it. Even more so for them.

There is hope.`

MichaelGabriel on July 8, 2014 at 1:46 AM

Privatize the public schools.

jbspry on July 8, 2014 at 1:53 AM

jbspry on July 8, 2014 at 1:53 AM

Yeah, let’s privatize everything from the DOD on down. The facet of using the military to gain profits for the PTB is already well-established, so it wouldn’t be too hard of a transition.

I don’t get you folks that think that the private sector is somehow immune from corruption and incompetence. The way some of these clowns move from private industry, to government and back again or from government to private industry only shows that government bureaucracy and corporate bureaucracy are joined at the hip-they’re one in the same anymore.

Dr. ZhivBlago on July 8, 2014 at 3:15 AM

The biggest problems with public schools can’t be fixed. The anti-education, acting white thing is a definite problem for educating black kids but a bigger problem is the breakdown in families- of all races. Single parents have a hard time getting kids ready for education. I know as I was a single father for several years after my divorce. This is even worse for young mothers who are dropouts.

dgolfnut on July 7, 2014 at 11:17 PM

Prediction–this will be met with radio silence. We love to berate public education (and rightly so, mostly) but when many of the root problems are called out–crickets.

Grace_is_sufficient on July 8, 2014 at 5:01 AM

For the love of Dear Leader give the Proletariat the only ONE choice of union-run schools!

emerson7 on July 8, 2014 at 5:57 AM

I thought BO tried to kill the charter schools? I wonder why?

Lonetown on July 8, 2014 at 7:08 AM

With all due respect to MKH and her mum, it seems everyone criticizing public schools includes a ‘I know/I’m related to great public school teachers’ disclaimer.

But it has echoes of Theodore Dalrymple’s experience with criminals and drug users: they all ‘fell in with the wrong crowd’ but not one of them ever admitted to being the wrong crowd.

The image of teachers stoically delivering knowledge while the waves of ignorance, societal breakdown and bureaucracy lap at their ankles is a romantic one, not least for the teachers, but at some point they must reconcile their desire to teach with their participation in a system unfit for purpose and a major contributor (literally and figuratively) to the leftist political machine.

jangle12 on July 8, 2014 at 8:08 AM

in 2012, he was able to sell the same now-weathered brand to just enough people because they didn’t view the alternative as viable.

Sorry, MKH, but Americans, when given the choice between something and something-Lite, will choose something every time.

Romney, while a good and decent man, was the only Republican who could not make a campaign issue out of Obamacare. Why we nominated him is beyond me.

Occams Stubble on July 8, 2014 at 9:11 AM

Read this and weep for our nation, from 2009: A White Teacher Speaks Out

slickwillie2001 on July 7, 2014 at 10:22 PM

It didn’t used to be that way. Mom taught in the inner city, 85% black, in the mid 60′s to mid 80′s. The ironically named War on Poverty was just getting started when she began teaching. There was still a strong, educated black community in the 1960′s but by the time she retired, that community was gone and the neighborhoods were imploding. Now, sadly, it’s been a generation or two removed from the destruction of the black family, and the children, who didn’t get out, appear to be hopelessly feral.

Fallon on July 8, 2014 at 9:16 AM

At some point, when the dog won’t eat the dog food, you either go out of business. make better dog food or ensure that more democrats get elected to stamp out the competition.

yetanotherjohn on July 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM

charter schools can take the money for each student, and if the student is a problem (breaks the written rules) can toss them back to public school and keep the money. That’s a problem when the public school because the school of last resort.

tlynch001 on July 8, 2014 at 9:23 AM

In the case of D.C. public schools, the schools have largely been tested and failed their consumers.

I’m sorry. Can you explain how this is different from Obama?

I really wish someone would build an entire educational course

Rix on July 7, 2014 at 10:35 PM

You mean like this? The homeschooling movement has loads of curricula out there, including lecture, manipulatives, video, online, etc. The NEA could be out of business except they have convinced so many people that they just aren’t smart enough to school their own children, and they need “professionals” to do it.

With all due respect to MKH and her mum, it seems everyone criticizing public schools includes a ‘I know/I’m related to great public school teachers’ disclaimer.

jangle12 on July 8, 2014 at 8:08 AM

It’s funny because I knew a number of public school teachers in the homeschool movement. Some were former, but many were current. That speaks volumes, imho.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Hopefully this will lead to the collapse of public education and the teachers unions in DC. It should happen everywhere. All education should be private.

earlgrey on July 8, 2014 at 9:35 AM

At a time of very limited school resources, do we want our resources diverted to marketing?” said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder

See, this here is the root of the problem. A class of uneducated people who think there is a time when resources are not limited.

Who put them in charge of . . . anything?

FineasFinn on July 8, 2014 at 10:01 AM