Two Rivers PCS wins $200,000 Assessment for Learning Project Grant

Today it has been announced that Two Rivers PCS, the academically high performing charter that opened a new campus this school year, has won a $202,500 Next Generation Learning Challenges award. The grant will greatly enhance the school’s effort to develop an in-house assessment to measure the deeper learning skills of their students. In 2015, Two Rivers was selected for a two year $200,000 Cycle 1 Planning Grant with Breakthrough Schools: DC as part of their initial effort to create this assessment.

As I have written about in the past, the Next Generation Learning Challenges program supports over 150 new or revised blended learning schools since 2010 serving grades Kindergarten through twelve and higher education across the United States with a budget of over $21 million. Breakthrough Schools: D.C. is a $2 million grant completion partnered through NGLC and run by the CityBridge Foundation. At the end of 2013 I spent a day at the organization’s Education Innovation Summit to observe firsthand the presentations by schools seeking a Breakthrough Schools award.

Chantele Martin, the director of development at Two Rivers PCS explained to me that deeper learning, or 21st Century skills, are abilities such as complex communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Ms. Martin revealed that the assessment is currently in draft form, and is not tied to knowledge around specific content areas or subjects but instead looks at student abilities around the behavioral traits being measured.

It was not an easy feat to win this grant. Approximately 150 applications were submitted and 12 were approved. Two Rivers is by far the smallest of the groups provided with the NGLC grant and is the fine company of:

  • The Colorado Education Initiative
  • WestEd
  • The Center for Collaborative Education
  • Summit Public Schools
  • New Hampshire Department of Education
  • Virginia Beach City Public Schools
  • Henry County Schools
  • Hawai’i Department of Education
  • Learning Policy Institute & the California Performance Assessment Consortium
  • Fairfax County Public Schools
  • Del Lago Academy – Campus of Applied Science

The money, among other goals, will allow Two Rivers to partner with experts in the field, such as SCALE, the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity at Stanford University, to validate the assessment. After this has phase has been completed, Two Rivers PCS plans to make the tool available to the public.

Jeff Heyck-Williams, a founder of Two Rivers who is its director of curriculum and instruction and who will be one of the leaders of this project, commented on the selection of his school:

“To be successful you need academic rigor. In addition, you need two sets of social skills: interpersonal skills of collaboration and teamwork, and the intrapersonal skills of perseverance and grit. With the ALP grant, we will test deeper learning mastery through hour long, formative assessments that are not tied to any specific subject area or interdisciplinary projects. Through the transfer of concepts and skills as measured through evaluation rubrics, we can gauge mastery for each grade level. Through formative assessments, staff has a source of rich, never before available data to inform classroom instruction.”

The award represents another great milestone for this fine charter school.

Washington Latin PCS names new head of school

Yesterday, Washington Latin Public Charter School named Peter Anderson as its new head of school, replacing Martha Cutts who is retiring at the end of this term.  Mr. Anderson comes to Washington Latin from Hyde Leadership Public Charter School in the Bronx, New York, where his position is director of the elementary school.  Prior to working at Hyde, Mr. Anderson was the head of school for the Future Leaders Institute Charter School in Harlem and an associate head of school for St. Philips Academy located in Newark, New Jersey.

The press release revealing the change states that Mr. Anderson has over 20 years experience in the field of education after graduating from Haverford College with a Bachelors degree in sociology.  He also holds a Masters degree in sociology from the London School of Economics and a Masters degree in education from New York University. The announcement points out that Mr. Anderson was attracted to the job “because of his deep appreciation for Latin’s essential elements: classical mission, faculty excellence, diverse and integrated community, and academic success for all.”

Interestingly, Hyde Leadership PCS has a student population in which 93 percent of its students are classified as economically disadvantaged.  Latino students make up 63 percent of the enrollment, with blacks comprising 35 percent of those in classrooms.

Ms. Cutts ends her tenure at Latin after eight and a half years during which it has grown to 685 students and is widely recognized as one of the city’s highest academically performing public schools.  She was only the third leader of the charter, which is about to celebrate its 10 year anniversary.  The charter’s permanent facility is at the former DCPS Rudolph School in Northwest, D.C.


1.4 million square feet of public school space vacant

In a commentary appearing on the Educationpost website, Jacque Patterson, regional director of Rocketship Education, states that in Washington, D.C. there is currently 1.4 million square feet of space in a dozen shuttered DCPS schools that could be made available today for charter schools.  The issue is especially important now because, as Mr. Paterson explained, “the need is there, and it’s only going to grow, as conservative estimates project the number of D.C. school children will grow to 125,000 by 2025. That’s an additional 40,000 students over the next 10 years.”

This extravagant number of available square footage is most certainly a gross underestimate of available brick and mortar as numerous traditional schools are significantly under enrolled.

It has been estimated that there are 40,000 students living in the nation’s capital that lack a quality school seat.

Mayor Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Niles have not commented on the turning over of these buildings to the alternative school sector.  But they are not the only ones demonstrating silence on this issue.  Many leaders in the nation’s capital would rather not rock the boat and are keeping their opinions to themselves.  Perhaps at one of the upcoming Cross-Sector Collaboration meetings the subject will be raised in a way that does not hurt anyone’s feelings.

Meanwhile our town continues to provide high school diplomas to those who cannot write, cannot read on grade level and cannot solve basic mathematical problems.  This after we congratulate ourselves for 20 years of public school reform.



New DCPS budget approaches $29,000 per student

The school choice movement lost a hero recently when the CATO Institute’s Andrew Coulson died on February 7, 2016 at age 48 after a 15 month fight with brain cancer.  He was a fierce advocate of allowing parents to make the decision over the private or public school their children should attend, favoring tax credit funded scholarships for kids over vouchers as a means of keeping government out of the education business.

I did not know Mr. Coulson.  However, we did communicate by email several times during his many years as director of CATO’s Center for Educational Freedom.  His major accomplishment from my point of view was his groundbreaking revelation of what it really costs to teach pupils in our traditional public schools.

Mr. Coulson explained that when making this calculation all expenses need to be taken into account such as employee retirement plans and capital construction costs, funds that are many times excluded in this type of financial analysis.  For example, way back in 2008, he revealed that while D.C.’s Uniform Per Student Funding Formula amount was $8,322, the actual expense was $25,000 a kid once his methodology was taken into account.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein writes today that Chancellor Kaya Henderson has requested a $910 million fiscal year 2017 budget.  Utilizing Mr. Coulson’s math, and doing some back-of-the-envelope estimations, if Ms. Henderson’s receives the money she is asking for DCPS will allocate about $29,000 annually for every enrolled child.  This is a quantity, Mr. Coulson would assert, equal to about the yearly tuition at Sidwell Friends, the private school where President Obama sends his children.

For this amount of public money, and after 20 years of public school reform, we have student proficiency rates in reading and math at 25 percent, a statistic significantly lower for those living in poverty.  I can now hear Mr. Coulson proclaiming loudly, “Isn’t it about time we tried something new?”

D.C. charter school enrollment up 3.2 percent

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s audited enrollment count for this year demonstrated that 38,905 students now attend charters, an increase of 3.2 percent from the 2014 to 2015 term.  The traditional school system also experienced growth in its student body, with 1.9 percent more kids signed up for a total of 48,439. This is the seventh consecutive year that D.C. public schools have experienced a jump in enrollment.

It is also the fourth year in a row that charter school enrollment as a percentage of all children attending public schools in Washington D.C. has remained flat.  This is a highly disturbing trend, especially in light of a 2006 study produced by Fight for Children that predicted that charters would reach the 51 percent mark by 2014.

Obviously, the growth of charters has not kept up with demand, especially in the face of the DC Public Charter School Board’s history of closing 55 campuses at the low end of the quality scale.  A recent Bellwether Education Partners report states that there are 22,000 kids on charter school wait-lists.  22,000!  Many of the best charter schools in the city have lines of those trying to get in of over 1,000 pupils.

So what is going on here?  Perhaps the goal is to restrict expansion of our local charter school movement.  I recall the commentary that came out just about a year ago by John “Skip” McKoy, the past chair of the Public Charter School Board, and Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, which asserted that “the balance we have, with a thriving public charter sector and strong traditional schools, is about right.”

There is a bromide that says, “if you believe in something it will eventually become true.”  Well, here in the nation’s capital, often described as this country’s bedrock of public education reform, when it comes to the growth of our charter school sector we have officially reached stasis.



DC charter board votes to close Potomac Preparatory PCS

In another unanimous vote last evening the DC Public Charter School Board voted six to zero to close Potomac Preparatory PCS.  Potomac Preparatory is a pre-kindergarten to eighth grade school enrolling approximately 425 students and is located in Ward 5.  The charter was ranked as barely a Tier 2 school on 2014’s Performance Management Framework tool and the year before that is was classified as being in Tier 3.

Potomac Preparatory PCS first ran into trouble with the PCSB when it underwent its 10 year review in 2014.  At that time the board had found that the charter had failed to meet 17 of its 20 goals.  The board attempted to shutter the school then but the institution had initiated strong turnaround efforts and so the revocation process was terminated in return for the school meeting four specific conditions around academics and student attendance rates.  In an interesting addition last night to the procedure of shuttering a school, PCSB executive director Scott Pearson explained that the board had the Office of the State Superintendent of Education collaborate the quantitative measures used by the board to determine that the new goals had not been met.

One other note about this issue.  In December 2014, Potomac Preparatory amended its charter to include the revised targets with the understanding that if they were not reached the school would relinquish its charter.  But when it became clear that the charter had not lived up to its end of the bargain it refused to abide by the agreement.  Therefore, the board had no choice but to begin the revocation procedure.  Potomac Preparatory will cease operations at the end of the current school year.

D.C. Charter board correctly decides not to tier schools for 2015

With all of the goings on in the world today it may have escaped followers of our local charter school movement that for the first time in four years the DC Public Charter School Board has elected not to tier its schools based upon results of the Performance Management Framework.

This is exactly the right decision.

As you may recall, in reaction to the change in the annual standardized test assessment from the DC CAS to the PARCC, together with the adoption of the common core standards, 20 school leaders sent a letter to the PCSB requesting that in the face of these initiatives tiering be waived for a year.  One of the individuals signing the letter was Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education, in her previous role as executive director and founder of E.L. Haynes PCS.  The letter was also sent with the knowledge that DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson had earlier moved to not use 2015 PARCC results as part of the IMPACT teacher evaluation tool as her system acclimated to the new examination.

The board refused to budge, and stated emphatically that tiering would continue for the 2014 to 2015 term.  I argued strongly that this decision should be reversed.

So what is different now?  Apparently at the August meeting of the board an amendment was adopted to the 2015 PMF guidelines that consolidated early childhood, elementary school, and middle schools scoring into one grade.  In the past, charters received separate PMF’s for these groupings.   The modification made comparison to previous report cards impossible.  Therefore, the PCSB ruled at its December 2015 meeting to hold schools harmless for 12 months while simultaneously coming to the conclusion that high schools should also not be tiered to avoid some charters getting a ranking while others did not.

My only comment on all of this is that it would have been much simpler, and removed a great deal of stress for school leaders, if the PCSB had simply followed Ms. Henderson’s lead in the face of students taking the new PARCC examination.


20 years of D.C. public school reform and the cycle of poverty continues

Last week I had jury duty.  Everyone living in D.C. knows the drill.  You go down to the Moultrie Courthouse on Indiana Avenue N.W. and enter a large room where you sit and wait to see if your name and number will be called to serve.  In order to make the day go by faster, during the frequent 15 minute breaks I would go into the courtroom located next door and watch the proceedings.  What I saw was heartbreaking.

I was able to observe a multitude of cases come before the judge.  Prisoners were brought in one at a time under armed guard and shackled in chains that restricted the movement of their hands and feet.  Each of the names called by the clerk located on the podium at the front of the room was different but the reason for their incarceration was similar.

Before me appeared one African American man after another.  I say man but these were really not more than kids; I would guess each was between the ages of 18 and 21.  All had been convicted or accused of a crime such as robbery or theft.  One person was there because a witness said the defendant had threatened to kill him by firing a gun.  From the conversations I learned that many of those being incarcerated were homeless.

As the judge discussed the scenarios that had caused these people’s lives to become deeply intertwined with the legal system there was one common denominator.  Each had been found to be using drugs when they were arrested.

As I watched this sad parade of broken human beings I was reminded that we are now in year 20 of education reform in the nation’s capital.  Anger started to boil up in me as I recalled that after all of this painstaking effort and money we have reached the staggering point in which only 25 percent of our public school pupils are proficient in reading and math.  For those living in poverty, average reading and math proficiency rates were 11 percent, thereby guaranteeing that their futures were passing right in front of my eyes.

In a conversation about this subject yesterday with a member of the DC Public Charter School Board staff the individual pointed out to me that the problem in the black community goes much deeper than education.  But on this topic I turn to the words of the past chancellor of New York City Schools Joel Klein in his fine book Lessons of Hope:

From the day I became chancellor, many people told me, “You’ll never fix education in America until you fix poverty.”  I’ve always believed that the reverse is true:  we’ll never fix poverty until we fix education.  Sure, a strong safety net and support programs for poor families are appropriate and necessary.  But we’ve recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, and it seems fair to say that we must seek new approaches as our problems increase.

Safety-net and support programs can never do what a good education can; they can never instill in a disadvantaged child the belief that society can and will work for him in the same way that it works for middle- and upper-class children.  It is the sense of belonging -the feeling that the game is not rigged from the start- that allows a child to find autonomy, productivity, and ultimately, happiness.  That’s what education did for me.  And that’s why, whenever I talk about education reform, I like to recall the wise, if haunting, words of Frederick Douglass, himself a slave, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

My question to all of you is simply this:  When are our education leaders and public officials going to express outrage at these standardized test score results?


Disappointing 20 years of public school reform in Washington, D.C.

I’ve been receiving the email messages and viewing the blog posts about how we are all supposed to be celebrating the fact that 20 years ago the first charter school opened its doors in the District of Columbia.  Please excuse me if I skip the party.

Don’t get me wrong.  Much has significantly improved since 1996.  At that time the primary reason parents sought these experimental educational institutions was that they were safe.  This says all you really need to know about the state of DCPS.  Thanks to our local movement many children have attended college who never would have gone; in fact the word university never would have passed through the lips of their parents.  It is also not an overstatement to say that for numerous young people charters have meant the difference between life and death on the streets of our city.

But I’m far from satisfied at the progress.  I started my involvement with charters near the end of 1999 when I was a volunteer tutor at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy.  There I was introduced to ninth and tenth graders who could not read, write, or complete basic mathematical problems.  With the release of the PARCC standardized test results showing that our students have a proficiency rate in English and math at 25 percent, it appears that if I showed up at a public school today to work with a high school student my observations would not be much different.  The academic achievement gap between rich and poor and black and white is not shrinking; it is actually moving in the opposite direction.

Moreover, after a quarter of a century at this the funding inequities between charters and the regular schools persist.  We still haven’t figured out how to provide a permanent facility for all charters that need one.  There is a desperate shortage of high quality seats.  Parents trying to get their children into many Performance Management Framework Tier 1 schools face a waiting list of over a thousand scholars.  For the third year in a row charters make up 44 percent of all kids attending public schools in the nations capital.

Yes, much has improved over the last two decades.  But if we really want to change our society to one in which each and every young person receives the education they deserve, I’m afraid we have stalled.