D.C. charter school student wait list keeps getting worse

The DC Public Charter School Board released data yesterday regarding the student wait lists for the 2019-to-2020 term and you can just hear the frustration being emitted from the mouths of parents. I guess all you really have to read is the first sentence of the announcement to get a complete sense of the problem:

“There are 11,861 individual students on the My School DC lottery waitlists to attend one or more PK-12 public charter schools in SY2019-20, a 4.8% increase over last year’s 11,317 students and a 22.2% increase from the 9,703 students in SY2017-18.”

The board also pointed out that 67 percent of those on wait lists are for Performance Management Framework Tier 1 schools. It adds that 40 percent of open spaces are in Tier 1 schools. There is especially strong demand for Pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten and the sixth grade. Dual-language charters are especially popular.

One student may appear on multiple wait lists.

Some of the schools with the largest wait lists and the number of students include Creative Minds International PCS, 1,030; DC Bilingual PCS, 1,403; District of Columbia International School, 1,565; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – Brookland campus, 1,722; Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS, 1,218; Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS, 1,069; Mundo Verde PCS, 1,412; Two Rivers PCS – 4th Street campus, 1,659, Washington Latin PCS – middle school, 1,254, and Washington Yu Ying PCS, 1,168.

The wait list to get into a DCPS school is 9,437.

Even if the charters with significant wait lists wanted to expand or replicate there is absolutely nowhere for them to go. Commercial space, although exorbitantly expensive to rent, is not even available. Many DCPS facilities sit empty and a great number are grossly underutilized. Yet, the people we elect to represent us are doing nothing about this issue. Instead, they spend hours and hours in furious debate over what information a charter school must include on their website.

Good news from D.C.’s charter school movement

Let’s take a short break from talk of school closures, teachers’ unions, and transparency legislation to highlight a couple of good developments in D.C.’s charter landscape. First, last Friday the Washington Post’s Thomas Heath wrote a beautiful profile of Eagle Academy PCS’s Royston Maxwell Lyttle, principal of its Congress Heights campus. Mr. Heath wrote:

“His uniform is pure Wall Street: loafers, dress pants and crisp-collar shirt topped off with his signature bow tie.

‘It’s being there,’ said Lyttle, as he strolled through the school, which is 98 percent African American, on a sunny spring morning. ‘Being visible, knowing their names, learning handshakes, talking about better choices.’

His job is as much visual as it is verbal. ‘I am always in shirt and tie, trying to get them to ‘visualize yourself.’ When you see someone in shirt and bow tie, you see this person in a wonderful job.’

Lyttle takes students to World Wrestling Entertainment matches, makes connections and builds trust, trying to get them to relax and enjoy themselves. He hosts lunches in the cafeteria, a chance to mentor or just listen.

‘Students cannot learn if they are not socially and emotionally there,’ Lyttle said.”

The Post reporter has this to say about the challenges Mr. Lyttle faces at his school:

“Eagle Academy grapples with intractable problems in American society and illuminates the effects of the uneven distribution of wealth. Its student body — ages 3 to 9 — is from Congress Heights, one of the city’s poorest areas. Ninety-two students, or 14 percent of Eagle’s enrollment, live in homeless shelters. Sixty-four percent live in single-parent households. Twenty-two percent, or 152 children, receive special education. Some need counseling for years.”

The charter received a jolt last November when the annual Performance Management Framework results were released. For 2018, the Congress Heights location fell to a Tier 3 ranking. So the school jumped into action. According to Mr. Health, the big drop in test scores led to the firing of 26 teachers, who were replaced with 18 new ones.”

I think the world of Mr. Joe Smith, the CEO/CFO of Eagle Academy. He would never allow this score to stand. He cares about the children too much for this to happen.

In other news, Washington Latin PCS has announced that it is going to replicate. Beginning next year it will open a new school that will start with the fifth grade that will eventually go up to twelfth. Other details about the expansion are extremely limited. For the 2018-to-2019 school year Washington Latin had a wait list of almost 1,600 children. Leaders at the school apparently feel like they have a moral obligation to be able to accept more students. How many other charters with excessively large wait lists feel the same way?

Washington Post finally comes to defense of charter schools but does not go far enough

Today the editors of the Washington Post come to the defense of D.C.’s charter schools in opposing the transparency law introduced by Council member Charles Allen. They point out that due to the popularity of these public schools with parents, this city’s charters have been able up to this point to escape the attacks that have characterized this movement in other localities. However, with the introduction of Mr. Allen’s statute the situation has now changed. They write:

“The opening volley in this effort is legislation being promoted as a well-meaning effort at transparency and accountability. Sponsored by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the measure would subject the independent nonprofit charter schools to the open-meetings and Freedom of Information Act requirements that apply to D.C. government entities.

We are firm believers in sunshine in public matters, but this legislation — which seems to be taken from the national teachers union playbook on how to kneecap charter schools — is not designed to benefit the public or help students. It ignores the fact that the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s 123 public charter schools, is already subject to both the open-meetings law and freedom-of-information requests. The board, which has earned national renown for the rigor of its standards, requires charters to disclose financial information, including how they use resources from the government and what they accomplish with those resources. Charters participate in state testing and federal accountability programs, and the charter board leads the way in providing comprehensive evaluations of charters and the job they do in educating students.”

First of all the Post has it only partly right. Charters in the nation’s capital have not been subject to the same false diatribe that these schools in other cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, have experienced. However, we just went through a horrible and highly distracting unionization episode at one of our oldest networks. The editors seem to have had this recent escapade on their minds when they were constructing their piece:

“It is telling that one bit of information sought in the legislation proposed by Mr. Allen — who seems not to have consulted with charter officials and declined to discuss the bill with us — is a listing of the names of all charter school employees and their salaries. It’s hard to see how that’s critical to student learning but easy to see how it might help unions in their bid to organize at charter schools.”

In addition, the newspaper’s editors say nothing about the bill being advanced by education committee chairman David Grosso that contains its own transparency requirements. They observe that charters receive only 70 percent of the funding of the traditional schools, and therefore having to answer to Freedom of Information Act requests would be burdensome for their small administrative staffs. However, the data required to be shared by Mr. Grosso also imposes an unfunded mandate on this sector. The Council should worry about the academic performance of the 48,000 students that are enrolled in DCPS facilities and leave the charters to the DC Public Charter School Board. This body has its own list of onerous reporting requirements.

Not an education post today, sort of

Justin Wm. Moyer of the Washington Post revealed last evening that Childrens National Health System next year will open a pediatric health research facility on the site of the old Walter Reed Hospital. The 12-acre Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus will include an outpatient clinic.

The $190 million center is being build with a gift of $30 million from the
United Arab Emirates. Mr. Moyer added that “the UAE gift was announced the same day Children’s National said it would partner with Johnson & Johnson to build a 32,000-square-foot facility on the new campus called JLabs @ Washington, DC. In a collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, JLabs will focus on medical responses to chemical, biological and nuclear threats, as well as infectious diseases. “

The grant from the UAE comes almost exactly a decade after Joseph E. Robert, Jr. engineered a $150 million contribution from the same nation. Mr. Robert is not mentioned in yesterday’s Post article, which is exactly how he would have wanted it. The Washington, D.C. businessman and philanthropist, who passed away from brain cancer at the end of 2011, much preferred operating behind the scenes. The New York Times covered his achievement in 2009 that led to the formation of the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at the hospital’s current site:

“The institute’s goals were hatched in the home of Joseph E. Robert Jr., who made a fortune selling the real estate held by failed savings and loans in the early 1990s.

Mr. Robert’s son had undergone more than nine hours of surgery at Children’s National several years before that. His son has since become a Marine, and Mr. Robert donated $25 million to the hospital for a surgical center. A few years after that, he was sitting around his dining room table with some hospital executives, discussing how to make surgery less frightening and painful for its patients and their parents.

Last fall, armed with the business plan that came out of that initial discussion, Mr. Robert visited Abu Dhabi. He had become friendly with the ruling family and with the crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

‘We were eating dinner off of TV trays, in front of a bank of televisions, watching the news, and I just started talking about the evolution of the plan and how important a concept I thought it was, and he was immediately interested,’ Mr. Robert said.”

Mr. Robert was also instrumental in support of Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that provides private school vouchers for children living in poverty in the nation’s capital. Just recently, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she would like to double the size of the OSP from $45 million to $90 million. In trying to figure out how to get this program passed by Congress in 2004, Mr. Robert promoted the three-sector approach that gives equal funding to vouchers, DCPS, and charter schools. Mayor Bowser has stated that she supports the OSP because of the money it provides to the traditional schools and charters, as well as the additional choices it gives to parents regarding the education of their children.

When he was alive Mr. Robert was a fierce advocate for those less fortunate then himself, and he enlisted many from the fields of politics, entertainment, business, and healthcare to give of themselves and their pocketbooks to join his endeavors.  He founded Fight for Children which has raised over $300 million for young people in the Washington, D.C. area. He is credited with bringing in over a billion dollars for children and education.

As we have seen in the news in the last week, his legacy continues.

U.S. Education Secretary goes bold on D.C. voucher plan; others go weak

Another Democratic Congress, another chance to attack the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan for kids living in poverty in the nation’s capital. Last week, the Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy revealed that D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, together with the the House Oversight and Reform and Education and Labor committees, wrote a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeking information expressing concerns about the OSP. According to the reporter:

“Lawmakers said they want to ensure that federal civil rights laws and safety regulations apply to students in the program, according to the three-page letter to DeVos from Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Education Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) and Norton.

They requested details about schools participating in the program, including whether they are accredited, whether they are religiously affiliated, how much of their funding comes from the voucher program, whether they have tested drinking water for lead, how many students are disabled and English-language learners, and how many students did not graduate or transferred to another school.”

The questioning comes as Ms. DeVos has moved to increase the number of vouchers awarded to low-income students by raising the budget of the program from its current $45 million dollars a year to $90 million.

The legislative SOAR Act that contains funding for the OSP has been supported locally by Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson because it provides equal dollars to private school vouchers, charter schools, and DCPS, following the three-sector approach championed by the late businessman and philanthropist Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Ms. Portnoy includes in her article the following reaction from the Bowser Administration regarding a challenge to the OSP:

“The program ‘has been instrumental in supporting the District’s three-sector approach on education by providing more opportunities and choices for our students and families,’ Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said in a statement. ‘We have called on Congress to reauthorize and fully fund [it] so that we have the resources we need to continue ensuring every family in every neighborhood has a fair shot at high quality educational opportunities.’

Choices for families are needed now more than ever. The 2019 D.C. lottery just concluded, so we are expecting anytime this year’s charter school student wait list data. However, for the 2019-to-2020 school term there are 9,437 students on DCPS wait lists and last year there were over 11,000 pupils wanting to get into charters who could not. Having your child admitted to your desired public school continues to be a tremendously frustrating experience for District of Columbia families. Ms. DeVos is on exactly the right track.

Not so brave are those trying to defend charters from those that want to see them become a part of history. The latest assault comes in the form of a Trojan Horse complaint about the lack of transparency around charter school board meetings and finances. The D.C. Council has gotten into the act in the form of a bill introduced by Charles Allen that would force a long list of unfunded mandates on charters. In reaction, last week Council Education Chairman David Grosso brought forth an alternative that would force charters to comply with Open Meeting laws and detail expenses for all to see. The legislation is supported by all the remaining council members and, incomprehensibly, by FOCUS. My god, didn’t we just recently close a charter school in part to rid our movement of union activity? Couldn’t someone have similar guts to tell the Council to stay out of a school sector over which it has no authority?