DC Public Charter School Board should encourage replication

The DC Public Charter School Board announced yesterday that it was conducting its first ever Back to School “Road Show” to highlight some of the quality offerings by our local charter schools.  PCSB chairman Dr. Darren Woodruff explained to me during our recent interview that among his objectives in his new position was to get out into the community more to show parents the exciting opportunities the education sector his Board oversees can provide to their children.  The “Road Show” appears to be the first such effort toward this goal.

One of the sites being visited is the new campus of Two Rivers PCS, the charter that for years had the longest wait-list of any school with over 1,000 names on it.  Another high performing charter that resisted growing, Thurgood Marshall Academy, is now planning to replicate.  But there are still other schools that could serve many more students.  For example, Washington Latin PCS has a wait-list of over 700 students, as does DC Montessori PCS, a much more recent addition to the charter school landscape.

A major reason that many great schools do not want to take on additional campuses is their fear that enlarging will cause a drop in the quality of the academic program, perhaps leading to the school losing its Tier 1 status on the Performance Management Framework.  This is where the PCSB could play a significant role in increasing the number of quality seats in the nation’s capital.

Let’s start by agreeing that even if some of our strong performers diluted the strength of their academics for a short period by replicating it would still provide almost all members of the student body a better education than they are currently receiving at another facility.  Therefore, in order to remove the obstacle of schools being stigmatized by being labeled as Tier 2, the Charter Board should suspend a school’s ranking for a year as it figures out how to educate more pupils.

There is a precedent for such a move.  Every new charter, or campus within an existing LEA, that opens is given a year’s grace period before it is publicly graded on the PMF.  Why not extend the same logical policy to schools that take the risk of opening another campus?

The Illinois Facility Fund estimated in 2012 that Washington D.C. is in need of 40,000 quality seats.  Since the issuing of this study we have hardly made a dent in this number.  After 20 years of school reform there are far too many students starting school this term in institutions with chronically low proficiency rates in reading and math.

Waiving PMF rankings for 12 months while a charter replicates is just one small step the PCSB could take to provide a high performing school to every child who desperately needs one.

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