Washington D.C.’s Ingenuity Prep PCS may want to expand. It cannot

In my recent interview with Aaron Cuny, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, he related that “while the organization is approved to expand through the eighth grade, it aspires to eventually grow into a small Southeast D.C. network that will include several elementary schools, middle schools, and potentially even a high school.”  I’m sure that Mr. Cuny would like to serve many more than the 550 students it does today, so that it can lead other scholars to reach the superlative academic results this school is posting that were included in the article:

  • Ingenuity Prep’s students’ combined English Language Arts and Math scores ranked in the 74th percentile of all D.C. district and public charter schools, outperforming a range of higher-income schools across the city,
  • Students’ combined scores ranked 2nd of 36 schools in the Ward 8,
  • Of D.C. schools where the tested student population had an “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate of 50% or greater, Ingenuity Prep’s students ranked near the top: 7th of 113 schools.
  • For the second year in a row, no school in the city with a higher “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate had better combined English Language Arts and Math scores.
  • Students’ gains from the 2016-17 school year in English Language Arts ranked at the 92nd percentile of all district and public charter schools, and
  • Of new charter organizations opened by D.C.’s public charter school board in the past 10 years, Ingenuity Prep ranks in the top 10 and is the only such school located in Southeast D.C.

However, extremely unfortunately for the families in Ward 8 and the entire education community, this school would not be permitted by the DC Public Charter School Board to open another campus.  The reason for this is straightforward.  Ingenuity Prep is not yet ranked as a Tier 1 school on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework.  Being a Tier 1 institution is the main criteria set by the charter board as qualifying for an enrollment ceiling increase.

Something is terribly wrong here.  No one could possibly argue that the students at Ingenuity Prep are not receiving an excellent education and are being prepared to excel at college and beyond.  As indicated above, their PARCC standardized test scores are second best in Anacostia, and for those serving kids living in poverty, they are seventh best in the city.

The situation we have here, which is frankly absurd, is that an applicant that wants to open a new school in the nation’s capital, that may have an unproven track record in this town, might have a better chance of filling additional classrooms than this charter.

Attorney Stephen Marcus has strenuously argued that there is an inherent bias to the PMF for those schools characterized by having a large population of at-risk students.  The charter board staff disagrees.  I’m not an authority in this area so I cannot say for sure who is right.  But the situation with Ingenuity Prep begs the question that has only one correct response.

Would an application for expansion by Ingenuity Prep be approved?

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