No surprise here: Valerie Strauss and Perry Stein don’t like charter schools

No sooner does a new school year begin then Washington D.C.’s trifecta of malevolent charter school education reporters spring into action. Last week we witnessed a tome written by Rachel Cohen attacking almost all of the city’s charter school support organizations. Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss and Perry Stein shot an arrow directly aimed at the DC Public Charter School Board over its lack of oversight regarding problems previously identified at Monument Academy PCS. They wrote:

“Top D.C. education officials knew for months about safety issues plaguing a charter school that serves some of the city’s most vulnerable children but did not force changes, public records and interviews with school employees show.

Students at Monument Academy Public Charter School fought during the school day, routinely destroyed school property and simply left campus without permission. Complaints poured into the city agency charged with overseeing the high-profile school, and some staff members reported to their superiors that they felt unsafe. Some child advocates and parents said they thought the school was dangerous, too.”

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the PCSB, disagreed with the assessment of Ms. Strauss and Ms. Stein. According to the Post:

“In an interview, Pearson said he and his staff acted appropriately as they fielded a high volume of complaints about Monument. Charter board staff members who monitored security, and behavior incidents at the school shared their findings with Monument officials.”

As a reminder, following the May 2019 monthly charter board meeting outlining the more than 1,800 safety incidents the school recorded last term, the Monument board voted to shutter the facility at the end of the school year. Then a dozen of the town’s nonprofits came to the rescue with a commitment of $1.7 million to help the school survive financially. The Friendship Educational Foundation agreed to add Monument under its umbrella. A new principal has been named and the school’s board has been reconstituted. The charter has now reopened.

Yesterday’s piece does raise some interesting observations about how the PCSB views its supervision of the schools it regulates. For example, Ms. Strauss and Ms. Stein included the following comment from Mr. Pearson concerning actions the charter board took regarding Monument:

“’It is always appropriate for us to intervene when health and safety concerns emerge but not always in a public meeting setting,’ Pearson said. ‘We were not prescriptive about what exactly they should do because we do not think that is our role.’”

Mr. Pearson is reluctant to dictate the steps Monument should take, I’m guessing, because of the board’s respect for charter school autonomy. But as pointed out many times before on this space, the PCSB seems to have no issue with telling schools exactly what they need to do to open their doors. As an illustration, let’s look at the conditions Monument was required to meet to get its charter back in 2014:

  1. By July 15, 2014, the school will amend its charter petition to (a) reflect a school program that serves grades five through eight, which will also be reflect in Attachment K of the school’s charter agreement, and (b) adopt the Elementary/Middle School Performance Management Framework (“PMF”) as its goals and student academic achievement expectations, thought it may state its intention to seek eligibility for the Alternative Accountability Framework in lieu of the PMF. The school may only serve grades nine through twelve after the approval of an amendment to the school’s charter and charter agreement.
  2. By July 15, 2014, the school will develop and submit to PCSB a revised implementation plan that delineates responsible persons and activities necessary to open the school by the fall of 2016.
  3. By July 15, 2014, the school will provide to PCSB job descriptions and qualifications for the residential staff and a statement that details the operation of its boarding program.
  4. By July 15, 2014, the school will submit to PCSB memoranda of understanding and articulation agreements with the following partner organizations: Flamboyan, Turnaround, and a mental health provider.
  5. By December 15, 2014, the school will submit goals to PCSB consistent with the Alternative Accountability Framework.
  6. By December 15, 2014, the school will develop and a scope and sequence for each subject/content area taught in year one of operation that include: goals/objectives, standards, instructional strategies, summative assessments, and resources (instructional materials).
  7. By December 15, 2014, the school will develop comprehensive Social-Emotional Learning and Life Skills curricula for grades five through eight, inclusive of mission-specific accountability goals to measure the program’s effectiveness, instructional strategies, standards, and resources (e.g., instructional materials).
  8. By December 15, 2014, the school will secure a sufficient school facility that includes all necessary amenities and services for a residential school and the proposed life-skills program, as evidenced by submitting a lease or purchase agreement to PCSB. If, due to circumstances outside of the School’s control, a lease or purchase agreement cannot be secured by that date, the School commits to submitting to PCSB a detailed time line for securing a facility of not more than 60 days by December 17, 2014.
  9. By January 12, 2015, the school will submit to PCSB a signed and executed charter agreement with all attachments consistent with PCSB’s charter school agreement template (attached as Exhibit A) for PCSB Board approval.

A pretty incredulous list. It appears to be that the DC Public Charter School Board wants it both ways. The body sets as many stipulations as it wants on the front end during the application process but then denies that it has the power to impose specific corrections when a school is not operating as it should.

With these three reporters, labor unions, and politicians circling the charter school sector looking for any reason to pounce, it is imperative as a movement that we get this governance stuff right.

It is even more imperative that we protect the health and safety of all of our students.

One thought on “No surprise here: Valerie Strauss and Perry Stein don’t like charter schools

  1. Conditions prior to opening are legally allowed as the applicant is not yet a charter school with exclusive control over its operations. Once a school has a charter it has exclusive control as guaranteed by the School Reform Act and it is then generally. inappropriate for PCSB to direct a school to take specific actions. Pre-opening conditions are designed to ensure the school opens strong. Given the struggles of Monument Academy we probably should have set more. Scott Pearson

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