Although much of the news was negative at Tuesday’s release of 2015 NAEP results, there were a few bright spots. The District of Columbia was one of two “states” to record a gain in both 4th grade reading and 4th grade math. It’s no secret that DC, like many of our nation’s cities, has struggled to provide a high quality education to its students. And its total enrollment fell by nearly 20,000 students between the late 1980’s and the year 2000. However, enrollment in DC has been making a comeback, partially due to the growth of charter schools and partially due to improved performance by both charter and non-charter public schools.
As charter school enrollment began to take off 10 years ago, enrollment in DCPS (non-charter public schools) started declining rapidly – down to as low as 45,000 students from a high of more than 85,000. Within a few years, however, that began to level off and now they are actually seeing an increase in total enrollment.
Although enrollment in charter public schools continues to increase as well, the system seems to have stabilized at something close to split share of enrollment. And, in last year’s report on indicators of the health of the charter school movement in each state, DC was at the top of the list. So what does this mean for students in DC?
In 2005, only about 10 percent of 4th grade students were considered Proficient or above in reading in mathematics on NAEP, and their scaled scores were 30 or more points below the national average. As of 2015, those numbers had increased to 27 percent in reading and 31 percent in math – still not at the national average, but closing the gap by about half. And the increases have been experienced by both charters and non-charters, even as the national scores have been fairly flat.
One of the goals of creating a healthy charter movement is to provide more high-quality options for parents and to serve as the tide that lifts all boats. It would take a much more sophisticated analysis to prove a causal link between charter schools and the good news in DC. Regardless, it’s good news for students and families.
 DC participates in both the state assessment and the Trial Urban District (TUDA) assessment. The data used here are from the state assessment as the TUDA results do not have a representative charter school sample.