D.C. Council moves to restrict Mayoral control of traditional public schools

In the aftermath of the multiple scandals that have plagued DCPS, I predicted that Mayoral control of public schools in the nation’s capital would be weakened. I strongly believe that at this point in our local history of public school reform this is the right path to take. Whenever there is one person that selects the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Superintendent of Education, and Chancellor, politics is going to categorize the behavior of these offices. The explanation for this phenomenon is straightforward. The Mayor is dependent upon votes to maintain her position so there will necessarily be politics involved in carrying out tasks that should be politics-free. People always act according to their nature.

Yesterday, Education Committee Chairman David Grosso introduced legislation at the D.C. Council that would increase the term of the State Superintendent of Education from four years to six years. The bill also would permit the State Superintendent to be removed only for cause and would allow this individual to fill positions under his or her authority instead of having the Mayor make these decisions. According to the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, Mr. Grosso commented about his proposed legislation, “I have looked for every angle I can to try and remove politics from education policies in the city, and this is one more step toward making that happen.”

Also on Tuesday, Councilmember Mary Cheh brought forth an act that would have the State Superintendent named by the Board of Education. She remarked, according again to Ms. Stein, “In the scheme of things, I am very concerned about concentrating all power in single hands.”

Exactly right. I would go even further. My recommendation is to allow the Mayor to appoint members to a board similar to the DC Charter School Board. Then I would have the State Superintendent of Education and the Chancellor report to this body. The Deputy Mayor for Education would have a seat at the table and represent the city’s leader in policy matters before the panel.

Mayor Bowser is naturally against the moves by Mr. Grosso and Ms. Cheh. In yesterday’s article by Ms. Stein about the actions by the councilmembers, the Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith asserted, “The students of the District of Columbia can ill afford misguided education legislation that moves our city backwards more than a decade and undermines the hard work of our teachers, administrators and staff.” True, but what we really cannot afford as a community is cheating when it comes to students meeting high school graduation requirements, an acceptance of residency fraud, and preferred placement for the children of the Chancellor.

It is time to take a drastically different approach.

Closure of Sustainable Futures PCS drives D.C. charter board to alter procedures around new school openings

At last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux delivered a heartfelt report on changes in procedures the organization is considering in the aftermath of Sustainable Futures PCS’s decision to relinquish its charter after only one year of operation.  The alternative high school charter was approved in 2016 and had an enrollment of approximately 46 students.  It shuttered its doors last June.  The ideas obviously came to the board after much thought as Scott Pearson, PCSB’s executive director, stated that there has been “a lot of soul searching, examination, and self-reflection,” that has been going among the staff regarding the closure.  It was clear that the board is viewing this event as a failure and is taking responsibility, perhaps overly so, for the negative outcome.  You can view the presentation here.

Ms. DeVeaux explained that once a new school is approved there are almost always conditions placed on the charter that need to be fulfilled before it is allowed to open.  She revealed that some of these are basic, such as securing a facility and the need to incorporate as a 501(c)(3).  In other cases, Ms. DeVeaux detailed, there are changes to the curriculum or the educational plan for special education students that are required due to board concerns.  In these instances, sometimes schools will negotiate over the final form of these changes and the implementation deadlines.  While in the past the staff has made decisions on their own as to whether to accept, for instance, a delay in meeting the new requirements, the deputy director opined that these modifications should probably go back to the board for approval.  In the case of Sustainable Futures, Ms. DeVeaux recalled that almost all the dates around meeting conditions slipped.

The PCSB deputy director also observed that the planning year, the time between approval to open by the board and the first day of school, is tough for new schools because there is so much that has to be accomplished.  Therefore, the charter board is going to change its calendar to move up the application process.  While new submissions are now made in March and approved by the board in May, beginning in the year 2020 applications will be due in January with decisions made in March.  Ms. DeVeaux remarked that this step will help significantly with schools being ready for common lottery applications in November.

Another modification that the board is considering is around the founding members.  In a new school’s application key individuals are identified.  Ms. DeVeaux opined that there has to be some assurance that this group will be in place when the school opens.  She feels that if there is significant turnover of key personnel then the new body should be approved by the board.  The PCSB deputy director explained that in the case of Sustainable Futures, only the original board chair and founder remained.  Moreover, while the PCSB staff meets with key individuals of a new school about once a month before the charter opens, Ms. DeVeaux said that the new charter’s board should be included in these sessions at least on a quarterly basis.

Finally, Ms. DeVeaux believes that the PCSB should be much more active in setting new charters’ enrollment levels.  She revealed that many have lofty targets for its initial year of teaching and she wants the board to restrict this number in case the schools run into difficulties.  She added that she was glad that this is exactly what transpired in the case of Sustainable Futures, which limited the number of students impacted by the school’s decision to close.

All of these recommendations appear to make logical sense and are obviously coming from people who care exceedingly deeply about the scholars under their care.

Charter school network selected to open on D.C. military base posts low standardized test scores

Yesterday, the D.C. public charter school board announced that a group of four military and four non-military families entitled the Ward 8 Parent Operator Section Team (Post) settled on the Learn Charter School Network to open a new Kindergarten through eighth grade charter school on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB). Last year, the Post group conducted a request for proposal for a charter to operate on JBAB in the aftermath of the D.C. Council passing in 2016 the Military Installation Public Charter School Amendment. The act permits a charter to open on seven acres of land next to the base. The law includes an admission preference for children of parents in the military of up to 50 percent of total enrollment. The work of Post was supported by an advisory board that included Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) and other members of the local community, and it received financial backing from Education Forward. The charter would open during the 2021-to-2022 school year and eventually serve 712 students.

Here is how LEARN describes itself in its application to the DC Public Charter School Board:

“LEARN Charter School Network, an Illinois 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a proven provider of K-8 college preparatory education for traditionally underserved students. Since opening our first school in 2001, LEARN has grown from one school serving 110 students to a thriving network of ten charter schools serving over 4,000 students in the Chicagoland area. Our schools include LEARN 6 and LEARN 10 in North Chicago, Illinois, which serve military families of the Naval Station Great Lakes as well as the surrounding low-income community.”

LEARN is proud of its academic results and states that it outperforms schools in its neighborhoods. But frankly, the scores are nothing to get excited about. On the PARCC assessment for 2015, the latest statistics featured on the CMO’s website, the percentage of students earning a three or four, meaning they are career or college ready in the subject of math, is 17 percent. For reading this number goes up to 25 percent. This compares to the local school percentages of 13 percent and 18 percent for these subjects, respectively. For subgroups of students the numbers are also not impressive. For low-income students, also for 2015 PARCC scores, the LEARN proficiency rate is 22 percent, compared to 20 percent for Chicago Public Schools. In regard to Black students, its proficiency rate is 17 percent with CPS coming in at 15 percent, and for Hispanic students CPS has a proficiency rate of 25 percent compared to LEARN students’ 22 percent.

The application includes PARCC scores from the year 2017. These demonstrate combined math and reading proficiency rates of around 30 percent, which are similar to the state average. They are, however, significantly above those of the neighborhood schools that are in the basement at eight percent. When you look at subgroup results they come in again at about the 30 percent mark. This proportion is also significantly higher than those of the neighborhood schools. However, I would not call these findings closing the achievement gap.

It would be extremely interesting and valuable to input the charter network’s indicators into the Performance Management Framework and see where it tiers.

There are statistics on the school’s website that show some impressive student academic growth for pupils who have been at the school for at least five years. This may be one of those schools whose standardized test scores are low but whose scholars show great progress over time. But since we are talking about a charter serving military families, whose students are less likely to stay at the school for more than a couple of years, I don’t believe this fact is relevant.

The network’s PARCC test results call into question whether one of D.C.’s local charter schools should instead be selected to operate this new charter. After all, many post much stronger results with at-risk kids and they already are familiar with D.C.’s exceptionally unique public education environment and student population, although they may not have experience teaching military families.

A public hearing will be held October 15th on the LEARN application with a vote being taken by the PCSB at its November meeting.

We all need to look in the mirror when it comes to D.C. charter school replication

The Twitter response to yesterday’s article “Pearson vs. Great Public Schools” came quickly and furiously from Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, as I knew it would:

has a dead simple process for replicating Tier One schools. Mark, you have served on the boards of TWO Tier One schools neither of which has requested to replicate. Next time you wonder why we don’t have more Tier One seats, perhaps you should look in the mirror.”

I spent six years on the board of governors of Washington Latin PCS, the only Performance Management Framework Tier 1 school with which I was personally involved, although I also served on the board of the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy and was a founding board member of the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts which is now named City Arts and Prep PCS.  I was the board chair of Doar for four years and board chair at Latin for a couple of years when it acquired and renovated the former DCPS Rudolph Elementary School as its permanent location.  As an individual who has blogged about charters in the nation’s capital for almost 10 years, I made a commitment to those schools for whom I volunteered that I would not discuss board matters in this space.  Therefore, I cannot respond directly to Mr. Pearson’s remarks.

However, I can say this:  when it comes to increasing the number of seats of high performing charters we owe it to our families and community to do whatever we can to make this a reality.  And I’m not talking about this occurring decades from now.  I mean now, today, or if not today, tomorrow.  It is terribly unjust that in the year 2018 zip codes are still determining the quality of the education children are receiving in the nation’s capital, and that parents who desire to get their offspring into those charter schools that are best will have a greater probability of having them, when they are older, admitted to Harvard University than to gain a spot here.

If we believe with every cell in our hearts and our heads, as Joseph E. Robert, Jr. stated on numerous occasions, that access to a good education for our kids is a civil right, then we need to view the shortage of quality seats as a crisis.  When a public policy crisis occurs usually there are heroes that emerge to forge answers.

My conversation with Mr. Pearson continued overnight.  “The biggest incentive is a building,” he wrote. “I don’t control that and has not released any city buildings so far, though she has boosted the facilities allowance. What other incentives do you have in mind that are a) in PCSB’s control and b) don’t involve lowering standards?”

I can think of many, although I’m afraid Mr. Pearson will claim that these solutions lower the academic bar.  But here I go.

First, I would consider granting a new campus a two-year exemption from PMF tiering, doubling the one-year break it currently receives.  Second, I would give a year off to the entire CMO from the scoring for 12 months when it decides to replicate.  Third, the PCSB should review all of the requirements for reporting by its schools and drastically simplify them as much as possible.  Fourth, I would rewrite the rules for opening new schools to make it simpler and to reduce barriers to entry.  Fifth, I would take a look at the guidelines under which a school can replicate to increase the pool of charters that could qualify to take this step.  Sixth, I would demand a resolution to the charter school funding inequity issue compared to the revenue DCPS receives on an annual basis.

Lastly, Mr. Pearson, I would use my position to talk to every politician, non-profit, philanthropist, developer, and business leader to finally solve the charter school facility crisis.  There are a ton of smart people in this town and we can and will figure this out.

We only live once.  Let’s spend those hours giving our children the chance in life that they deserve.

 

 

 

 

Pearson vs. great public schools

My attention was grabbed this morning by a commentary that appeared in the New York Daily News last week entitled “De Blasio vs. Great Public Schools” by Jenny Sedlis and Derrell Bradford, who are both associated with Success Academy Public Charter Schools.  In their piece they argue that Mayor de Blasio’s legacy of overseeing the city’s schools will be that there are many parents wanting quality seats for their children who cannot obtain them due to a capacity shortage.  They write:

“When we look back decades from now on Mayor de Blasio’s tenure running New York City schools, one theme will emerge:  There are way more children and families who want great schools than there are great schools for them.

More than a million kids are fighting for a number of great schools that they can’t all fit into.  There’s no excellent school -district or charter- that doesn’t have a waiting list.  Stuyvesant, Beacon, Success Academies:  All these schools have more kids who want to get in than can.”

The article goes on to accuse Mr. de Blasio of poor treatment of Eva Moskowitz, the founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy.

While we do not have a mayor here in D.C. who is actively opposing a dynamic school leader, we do have the same problem with a lack of space in the city’s leading charter schools.  For the school term that just started there is a reported 11, 317-student wait list for admission to charters.  We have talked about this topic before, but just to point out a few of the greatest in-demand schools, they include Creative Minds International PCS with 1,574 students seeking admission; D.C. Bilingual PCS with 1,292 students on the wait list; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – Brookland Campus with 1,827 pupils on the wait list, and Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS with 1,071 kids trying to get in. The list literally does go on and on.

So I’m sitting at my desk wondering if decades from now this will be the legacy of Scott Pearson as executive director of the Public Charter School Board.  Many people have spoken about the strengthening of  school accountability under Mr. Pearson.  Almost all of the lowest performing Tier 3 schools have been closed.  Others have mentioned the significant professional improvement in the operation of the board through more standardized policies, procedures, and practices.  Charter authorizers across the country look at the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework as the gold standard for the manner in which charters should be benchmarked against each other.  All of these accomplishments are to be commended.

But what about the tremendous frustration that parents in this town face every year when they enter the My DC school lottery?  They literally want to pull their hair out because they cannot get their children into the school of their choice.  I really don’t understand why these people stay here as residents.

So what is Mr. Pearson doing about this issue?  Well, the board is allowing some schools to replicate and increase their enrollment caps.  But as you can see the demand is so much higher than the supply.  What about making it easier for schools to grow?  How about figuring out how to provide them with buildings?  Has he looked into simplifying the application process for new schools and providing some incentives for groups to submit them?

It is fantastic to be known as the group that developed one of the strongest charter school portfolios in the nation.  But if kids cannot get access to them, then what good have you really done?