D.C. charter board transparency has its limits

Last November I described troubling testimony at the monthly DC Public Charter School meeting regarding Ingenuity Prep PCS. I wrote:

“Two individuals, one a former vice-principal and the other a parent, with other former school leaders coming up to the testimony table in support, describe concerning activity at Ingenuity Prep PCS. They claim that under CEO Will Stoetzer student behavior is out of control. Descriptions of what is taking place include kids running around hallways, leaving the school building without permission, horseplay, and even exposing their genitals. The former vice-principal stated that students have been abusing staff through violent acts including stabbings. She asserted that she has heard children say that they want to kill themselves and die. The parent described teachers verbally abusing and bullying students. The cause of these problems, according to the former vice-principal, is inappropriate inclusion of special education children without proper teacher training and supervision. It is all difficult to believe and my hope is that the board will bring representatives of Ingenuity Prep to the December meeting to provide an explanation of these accusations.”

So what was the outcome of this complaint? You would not have any idea by sitting through the subsequent public meetings of the DC PCSB in December and January. Did this oversight body investigate the school? Was there any legitimacy to the charges of those who testified? The answers to these questions are affirmative, but to find them you need to do some detective work. The trail starts by going to the charter board’s website. Then you move to the Transparency Hub, followed by paging down to “Oversight testimony and responses to DC Council since 2013.” A button to the right takes you to “View Oversight Testimony and Responses.” Under Q &A click FY19 Performance Oversight Answers.” Next, select “Performance Oversight Questions.”

These are the questions asked by the D.C. Council’s Education Committee in preparation of its February 2020 oversight hearings. Buried on page 49 of 123 pages is this written exchange:

“Q 20. Provide an update on measures taken to address complaints shared at the November 2019 PCSB Board meeting regarding Ingenuity Prep, including:
a. documentation and the results of the original desk audit;
b. the results of the resulting special education audit; and
c. any conditions in place for the school.

In November 2019, DC PCSB received a series of community complaints regarding systemic concerns with student safety and special education programming at Ingenuity Prep PCS. Below is the timeline of events as it relates to the initial complaint, meetings with the school, site visits to the school, and the overall special education audit process.
11/5/2019: Unannounced Visit to Ingenuity Prep PCS
In response to the initial community complaint, DC PCSB staff conducted an immediate visit to the school.
11/20/2019: Staff-to-staff Meeting with DC PCSB and Ingenuity Prep PCS
DC PCSB held a staff-to-staff meeting with Ingenuity Prep PCS to discuss the complaints and the school’s response and potential turnaround efforts.
12/3/2019: Special Education Audit Begins
In response to the complaints alleging systematic issues with the school’s special education program, DC PCSB began a desk audit on Tuesday, 12/3/2019, in accordance with DC PCSB’s Special Education Audit Policy. According to the Policy, a potential trigger is a community complaint that “alleges a systemic issue with the denial of parental safeguards, provision of special education services, or concern for the safety of students with disabilities.” Consistent with the Policy, the school was required to provide data and supplemental documentation.
1/8/2020: Unannounced Visit to Ingenuity Prep DC
PCSB staff conducted a second unannounced visit to the school.
1/16/2020: DC PCSB concludes its audit and submits to the school its conclusions and recommendations

Audit Conclusions
Upon reviewing the documentation submitted through the special education audit and the information gathered during unannounced visits, DC PCSB concluded the following:
•through SY18-19 to SY19-20, students with disabilities at the school are retained at five times the rate as their general education peers;
•the school continues to have staffing challenges, resignations, and transitions;
•extensive training and oversight are needed in special education programming and compliance;
•while the school has developed an internal turnaround strategy, it has also struggled to implement elements of its turnaround (e.g., observing all teachers on a regular basis) and clearly measure success of the turnaround;
•while the school reports that seclusion is no longer in use, there is inconsistent evidence; and
•the school does not consistently follow its own policies regarding restraint and physical escort.

Audit Recommendations
Based on DC PCSB’s audit conclusions, DC PCSB recommended that the school take steps to re-evaluate and improve policies and practices regarding:
•special education student supports and contributing factors to grade retention;
•implementation of the school’s restorative practices; and
•seclusion, restraint, and physical escort practices and policies and notification to parents after every instance.

DC PCSB also recommends that the school take steps to increase its oversight and provide support to its staff in:
•special education compliance;
•teacher observations and coaching; and
•measurement of success on the school’s turnaround plan.

DC PCSB will follow up on the status of the school’s turnaround efforts in future communications, continue to closely monitor community complaints that may potentially come in regarding the school, and conduct follow up unannounced site visits.”

In summary, there were definitely serious issues identified by the PCSB regarding this school’s handling of special education students. While the board should be congratulated for including this information on its website, it is inappropriate that this type of follow-up is not shared in a more open fashion.

When I met recently with PCSB Chairman Rick Cruz for an interview I asked him about this safety incident and the one at Rocketship PCS. We discussed the possibility of something along the lines of a Safety Audit Report that would be included at the monthly meetings.

Based upon the details above, I think the time for such a report is clearly overdue.

Exclusive interview with Stacy Kane, co-founder and executive director Washington Leadership Academy PCS

Let’s start with straight facts about this high school.  It’s been open for three and a half years.  The charter began with 110 students in the ninth grade.  There is now a total of 396 pupils, with roughly 100 kids per grade level.  This year Washington Leadership Academy PCS has its first senior class.  The demographic makeup of the student body is approximately 70 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, 24 percent eligible for special education services, and 54 percent who fall into the category of at-risk. 

Over the previous two years, the only times in the school’s early existence that it has been ranked on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework tool, it scored in the Tier 1 category.

Yet, after reading all of the above information, I feel that I have told you extremely little about this truly amazing place.  Please allow me to try again.

There are seven co-founders of this institution.  They are Duane Rollins, Joey Webb, Miles Taylor, Natalie Gould, Phil Stephen, Seth Andrew, and of course, Stacy Kane.  With the exception of Ms. Kane, and Ms. Gould, who is the school’s chief operating officer, the others are involved with the charter these days in a less direct manner.  Mr. Taylor and Mr. Andrew were Congressional pages when they were younger, and especially now that the Congressional page program is closed, they were interested in creating a high school that allowed its pupils to have real world experiences.  Mr. Rollins and Ms. Kane were focused on integrating technology and computer science into the new school.

Ms. Kane has an intriguing background.  Her mother is a social worker and her father is retired.  She attended Vanderbilt University on a full community service scholarship.  The Washington Leadership Academy executive director graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human and Organizational Development and Sociology.  During her undergraduate years she started a college preparation and mentoring program.  Ms. Kane went on to earn a Masters’ degree in Public Policy and Education Policy, also at Vanderbilt, then obtained a law degree at Emory University

Her next move was to join the Presidential Management Fellowship program and later became the deputy director of the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program.  It was during this time that she became acquainted with the Washington Leadership Academy co-founders with whom she shared a passion for quality in public education together with a driving interest in technology.

I asked Ms. Kane about her motivation to start Washington Leadership Academy.  Her response came quickly and eloquently.  “It was my study of sociology,” she intoned.  “I grew up confused about racial inequality in my community in Cincinnati, Ohio. My college course work in sociology resolved my confusion. I finally understood that the reasons were historic, structural, and even intentional, specifically with regard to race. I wholeheartedly subscribed to the philosophy that human liberation is bound up together; if some of us aren’t free and equal, none of us are. I began to dedicate myself to equity work, and I’ve never slowed down. I never intend to.”

The trying to do something about it became immensely personal to Ms. Kane.  She and her husband became foster parents to a young man who was at the time 15 years old.  He is now studying at Howard University, and still comes home every weekend for family dinners and laundry.

“It is part of my ethos about everyone being deserving of opportunity, in this case, of a loving family,” Ms. Kane related. “He has added so much joy and love to my life and to my immediate and extended family. I’m incredibly lucky he’s in my life and I’m so proud to call him my son.”

Which brings us to Washington Leadership Academy.  Ms. Kane explained that during the formation of the charter the founding group was extremely fortunate to win a $400,000 incubator grant with City Bridge Education.  The grant allowed her to be able to work full-time on the creation of the school as her team researched and imagined what the high school of the future would look like.

While her students come to Washington Leadership Academy with academic skills in reading and in math anywhere from grades pre-Kindergarten three and above, the charter was established as a college preparatory institution with a technology focus. It is a unique vision in that it is a school that provides training so that its students are prepared both for college and for meaningful employment in the computer science field.

With such an academically diverse population of students, I inquired of Ms. Kane how those who are behind are brought up to grade level. 

“We have a number of strategies,” she remarked.  “We try everything we can.  The school employs a large number of special education teachers.  Many of our classrooms have two teachers who work in parallel to make sure students have extra support.  Students in their freshman and sophomore years receive double periods of English Language Arts and math.  The use of technology has also been a game changer.  It allows our teachers to differentiate instruction tied directly to the progress of our students. Of course, the most important tool is our incredible team of teachers and staff. All of our outstanding results are a direct result of their efforts.”

The Washington Leadership Academy executive director then reflected that at this charter, because of the use of blended learning and other characteristics integrated into the school’s pedagogy, “In every class each day may look different.  Our teachers have flexibility in the way they approach teaching and their subject matter.” 

Another aspect that makes Washington Leadership unique is that eleventh graders participate in internships on Fridays in businesses, nonprofits and government.  Beginning in the fall semester they receive assistance preparing resumes and cover letters.  The program teaches interviewing skills and students are trained in professional behavior in the workplace.  Then there is a match day in which they are paired with a site based upon their interests and abilities.  Teachers visit the students when they are at their assignments.  Ms. Kane observed that the internships are all part of the real world experience the school strives to provide its pupils.

But there is another crucial reason behind these work assignments.  “For affluent children, internships are a natural part of their high school experience,” said Ms. Kane. “This is often not the case for students who come to WLA.  Providing internships for all of our students is another form of trying to not only achieve equity, but give our students a leg up in college and career.  These jobs can then be placed on their college applications the following year.”

The Washington Leadership executive director went on to explain that ninth and tenth graders participate in project-based learning on Fridays.  There are also year-long classes in the upper grades in Seminar and AP Seminar, and Research and AP Research, in conjunction with the College Board’s AP Capstone Diploma Program.  These efforts are aimed at providing a rich college preparatory curriculum.

I became so impressed with the information Ms. Kane presented to me that I asked her if the school was preparing to replicate.  Her response frankly caught me off guard. 

“To us,” Ms. Kane asserted, “scale is about providing facets of our school to other existing schools so that our impact is much larger than the student population within our walls.  The things we are excelling at we want to share openly and freely with other schools that serve similar student populations.”

At this point Ms. Kane reminded me that in 2016 Washington Leadership Academy was the proud recipient of XQ: The Super School Project prize that provides a total of $10 million, $2 million a year over five years.  At the time of the award, more than 700 teams comprised of over 10,000 members applied for a grant.  XQ is part of the Emerson Collective, which was founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.

There are three big projects that Washington Leadership Academy has planned to tackle as a result of receiving these funds and the first is a free, open, online high school English Language Arts curriculum. WLA has partnered with CommonLit to achieve this first goal. Ms. Kane revealed that the curriculum is already being utilized by more than 40 schools across the country, including both charters and district schools. 

The second anticipated project is to try, as Ms. Kane detailed, to delineate “the secret sauce” behind WLA’s high performing instruction in computer science and technology.  The school’s final goal, according to the Washington Leadership Academy executive director, is to design more rigorous classroom material around project-based learning.

With so much activity at the school I wondered if it was difficult to attract the right teaching staff.

“We look for teachers with four to five years of experience.  We generally do not use recently trained instructors.  We also support our staff by providing them with three hours of class preparation a day.  This also provides them time to share best practices with other teachers.”

Teacher retention, according to Ms. Kane, has been excellent as has student retention.  Part of the student retention strategy includes thirty-minute advisory periods in which ten students of the identical gender meet with the same teacher daily.  The student body is also divided up into five houses.  Ms. Kane reflected that the school holds events that promote friendly competition between the houses.

Washington Leadership Academy’s permanent facility is a spectacularly beautiful former seminary college in Northeast that resembles buildings I’ve seen at Cornell or Yale University.  Lee Montessori PCS and a variety of small non-profits share other parts of the campus.  Washington Leadership Academy’s students have now applied to college.  They will hear about admission soon.  Between the campus they learn in everyday and the curriculum designed for college preparation, their future indeed looks bright.

Time to eliminate charter school boards of directors

In an article by my friend Carrie Irvin, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Education Board Partners, she points to a recent study by the D.C. Policy Center entitled “The State of D.C. Schools”. She wrote:

“In the nation’s capital, 2 out of 3 students score below proficient in reading, writing and math.  That number is startling–and it’s just the average.  The picture is even worse at many of our city’s schools.  The report also states that about half of all public school students in this city are designated at-risk, according to the city’s criteria.”

There is nothing new here. It is frankly disgusting that in Washington D.C., after twenty five years of school reform, there is a persistent 60 point academic achievement gap combined with the fact that the proportion of students proficient in English Language Arts and math is in the thirties.

The Education Board Partners CEO calls for stronger boards to fix the problems with academic achievement. In order to have a quality school she suggests, among other recommendations, that boards:

  • “Ask your ED challenging questions that they are not answering readily or proactively, so that you really have the information you need to know if your school is high quality.
  • Use data at all times to drive board decisions.  Make sure you look at ALL data (student achievement, attendance, discipline, staff retention, promotion, pay scale, etc.) broken down by race, gender, special needs status, etc.
  • Pay attention to data about attendance, school safety, etc., as these and many other factors dramatically impact student achievement.
  • In particular, pay attention to staff morale.  Fortune, who now works at the school of which she originally served on the board, noted that most boards ignore this, yet it’s one of the most important factors determining the success of the school.  Ask the ED, and review data, about race relations, pay equity/disparities, and staff satisfaction. Take action to boost morale in meaningful ways.”

I’m sincerely sorry, but at this point I do not feel that any of these steps is going to correct our desperate situation regarding public education in the nation’s capital.

My experience with charter school boards has been decidedly mixed. In the case of Washington Latin PCS the governors were able to turnaround a dire financial situation and eventually secure a permanent facility while creating a budgetary structure that would promote its future success. But other time spent volunteering hours on these bodies has not been nearly as positive.

In fact, I would say that in the great majority of cases the nonprofit boards I have sat on have had little impact on the direction of the organization. They have seemed more of a nuisance then a help to the heads of charters. Much of the activity of these bodies involved instructing members on the proper role of trustees and educating them on how charter schools function. Infighting between the director is common, whether that is between themselves or involving staff.

Do not get me wrong. I definitely see the value that outsiders can bring to the exceptionally difficult job of running a school. People have expertise in areas such as fundraising, real estate, legal issues, and management that can bring tremendous benefits. Americans are generally exceptionally generous with their time and resources. However, I just do not believe anymore that a formal structure is required to obtain assistance from talented hardworking members of our community.

The success or failure of a school is determined by the leader of that school. We are so fortunate in the District to have so many of examples that prove this point. If we are truly serious about closing the achievement gap, we need to support and develop those who can get this job done.

Eliminating charter school boards of directors would also serve to remove the often repeated claim that these institutions are privately run. Charters would report directly to the DC Public Charter School Board, a government entity whose volunteer members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council.

None of this suggestion is meant in anyway to take away from the outstanding work being done by Education Board Partners. In the past if I had a board issue, I would contact Ms. Irvin. I would do this today.

It would take a change to the law to eliminate charter school nonprofit boards. However, I think we have reached the point where governance can move into the twenty-first century.

Washington Post gets facts wrong in story about Friendship and KIPP DC public charter schools

Yesterday’s blog post was about Perry’s Stein’s article raising skepticism about Friendship PCS and KIPP DC PCS incorporating multiple campuses of other charters that are failing to meet their academic targets. In that piece, Ms. Stein describes the assimilation of Septima Clark PCS by Achievement Prep PCS this way:

“There’s a measure of irony in Achievement Prep being taken over by another charter operator. In 2013, Achievement Prep was the suitor, assuming control of Septima Clark, an all-boys school that the charter board closed amid low academic performance. But it turned out that Achievement Prep — which has a more successful elementary school that will remain open — could not turn around the school.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. I was intimately involved in the events surrounding the closing of Septima Clark after being contacted by in 2013 by its head of school  Jenny DuFresne. I made the case on multiple occasions that the charter should not be dissolved. Here’s what really happened.

Septima Clark was a low performing school teaching an exceedingly high proportion of at-risk children that toward the end of its operation had reached a Tier 2 ranking on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework. However, there was serious concern by those involved with the school that when it was time for it to go before the PCSB for review it would be closed due to a pattern of poor academic results. The charter also faced the end of a facility lease with no good options as to where it would locate next. The school’s board of directors therefore believed that the best path forward for its students was to close Septima Clark and merge with Achievement Prep PCS. Although Achievement Prep was early in its history, at that time it was highly regarded for its strong academic performance. There was considerable controversy around the school board’s decision. Many Septima parents strongly opposed the plan. As I said it was not one to which I agreed. However, Mr. Pearson, the PCSB executive director, and his board supported the move, and therefore it was executed as designed. Years later I was told by a prominent member of our local charter school movement that of the approximately 230 children who attended Septima Clark, less than 20 made the transition to Achievement Prep. I have not substantiated this claim.

My past columns on this subject are not available but today I link to a Washington Examiner article describing the course of events around the charter.

The goal here is not to disparage the Washington Post staff member. My point is that if as an education reporter a story is going to be written that expresses a particular public policy viewpoint then it is imperative to conduct research to ensure that the facts around the issue being discussed are accurate.

I would say that the irony of this tale is not that Friendship may takeover Achievement Prep’s middle school. Instead, it is the fact that despite constant and consistent claims that charters are public schools run by private entities, in the instance of the Septima Clark, as it throughout this sector, it was a governmental body of volunteers appointed by the D.C. Mayor that made the final decision about the school’s future.

Friendship and KIPP DC charter school networks deserve more students, not less

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein has noticed that both Friendship PCS and KIPP DC PCS have been taking over campuses of other charters that were facing closure by the DC Public Charter School Board for poor academic performance. Friendship actually started this trend when it assumed control of Southeast Academy in 2005 after the PCSB revoked its charter. KIPP DC then followed suit nine years later when it agreed to bring Arts and Technology PCS into its network at the same time that New York’s Democracy Prep PCS expanded to run Imagine Southeast PCS. Then in 2015 Friendship incorporated Dorothy I. Height’s Community Academy PCS’s Armstrong and on-line campuses in the aftermath of the financial scandal surrounding its founder Kent Amos.

Democracy Prep PCS closed at the end of the 2019 school term when it realized that it could not raise its score on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework.

More recently, Friendship rescued Ideal Academy PCS and brought City Arts and Prep PCS’s program around visual art, performance art, dance, theatre, instrumental music, and vocal music into Armstrong Elementary. KIPP DC this year added Somerset PCS to its roster of schools.

All of this consolidation is worrisome to Ms. Stein. She commented:

“KIPP DC and Friendship, the city’s two largest charter networks, have grown bigger in recent years as they take over floundering charter campuses, revamping the schools and adding the campuses to their already extensive and well-regarded portfolios.

The networks are poised to educate more than 11,500 public school students in the coming years — more than 11 percent of the city’s public school population.”

The Washington Post reporter raised an identical concern when she wrote about KIPP DC being granted the shuttered Ferebee-Hope Elementary School. She stated:

“The city’s decision to lease the vacant Ferebee-Hope Elementary School building in Southeast Washington means citywide enrollment on KIPP campuses could grow to more than 7,600 students in coming years — representing about 15 percent of the city’s charter sector and 7 percent of all public school students.”

Ms. Stein has actually underestimated the impact of Friendship. At the end of last year’s school year, with the help of many of this city’s nonprofits, Friendship’s Educational Foundation incorporated Monument Academy PCS into its fold. The Foundation already runs schools in three states with many more to come.

In addition, news came from Ms. Stein’s piece that apparently Achievement Prep PCS is in discussions to have its Wahler Place Middle School transferred to Friendship. Although Achievement Prep’s elementary school has been slowly increasing its PMF scores over time, the middle school appears stuck at an extremely low Tier 2 level. If Ms. Stein’s report is true, this would be an extremely interesting development since both of Achievement Prep’s campuses are at the same location.

What is truly fascinating is that now that the educational marketplace is working exactly as intended, in that good schools are growing in their span of control and low performing ones are going away, the establishment, as represented by Ms. Stein, is sounding an alarm. I, of course, take a different view.

Charter schools in the national’s capital currently teach 46 percent of all public school students, which equates to 43,446 pupils. This proportion should be much higher by now. In addition, although slowly improving, charter school standardized test scores are not where they need to be and the academic achievement gap, now at about 60 points, is holding steady. If having all kids go to a KIPP or Friendship campus is what it is going to take to turn this situation around, then I am perfectly fine with this outcome.

Support for my position comes directly from the leaders of KIPP and Friendship. Susan Schaeffler, the founder and chief executive officer of KIPP DC explained to Ms. Stein, “If something is working, it makes sense to build on it. . . We did not do this overnight.” Ms. Patricia Brantly, the Friendship CEO, put it much more simply on Facebook. “Go big or go home,” she wrote.

Between KIPP and Friendship there are currently 16 Tier 1 schools, with other campuses at Tier 2 or untiered. If you had a child in the District would you patiently wait while other schools catch up? Not a chance. You would enroll your son or daughter as quickly as you could in one of these fine institutions.

In State of the Union speech, President calls for expansion of private school vouchers

Here are the remarks of President Trump last evening on the subject of school choice:

“The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Yet, for too long, countless American children have been trapped in failing government schools. To rescue these students, 18 States have created school choice in the form of Opportunity Scholarships. The programs are so popular, that tens of thousands of students remain on waiting lists. One of those students is Janiyah Davis, a fourth grader from Philadelphia. Janiyah’s mom Stephanie is a single parent. She would do anything to give her daughter a better future. But last year, that future was put further out of reach when Pennsylvania’s Governor vetoed legislation to expand school choice for 50,000 children.

Janiyah and Stephanie are in the gallery this evening. But there is more to their story. Janiyah, I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over. I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice!

Now, I call on the Congress to give 1 million American children the same opportunity Janiyah has just received. Pass the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act — because no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.”

In the nation’s capital, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked expansion of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that denies our city an additional $15 million a year for the education of our children and denies making this program permanent.

In 2020, no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school. This should be a fundamental civil right.

One day after call for increased funding for D.C. public schools, Mayor agrees to 4% jump

Yesterday, I wrote about a column in the Washington Post by Anthony Williams calling for a four percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. The same day, Twitter ignited with the news that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had agreed to include the additional spending in her fiscal 2021 budget. If approved by the Council, this will be a tremendous help for schools desperate to stay competitive with teacher salaries.

Mr. Williams in his piece talked about the revenue available to the District for such an investment. He wrote;

“The Office of the Chief Financial Officer recently announced the collection of $280 million in unanticipated revenue in fiscal 2019 and is projecting nearly $518 million in additional revenue over the next four years.”

In an article by the Post’s Perry Stein about the new incremental school spending she adds,

“Bowser’s announcement comes just days after her administration announced the city has a $1.43 billion rainy day fund.”

The reporter also included some interesting statistics about public school spending in the District of Columbia:

“In all, the mayor plans to spend about $989 million in city money on the District’s traditional public school system. The total spending figure represents an average increase of 8 percent for each campus in the traditional school system, with some of that boost reflecting expected growth in enrollment.”

More money for our students is big news, however, a couple of paragraphs in Ms. Stein’s story really caught my attention:

“But many schools — especially in Wards 7 and 8, the swaths of the city with the highest concentrations of poverty — have struggled with enrollment in recent years. Teachers have said they feel hamstrung, with declining enrollment leaving them with less funding and inadequate resources to serve their students and attract new ones.

Smaller schools are more expensive to operate and, with the opening of new campuses in the traditional public and charter sectors, the city has an increasing number of campuses with many vacant seats. A total of 38 high schools educate nearly 20,000 students in the traditional and charter sectors.”

The reality of underutilized traditional school school buildings, while nothing new, should at this point in our city’s efforts at public school reform drive a complete rethinking of the actual number of DCPS schools that are truly needed, how consolidation could lead to improved academic achievement for students, and which buildings could be turned over to the charter sector that desperately needs them.

Spending more money is easy. Realigning resources to match student needs is much more challenging. We have heard time and time again that parents do not care if a school is a regular one or a charter. They just want a quality education for their children. We have also listened as people across this town have called for coordination of resources between DCPS and charters.

Now is the time for real leadership.

Finally, a creative solution for D.C.'s charter school facility crises

Former D.C. Mayor and chief executive officer of the Federal City Council Anthony Williams had an editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post calling for several “investments” on our public schools. The column is timed to influence current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s upcoming proposed 2021 fiscal year budget. Mr. Williams argues for stabilization of the 2.2 percent increase in the charter school facility allotment that was provided to schools last year, an at-risk student admission preference, an increase in the at-risk weighting in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, and a four percent across the board increase in the UPSFF.

The suggestions contained in the piece mirror those included in an “Open Letter to Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council on 2020 Education Priorities” dated January 28, 2020 that is signed by 38 charter and public school advocacy group leaders, although these individuals state that they are writing on behalf of themselves and not their organizations. The letter supplements the recommendations of Mr. Williams, stating that the UPSFF at-risk student weighting should go up to 0.37 and remarks that the at-risk admission preference by schools be voluntary.

Both Mr. Williams and the Open Letter contain a intriguing incentive to increase charter school co-locations with traditional schools. As stated in the Post piece:

“We should also encourage more efficient use of existing public school buildings, including incentivizing co-locations of DCPS and public charter schools. One way to do that is by dedicating a portion of rent paid by a public charter school to the school-level budget of the “host” DCPS school. Doing so would provide resources for these schools schools without increasing the District’s overall budget while providing high-quality learning environments to more public school students. That is a true win-win.”

There you have it. The most promising positive suggestion regarding the stifling charter school facility shortage that I have seen in my 20 years of involvement in this movement. This concept desperately needs to be included in Ms. Bowser’s upcoming budget. In addition, she, together with the Deputy Mayor for Education, need to make co-location of charters with DCPS a priority of their school building utilization efforts going forward.

Now that we have a first step toward breaking the deadlock for charter classroom space what else can be done? Can the city provide developers a financial incentive to include schools in their projects? Can charters get first crack at properties that are condemned?

Here is one thing that should happen starting today. The Bowser Administration must follow the law and turn over vacant surplus DCPS building to them for their immediate use.

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi and D.C. Delegate Norton shortchange District children by $15 million a year

In about a month, on February 24, 2020, we will celebrate the birthday of Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Had he not passed away at the end of 2011 from brain cancer, Mr. Robert would be 68 years old. When he was alive he was a ferocious supporter of D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides to children living in poverty free tuition to private elementary and secondary schools. For years Mr. Robert’s organization, the Washington Scholarship Fund, was the administrator of this federal initiative.

Beginning in 2020 the OSP was up for renewal. Supporters, such as Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, sought to make these scholarships available in perpetuity and increase funding to $75 million annually. In the legislation’s early days, Mr. Robert drove bipartisan support for the scholarships by promoting the three-sector approach that gives equal dollars to DCPS, charters, and the voucher plan. Under the most recent proposal, $25 million would have gone to the three groups. Mayor Muriel Bowser, to her tremendous credit, was a strong supporter of the measure.

Now some background. Since 2004, the three-sector initiative has resulted in more than $787 million for Kindergarten to twelfth grade education in Washington, D.C.

Despite the additional funding that this legislation would have brought our city, and ignoring local wishes, U.S. House of Representative Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Representative for the District of Columbia Eleanor Holmes Norton blocked the recent bill. Lost to charters, traditional schools, and the OSP is an additional $15 million each and every year, money that could have gone to support teachers. The most that they would agree to was a four-year extension.

After 20 years of public education reform in the nation’s capital, the achievement gap is holding stubbornly steady at about 60 points. Thousands of kids sit on charter school wait lists. Many traditional schools register English and math proficiency rates in the teens. Despite heroic efforts my many these issues are not going away any time soon.  At this point, it makes perfect sense that we should do whatever we can to extend to families all possible options to obtain a quality education for their children.  This includes providing private school vouchers to low income students.

I just don’t understand what is going on here. We are talking about our neighbors, with some of the most at-risk kids living in eyesight of the Washington Monument. Where is the sense of justice, equity, and decency that we seek for our society?

Why, in this one simple case, can’t adults just do the right thing?

KIPP DC PCS plans to create a $90 million educational complex in Ward 8

Monday came the exciting news that KIPP DC PCS was awarded the former Ferebee-Hope Elementary School so that it can create its second high school. The transfer of the closed DCPS facility represents the first traditional school building turned over to a charter by Mayor Muriel Bowser in her five years in office. In this area Ms. Bowser has been a tremendous disappointment.

The request for proposal for Ferebee was highly unusual in that it included a requirement that the winner renovate a community center on the property that includes a swimming pool. Cost is most likely the major factor that contributed to only KIPP bidding on the project. However, I do believe there is a reason for everything, and a note from Allison Fansler, the KIPP DC president, only reinforced my belief. She wrote:

“Along with the high school facility, KIPP DC will build a brand new recreation center to replace the existing one located at Ferebee-Hope. This facility will be operated by the Department of Parks & Recreation and include an indoor pool, boxing gym, and more. Also on the site, KIPP DC will construct a community center for partner organizations to provide various community benefits. We were excited to submit a proposal to the city along with Washington Nationals Youth Baseball AcademyTraining Grounds adult education program, and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry who will provide mental-health services for neighborhood residents and KIPP DC families. Partnership was at the core of our proposal for the site and we are excited to work together with these exceptional organizations. . . We listened to the needs and dreams of the community, our families, and students throughout this process and I’m so proud of the proposal we put forward with them at the heart of the plan to redevelop Ferebee-Hope.”

The school will open at the start of the 2021-to-2022 school year, becoming the permanent home to Somerset College Preparatory PCS that KIPP took over last fall. The announcement stated that KIPP will enter into a $40 million capital campaign using private funds to support the development.

There always has to be a naysayer out there and in this case it is the Washington Post’s Perry Stein. In her piece covering the rejuvenation of Ferebee she felt the need to point out:

“The city’s decision to lease the vacant Ferebee-Hope Elementary School building in Southeast Washington means citywide enrollment on KIPP campuses could grow to more than 7,600 students in coming years — representing about 15 percent of the city’s charter sector and 7 percent of all public school students. . .

The opening of a KIPP DC high school in Southeast Washington could pose competitive troubles for the three high schools in the traditional public school system east of the Anacostia River, which are struggling with low enrollment. If the KIPP school reaches the projected maximum enrollment of 800, it would exceed current enrollment at each of the three neighborhood high schools.”

As a steadfast proponent of regular schools, Ms. Stein should have more confidence in the product that they are offering instead of assuming parents would move their kids to KIPP. But in reality this is exactly what will happen.

In order to focus on the positive let’s conclude with the final sentence from Ms. Fansler’s message:

“The strength of our vision for Ferebee-Hope came about through true partnership and I am excited to continue this as we bring this vision to fruition for the students of KIPP DC and broader community.”

This is an exceptionally exciting opportunity for the future of our children.