PARCC scores offer rare opportunity for school sectors to unite

Yesterday, from a Washington Post article on the release of PARCC standardized test scores by Michael Allison Chandler:

“According to OSSE, 7 percent of charter school students who took the high school Math test and 23 percent of those who took the high school English test scored proficient, compared with 12 and 27 percent of D.C. Public School students respectively.”

Could it be that after years of the local charters promoting themselves as achieving higher academic performance than the traditional schools that the two are sectors are actually at about the same level?  If this is true then we now entering the next revolutionary phase in public school reform in the District of Columbia.

I’m sure educators across the city are scrambling to figure out how to implement the Common Core Standards better and faster.  And if this too is indeed the case, then everyone in both the charters and DCPS should be trying to get to the same point together.  Furthermore, with the pending re-authorization of the Opportunity Scholarship Program private schools accepting children utilizing vouchers will also have to administer the PARCC examination.  Therefore, these institutions as well should join the effort to drive academic improvement.  It could become the definition of the three-sector approach.

This all makes for a truly exciting time.

I am so proud of our education leaders.  There has not been one word about dropping the new standards, changing the test, or lowering the bar for what counts as proficient.  Instead, both DCPS Chancellor Henderson and DC Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson have explained that the results are a new starting point on the way to excellence for our students.

This is indeed what we have to do if we want our children to be able to compete for jobs with kids around the world.

As far as charters go, over the last almost 20 years, this movement has always risen to heroically meet whatever challenge has been placed in front of them.  I have no doubt that they will once again lift their students to levels of attainment not seen anywhere else across the country.

Disheartening standardized test score results

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the first high school results of the PARCC assessment used to measure student proficiency based upon the Common Core Standards.  In the District, only 10 percent of students demonstrated that they have mastered the skills that would lead to success in college in math; that number is at 25 percent for English.  The last time the DC CAS was utilized to gauge proficiency the statistic for each subject area was at around 50 percent.

The results were staggering for our Performance Management Framework Tier 1 charter high schools.  Here are the proficiency scores with the 2014 DC CAS percentages for math and reading in parentheses.  Capital City PCS Upper School, 33 percent (54.9 percent, 52.8 percent); Cesar Chavez PCS Parkside Campus, 8 percent (72.8 percent, 50 percent); KIPP DC PCS College Preparatory Campus, 18 percent (95.4 percent, 71.0 percent); SEED PCS, 64 percent (62.9 percent, 38.2 percent); Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, 57 percent (84.4 percent, 69.8 percent); and Washington Latin PCS Upper School, 63 percent (70.2 percent, 62.7 percent).

It will be most interesting to see how the PCSB handles these results when it comes to the PMF tiering.  Now, its seems that the board should have listened to the over 20 high performing charter school leaders who had requested that schools not be ranked in 2015 due to the use of the PARCC assessment for the inaugural year.  Yesterday, the PCSB said that the PMF measure would be released in January; usually these documents are made public in November.

In carefully constructed press releases both OSSE and the PCSB described the standardized test score results as a start on the way to the future academic progress of our students.  Of course, this is true and anyone who follows public education knew that these scores would be much lower that those in the past.  Still, it was not a good day in the District of Columbia.

Charter schools do not get the credit for rise in the DCPS graduation rate

Last week, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson reacted strongly against an article that appeared in Education Watchdog by Moriah Costa entitled, “Who get the Credit for Rise in D.C. Graduation Rates?”  The piece discusses the six point increase in the four year high school graduation rate that the traditional school experienced in 2015 compared to the previous year, and the reporter asks my friend Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, for the reason for the jump.  She replied that the cause is school choice.  Here’s the full quotation:

“You can’t look at graduation rates in a vacuum, especially in D.C., where you’ve got a three-sector approach that’s helping lift student outcomes,” she said. “Nearly half of D.C. students are enrolled in public charter schools, which for years have outperformed traditional district schools, creating a ripple effect that puts pressure on all schools to do better.”

Now, I don’t believe there is a greater proponent of an educational marketplace than me.  However, I have to agree with Ms. Henderson that the remark goes a bit too far.

School choice, specifically the rise of charters, was the fountainhead of public school reform in Washington, D.C.   Before charters came into existence here the regular schools were a place you wouldn’t want your kids to go.  At many sites crime, drugs, and gang activity were often more plentiful than books.  The physical spaces were uninhabitable.  There was extremely little actual teaching going on.

As families rushed to find an alternative to DCPS the population of students in charters grew dramatically.  At about the time that the traditional schools lost 25 percent of its enrollment Mayor Fenty was elected, the D.C. Council granted him control of the regular school system, and Michelle Rhee was brought in as the first Chancellor.

After Mayor Gray was elected Ms. Rhee stepped down and Ms. Henderson took over.  You cannot underestimate how fortunate we are that she is in this position.  Just being in the same room with her is inspirational.  She has a laser-like focus on improving every aspect of her schools.  She is the first to say that progress is not coming fast enough, but by working day and night I am confident that she will reach the goals of her strategic plan, one of which is to achieve a four year graduation rate of 75 percent.

Did charters create the public policy environment that has resulted in drastically needed positive change in DCPS?  Of course they did.  But did charters fix what was broken.  I’m afraid they did not.

The DCPS four year graduation rate is at 64 percent, and Ms. Henderson has two more years to go.

D.C. charter school and DCPS enrollment up 2 percent, sector ratio of enrollment remains constant

The Washington Post’s Michael Allison Chandler reported recently that unaudited enrollment data from D.C.’s charter schools and DCPS reveal that each sector increased by two percent in the 2015 to 2016 term.  Charters now educate slightly over 39,000 children, while the traditional schools have 48,693 kids in their classrooms. Ms. Chandler points out that this is the seventh annual increase for DCPS, which for years was losing its student body to charters.

The statistics means the ratio of charter to regular school students remains constant, with 44 percent to 56 percent in each group, that has been the case for the last several years. This comes as as the nation’s capital has just passed the point in time in which a decade-old study produced by Fight for Children predicted that by last year charters would teach the majority of pupils in Washington, D.C.  What happened?

Well, two things.  First, and probably most importantly, when the report by Gregg Vanourek was written the local charter school movement was focused mostly on growth.  Charters had 17,473 students in the 2005 to 2006 school year, representing 24 percent of all public school students.  There were 51 charter schools with 62 campuses.  DCPS enrolled 55,298 children, for a total of 72,771 individuals attending public schools.

Now there are 62 charters comprised of 115 campuses.  This is not a tremendous increase in the total number.  Therefore, what the study most likely did not anticipate was the strong focus on quality adopted by the DC Public Charter School Board.  Between 2006 and 2011 the Center for Education Reform states that 30 schools have been shuttered.  As chairman of the DC PCSB Dr. Darren Woodruff explained during my interview with him 13 charters have been closed in the last three years alone.

The second factor that has led to enrollment in charters remaining at 44 percent has been the dramatic improvements in DCPS.  When the Fight for Children report was issued Mayor Fenty had just been elected.  Michelle Rhee was about to be named Chancellor.  Her replacement, Kaya Henderson, has proved an exceptionally strong competitor for public school students.

The end result of all of this is that the educational landscape has greatly improved for our children.  It will be fascinating to see what the next 10 years brings.

Washington Post editors come out strongly in favor of re-authorizing Opportunity Scholarship Program

This morning, in one of the most forceful columns I have ever read on the subject, the editors of the Washington Post decry efforts by a majority of the D.C. Council to stop re-authorization of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Remember that recently the Council sent a letter packed with untruths about the OSP to Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  The Post picks out one of the most egregious claims; namely that the plan was unwillingly forced upon the District by meddling members of Congress.  Here’s what the editors had to say about that assertion:

“These eight council members seemed unaware that the program was established in 2004 at the initiation of Anthony Williams (D), then D.C.’s mayor, and with the strong support of Kevin Chavous (D), then chair of the council’s Education Committee. Likewise, they were unmoved by polling that has shown 74 percent of D.C. residents support the voucher program, which, despite the specious claims of critics, has improved outcomes for its students without taking a dime from regular public schools.”

But Anthony Williams and Kevin Chavous were far from being alone in partnering for private school scholarships for children living in poverty.  My friend Kaleem Caire recently posted the notes from a coalition meeting held almost exactly 12 years ago to strategize on implementing the program and the three-sector approach.  Among the 49 people attending the session, and I’m sorry I can only list a few, included Carol Adelman, board president Capital Partners for Education; Joe Bruno, charter school project Sallie Mae Fund; Peggy Cooper Cafriz, president D.C. Board of Education; Caroline Cunningham, Greater Washington Board of Trade; Raul Fernandez, Fernandez Group/Washington Capitals; Terry Golden, chairman Federal City Council; Boyden Gray, partner Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering; Joseph E. Robert, Jr., founder/chairman Fight for Children; Victor Reinoso, vice president for education Federal City Council; Jim Sheldon, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Bruce Steward, head of school Sidwell Friends; Dr. Elfreda Massie, superintendent D.C. Public Schools; and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archdiocese of Washington.

The Post editors also condemn the fact that the eight D.C. representatives appear so willing to give up the funding associated with the three-sector approach:

“Indeed, the three-sector federal approach has brought more than $600 million to D.C. schools, with traditional public schools receiving $239 million, charter public schools $195 million and the voucher program $183 million. At stake for fiscal 2016 is an additional $45 million.”

It is great to see the newspaper coming to the aid of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.  The House is expected to pass the re-authorization today.

Baltimore City charters have also filed a funding inequity lawsuit

Erica Green of the Baltimore Sun reports that eight of the Baltimore City’s highest performing charter schools have sued Baltimore City over its recently revised funding formula.  These schools enroll 3,600 of the city’s 13,700 kids that attend charters.

The new formula provides charters with about $9,300 per student with the school system spending about $13,000 a pupil.  The problem with the change is that 26 of the Baltimore City’s 34 charters would receive drastically less money under the plan.

One interesting point Ms. Green makes in her story is that in Baltimore City charters by law must receive cash in lieu of services that the central office provides to traditional schools that they don’t receive.  Perhaps this is a solution to D.C.’s charter school funding inequity problem.

The charters are seeking $75,000 as a remedy.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Black has asked University of Baltimore president and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke to mediate the revenue dispute.  If he is successful there, perhaps he could just come down to D.C.

Friendship Public Charter School 2015 Teacher of the Year Gala

Michele and I had the pleasure of attending last Saturday night’s Friendship Public Charter School 2015 Teacher of the Year Annual Awards Gala.  As is the custom, the event was held at the elegant JW Marriott Hotel where a formal dinner is proceeded by an hour of drinks and appetizers.  It was as a waiter was bringing around the first tray of hors d’oeuvres that I ran into my hero Donald Hense, the CEO and chairman of Friendship PCS.  I wanted to know what excited him about this year’s celebration.  “We have added two new schools,” the Friendship CEO answered without hesitation.  “We now include the Online Academy and Armstrong Elementary.  This growth has resulted in Friendship expanding by over 100 teachers.  Currently we enroll over 4,200 children in the District of Columbia, and the Friendship Educational Foundation includes two schools in Baltimore and one in Louisiana.”   Of course, the Online Academy and Armstrong are the schools Friendship graciously took over after the closure of the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS.

There were many members of the charter movement in attendance.  Immediately after talking to Mr. Hense, I approached Kara Kerwin, the president of the Center for Education Reform whom I have interviewed.  I wanted to know from Ms. Kerwin about the charter school situation in Seattle now that the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that its funding mechanism was unconstitutional.  “We are anticipating,” she commented, “that there will be both legal and legislative challenges to the ruling.  There are over 1,200 students currently attending charters there that are in need of school choice so that they can obtain access to good schools.”

It was then time to move to the ballroom for the award ceremony.  The space was packed.  I think this must have been the largest number of people I have seen at a Teacher of the Year Gala, and the one with the most well dressed participants.  Almost all of the men were in black tie and the women’s outfits were perfectly aligned with the high quality of Friendship’s academic offerings.  Just like in the past, a well-produced brochure was positioned at each place setting, and Roland Martin, host of News One Now and commentator on the TV One cable network, was the Master of Ceremonies.  But the crispness and well thought out pacing brought this event to new heights.

Nominated for the award were Yvonne Tackie, Blow Pierce Campus; Ashlie Monet Frances Dubose, Academy at Calverton; Joscelyn Reed, Chamberlain Campus; Alesha White, Preparatory Academy at Cherry Hill; Celecial Robinson, Collegiate Academy; Claire Holdipp, Southeast Academy; Ashley Smith, Technology Preparatory Academy; and Teoshi Edwards, Woodridge International Campus.

Mr. Hense kicked off the program with the inspiration and directness that defines this man.  “This is Friendship’s biggest night of the year besides promotion and graduation.  Our job is to have kids graduate and then be successful in college.  Tonight we celebrate the finest that is Friendship which is the belief that anything is possible for our scholars.  To encourage our children to work hard, we have no choice but to give our children the best that we have to offer each and everyday.”

The Friendship CEO then addressed the new charters that have joined his team this term.  “We have named the new elementary school Armstrong because it is on the site of Armstrong High School, the first African American technical training school in the United States.  In addition, we now have an on-line institute.  A recent newspaper article talked about the increase in home-schooled children in our city, but what the piece failed to mention is that that a great many of those kids are enrolled in our institute.”

Mr. Hense then reviewed the prizes that go along with being nominated as a Teacher of the Year.  He informed the guests that each individual receives $5,000, with the finalist being awarded $10,000.  Moreover, as has been the custom and in an extremely classy move, Friendship covers state and federal taxes associated with the gifts so that the instructors receive all of the prize money.

Before and after dinner the attendees viewed videos highlighting the work of the finalists.  I don’t know if its because its been awhile since I’ve been in a classroom, or due to the superlative work by EFX Media that produced the films, but I didn’t have a dry eye throughout these presentations.  I found during the other galas I’ve attended I’ve been able to accurately predict the winner; on this night I had not a clue.  I thought each one was a superstar.

In the end, the 2015 Teacher of the Year is Joscelyn Reed, a third grade instructor at Friendship’s Chamberlain Campus.   Perhaps reading about the ceremony has not been as an emotional experience as it was for us as being in the room.  Maybe that will change when you review Ms. Reed’s statement about how she views her profession.

“Educators have the power to create kind, comfortable, conducive learning environments in our classrooms.  For some children, this may be the only time they experience this stability.  This sense of security must be established before a book is read, or a lesson is taught.  This single step is the foundation upon which I build an environment where students feel comfortable challenging themselves.  They know that while I maintain high expectations, I am also there for them as a committed stakeholder in their personal success.”

It was a fantastic evening.

Charter board asks D.C. council for right to examine financial records of management organizations

In a long anticipated move, the DC Public Charter School Board has requested that the Council amend the School Reform Act to allow, in certain circumstances, inspection of the financial records of charter management organizations.  Scott Pearson, executive director of the PCSB, explained in a hearing yesterday when his organization would have access to fiscal records:

“This would extend to all contractors providing management or educational services with a public charter school if the value of the payments to the contractor equals or exceeds 20% (versus the currently proposed 10%) of the public charter school’s annual revenue; or the value of the payments from DC public charter schools exceeds 25% of the total revenues of the contractor.”

The change is intended to avoid the controversy that erupted around the for-profit management companies associated with Options PCS and Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS.  Both schools have since been closed due to the severe irregularities discovered regarding the use of public funds paid to firms contracted with these schools.  In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Pearson appears frustrated that the PCSB had requested the books from one of these charters but was only given the most superficial information in return.  He does not name the individual school but the Washington Post’s Michael Allison Chandler states that he is referring to Community Academy.

The PCSB executive director commented that millions of dollars in taxpayer money could have been saved if the charter board had been able to see how these CMOs had been allocating their revenue.  But the need for this revision to SRA goes far beyond increasing accountability for charter school spending.  The Options and Community Academy cases created a gigantic loss of confidence by D.C. residents in the legitimacy of a sector that now educates over 39,000 pupils or 44 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.

D.C.’s charter schools have been the fountainhead for desperately needed school reform that has literally turned the lives around of kids in this city, particularly those at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum.  Therefore, to strengthen this movement, and to protect its sustainability long into the future, the the Council should quickly approve this legislation.

States must be brave regarding Common Core test results

The use of the Common Core Standards has unfortunately been awash in political controversy for no reason whatsoever.  The standards, created out of an effort by the National Governors Association when Janet Napolitano was its chair, were developed to improve American students’ performance on the international PISA examination in which they traditionally scored poorly.  In addition, the standards are seen as a way to eliminate a major problem with the No Child Left Behind law in which proficiency in math and reading are defined at contrasting academic levels in different states.

The Common Core became a sore subject once Arne Duncan’s Education Department made their voluntary adoption a carrot toward winning money in the billion dollar Race to the Top Competition and in being awarded waivers to NCLB.

The result is that several states that accepted the Common Core have now rejected them, and Republican candidates for President have made it a badge of honor to see how derogatory they can be about the standards.  This is a horrible turn of events.

In addition, we hear today from the Washington Post’s Emma Brown that at least two states, Ohio and  Arkansas, have diluted the definition of proficiency on the PARCC, one of two examinations that measure student performance utilizing the Common Core.  For example, in Arkansas, Ms. Brown explains, the state made proficiency in Algebra 1 a score of a three, while the representatives of PARCC assert that success is college is likely if pupils rate a four.  The difference means that Arkansas classifies 60 percent of its kids as proficient in Algebra 1, when only 28 percent of its students would have been seen as proficient under the PARCC’s guidelines.

The same problem exists with ninth grade English proficiency.  The state reports that 64 percent of students have reached this level; PARCC believes the real number is 36 percent.

The matter is critically important as more scores are released across the nation.  It will become significant here in the nation’s capital as we learn the results of our own testing, findings that will drive charter school tiering on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework.

But the issue goes way beyond our own backyard.  The Common Core is the one opportunity, perhaps the last opportunity, for us to raise the bar regarding the expectations for the academic performance of all public school students.  We cannot let this chance disappear in the wind.

D.C. Council members threaten $30 million in funding to DCPS and charter schools from Congress

In one of his final anticipated acts as a congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, this week  John Boehner introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize for five years the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that provides private school scholarships to about 1,500 children a year living in poverty.  The funding for the OSP is part of the three sector education approach spearheaded by local philanthropist Joseph E. Robert, Jr. when he was alive that also includes $15 million for the traditional school system and another $15 million for the charter sector.

Yesterday, eight D.C. Councilpersons sent a letter to U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, calling for the winding down of the OSP by blocking new entrants to the program and only allowing those students currently enrolled to continue using the vouchers through high school.  The move proclaims loud and clear to members on the Hill that you can have your money back.

The signatories on the letter include education committee chairman David Grosso, Anita Bonds, Charles Allen, Yvette Alexander, LaRuby May, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, and Jack Evans.  Those apparently not going along with the idea of taking away the scholarships include Vincent Orange, Mary Cheh, Kenyan McDuffie, Brandon Todd, and perhaps most interesting, Council chairman Phil Mendelson.  In additon, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles did not add their names to those calling for the repeal of the legislation.  The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton quotes the Mayor’s spokesperson as commenting:

“We support federal funding that benefits District residents. . . The District has been a model for education reform, and the mayor is committed to building on our successes.”

Most unfortunately, the letter includes multiple false claims about the OSP.  To pick out just a few, it states that students do not benefit from participating in the plan, that it lacks accountability, and that it provides more funding than is offered through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  All of these statements are not accurate.

Students receiving scholarships have a 91 percent high school graduation rate, 21 percent higher than that of kids whose parents sought a voucher but could not obtain one.  The rate is about 30 percent higher than that of DCPS.  A 2013 review of the OSP found a statistically significant increase in reading scores.

In addition, there are multiple accountability measures included in the Act.  Schools participating in the OSP, among other things, are required to maintain valid certificates of occupancy, provide information on school accreditation, demonstrate financial strength if operating less than five years, be open to visits by the plan administrator, and ensure that each teacher of core subjects has a baccalaureate degree or higher.

Finally, the scholarships are worth about $8,300 for elementary and middle school and $12,400 for high school.  These figures are substantially below the UPSFF amount of approximately $18,000 spent on each student per year.

Perhaps the most important fact about the OSP is that for 84 percent of the pupils enrolled, if there were no scholarships they would be attending a neighborhood school designated by the No Child Left Behind law as in need of improvement.  But I’m sure if asked the eight D.C. representatives who signed yesterday’s letter would say that its all about the kids.  Nothing could be further from the truth.