School year begins with another verbal attack on D.C. charters

Today begins year 21 of public education reform in Washington, D.C., and I’m afraid we are not getting off to a tremendous start.  Our dynamic leader of DCPS, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, has resigned her post and then, while I was in Denver for the Amplify School Choice conference hosted by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Elizabeth Davis, the president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, attacked Walmart for giving away gift cards to cover classroom supply expenses.  The reason for her tirade?  Walmart is owned by the Walton Family who fund the Walton Foundation that supports charter schools and educational freedom across the country, including here in the nation’s capital.  Ms. Davis accuses the foundation, through its support of charters, of promoting the privatization of public education in America and of diverting desperately needed dollars away from traditional schools.

Over the two days of lectures at the conference I came to understand that behavior such as this would almost certainly not have been exhibited by Denver’s teachers’ union chief, and if by some highly unusual circumstance similar words had been spoken, it would not be tolerated.  As I pointed out previously, in Denver charters and the regular schools get along.  The center of this cooperation is the District-Charter Collaboration Compact.  It is an agreement  we desperately need here.

Let’s look at some of the language of this document that was signed by both traditional and charter school leaders back in 2010.  It begins:

“We believe that all students can achieve and deserve the highest quality public schools.  We believe that it is the collective responsibility of all schools – district, charter, performance, magnet, or innovation – to ensure all students have access to excellent education that successfully prepares them for college and career.  These opportunities must be available to all students in all socioeconomics, language, citizenship status, or special needs of students.  We believe that our students and parents should be able to exercise choice among high-performing schools in their neighborhoods and across the city.”

The paragraph is so perfectly written and the goals so directly expressed that it brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.

The compact then goes on to talk about specific joint commitments from district and charter schools.  Here are a couple, and I am not making these up:

“The children living withing Denver do not belong to a particular district school or to a particular charter school – the children in Denver are all our children.  Expect all schools to meet or exceed district-wide performance standards that are rigorous, consistent, and transparent.  Collaborate to refine and improve the School Performance Framework,” and

“Embrace the opportunity and need to help the most effective schools reach substantially greater levels of scale, whether those schools are district-run or charter schools, thereby increasing the number of high performing seats in the district.”

I imagine that if this language was in place here the dozen or so existing surplus DCPS facilities would have long ago been turned over to charters.  What do charters need to do as part of this accord?  Here are some examples:

“To the greatest extent possible and without restricting opportunities for new schools arising outside of district plans, commit to locating new schools in the highest-need areas, aligned to district plans and connected to district feeder patterns,” and

“Commit to highlighting the partnership with Denver Public Schools in newsletters, marketing materials, and special events and when speaking with the media.”

There are a total of seven standards for charters, eight for district schools, and ten that are shared.  For the traditional sector these institutions must, among other things:

“Commit to ensuring equitable resources for charter schools.  This includes not only per pupil revenue, but, to the greatest extent possible, an equitable share of all other district resources including Title funds, existing bond funds, application opportunities for future bond funds, mill levy funds, curriculum and materials purchased with federal funds, and grants for programs that could benefit charters,” and

“Commit to broadly informing district and charter school students and families about all of the choice options available to them and developing and implementing a common enrollment system that allows families to easily exercise these choice options.”

Mayor Bowser’s DC Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force is about halfway through its allotted time span to develop recommendations for how our city’s charters and DCPS can better unite their efforts.  I therefore have some fantastic news.  The group could save a tremendous amount of deliberation by simply copying Denver’s District-Charter Collaboration Compact.


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