School reform advocates like to say education is a civil right; they don’t believe it

What a great way to wake up in the morning.  Today, I read the Charter Board Partner’s vignette by David Connerty-Marin highlighting the work of Maria Blaeuer, who serves as a volunteer treasurer on the board of directors of Kingsman Academy PCS.  Last May, I interviewed Shannon Hodge, Kingsman’s executive director.  Mr. Connerty-Marin writes:

“When she was in private practice as a legal advocate working with special education students, Maria Blaeuer, who is now board treasurer at Kingsman Academy PCS in Washington, DC, spent much of her professional time in an adversarial role with schools, advocating for the needs of her student clients. While she felt her work was important, she was also frustrated by her limited ability to help change the problems in the system that were at the root of the issue.

‘One of the hard things about doing individual advocacy and litigation is that you’re only fixing it for one kid. After 10 years, I saw that when I fixed it for one kid, there were 10 more kids just like him, right behind. I wanted to be part of a space where I could work on a system to serve all of those kids. That’s really why I joined the Kingsman board.’

In addition to a specific and relevant skill set and experience, Maria says the most important thing a board member brings to a school board is a ‘belief and understanding that all kids have a civil and human right to education.’ And that belief makes the work both easier and more meaningful, she says. ‘Spreadsheets are boring, but spreadsheets in service of a human right are kind of amazing.'”

I, and numerous school reform advocates, have for decades echoed the emotionally moving words of Ms. Blaeuer.  But now I’m starting to believe that they are, in many cases, only that:  words.  Because if we truly believed in our hearts and minds that “all kids have a civil and human right to education” then perhaps we would do some or all of the following:

We would expand charter schools in the District to include management of low performing DCPS facilities.

A high performing charter school would offer to take over Ballou High School.

A high performing charter school would comer forward to add Excel PCS to its portfolio, whose charter was just revoked by the DC Public Charter School Board.

D.C.’s charters would accept children at any grade and at anytime throughout the school year.

The city would push to greatly expand the Opportunity Scholarship program that provides private school scholarships to kids living in poverty.

The Mayor and City Council would resolve the inequitable public funding of charters compared to the traditional schools and thereby end the FOCUS engineered lawsuit charters have brought against the local government.

Policy leaders would once and for all solve the charter school facility problem so that each and every school that needs a building would be entitled to one.

This time of year we watch the newsreels of what Martin Luther King, Jr. and other exceedingly brave men and women did in the name of civil rights.  When it comes to the person to play his part regarding education in the nation’s capital, there is currently a vacancy.

 

 

Dramatic difference between charter and DCPS high school student absentee rates

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released a preliminary report investigating high school student absentee rates in the aftermath of the WAMU and NPR story revealing that students at Ballou High School were graduated even after missing more than three months of class.  It was not flattering.  From the findings:

“Between the 2014-15 and 2016-17 school years absenteeism among students in their fourth year of high school steadily increased, particularly at the highest levels of absenteeism (Figure 1). In the 2016-17 school year, 7.9% of graduates missed more than half of instructional days (extremely chronically absent), up from 3.7% in 2014-15. While the number of non-graduates has decreased over the past three years, the proportion of non-graduates who have missed more than half of instructional days at their graduating school has risen by five percentage points. More than half (51.1%) of non-graduates in 2016-17 were extremely chronically absent. The proportion of graduates among profoundly chronically absent or extremely chronically absent students has increased significantly over the past three years (Figure 2). In 2016-17, 82.6% of the 579 students in their fourth year of high school who missed between 30%-49.99% of school graduated; 44.8% of the 592 students who missed more than 50% of school graduated. The graduation rate for students with extreme chronic absenteeism has increased by more than 20 percentage points between 2014-15 and 2016-17. The number of students graduating in spite of missing more than half of instructional days has more than doubled.

In 2016-17, 11.4% of graduates from D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) high schools had missed more than 50% of instructional days at their graduating school. More than 30% of graduates (30.6%) missed at least thirty percent of instructional days. While the rise in high rates of absenteeism among graduates and nongraduates is alarming, equally concerning is the precipitous decline in the proportion of students in the graduating cohort with satisfactory attendance. In 2014-15, nearly 20% of graduates had missed less than 5% of instructional days, but by 2016-17 the corresponding proportion had dropped to 7.7%. Only 178 graduates out of 2,307 from all DCPS high schools had satisfactory attendance during the 2016-17 school year; more than 75% of graduates met the state definition of chronic absenteeism, missing more than 10% of school days.”

Charter schools, however, have a diametrically opposed record compared to DCPS, eventhough the sector serves a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged students:

“High schools in the charter sector have had much more stable patterns of attendance in the past three years than high schools in DCPS (Figures 9 and 10). The distributions of absenteeism for both graduates and non-graduates do not appear to vary significantly from year-to-year. Across the charter sector, there are few students within the highest bands of absenteeism, and students who reach profound or extreme levels of chronic absence tend to be concentrated among non-graduates. In 2016-17, less than 5% of students, fewer than ten students total, who missed more than 50% of instructional days graduated. The graduation rate for profoundly chronically absent students grew between 2014-15 and 2016-17, but has remained below 50%.”

So what are the implications of these numbers?  There are many.  First, as argued here, Mayor Bowser must immediately entertain proposals for a high performing charter to take over Ballou.  Next, we need a replacement for DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson.  In an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, new full-time education reporter Perry Stein revealed that Mr. Wilson has finally made the decision that the principal of Ballou when all of the trouble at the school was noticed will not be returning.  In addition, in reaction to the claim that teachers had known about the chronic absentee problem with seniors for sometime and that administrators had taken steps to cover them up, he is going to appoint an ombudsman to listen to employee concerns.

These are baby steps.  When proficiency rates are around 30 percent some bold changes need to be made.  Let’s see how many charters can be permitted to manage low performing DCPS facilities.  We, as a city, need to shift education reform into high gear.  Our students deserve nothing less.  State Board of Education, are you listening?

D.C. charter board unanimously votes to close Excel Academy PCS

Last Thursday, the DC Public Charter School Board voted six to zero to proceed with the revocation of Excel Academy PCS’s charter at then end of the 2017 to 2018 term.  As background, the board decided at its November 21, 2017 meeting to begin the revocation process and, on December 21st of last year, it held a public hearing on the matter.  At that time I predicted that the proposed turnaround plan offered by the school was most likely too little too late.  It turns out that the members of the PCSB sided with this assessment.

Chair Dr. Darren Woodruff summarized the position of many board members in the statement that he read that afternoon:

“As a board member, I continue to be supportive of the Excel mission – providing a high-quality education in one of the most challenged areas of our city through a school that serves more than 600 almost exclusively African American, economically disadvantaged elementary and middle school girls and their families. With one of the most important student populations we have and as the father of a daughter who attended DC public charter schools I am very aware of how important it is for us – this board, our public charter schools, and the larger community – to get the education of our girls right. We will not get a second chance to do well by these students. Toward that goal I want to acknowledge the obvious passion, engagement and commitment I witnessed during our December hearing with Excel faculty and staff, board members, parents, and students. I have no doubt that everyone involved wants nothing but positive outcomes for these girls.

“Every five years the Public Charter School Board is tasked with reviewing the performance of our schools to determine if they have met the goal of providing a high-quality education. And in the case of Excel, despite the clear commitment and engagement we have witnessed, the student outcomes have unfortunately not matched the passion. The agreed upon expectation of earning an average of at least 45 percentage points on the performance management framework over the past five years was not achieved. A PMF score above 45 was only achieved once in the last 5 years, and that was during the 2012-2013 school year. In fact, the most recent score from last year was 37 points out of 100, the school’s lowest score over the 5-year period we are addressing. In addition, student proficiency at Excel in both reading and math on the PARCC was lower than the citywide average for the past 2 years when compared to girls attending other schools. So, the trend for student performance over the past several years has been negative, despite any benefits that may have occurred from learning in an all-girl setting.

“Recent changes to the school’s academic leadership team, a reconstituted Board of Trustees, the planned addition of a Chief Academic Officer, implementation of restorative justice practices, and a proposed school turnaround plan all represent welcome steps that ideally would have been implemented when the first indications of decreased student performance became evident. However, without these steps more fully in place and clear data on their impact, this Board lacks convincing evidence that Excel represents the best opportunity for these young girls that we all care so much about. For this reason, I am in support of the staff recommendation for charter revocation.”

Attorney Stephen Marcus, representing Excel, made the same argument last week as he did at the public hearing in November: that the school’s relatively low score on the Performance Management Framework was due to the relatively greater percentage of children living in poverty that are enrolled.  However, PCSB deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux forcefully refuted this testimony, asserting that there are 22 D.C. charters that currently teach a greater proportion of these children, and that 17 of these schools score higher on the PMF.  She stated that the correlation between economic status and academic preparedness is well known and is a challenge that charter schools accept as their “central task” of closing the achievement gap.

In the end, the message from the board was clear and unequivocal to the charters that it oversees;  don’t wait until you get in trouble to seek help, and if you are going to operate in the nation’s capital, you will meet your academic goals.

 

 

 

 

 

Looks like D.C. needs a new public schools Chancellor

Last Saturday Washington Post reporters Moriah Balingit and Andrew Ba Tran revealed the following:

“In June, a day after graduates from Ballou High received their diplomas, a group of teachers met with D.C. Public Schools officials to share an alarming allegation: Students who missed dozens of classes had been able to earn passing grades and graduate.”

You can read the sad story yourself but I can save you the time.  Here’s what happened.  Several teachers,  including Monica Brokenborough, who was a music teacher and union representative at Ballou, tried on multiple occasions through emails and the grievance process to warn Chancellor Antwon Wilson of problems at the school that were revealed in a WAMU and NPR investigation that was released last November.  However, no action was taken until WAMU made the report public.

The Post article also included this new information about the problems at the high school:

“In January 2017, an email sent from [Principal Yetunde] Reeves to Ballou staffers included a presentation about changes in grading policies. It instructed teachers to enter ’50M’ in their online grade books when students missed assignments: ‘Missing grades should be marked as ‘50M’ (Missing).’

But according to Brokenborough and the school district’s grading policy, entering an M in the grade book signals that the student is out for a medical reason. The mark would allow students to miss assignments without hurting their final grades. Brokenborough emailed teachers telling them to disregard Reeves’s grading instruction because it conflicted with school district policy; she copied Wilson on her note. She later told a labor-relations official that she believed the directive was an effort to inflate grades.”

Here’s government teacher Brian Butcher’s experience:

“Butcher said several students approached him a week before graduation, imploring him to give them makeup work so they could pass his government course. Butcher said that when he refused, an assistant principal told him the students would be enrolled in credit-recovery classes — even though there was just one week left in the school year. Many of the students who failed his class ended up earning diplomas.”

Neither Ms. Brokenborough or Mr. Butler currently work at Ballou.  Her contract was not renewed and Mr. Butler was fired for poor performance.  Both have filed grievances.  The Chancellor stated that Ms. Reeves should stay in her position before he abruptly re-assigned her.  He has offered as an excuse that “that at least one-third of graduates in every comprehensive high school missed 30 or more sessions of a course required for graduation.”

Our children deserve much better then this.  I’m willing to wait until the various investigations regarding Ballou are completed before coming to a final conclusion.  In the meantime, I think Mayor Bowser should be looking for a new Chancellor.

 

 

Shantelle Wright stepping down as CEO of Achievement Prep PCS

I received the following email yesterday afternoon from Shantelle Wright, founder and chief executive officer of Achievement Prep Public Charter School.  With her permission I am posting her message and I will add no commentary, as none is necessary.

Dear Mark,

I’m writing to share some bittersweet news. After more than a decade leading Achievement Prep, I have decided that it is the right time for me personally and professionally to transition out of the role of Chief Executive Officer of Achievement Prep.

Founding and leading Achievement Prep has been my calling, my passion, and one of the most important things in my life. I have spent over a decade of my life dedicated to Achievement Prep and that will never change. I believe we have built an amazing organization that does great things for children, and we will continue to do this important work for many years to come.

Although the Achievement Prep Board of Trustees requested that I reconsider my decision, I know in my heart that it is time to move on. My goal was to get the school through its ten-year charter renewal, and with that done, I feel it is time for me to pursue my next calling.

I am deeply proud of the growth that Achievement Prep has made under my leadership. Over the past ten years, Achievement Prep has grown from a single site school serving 68 fourth and fifth grade scholars to a multi-campus LEA serving nearly 1,000 scholars in grades pre-school through eighth. Our founding scholars are currently freshmen and sophomores at some of the most elite schools in the nation, including Duke, Hampton, Morehouse and George Washington. Our families are among the most courageous and inspirational people I know and they will always be the wind in my sails. It has been my honor to serve as the Founder and CEO of Achievement Prep. It has been beyond my wildest dreams to serve and work amongst the heroes in this important work: my committed Achievement Prep team, the amazing educators in the District of Columbia, and most importantly, my odds-defying scholars. They are the reason I have served at Achievement Prep. I am honored to have served them.

It is my priority for this transition to be smooth in order to pave the way for future success of the schools. My transition is an amazing opportunity for Achievement Prep to identify a leader with a shared commitment to our community who can help to build on our accomplishments to date. I am committed to making sure that this leadership transition causes minimal disruption to our scholars’ learning. Although I will officially step down as CEO in June of 2018, my service is not done – I will stay on as an advisor to the new CEO through the end of the 2018 calendar year. After that, I plan to stay active in the arena of educational excellence and equity, advocating for our scholars and other students of color throughout the DC area. I look forward to the next phase of my journey.

I leave this role humbled, honored and with the utmost respect for the important work that is greater than any one person. I remain unapologetically committed to historically underserved children who, when given the opportunities and support, can soar higher than anyone ever thought. I’ve had the privilege of seeing that first hand over these last ten years in my scholars and they never cease to amaze me. I hope, in my own small way, my service has done the same for them and this city. I know I am leaving Achievement Prep in excellent hands. Our leadership team and Board of Trustees are fully committed to continuing our legacy of three-generational change – knowing if we change the lives of our scholars, we change the lives of their parents and of their future children. I have
attached a letter from our board chair, Jason Andrean, sharing his thoughts about this transition and plans for the immediate future.

Thank you for all your support over these past ten years. I have been blessed. I am honored to know you and eternally grateful.

Yours always in partnership,

Shantelle Wright 
Founder and CEO
Achievement Prep Public Charter Schools

Here is the letter dated January 4th from board chair Jason Andrean that went out to the Achievement Prep community:

I want to share some information around an upcoming leadership transition.  Shantelle Wright, our Founder and CEO, will be stepping down at the end of the 2017 -18 school year.

My fellow board members and I were truly saddened when Shantelle informed us of her decision.  She has been the heart and soul of Achievement Prep since its founding in 2007.  The board tried to persuade her to stay, but she has decided it is time to pursue educational equity in a different capacity.  We will miss her at Achievement Prep and we admire so greatly the work that she has done to date.

Since founding Achievement Prep in 2007, Shantelle has worked to expand high-quality educational options for children in Washington, DC, with a specific focus on children living east of the Anacostia River.  She has helped Achievement Prep grow from 68 scholars to a campus of two schools serving nearly 1,000 students in grades PreK3-8.  Through her leadership, Achievement Prep’s middle school has become one of the top-performing public schools in the District of Columbia.  With her vision and guidance, we’ve empowered families, built relationships throughout our community, and put the name of Achievement Prep on the map as a public charter school of choice in DC.

Although we are sad to see Shantelle go, we are happy to know that she will remain a strong voice in the DC area for equal access in education.  In the meantime, we are focused on finding the right person to fill her shoes at Achievement Prep and build upon our accomplishments to date.  With the guidance and support of On-Ramps, a national executive search firm, we will embark on a national search for Shantelle’s successor.  We will be seeking an innovative, passionate executive with a shared commitment to our community.   The Board hopes to have that person officially enter the role in June 2018.  Shantelle has agreed to stay on as an adviser to the CEO until December 2018, in order to ensure a smooth transition.

 

Exclusive interview with Jenifer Moore, Sela PCS interim head of school

Sela PCS has a lot going for it right now.  The school just reached its five-year mark since it began operating and sailed through its review by the DC Public Charter School Board.  In addition, Sela learned a few months ago that it is ranked Tier 1 on the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, the second consecutive year that it earned this grade and only the second time that it was eligible for grading.

But I discovered recently that the school has another great asset, and that is its interim head of school Jenifer Moore.  I recently had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with Ms. Moore.  You may never meet a more positive and uplifting individual.

Ms. Moore explained to me that this is her third year at Sela.  For the previous two years she had the position of director of curriculum and instruction.  Her path to the charter school is interesting.

The interim head of school spent three years as the lower school principal of Arts and Technology PCS, and she was working there as it was being shuttered by the PCSB for poor academic performance.  KIPP DC PCS ended up taking over this facility.  She was offered the opportunity to become vice principal of the lower school under KIPP, but she decided to push herself out of her comfort zone and join the DCPS Office of Early Childhood Education.  She spent an important year there becoming exposed to multiple early childhood programs such as Creative Curriculum, Tools of the Mind, Readers/Writers Workshop, and Reggio.  She also received the race and equity training that she came to realize would become part of her calling.

During this period something else was taking place.  Ms. Moore had gotten to know Natalie Smith when she too worked at Arts and Technology as the director of academic and staff development.  Dr. Smith was now the head of school at Sela and began recruiting Ms. Moore to come over to the charter.  Ms. Moore turned Dr. Smith down a couple of times but finally agreed to join her in the role of director of curriculum and instruction.

Sela PCS has had a fascinating history.  The Hebrew language immersion school opened its first year with grades pre-Kindergarten four, Kindergarten, and first.  It has added a grade each year but has also grown backwards to add a pre-Kindergarten three.  The charter now goes up to the fourth grade and will conclude its growth at grade five.  The student body of 202 is diverse, composed of approximately 72 percent black, 21 percent white, and 8 percent Hispanic pupils.  Forty-three percent of the children are classified as economically disadvantaged.

Dr. Smith left Sela at the end of last year.  The board of directors, Ms. Moore stated, was completely transparent with the staff and parents saying that its preference would be to grow someone from within the organization.  “The board has provided me with a tremendous amount of support,” the interim principal related.  The decision as to whether she should be made the permanent head of school will come at the end of this school year.

Now I feel I must pause.  Throughout my conversation with Ms. Moore she spoke to me passionately about the help she has received along the way.  When she was the lower school principal at Arts and Technology the first year was challenging, especially around a difficult culture.  In the following years she was able to build a team of educators who did whatever it took to improve teaching and learning.  They developed a shared vision of excellence.  In addition, there was a mentor, Ms. Aleem, who cheered Ms. Moore on and gave words of wisdom at the right time.

Those who worked with her at DCPS did exactly the same thing.  “At DCPS,” Ms. Moore opined, “my colleagues and coaches were extraordinarily skilled.  I had never met so many educators that were both talented and driven about enriching educational experiences of D.C.’s youngest learners.  In a short time, I learned so much from them.”

Once she became interim head of school the staff became excited, announcing that they were now her cheerleaders.  After spending some time with Ms. Moore, I had this sudden urge to assist her becoming head in any way that I could.  Her personality emits warmth toward people that is immediately contagious.  I then asked Ms. Moore why she believes her school has been able to reach Tier 1 status.

“There are a couple of things,” the interim head of school extolled.  “We have a tremendously dedicated staff.  They give a lot of themselves on a daily basis.  The 28 teachers demonstrate true collaboration which is amazing to watch.  Our teachers come from all over the world.  They each bring different experiences and various points of view.  There are many considerations when we think about how we train these professionals and how they interact with parents.  So here’s the other reason that I believe we are Tier 1.  Every adult in this building makes every decision based upon what is best for the child.  I believe it is impossible to be Tier 1 without putting ego aside.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the strong foundation that the previous head of school built.  She poured her heart and soul into Sela over the past three years creating systems that would benefit students long term.”

Ms. Moore also wanted to speak about the professional development activities at Sela that support its mission “to offer children of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in the District of Columbia from pre-k to 5th grade, the opportunities to achieve academic excellence in a safe nurturing environment that focuses on Hebrew language immersion, promotes the value of diversity and provides the skills for taking action in the world.”   She revealed that teachers are given time for professional development every week on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.  “We focus during these sessions on what we can glean in an hour that can go directly into the classroom,” Ms. Moore detailed.  “We also have all-day professional development during which there are sessions led directly by the teachers.  These meetings are data driven.  The teachers are learning how to modify lesson plans based upon the academic measurements we are receiving.”

I then wanted to know why parents select Sela PCS for their children.  Ms. Moore eagerly responded, “Some parents certainly do feel connected to the Hebrew language.  Others think it is really cool.  Many people are attracted to the diversity of the school and the supportive environment that exists here.  There is such a strong community reflected by the strength between the school and families.  Families actively support our school and we encourage them to provide feedback regarding our work.”

We then engaged in a discussion of where Sela is going as an institution.  Ms. Moore listed two buckets. “We want to strengthen the Hebrew program,” the interim head of school stated.  “The language immersion program is not included in the PMF.  We believe that all students can learn Hebrew, even those classified as special education pupils.  Our pre-school students spend 80 percent of the day in Hebrew language classes and the older kids have a Hebrew block during the day.  We have some really strong Hebrew teachers.”

The other area that Ms. Moore was extremely interested in mentioning was the school’s continuing efforts to support diversity and inclusion.  She related to me that student suspensions at Sela are exceedingly rare.  “We provide training to staff around equity beginning in summer training,” Ms. Moore recalled.  “Because some of our teachers come from countries outside of the United States they may have little experience educating African American students or with students with special needs.  We all bring biases to our positions and we strive to understand what they are and to overcome them as much as possible.”

If anyone can lead this school to reach its goals it is Ms. Moore.  She grew up in Washington on New Hampshire Avenue.  Her mother instilled in her the values of family, hard work, and integrity.  She received her undergraduate degree from Howard University and her masters in Educational Administration at Trinity D.C.  Ms. Moore once worked as the Rights of Passage coordinator at the Covenant House and once again one of her supervisors took her on as a mentee.

“I love what I’m doing,” Ms. Moore exclaimed.  “Diversity and equity are extremely important to me.  In my current position I’m still extremely close to teaching and learning.  I am now stretching in my skill sets and I’m comfortable about it.  So many of the people in my life have come together to help and prepare me to teach other adults how to serve children.  It is all about service.”

 

D.C. charter schools, please follow these ingredients for continuance

I’m sitting here Wednesday evening listening to the public hearing considering the charter revocation of Excel Academy Public Charter School.  The session is perfectly identical to so many I have seen in the past.  There is an overflow crowd of the school’s parents.  The DC Public Charter School Board is presenting its data demonstrating the reasons the charter should be closed.  The school will then provide testimony promising to revamp its board, change its leadership, and improve its prodigy.  Later, mothers and fathers of enrolled scholars will offer emotionally moving stories about the positive experience attending this school has made toward their children’s growth and development.

It is probably all too late at this point.  The charter has been warned about its academic performance for years.  The bottom line is that we never should have reached this predicament.

Excel PCS, like several of the schools before the board this week, has contracted with the Ten Square Consulting Group, is about to engage with Charter Board Partners, and has hired Stephen Marcus as its attorney.  So please allow me to make a simple suggestion for all of D.C.’s charters.

When considering opening a charter school go through FOCUS’s program that is designed to make this goal a reality.  Please hire Ten Square right from the start to evaluate your program.  Utilize Charter Board Partners to populate the board with members.  Finally engage with Building Hope to secure a permanent facility.  In fact, the DC PCSB should be relied upon as a resource.  We are so extremely fortunate in this town to have so many truly outstanding charter school support organizations.

If you follow my advice good things will happen.  Financial support and other valuable resources may come from groups such as Fight for Children, CityBridge Education, and Education Forward.  Don’t wait unit you get in trouble.  Being proactive may preserve all of the heroic hard work that the school exerted to have their charter accepted by the charter board in the first place.

On this particular night I’m impressed with the testimony of Stephen Marcus.  He successfully introduced an interruption in the steady momentum toward charter revocation when he asked the question of where these students would go if the school was closed.  There is no other all girls school like Excel in the nation’s capital.  Many of the Ward 8 educational institutions located near this facility, both charter and DCPS, score lower on the PARCC standardized test than this one.

The board will vote in January regarding the fate of Excel.  Whatever happens, whether the school’s doors are shuttered at the end of June or if it is allowed to continue operating under a long list of conditions, is almost beside the point.  Sadly, all of this considerable time and energy could and should have been avoided.

 

 

 

D.C. charter board not in Christmas spirit; decides to close campuses

There was a clear unambiguous message that was delivered to D.C.’s charter sector at last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board:  if you want to keep operating your school, then you will meet your charter’s goals.

The actions throughout the long night were perfectly consistent, exceedingly painful, and correct.  It was as if the board has reached the same collective conclusion about the history of public education in the nation’s capital that I have been repeating on this page.  Namely, it is the belief that we have failed our kids for way too long and if a school is providing a program that is not resulting in academic excellence the doors will be shuttered.

So let’s go down the list.  Somerset PCS was up for its five year review.  The board has determined that it is not meeting “its goals and academic expectations.”  As part of its charter agreement the school will now have to meet specific Performance Management Framework metrics for the next three years or it will be closed.

Cesar Chavez PCS faced its 20 year review.  Again, it has not meet “its goals and student achievement expectations.”  Therefore, the Parkside Middle School, the lowest performing campus in the LEA’s portfolio, will begin to be shutdown immediately, one grade at a time beginning with the sixth prior to the start of the next school year.  The Capitol Hill and Chavez Prep campuses’ operations will also be halted if they do not reach specific PMF levels over the next three years.

Also up for its 20 year review was Seed PCS.  Continuing the pattern, the board found that it has not met “its goals and academic expectations.”  The result is that its middle school will also wind down by the end of the 2019-to-2020 school year.  It will, however, have the option of applying to re-open its middle school in the 2021-to-2022 term.

Protests by some school representatives against these moves due to the presence of a high proportion of at-risk children, the fact that they were in turnaround situations, or that the PMF floor was increasing next year, were met with a distinct lack of interest by the PCSB members.  Executive director Scott Pearson pointed out that if a school had not met its targets, then the entire charter could be revoked, not just the campuses that were closed in the instances above.

Tomorrow night the board is considering the revocation of Excel PCS’s charter, which does not bode well for this institution.

It was actually easy to tell right from the start of this session that it was not going to be a good evening.  Achievement Prep PCS was up early in the agenda for a charter amendment.  The school has had an interesting reaction to the poor academic performance of its elementary school.  It wants to decrease the enrollment of its second and third grades so that each do not have more than 60 pupils.   The school believes that this will improve the culture and instruction of its students.  There are now 80 kids enrolled in the second grade and 93 children in the third grade.  Achievement Prep would hold an internal lottery through My Schools DC for these spaces for those currently in the first and second grades.  Unfortunately, for this portion of the meeting much of the sound was unavailable through the live feed, but the discussion was obviously tense.  It ended with the school’s founder and CEO Shantelle Wright accusing the board of “an abuse of power” and “the overreach of this board and this staff in particular.”  She was reacting to being told that the  PMF targets she agreed to at the November meeting in return for allowing her school to continue to be in business would have to be voted on by the PCSB in January.

There were a few positives.  D.C. Prep PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and Center City PCS all sailed through their charter reviews, the first two schools at 15 years and the third at 10 years.  In addition, Lauren Catalano, the principal of Somerset PCS, did an amazingly admirable job making the case that conditions should not be placed on her school even if it was a lost cause.  In the end yesterday was an extremely tough session.

D.C.’s charter school movement needs to look at itself in the mirror

On Monday Mayor Muriel Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles, DC Public Charter School Board member Rick Cruz, DC Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson, and school representatives celebrated charters in the nation’s capital that have been ranked at Tier 1 on the 2016 to 2017 Performance Management Framework.  The affair was held at the swanky W Hotel, you know the one with the rope line used to queue people up to the rooftop bar overlooking the White House.  Apparently there were smiles and congratulatory pats on the back all around.

But across town it was a very different story.  News has come out recently courtesy of WAMU and NPR that the one hundred percent 2017 graduation rate reported at DCPS’s Ballou High School was a sham. From the piece by Kate McGee:

“An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. WAMU and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a DCPS employee shared the private documents. The documents showed that half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school. . . Another internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows that two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation requirements, community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate.”

We do not know how many of the 164 seniors really should have been held back.  This is because the administration of the school apparently pressured teachers to pass students who should have failed courses.  The previously highly regarded Ballou principal Yetunde Reeves has now been reassigned.

Yes, while the 51 school leaders were gathered around sipping coffee and receiving trophies, I’m confident not one word was spoken about our collective avoidance of even talking about the situation at Ballou.  Not one of these public charter schools or the 23 that already operate in Ward 8 where Ballou is located, or the leadership of the DC PCSB, has even hinted that they would like to help these kids that have been abandoned.  Is it because of who they are or where they live?

The charter gathering comes on the heels of news that the United Medical Center board of directors has decided that it will not re-open its maternity ward that was shuttered not too long ago by  the D.C. Department of Health.  This leaves women living in Wards 7 and 8 without a hospital where they can give birth.  In the report by the Washington Post’s Peter Jamison, D.C. Councilman Vincent Gray reacted this way to the decision:

“D.C. Council member Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), chairman of the council’s health committee, said the board’s action ‘sends a powerfully negative message’ to the poor and predominantly African American residents of Southeast Washington.

‘It says that in terms of the allocation and equity of services, the people on the East End of the city are seen as not sufficiently worthy to have available to them one of the most important services a population can have.'”

So what message does the charter sector’s ignoring of the situation at Ballou sent to these same members of our community?   It’s just tough luck, not our problem, not our kids.

This is not why charters were created in D.C.

A private school scholarship for every child living in D.C.? That’s what Senator Cruz and Representative Meadows want

The Washington Post’s Moriah Balingit revealed on Thursday that Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Mark Meadow have introduced a bill in the United States Congress called the Educational Freedom Accounts Act that would offer a private school scholarship to any child residing in the District of Columbia.  Currently, D.C. has America’s only federally funded private school voucher plan, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, but it is limited to those families living in poverty.  About 1,100 pupils currently participate in the OSP.  This legislation would permit any student in grades Kindergarten through 12 to take advantage of a private school scholarship, and depending upon family income, it would provide 80 to 90 percent of the money allocated annually to teach kids through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  The dollars would be deposited in individual educational savings accounts.

The timing of this news comes as an interesting coincidence.  Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the passing away from brain cancer of Joseph E. Robert, Jr.  When he was alive Mr. Robert created the Washington Scholarship Fund that awarded private school tuition for low-income children.  When the federal voucher program was enacted the same organization became the administrator.  He was a steadfast fighter for the continuation of the OSP, even in the face of eight years of effort by the Obama administration to shut it down.  Fortunately, with Serving Our Children now running the OSP, it is expected to at least triple in size.

The only problem I can see with the bill is the proposed funding level.  Ms. Balingit points out in her article that today’s per student funding is equal to about $9,500 a year.  Therefore, a middle class family with a child in the sixth grade, for example, would receive 80 percent of this amount which equals $7,500; lower than the $8,653 currently paid under the OSP.  Moreover, the existing OSP scholarship levels are already too low considering the high cost of many private schools in D.C.

But the introduction of this act is still exceedingly good news.  After more than 20 years of aggressive public school reform in the nation’s capital, student proficiency rates for reading and math stand at a dismal thirty percent.  For people living in poverty those numbers are in the 20s.  I have been making the case for a supercharging of school choice in this town to get us out of this rut.  Thankfully, Senator Cruz and Congressman Meadows have answered my call.