D.C.’s Friendship Tech Prep perfectly illustrates problem with charter board’s grading system

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, who is doing some excellent reporting, tells the story of Lakia Mines, a 12 year old homeless young woman who yesterday started seventh grade at Friendship PCS Technology Preparatory Academy High School in Anacostia. Please visit the Post’s website so you can see a picture of this beautiful child.

If you have never seen the Friendship Tech building you are missing something special. The school spent $14 million to build the state-of-the-art facility, and in 2014 my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of touring it right before it opened. But I digress. Please pay close attention to the words of Ms. Stein that brought tears to my eyes early this morning:

“A year ago, Lakia, who has special-education needs, entered sixth grade at Friendship Tech reading at kindergarten level. School officials say she made significant progress last year and starts the seventh grade reading at the fourth-grade level — a feat that has rendered her more confident and her mother proud.

‘She just did a 180 last year and turned around,’ Malonda Mines, her mother, said. ‘I’m so happy she’s doing well. It’s amazing to me.’

At Friendship, Lakia meets with social and mental-health workers regularly. The school provided her family with free uniforms. And she has intensive and personalized academic assistance so she can attend mainstream classes while an aide helps tailor the lessons to her level.

She has a longer commute than most of her classmates, so the school coordinates transportation, which allows her to participate in the dance team’s evening practices.

Because of all of this, Lakia’s first day of school Monday played out like that of any other student.”

Let me repeat. Lakia started Friendship Tech Prep last year in sixth grade at the Kindergarten level academically. She is now in the seventh grade and reading at the fourth grade level. She advanced four grades in one term. For being able to perform this miracle, Friendship Prep received a 54.5 percent score on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework, which makes it a middle to high Tier 2 institution. Last year, the charter earned a 50.1 percent, still in the Tier 2 category.

The charter board is extremely proud of its record of steering families to enroll their children in Tier 1 schools. So what does this ranking communicate to parents living in poverty whose sons or daughters cannot read, write, or perform basic mathematics? To me, it says don’t go to Friendship Tech Prep, you’d better find a “better” school. Give up the free school uniforms, social and mental health assistance, and transportation. And those Tier one schools that you may be interest in having your children attend? Many have wait-lists of hundreds of kids.

I think something has to change. The work being done at Friendship and at other schools that educate populations in which every pupil is economically disadvantaged needs to be celebrated. Ms. Perry states:

“By the time the bus arrived at 7 a.m., Lakia was ready — and slightly nervous — to travel across town from the District’s Fort Totten neighborhood to Friendship Tech Prep Academy, a charter school in Congress Heights that greeted students with exuberant songs, chants and dances.”

We should be greeting the staff of Friendship Tech Prep PCS every day with songs, chants, and dances for the truly amazing work they are doing.

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