Public Policy Report Finds D.C. Public Schools Have Limited Response to Charter School Competition
Washington, D.C. th Today the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI) released the findings of a mostly qualitative look at the behavioral response of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) to increasing competition from charter schools. The report, titled "The Muzzled Dog That Didn't Bark: Charters and the Behavioral Response of D.C. Public Schools," suggests that despite increasing competition from charter schools, public schools have not responded as expected because of a lack of commitment to a truly competitive model that incorporates non-trivial consequences for failure.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington, D.C. – Today the School Choice Demonstration Project ( SCDP ) at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute ( GPPI ) released the findings of a mostly qualitative look at the behavioral response of D.C. Public Schools ( DCPS ) to increasing competition from charter schools. The report, titled “The Muzzled Dog That Didn’t Bark: Charters and the Behavioral Response of D.C. Public Schools,” suggests that despite increasing competition from charter schools, public schools have not responded as expected because of a lack of commitment to a truly competitive model that incorporates non-trivial consequences for failure. Furthermore, the report suggests that efforts to enforce such a competitive model by the District have been hampered by a lack of consistent leadership and general political friction over the years.
“Although it has been suggested that school choice will spur competition and improvements in public education, choice alone does not necessarily equate to competition,” says Margaret Sullivan, a GPPI researcher and one of the report’s authors. “Typically, clear incentives and penalties must exist and be communicated at all levels of the system if we expect stakeholders to drastically change their behavior,” says Sullivan.
The SCDP team of researchers conducted a series of interviews, focus groups, and surveys along three levels of DCPS: District elite—including past and present members of D.C.’s Boards of Education and City Council, DCPS administrators, consultants, activists, and former superintendents—principals, and teachers. The research was conducted from the spring of 2006 through the fall of 2007.
Overall the researchers report a disconnect between the priorities of educational elites and the dilemmas haunting principals and teachers in public schools. They found elites were troubled most by the District’s continuous turnover in leadership and persistent financial troubles. Although few elites mentioned charter school competition directly when asked to list major concerns in DCPS, the majority did cite declining enrollment and the need to consolidate facilities—issues intrinsically linked to charter school competition. The general sentiment among elites, however, was that behavioral responses to improve in the wake of charter school competition were the responsibility of individual schools, not the District as a whole.
Although most principals acknowledged the pressure of declining enrollments, they expressed frustration over their lack of autonomy to hire and fire teachers, obtain supplies, and maintain their facilities—changes they believe would most contribute to mounting school improvements. With those limitations in mind, many principals focused on recruitment efforts to boost student enrollment as the next best alternative, citing common tools such as email, flyers, open houses, newsletters, radio ads, newspaper ads, church meetings and other methods of advertising. In addition to recruiting, principals also mentioned offering extras, such as pre-K and International Baccalaureate ( IB ) programs, school uniforms and adult classes in parenting and English to attract and retain new students.
Teachers, the study found, also understood the need to maintain a good image in order to boost student enrollment, yet they did not feel compelled to change their behavior in the classroom as a result of increasing competition from charter schools. Many teachers reported putting on a show when being observed to ensure that they appeared to be doing what their principals and the district tell them to do, but said they did not change their approaches to teaching on a regular basis.
“We found that most changes schools are making to attract students have more to do with services for parents and the image of a school than with improving the educational attainment of students,” says Sullivan. “The schools that did discuss efforts to raise student test scores generally attributed these efforts to No Child Left Behind rather than to charter school competition.”
The report concedes in its conclusion that since the completion of most of the research, actions by Mayor Fenty and newly appointed DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, including school closings, changes to funding schemes, and staff changes, indicate the competitive mechanisms of school choice may be enforced more strictly in the future.
“If these actions spark further reforms in line with school choice theory, further examination of the behavioral response of D.C. public schools to charter school competition will be warranted,” says Sullivan.
SCDP’s research was funded by the Walton Foundation. Hard copies of this report will be available in May. Electronic versions of this report and previously released reports are available on the SCDP’s Web site at http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp.
About the School Choice Demonstration Project ( SCDP )
The School Choice Demonstration Project ( SCDP ), based within the Georgetown Public Policy Institute ( GPPI ) and the University of Arkansas, is an education research center devoted to the non-partisan study of the effects of school choice policy and is staffed by leading school choice researchers and scholars. SCDP’s national team of researchers, institutional research partners and staff are devoted to the rigorous evaluation of school choice programs and other school improvement efforts across the country. SCDP has collaborated in recent years with other research agencies on the official quantitative examination of DC Opportunity Scholarship Program funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Services. For more information on SCDP, visit http://www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp.
About Georgetown Public Policy Institute ( GPPI )
Georgetown Public Policy Institute ( GPPI ) offers masters degrees in public policy and policy management. The Institute's emphasis on academic excellence and engagement with the public policy capital of the world solidly prepares students to tackle the most challenging issues facing contemporary society. For more information on GPPI, visit http://gppi.georgetown.edu.
About Georgetown University
Georgetown University is the oldest and largest Catholic and Jesuit university in America, founded in 1789 by Archbishop John Carroll. Georgetown today is a major student-centered, international, research university offering respected undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in Washington, DC, Doha, Qatar and around the world. For more information about Georgetown University, visit www.georgetown.edu.
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