Last Thursday, the DC Public Charter School Board voted six to zero to proceed with the revocation of Excel Academy PCS’s charter at then end of the 2017 to 2018 term. As background, the board decided at its November 21, 2017 meeting to begin the revocation process and, on December 21st of last year, it held a public hearing on the matter. At that time I predicted that the proposed turnaround plan offered by the school was most likely too little too late. It turns out that the members of the PCSB sided with this assessment.
Chair Dr. Darren Woodruff summarized the position of many board members in the statement that he read that afternoon:
“As a board member, I continue to be supportive of the Excel mission – providing a high-quality education in one of the most challenged areas of our city through a school that serves more than 600 almost exclusively African American, economically disadvantaged elementary and middle school girls and their families. With one of the most important student populations we have and as the father of a daughter who attended DC public charter schools I am very aware of how important it is for us – this board, our public charter schools, and the larger community – to get the education of our girls right. We will not get a second chance to do well by these students. Toward that goal I want to acknowledge the obvious passion, engagement and commitment I witnessed during our December hearing with Excel faculty and staff, board members, parents, and students. I have no doubt that everyone involved wants nothing but positive outcomes for these girls.
“Every five years the Public Charter School Board is tasked with reviewing the performance of our schools to determine if they have met the goal of providing a high-quality education. And in the case of Excel, despite the clear commitment and engagement we have witnessed, the student outcomes have unfortunately not matched the passion. The agreed upon expectation of earning an average of at least 45 percentage points on the performance management framework over the past five years was not achieved. A PMF score above 45 was only achieved once in the last 5 years, and that was during the 2012-2013 school year. In fact, the most recent score from last year was 37 points out of 100, the school’s lowest score over the 5-year period we are addressing. In addition, student proficiency at Excel in both reading and math on the PARCC was lower than the citywide average for the past 2 years when compared to girls attending other schools. So, the trend for student performance over the past several years has been negative, despite any benefits that may have occurred from learning in an all-girl setting.
“Recent changes to the school’s academic leadership team, a reconstituted Board of Trustees, the planned addition of a Chief Academic Officer, implementation of restorative justice practices, and a proposed school turnaround plan all represent welcome steps that ideally would have been implemented when the first indications of decreased student performance became evident. However, without these steps more fully in place and clear data on their impact, this Board lacks convincing evidence that Excel represents the best opportunity for these young girls that we all care so much about. For this reason, I am in support of the staff recommendation for charter revocation.”
Attorney Stephen Marcus, representing Excel, made the same argument last week as he did at the public hearing in November: that the school’s relatively low score on the Performance Management Framework was due to the relatively greater percentage of children living in poverty that are enrolled. However, PCSB deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux forcefully refuted this testimony, asserting that there are 22 D.C. charters that currently teach a greater proportion of these children, and that 17 of these schools score higher on the PMF. She stated that the correlation between economic status and academic preparedness is well known and is a challenge that charter schools accept as their “central task” of closing the achievement gap.
In the end, the message from the board was clear and unequivocal to the charters that it oversees; don’t wait until you get in trouble to seek help, and if you are going to operate in the nation’s capital, you will meet your academic goals.