New DCPS Chancellor must expand charter school sector

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews today has a column in which he calls on the replacement for DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson to protect charter schools in the nation’s capital.  Never mind that this position has absolutely no power over these dynamic institutions that teach over 39,000 children, or 44 percent of all pupils that attend pubic schools in the nation’s capital.

Thank goodness that this is the case.  Remember years ago that once Harmony PCS opened across the street from an existing DPCS facility, when it was desperate to find space and after it had begged the city for help finding a building and representatives had met with Ms. Henderson seeking collaboration; the Chancellor referred to the move as cannibalizing her pupils.  Unfortunately, her attitude never really changed, as evidenced by this interview with Alexander Russo about a month ago:

Mr. Russo:  “What’s wrong with having two systems for parents to choose from?”

Ms. Henderson: “We’re paying twice as much for not very different outcomes. I think that it’s not a good use of resources. We have experienced positive financial revenue in the city for the past 10 years, but if we were like a lot of other places, there’s no way that we would pay as much as we’re paying to support two different systems that are providing the same results. . . We are stepping on each others toes.”

What really has to happen is that the newly named Chancellor needs to help expand the charter sector.  Let’s take these logical steps.  First, as the chairman of the DC PCSB Dr. Darren Woodruff stated in my recent interview with him, we need to have one accountability system that measures the quality of all schools.  This means applying the Performance Management Framework to DCPS.  Then, those sites that are found to be Tier 3 are turned over to our highly performing charters.  In addition, perhaps we can finally convince strong charter management organizations from across the nation, who have been reluctant to come here because of the problem finding space, to operate these schools since they will already have permanent facilities.

Last week the PCSB released the lasted Quality School Reports for elementary and middle schools.  I’m really glad that so many charters are rated as Tier 1 or Tier 2.  However, in spite of these results, these are actually desperate times.  The 2016 PARCC standardized tests demonstrate that only about a quarter of charter and traditional school students are college ready.  The achievement gap between rich and poor is about 50 points.  Two decades of public school reform has produced students that are academically mediocre.  There are bright spots but the overall picture is bleak.

As Ms. Henderson concluded in her conversation with Mr. Russo:

“There’s so much more to accomplish. There are a bunch of things. We’re still not where I want to be on our scores, graduation rate, or equity across the district, or special education outcomes. All of those things are way better than when I got here. But there’s a lot more that I want for D.C. public schools.”

There is a lot more that we all want.

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