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DC Academic Trends Deserve Celebration but…

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

Last week I told you the good news that NAEP shows that both DC district and charter schools have been improving their academic outcomes, but that charters were showing faster growth.  That post included charts like the following, showing the improvement in the percentage of general-education free and reduced-price lunch-eligible students scoring “Basic or Better” on 2013 NAEP 4th grade reading:


This is good news across the board. About 57 percent of DC children attend district schools, 43 percent charter schools. You see the same pattern across all four NAEP exams; DC district schools improving fast, DC charters improving even faster.

Now for the sobering news. Like every other state, neither DC district or charter schools have arrived anywhere near an acceptable level of academic performance. Using the same 4th grade reading NAEP data presented above, Figure 2 shows the percentage of low-income general-education students scoring “Proficient or Better.”  NAEP defines the Proficient level as “solid grade level achievement” while the Basic level is partial mastery of grade level skills.

sad chart

Now the task  looks more daunting, but don’t despair—a strong trend of getting kids out of the “Below Basic” category represents a necessary pre-requisite for moving more children into full grade level proficiency. Considering that DC charters show stronger academic growth while achieving that stronger growth at a lower taxpayer cost, DC residents should deeply study the Recovery School District model as a method to achieve faster improvement for all students.

DC students have miles and miles to go and only one shot at a K-12 education.  The current reforms are working but…

charter school

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.