On Monday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that the principal of DCPS’s Ballou High School, Yetunde Reeves, has been reassigned to another position outside of that facility in the aftermath of a WAMU and National Public Radio report about possible fraud around the handing out of diplomas. When the story first broke last week, Chancellor Antwan Wilson said he stood by Ms. Reeves and that she should keep her job. No information has been provided as to the reason Mr. Wilson quickly changed his mind. There are at least three investigations now in progress regarding whether the school’s administration pressured teachers to pass students who should have failed classes. Research by WAMU and NPR found, among other irregularities, that fifty percent of pupils were allowed to graduate in 2016 even after being absent for more than three months of the term.
But my reason for writing is not to rehash the problems at Ballou. I’m interested in the fact that, without any public input, a major change in leadership was made at the school right in the midst of severe controversy. I’m focused on this action because of my long-term involvement with charter schools.
For years I’ve heard the criticism that charters are privately run with public funding. In her fine article about D.C. charters that appeared recently in the City Paper, writer Rachel Cohen repeats the bromide. She writes:
“Charter schools are private entities authorized to provide public education, free of many rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools. In D.C. all charters are nonprofits, though they can hire for-profit companies to run their schools.”
I think we need to stop saying things like the statement above. Charter schools are public schools. They have to accept all students that come to them. If they are over-enrolled they need conduct a lottery to see who gets in. They cannot have admission requirements and it is against the law for them to discriminate regarding enrollment, including the fact that a student may have a disability.
It is true, as Ms. Cohen states, that charters are nonprofits. As 501(c)(3)’s they are governed by boards of directors that provide this service on a volunteer basis. These individuals are responsible for the school’s performance. They are generally members of the community. Of course, here in the nation’s capital, charter schools are ultimately accountable to the DC Public Charter School Board.
I would argue that the public has more control over a charter school than a traditional one. If a parent has a complaint about something at a DCPS facility, how easy do think it is to reach Mr. Wilson? I bet it’s practically impossible. But if a parent has a problem with a charter, he or she can go right to the board chair. During my years in this role I fielded many such concerns. In fact, one of the roles of the DCPCSB has been to ensure that these issues are addressed.
Charter school parents also vote with their feet. If they don’t like what’s going on at the school they can take their kids, and the substantial money associated with teaching their children, and enroll at another facility. DCPS parents also have the power in our city to move their child but because these are neighborhood schools, there may not be another school located in close proximity to their homes.
The transfer of principal Reeves is highly instructional. When it comes to oversight of our city’s schools they are both in fact public.