D.C. charter board puts school accountability on hiatus

The DC Public Charter School Board had already announced that there would be no School Quality Reports issued for the 2019-to-2020 school year due to the impact of COVID-19. Next Monday evening the board will hold a public hearing regarding its amended policy dealing with the crisis which will then be voted on in May.

In summary, the document states that the Performance Management Framework will not be calculated for schools this term. The board really had no choice regarding this decision. The D.C. Deputy Mayor of Education has stated that he will seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to permit the city to skip conducting the PARCC standardized assessment this year. Much of the School Quality Report findings are based upon student PARCC scores. But this raises an interesting quandary. Many schools that have faced high stakes reviews were required to meet certain PMF scores going forward or face possible charter revocation. Here’s what the revised policy says on this subject:

“DC PCSB will not monitor SY 2019-20 conditions. Instead, SY 2019-20
conditions will be applied to SY 2020-21. In addition, to address unforeseen
long-term consequences of the current situation, the following discretionary clause will be included for SY 2020-21 and SY 2021-22: ‘The DC PCSB Board may, at its discretion, determine that this condition should be waived in SY 2020-21 and SY 2021-22.’ If the condition(s) originally ended in SY 2019-20 or SY 2020-21, the condition(s) will not be extended for an additional year beyond SY 2020-21.”

I recognize that these are the most unusual circumstances that many of us have seen in our lifetimes, but the proposed rules raise some interesting questions. For example, if it was so important that schools attain a particular academic level but now there is no measurement, what are the implications for the quality of the education students at these campuses are now obtaining? Moreover, if it is possible that conditions will waived until the 2021-to-2022 term, then are kids being harmed by lowering our standards?

The answer is that in all likelihood there will be little or no impact on our children. The great majority of charters, even those facing stringent requirements to meet PMF targets, are doing an excellent job educating their pupils.

Every situation is an opportunity to learn new things and gain a fresh perspective. I guarantee from what I have read on social media that organizations are discovering aspects of distance learning that they had never thought about. The same is true about the PCSB’s high stakes review procedure.

Perhaps the next time that a charter comes up for its five, ten, fifteen, or twenty-year review and it is not meeting its academic goals, the response from the board can be more lenient. For instance, instead of demanding that a school meet a target in twelve months, the time period could be two years. Or perhaps the quantity of improvement expected could be more gradual.

I do not think anyone has argued for quality in public education more than me. But simultaneously, we know that closing schools is causing significant disruptions for families. The moral question has to be asked, especially regarding our facilities that enroll extremely high proportions of at-risk students, as to whether the punishment is worse than allowing the status quo to continue.

There are also implications for the rules around charter school replication. Maybe schools should be allowed to grow even if they have not reached Tier 1 status.

I am confident that these questions have always been on the minds of charter board members. But now there is another angle to consider. Hopefully, something good will come out of this tragedy.

Meanwhile, yesterday Mayor Boswer announced that D.C. schools will be closed at least through May 15th.

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