Next Monday evening, the DC Public Charter School Board will vote on whether to allow LEARN Charter School Network, a Chicago charter management organization, to open a school at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. In anticipation of the decision, the POST, the Ward 8 Parent Operator Selection Team, has conducted a social media campaign to have their selection of a charter operator approved. Its members write:
“The entire process we participated in was designed to put parents in charge. So we were especially pleased to find that not only did LEARN present well, they listened to us and asked us some great questions. We wanted a school operator that would listen to the needs of the parents and children and our two communities—not just while we are evaluating them, but during the planning and after they open. We feel that LEARN will do that.”
I’ve documented in the past the highly detailed and lengthy work the parents involved in the process to select a school conducted, a project that was facilitated by Irene Holtzman, the executive director of FOCUS, and Maya Martin, executive director of PAVE who would become the new school’s board chair. I especially enjoyed reading the case study of the POST’s effort. The team has been highly engaged, evidenced by the fact that my skeptical comments about the charter’s academic results were met by two different uncoordinated communications to me by prominent members of the school choice community. These resulted in my participation on a conference call with a couple of the leaders of LEARN.
It’s an interesting concept to have parents make the decision about the selection of a school. The argument reminds me of the position I’ve heard many times asserted by Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive officer of The Center for Education Reform. She consistently states that whether a charter school is permitted to operate should be determined by its popularity with parents and students, and not by an authorizer that has established accountability standards, particularly around standardized test scores. She believes that charters should develop their own goals and it is the successful meeting of these objectives that should be judged by the body that oversees these schools.
This is not how the movement has operated here in the nation’s capital. Many charters have been closed, the most recent being Excel Academy PCS, despite the strong belief by parents that this is where they want to send their children. The DC PCSB has insisted that it knows best which schools should be open and closed, and it has made these decisions under its authority through the School Reform Act, which have revolved around academic and financial results.
It will be fascinating to see whether this tradition continues next week.