Antwan Wilson confirmed by D.C. Council as next DCPS Chancellor

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Matos

Now that it has been finalized that Mr. Wilson will be coming to the nation’s capital, let’s talk about some of his priorities.  First and foremost, the Chancellor should redirect the work of the Deputy Mayor for Education’s Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force to develop a contract detailing the expected cooperation between the charter sector and the traditional schools mirroring the one that exists in Denver.  Mr. Wilson spent a decade with Denver Public Schools so I’m sure he is more than acquainted with this document.  Apparently, key education stakeholders here have tried on multiple occasions in the past to develop this agreement, only to be blocked by DCPS.  It looks like we now have a fresh new opportunity to get this done.

Of course, any compact would not be complete without a clause providing a permanent facility for all approved charter schools.  Charters are public schools just like the regular ones and there is no reason that they should be treated any differently when it comes to brick and mortar.  The exact same argument was offered by Irasema Salcido, the founder of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy when she testified before Congress on the current state of the charter school movement.  This was in the year 2000, almost 17 years ago.  As a society we must be able to do better than this.

Mr. Wilson should also utilize his influence to end the FOCUS coordinated revenue inequity lawsuit between charters and the city.  The solution to this issue is really simple.  All money should go through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula as is required by law.  Done.

Then we can really start taking about charters and DCPS working together.  There are so many best practices that charters have developed over their 20 year history that can be shared with the regular schools.  Many have even been able to close the academic achievement gap, an aim I heard Mr. Wilson state multiple times during his confirmation hearing that he is extremely interested in attaining. I’m sure that DCPS also has much to teach charters.

The objective of school choice is to raise the bar for all public educational institutions.  Now with the hiring of Mr. Wilson, it is time to make this goal a reality.

Kingsman Academy PCS eliminates student suspensions

Last evening during the monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board Rashida Young, the organization’s equity and fidelity senior manager, provided an excellent overview of the 2016 Equity Reports that I recently wrote about here.  When it came to the portion of the study that covered student suspension rates, Scott Pearson, the PCSB executive director, asked Ms. Young to talk about Kingsman Academy PCS.  It was at this point that the staffer dropped a bombshell.  Ms. Young revealed that this year the charter school has eliminated student suspensions.

For those of you who may not remember, Kingsman PCS is the reincarnated Options PCS that was slated for closure by the PCSB after it was revealed in 2013 that former managers of the school had siphoned millions of dollars to themselves through unethical and almost certainly illegal contracts struck with the charter.  It was a particularly sad case in that caught up in the mess were two local heroes.  Long-term Channel 9 newscaster J.C. Hayward was the Options board chair when all the shenanigans around money was going on.  She eventually retired from the network and was removed from the legal case.  Also involved was Jeremy Williams, the former PCSB chief financial officer who was loved by the many charter school leaders who he helped.  It turned out that he was paid to hide the contracting situation from his bosses.  The criminal complaint against him has also been closed.

The entire matter was especially tragic because Options took care of kids that no one else wanted to teach.  These were about 400 severely emotionally and physically disabled middle and high school special education students.  After all of the news broke about this school, the plan was to shutter its doors.

But then something amazing happened.  Josh Kern, through his Ten Square consulting group, was made the Court-ordered Receiver of Options PCS.  In something that can only be described as miraculous, he and his team did a complete management restructuring of the school, refining every detail of its operation.  I appreciated from behind the scenes what Mr. Kern was doing and I began arguing on my blog to keep Options going citing these efforts.  During the darkest periods of this mess, when it looked like the end of the school was a forgone conclusion, I met with Mr. Kern and then communicated through other means to see how I could best support his work.

In the end, the charter board decided to to offer a new charter to a group that would take over the Options facility.  The fine team that Mr. Kern assembled to run the school won the bid which leaves us where we are today:  a charter teaching the most challenging young scholars that has come to the conclusion that it can accomplish its goals by eliminating the need to suspend its students for even one hour.

It is a fantastic story perfectly suited for this holiday season.

DC Public Charter Board lauds progress of sector contained in Equity Reports

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education has released the public school Equity Reports for the 2015-to-2016 term and the DC Public Charter School Board is hailing many of the findings.  For example, the organization points out that charters in the nation’s capital educate a larger percentage of economically disadvantaged and black students compared to the city overall at 83.6 percent and 76.3 percent, respectively.  In addition, the percentage of students being taught with a disability is above the average for all schools.  Charters enroll 5.5 percent of students with disabilities compared to the citywide average of 5.1 percent.  In addition, I find it especially fascinating that for each of the four subgroups of severity of disability, charters closely match the enrollment rates of all city wide schools.

Also impressive is the steady decrease in student suspension rates for D.C. charters.  The overall percentile is now at 9.1 percent and the proportion for each subgroup of students has consistently dropped over the past three years.  However, each of these rates is slightly above those for the city as a whole. Also following a positive downward trajectory is the number of lost hours in the classroom due to suspension, going from a percentage of 0.39 days during the 2012-to-2013 school year to 0.23 days in the 2015-to-2016 term.  The expulsion rate at 0.21 percent of students is also at the smallest level in three years, compared to the rate of 0.1 percent for all public schools.

In addition, student movement during the year is going in the right direction.  Charters, during the 2015-to-2016 school year, demonstrated their lowest proportion since the 2012-to-2013 term at -4.1 percent, compared to the citywide average of student loss and gain during the 2015-to-2016 term at a net zero percent.

Finally, student test scores on the standardized PARCC assessment are improving for all groups except white students.  For example, the percentage of students scoring the career and college readiness score of four or better went up 3.7 points for black students, 6.4 percent for Hispanic pupils, 3.7 percent for English language learners, and 5.0 percent for those living in poverty, compared to the previous year.  However, in spite of the improvement, these results are abysmally low with black kids earning a four or better 24.3 percent of the time, Hispanic students at 28.3 percent for the same statistic, and low-income students at 23.0 percent.  White students are at 75.1 percent for rating a four or better, down 5.2 percent from the previous year.

Much progress has been made, but there is a really long way to go.

A thrilling EdFest 2016

Last Saturday my wife Michele and I had the great pleasure of heading over to the DC Armory to attend EdFest 2016.  Picture this:  hundreds of parents with children in tow visiting row after row of information booths representing public schools in the nation’s capital.  The timing of the event is perfect in that the common lottery, My School DC, opens today.

This is the third time for this annual gathering, which in the past was known as the Charter School Expo.  In one of the most visually symbolic manifestations of cooperation between the two sectors, charters and traditional schools not only share the same space; they are located right next to each other due to being positioned in alphabetical order.  In fact, you really had to pay close attention to determine whether a particular school was under the umbrella of the DC Public Charter School Board or DCPS.

Because of the significance of the occasion the leaders of each branch were in attendance.  Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, traversed the crowd, speaking to many of the charter leaders manning booths.  Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education, also greeted the guests.  I was extremely interested in talking to Antwan Wilson, Mayor Bowser’s nominee to be the next DCPS Chancellor, but Ms. Niles stated that he had been sent home because lately he had been seeing more of her than his own wife.  The Deputy Mayor added that she was proud of the job Mr. Wilson had done before his confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council just last Thursday.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Keith Gordon, the always upbeat chief operating officer of Fight for Children.  He was there with his two kids and if you include Mr. Pearson and Ms. Niles along with the two of us then astonishingly you had together five attendees of last week’s exceptionally elegant retirement party for Michela English, Fight for Children’s president and chief executive officer, held at the RIS Restaurant in Northwest.  Mr. Gordon becomes head of the organization January 1, 2017.

But the absolute highlight for us was visiting the folks from IDEA Public Charter School.  Michele was greeted as a rock star because she had written not too long ago a Washington Post real estate section cover story about the school’s partnership with the Academy of Construction and Design, which trains students at the charter to be able to work as electricians, carpenters, and mechanics.  Justin Rydstrom, the head of the school, welcomed us warmly between talking to prospective school parents, and Shelly Karriem, the program director, joined Michele and about five other excited staff members and scholars in a group photograph.  Ms. Karriem pointed out that right behind us was a framed copy of Michele’s article that Mr. Rydstrom had prepared for all to see.

We also had the chance to converse with representatives from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and Serving our Children, the group that now administers the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  In fact, there were so many people to talk to it was exceedingly difficult to leave.  We are already looking forward to next year.

Scott Pearson is wrong to consider unions for charter schools

In a recent article published on EducationPost, Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board reacted to a blog post by Dirk Tillotson who contends that unions have a place in charter schools.  Mr. Pearson agrees, stating that not one of the charter applications that has come before his organization has included unionized employees, and he believes that the time has come for this innovation to be employed just like others he has seen in his sector.  He could not be more mistaken.

Mr. Pearson begins his argument with the assertion that unions can be a voice for employee concerns.  But what I have seen from working with a bargaining unit in Washington, D.C. is that unions actually become a wall between management and staff.  It inserts a third party between these two groups, and although you would imagine that the union looks out for the interest of its members exactly the opposite becomes true.  The union, almost naturally, does everything it can to protect its place and power, often at the expense of those it is supposed to be supporting.

The PCSB executive director also appears to be a fan of the due process procedures that unions impose to protect their employees from being fired.  But we sadly learned about the DCPS teachers who committed educational malpractice for decades without consequences because they were protected by the union.  We’ve heard the stories of instructors who have been accused of wide ranging offenses collecting full pay while sitting in rubber rooms killing time because they cannot be removed from the system.

In addition, right here in Mr. Pearson’s backyard, unions have fought the very reforms that have led many charters to close the academic achievement gap.  The Teachers’ Union battled Kaya Henderson when she extended the school year on a few of her campuses.  They have obstructed implementation of the IMPACT teacher evaluation tool linking rankings partially to student performance.  Most recently, the DC Teachers’ union went so far as to protest Walmart’s plans to provide free school supplies, making the absurd contention that if company’s foundation had not been promoting the growth of charter schools there would be plenty of money for DCPS to purchase what it needed.

In fact, the unions have opposed charter schools at every opportunity.  Mr. Pearson may assert that this is because they don’t utilize unionized teachers but there is a much more fundamental reason for their dislike of these alternative schools.  Unions, by their nature, do not support the type of managerial entrepreneurship that put kids and families first.

Unions have no place in charter schools.


Optimistic about Antwan Wilson becoming DCPS Chancellor

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Matos and Perry Stein have an article today that makes me highly optimistic regarding Mayor Bowser’s hiring of Antwan Wilson to be the next Chancellor of DCPS.  Let me point out the reasons for my opinion.

First, consider his words.  The story begins with this quotation from Mr. Wilson.  “I run to places where I believe I am going to be most needed. . . It’s 100 percent possible to educate every child.  Sometimes people say that’s unrealistic, but I just don’t believe that.”

This is exactly what we need to hear from the person that will replace Kaya Henderson.  Mr. Wilson states that his top priority in his new job will be closing the academic achievement gap, something that I’ve argued for years should be our city’s number one goal.

Then there is his positive attitude toward charter schools.  In the Post piece Mr. Wilson remarks that he was not looking to leave his current position in Oakland, California but the fact that D.C. “already has a working relationship with a robust charter sector” made the possibility of a new job “compelling.”

In Oakland the new Chancellor sought to turnaround his system’s five most under performing schools.  To accomplish this feat he sought advice from various stakeholders that included charters.

The move apparently upset the community and it was claimed that Mr. Wilson was attempting to substitute charters for traditional schools.  This accusation was repeated when he tried to implement a common lottery, something we already have in place here.

The Post reporters also reveal that during his decade in Denver Mr. Wilson became principle for three years of one of the toughest high schools in the regular school system.  Then he supported dismantling the facility and turning it into three different institutions.

Mr, Wilson then moved on to administering all high schools for Denver Public Schools.  The Post comments that he is “credited with boosting high school graduation rates, redesigning the system’s alternative schools and increasing enrollment in Advanced Placement courses.”

Denver school Superintendent Tom Boasberg asserted that he and Mr. Wilson often tried to mimic public school reform progress in the nation’s capital.

“We owe a tremendous amount to him.” Mr. Boasberg remarked.  Let’s sincerely hope that he has similar success in his new home town.