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D.C. Charter School Uses Tough Love To Erase Achievement Gap

Eleven years after the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School opened its doors, its first class of seniors graduated last month. Adding one grade a year until you have 12 presented a series of learning opportunities for everyone. The educators had to figure out just how hard they could challenge their students to succeed. And students had to realize just how much they were capable of.

When the Northwest D.C. high school opened four years ago, every ninth grader sat for the tests — and every ninth grader failed.

The school’s founder, Jennie Niles, was okay with that. “There is lots of evidence that simply taking an AP course and exposing a student to the level of rigor that they’re going to need to achieve at, helps them achieve higher later when they’re in college,” she says.

Niles, who has since taken a job as D.C. deputy mayor for education, started E.L. Haynes in 2004 with the goal of eliminating the achievement gap in the United States. She wanted to create a school where kids from all different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds could succeed. The ninth-graders didn’t pass their AP tests that year, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise.