Washington Latin PCS approved to replicate, but only after D.C. charter board pulls another LEARN DC

Last Monday evening, the D.C. Public Charter School Board gave the green light to Washington Latin PCS opening a new campus next term. There had been rumors that the vote was going to go the other way, and two directors, Steve Bumbaugh and Naomi Shelton, the Title 1 contingent of the PCSB, cast ballots against the expansion in a five-to-two ballot. However, the rest of the group was swayed by staff conditions placed on the replication that make a mockery of the term autonomy. See for yourself:

1) The school will actively consider admitting students in grades 10, 11, and 12, engaging its faculty, board, parents, and students in the decision. The school will report the results of this decision to DC PCSB by March 1, 2020.

2) The school will not permit its sibling preference to be used across its two campuses. This change will be memorialized in the school’s charter agreement as follows: If the school chooses to adopt a sibling preference, such preference shall not apply to siblings attending different campuses of the school.

3) The school will update its student discipline policy, reserving out-of-school suspensions for only the most serious situations. An updated draft of the policy, which will include these modifications, will be voted on by the school’s board at its August 2019 meeting to go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

4) The school will ensure that each faculty member whose job responsibilities include interfacing with students at least 25% of the time will participate in comprehensive training in trauma-informed practices during the 2019-20 school year.

5) The school will add stops or provide separate vans/buses for students living in Wards 5 and 7 whose families request such service, provided there are a minimum of five such students. No fee will be charged to families whose children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

6) The school will implement the plans outlined in its letter to DC PCSB from June 7, 2019, found at Attachment C, including: a. Targeted recruitment of lower-income students, b. Redesign and test at-risk support strategies, c. Strengthen the RTI (Response to Intervention) Model, d. Hire an At-Risk program manager, and e. Expand the reach of restorative discipline and trauma-informed initiatives.

7) The school will be eligible for charter renewal in school year 2020-21. If the school’s charter is renewed, it will need to negotiate a new charter agreement with DC PCSB. Provided the charter is renewed, should the DC PCSB Board determine, at the time of the renewal decision, that the school has failed to make satisfactory progress in addressing disproportionality in the use of exclusionary discipline, the number of at-risk students served, and/or the performance of historically underperforming subgroups, the new charter agreement shall contain a mission-specific goal or goals to hold the school accountable in the remaining areas of concern.

This is what you do to a open-enrollment public charter school that has been ranked at Tier 1 on the Performance Management Framework for almost its entirety and that serves one of the most, if not the most, diverse student bodies in the city? Absolutely amazing. It is extremely similar to the chains placed around LEARN DC PCS so that it could win the privilege to open in our city.

Now let’s turn to other matters covered the other evening that were far more interesting. First, the session started with an announcement by Chair Rick Cruz that a new board member had been sworn in earlier that day to the PCSB. His name is James Sandman and he has some incredibly impressive credentials. Since 2011, Mr. Sandman has been the president of the Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit providing legal assistance across the country to low-income individuals. But there is much more to this man. According to the organization’s website:

“He practiced law with Arnold & Porter LLP for 30 years and served as the firm’s managing partner for a decade. He is a past president of the 100,000-member District of Columbia Bar and a former general counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Sandman is chairman of the boards of the Meyer Foundation and the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. He is a member of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Committee, the American Law Institute, the Advisory Council of the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation, and the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee. He is a member of the boards of Washington Performing Arts, the College of Saint Rose, Albany Law School, Tahirih Justice Center, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Center on the Future of the Profession.”

This is only a small portion of Mr. Sandman’s biography.

At the start of the gathering Don Soifer and Naomi Rubin DeVeaux received Distinguished Service Awards. It was pointed out that Mr. Soifer held various positions on the charter board for 11 years and in that time never missed a meeting. Ms. DeVeaux was recognized for her work to completely overhaul the manner in which charters are evaluated. Although many accolades were sprinkled on both of these fine individuals by those on the dias, I think they missed the essence of their contributions.

Mr. Soifer demonstrated throughout his tenure how to perfectly play the role of a board member. His fair and detailed questions led schools to reach their own conclusions as to the proper path that they should take for future success. Ms. DeVeaux is about as authentic as it comes. Her comments and response to inquiries were honest, direct, and heartfelt toward the children we are serving.

A highlight for me was hearing public testimony from Alexandra Pardo from TenSquare Consulting. Anytime Ms. Pardo speaks it is a moment to stop what you are doing and pay attention and this occasion was no exception. She addressed the at-risk student bias of the PMF, a subject that has been raised with increasing frequency to the PCSB. Here are her remarks:

“First, I want to recognize PCSBs staff and leadership ongoing willingness to revise the PMF focused on high standards for student outcomes. In recent years, PCSB has analyzed and recognized the increasingly problematic relationship between student at-risk status and school score on the PMF. Over ten years ago, when the PMF was first developed the sector was grossly different. The correlation between economically disadvantaged students and the PMF score was .13 – negligible. To best illustrate the shift in economic concentration of students, I direct you to page 1 – here you can see moving across the horizontal axis the number of schools above the 50th percentile based on economic indicators measured at these times – in 2010 there were only 6 schools serving fewer than 50% economically disadvantaged students. Today there are 35 schools serving at-risk populations at the 50th percentile or below. As you see on page 2 – the correlation between economics and the PMF has risen from 2011 to 2018 from .13 to .42, a three-fold increase. To demonstrate the impact of the at-risk bias, we re-ran the middle school PMF scores for only at risk students in middle schools. In other words, what could PMF scores be for schools with low or high at- risk populations if only those students were factored? What you will see on page 3 is stark – some high performing schools have low at-risk populations. Schools with PMF scores in the 60s and 70s drop by 20 to 30 PMF points if only considering the outcomes of at-risk students. We can only suspect where PMF sores would be if schools at the top of this list served at-risk population more aligned with sector or state averages. While this is not a perfect exercise, it demonstrates how sub-groups performances of students can be overlooked. While the proposals to the PMF are a step towards reducing this bias, and I support these shifts, this is not a solution. Members of the task force have suggested alternatives over the past two years – most recently an equity provision. Economics impacts student outcomes has been rooted in research and most recently adopted by even the College Board in the new SAT hardship metric. I urge the Board to be bold like the College Board. Recognize that the changes before you – while a start – are not a solution and are simply a marginal reduction to the growing bias. I ask that the Board to commit to mechanisms that reduce this bias to below .20, a statistically weak relationship and develop a PMF 2.0 by spring of 2020. Without action, we will find ourselves here again next year moving decimals without resolving for the underlying bias.”

A chart included with her observations show, for example, that Basis Middle PCS in 2018 had an at-risk student population of nine percent and a PMF score of 70.8 percent. However, if only at-risk students were included in the measurement its PMF score would drop to 31.8 percent.

Then something magical happened. The PCSB, in a move that I have been arguing for years, is actually proposing, as part of its revision to its 2019-to-2020 PMF Policy Technical Guide, an incentive for schools that take over failing charters or accept a large population of students from a school that has been closed. The board writes:

“DC PCSB staff is proposing these changes to minimize the impact of school closures on the reliability of the PMF. If a school either takes over operation of a closing school through an asset acquisition or offers a majority of its seats to students coming from closed schools, the school will still receive a PMF scorecard displaying the academic outcomes of its students, but would not earn an overall score or tier for the relevant year.”

It is a miracle.

The tragically sad politicization of charter schools

As I searched the internet for news stories about charter schools, I came upon an editorial written by the New York Post heavily criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s characterization of these institutions last Friday before a National Education Association presidential forum. Mr. de Blasio, as reported by the PBS News Hour, exclaimed:

“’Too many Democrats have been cozy with the charter schools,’ offering the argument that they siphon money away from traditional public education. ‘I hate the privatizers and I want to stop them,’ he said.”

The Democratic candidates have formed a tightly unified firing squad against these alternative school in a slimy effort to solidify union support. Charter schools, of course, as a rule do not have employees who work under a collective bargaining agreement.

It is an extremely depressing situation that brings me back to a much better time when I first became aware of this movement in the year 1999. I was attending a luncheon at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy. I’m not sure if I had yet been invited to join the board of directors but I am confident I was already tutoring a delightful eleventh grader one evening each week.

I had been drawn to charters due to my libertarian political philosophy, and therefore, my ardent support of school choice. So I sat at a gathering where across the room I saw prominent individuals such as Alice Rivlin and Adam Myerson, and I talked about the power of a marketplace in public education. I was stunned by the response I received from those sitting at my table. They actually were opposed to economist Milton Friedman’s theory of school vouchers. They belittled the suggestion that traditional schools were inferior to this new model. In other words, they did not think like me.

Yet, due to the passion and vision of Irasema Salcido, the Chavez founder and school principal, they were instantly drawn to these classrooms that would develop the next generation of leaders of the District of Columbia.

I was a wholly enthusiastic partner in their mission. There was no covert plot to shutter what already existed. We were gathered as part of an intense inspirational drive to fix the problems that had plagued the regular schools for innumerable generations. We would literally do anything we could to help. We were there for the students that others could not, or would not, teach.

So many of us that are involved with our local charters started our involvement exactly the same way. My story is far from unique. We have continued working day and night because of the clear stubborn vision that we can help the children of our community and make the world a better place.

This is exactly what we have done. Kids that would have ended up on the street, in jail, or dead are now graduating from some of the finest colleges in this country. Every year at this time, hundreds of pure miracles cross the stage to proudly receive their high school diplomas.

What is taking place right now regarding the politics around these schools is simply, well, disgusting.

D.C. school year ends and so too does charter advocacy

The 2018 to 2019 school year has concluded, and for charter schools in the nation’s capital it is one to forget. These innovative laboratories of public education have been under attack like in the early days of the movement, and the support mechanisms have all but disappeared.

We used to have Jennie Niles as the Deputy Mayor for Education. She naturally favored charters as the founder and former executive director of E.L. Haynes PCS. Now we have Mr. Paul Kihn, who came in with such high expectations but has proved in eight months to be a charter detractor. First, he tried to put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board to cap the number of schools. Next, he turned his back on AppleTree PCS, one of the country’s preeminent practitioners of early childhood pedagogy, in allowing one of its campuses serving at-risk students to close for a year rather than delay a DCPS modernization project for a few months so that the charter would have a place to operate.

Simultaneously, a teachers’ union associated with the AFT has gained a foothold at Munde Verde PCS, after being defeated at Paul PCS and Cesar Chavez PCS. By reading the printed playbook, unions are on the search for other sites where they can slowly and deceivingly destroy these schools from within.

While all of this is going on, last Friday Friends of Choice in Urban Schools lost two key individuals. Its executive director Irene Holtzman and senior director of government relations Michael Musante have vacated the organization. This, while a FOCUS coordinated charter funding inequity lawsuit is winding its way through the courts and the City Council is considering mandating that charters adhere to open meeting and freedom of information requirements.

I feel like we are witnessing the opening of the film The Exorcist. Everything on the surface appears to going well on a cool autumn day but the winds are blowing cold and there is terror on the horizon.

Meanwhile, as we struggle through year five of the Bowser Administration, not one vacant traditional school building has been offered to a charter school as is required by statute.

The characters in the movie never give up in the face of evil. Are we ready for this challenge? Perhaps a more appropriate question is who is up for the fight? Was the collaboration and the dedication of resources that we just witnessed around the saving of Monument Academy PCS a unique effort inherently related to the school’s unique mission? Or is this something that can be sustained to charge through the seemingly impenetrable barriers that have been erected to block our path forward?

I feel like the years, months, days, hours, and minutes have not been spent in vain. I still believe that those among us who were born less fortunate than ourselves deserve our help. I contend that when society looks retrospectively on this period in history it should not have the option of contending that we closed our eyes and walked away.

It is summer and we all deserve a break. But instead of bringing a beach book to peruse as you sit in front of the waves, I recommend turning to the reading list of Washington Latin PCS and picking up The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After reaching its final pages you will then be ready for the fall.

D.C.’s Monument Academy Public Charter School lives on

The most dramatic part of last Monday’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board came before the session even started. The board of Monument Academy PCS, that on June 8th had voted to close the school at the end of this academic year, has now agreed to continue its operation under a partnership with the Friendship Educational Foundation. One of the most interesting aspects of this arrangement to me is that Monument is not being added to the portfolio of Friendship PCS. Rather, the support of Monument comes through the consulting arm of Friendship that will allow the boarding school to have its own board of directors and operate as a separate Local Education Agency. Patricia Brantley, Friendship PCS’s chief executive officer, will become the school’s new interim board chair as part of a group that includes Brian Jones, the former chair of the DC PCSB and president of Stayer University; Shawn Harnett, the founder and executive director of Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS; and Tameria Lewis, deputy director of Kingsman Academy PCS, among others. Emily Bloomfield, the founder and CEO of Monument Academy PCS, becomes an ex-officio member of the board. Representatives of the school expressed that this board composition may be revised going forward.

The head of school will be Dr. Jeffrey Grant, an individual with 27 years of experience in public education, including being principal of Friendship’s Blow-Pierce Academy when it became a Performance Management Framework Tier 1 facility. He provided an extremely engaging, energetic, and confident presentation to the PCSB. Dr. Grant has made a three year commitment to the school.

I had asked others to come to the aid of Monument when I first learned it was in trouble. As a community, that is exactly what happened. Besides the Friendship Foundation answering the call, the Monument Academy turnaround plan states that a dozen foundations, including Bainum Family, CityBridge Education, Flamboyan, and Cafritz responded to the tune $1.7 million in financial support. This brings tears to my eyes.

The relationship Monument Academy has forged with the Friendship Foundation does not require approve of the charter board.

In other news from Monday night, Digital Pioneers Academy PCS is seeking to move into the Capitol Hill location that Cesar Chavez PCS is vacating. Statesman Academy PCS plans to locate in the same Ward 8 multipurpose building that houses Ingenuity Prep PCS and the shuttering National Collegiate Prep PCS.

Mr. Pearson observed that in the case of Digital Pioneers and Statesman we have two schools that were situated in Ward 7 that wanted to stay in this part of the District where their students could walk to their classrooms. He went on to point out that both organizations had identified vacant DCPS facilities in Ward 7 that are available for use and continue to be empty. He called the situation a failure of our city to support our public schools.

A final interesting development from the evening is that the charter amendment that was to be voted on allowing Washington Latin PCS to replicate was pulled from the agenda with no date offered for re-consideration. Board chair Rick Cruz, in announcing the modification to the agenda, provided no explanation for the move. But a hint of a problem with the desire of Latin to grow came from trustee Steve Bumbaugh, who criticized the school for enrolling the second lowest level of at-risk children among charters at 6.8 percent while suspending these students at four times the rate of the overall population. I am sure there will be much more to come on this issue.

Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, D.C. charter board deputy director, is leaving her position

Momentous news came yesterday from Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board.  He announced that the group’s deputy director, Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, has resigned her position effective July 19, 2019 and will become a senior leader at the National Charter School Institute

Ms. DeVeaux came to the PCSB in 2012 in her current role after serving as the deputy director and director of school quality for six years at Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.  Prior to working under Robert Cane at FOCUS, she was chair of the English Department at SEED PCS.  Here is how Mr. Pearson characterized Ms. DeVeaux’s impact at the charter board:

“Naomi has been my partner for the past seven years.  I have relied on her judgment, her relationships, her creativity, and her thoughtfulness in every major decision we have faced.  In her time here she has enhanced every aspect of our oversight, making our processes more consistent and fair, focusing on quality and equity, and finding smart ways to do our work while respecting school autonomies.  I have never met anyone more committed to this work – to our schools, to the ideals of the charter school movement, and to the students we serve. Her passion is matched by her extraordinary work ethic. I cannot imagine achieving what we have without her and I will miss her very much.”

I have to agree with Mr. Pearson.  To grasp Ms. DeVeaux’s vital role at the PCSB all you have to do is watch one of her presentations during those extremely difficult situations in which a charter is facing revocation.  It is something truly amazing to observe.  She would lay out the information in a calm logical manner like an extremely nuanced legal prosecutor demonstrating clearly how one fact leads to the other until she makes you believe that based upon the evidence there is no other conclusion that can possibly be reached.

I do not think the board ever dared to refute one of her arguments. 

My interactions with Ms. DeVeaux throughout her time at the charter board were uniformity positive. She answered all of my questions with patience and dignity, even if they came, as they often did, right in the middle of the monthly meetings.  I interviewed Ms. DeVeaux back in 2015.  I am not happy about this change.

The National Charter School Institute describes itself this way:

“We have a long history with the charter schools movement. Founded in 1995 as the Michigan Resource Center for Charter Schools, our original mission was to support and guide the implementation of Michigan’s newly adopted charter schools law. Based on our impact and the rapid growth of chartering, the United States Congress provided $1 million in 2001 for the Resource Center to transition into the Institute and expand our services nationally.

Today, we provide a range of training and support for people and organizations in the charter community—from policymakers to authorizers to school operators—who are serious about helping students. Epicenter, our digital compliance and performance management platform, is working in 27 states and the District of Columbia, helping streamline the oversight and reporting process for over 1,500 schools, thereby allowing them to focus more time and energy impacting the lives of more than 500,000 of our nation’s kids. Our coaching and consulting work, along with our speaking engagements, places us on the front line supporting the thinkers and doers who are giving their all to advance excellence for our kids and our country.”

Although the organization is based in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Ms. DeVeaux indicated that she will remain here and work remotely. Here is something positive in that she can continue to play a part in our local charter school movement.

Mr. Pearson informs us that Ms. Rashida Young, the PCSB’s current director of equity and fidelity, will takeover much of Ms. DeVeaux’s responsibilities as the new chief school performance officer.

Bowser Administration defines limit of D.C. cross sector collaboration

Recently, the editors of the Washington Post described the highly depressing situation regarding the Southwest campus of AppleTree Early Learning PCS. For the past five years the school has been located in trailers owned by AppleTree on the site of DCPS’s Jefferson Middle School. Jefferson is in the process of undergoing modernization so AppleTree has been informed that it must vacate the property this coming July. The charter, after undergoing a typically frustrating facility hunt, has secured a permanent home but it will not be ready until the following school year. The Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn has refused to delay the construction project and has been unable to identify another temporary site for AppleTree, while actually referring to the leadership of AppleTree, my hero Jack McCarthy, as “irresponsible” regarding this matter. Here’s the Post’s view:

“Perhaps AppleTree could have done more, but that raises the question of why the city doesn’t feel more of a sense of responsibility for preserving what it agrees is a top-flight program. AppleTree provides not simply day care but data-driven instruction designed to help disadvantaged students, for whom a good start in school makes a critical difference. If these were traditional public school students, there would be no question of finding them space.”

We have really never known D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s feelings toward charter schools because, as far as I know, she has never publicly provided her opinion. But we can now get a clear picture of her view through her actions. In the face of the Public Charter School Board considering the applications of 11 new schools, her Deputy Mayor for Education (notice that the job title states that this position is FOR education) stated that there was already excess capacity even though tens of thousands of students lack access to a quality seat. Recently, Ms. Bowser released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School for re-purposing, but blatantly failed to follow the law in placing it out for bid to charters. Now we have the case of AppleTree, in which the response to a crisis for 100 three and four year old children from low-income households who attend a Tier 1 charter is to throw them out on the street.

For the past two years, Ms. Bowser has increased the per pupil charter school facility fund by 2.2 percent. This is appreciated but does little good in a city that now has no places in which charter schools can apply this revenue. Unfortunately, more money will not make this problem go away. Unless the city turns over its million square feet of vacant or under-utilized DCPS buildings over to charters, our children will suffer.

D.C. charter school heroes come through in effort to save Monument Academy PCS

In a move that literally brought tears to my eyes and a shiver down my spine, Friendship PCS is making a gallant effort to takeover Monument Academy PCS. I had urged in a couple of recent articles for another charter to come to the rescue to allow this facility that serves some of the most at-risk students in our community to continue. Monument’s mission “is to provide students, particularly those who have had or might have contact with the foster care system, with the requisite academic, social, emotional, and life skills to be successful in college, career, and community, and to create an outstanding school that attracts, supports, and retains exceptional and caring people.”  Now it appears that my desperate hope may indeed become a reality.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss revealed last night that Friendship PCS is working to bring Monument Academy under the Friendship Education Foundation, the organization that runs its schools outside of Washington, D.C. including two in Baltimore and one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But Friendship is not making this effort on its own. It is getting exceptionally strong financial assistance from some of this area’s most prominent school choice advocacy groups. As the Post reports:

“The proposal states that education organizations have committed $700,000 to ensure the budget for the 2019-2020 academic year can support the school. Prominent education groups, including the Bainum, CityBridge and Flamboyan foundations, have committed to helping Monument, according to the proposal.”

Thank you Katherine Bradley.

This has been a particularly busy and prosperous year for Friendship under the exceptional leadership of chief executive officer Patricia Brantley. Already the charter has agreed to assume control of two failed schools, IDEAL Academy PCS and City Arts and Prep PCS, although with City Arts it is more of a situation of bringing parts of this school’s curriculum into its existing network. It has also expanded its on-line institute to high school grades.

Now, the biggest question for me is how Friendship is going to be treated by the DC Public Charter School Board once all these changes are approved. Does the CMO simply get one year of no grading on the Performance Management Framework for each of its new campuses? For all that it is doing to help the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital, doesn’t it deserve more of a break? Shouldn’t it take steps to encourage other charters to take on the challenges and risks that Friendship is undertaking?

D.C. charter school movement awash in change

During the period that my wife and I were studying charter schools on Cape Cod, change after change was taking place at a breathtaking rate at home regarding our own charter network. As I re-enter my life here in the nation’s capital, please allow me to update you on many of the developments.

First, Ingenuity Prep PCS board chair Peter Winik announced in early June that Will Stoetzer has been named the school’s chief executive officer. Mr. Stoetzer, a co-founder of Ingenuity Prep along with Aaron Cuny, has been in the interim CEO role since December of last year when Mr. Cuny transitioned to the position of senior adviser. I interviewed Mr. Cuny last October. Mr. Winik wrote of the decision:

“The Board’s selection is the result of an inclusive interview process that evaluated Will against a set of qualities co-created by the Ingenuity Prep staff, families, and Board. Will participated in four separate interview panels of key stakeholders–school staff, leadership, families and Board members. The Board then reviewed the feedback from each panel to inform its decision. The Board is incredibly grateful to all panelists–their input was invaluable in the selection process.”

The Ward 8 charter has been anxious to offer its program to more students but has been unable to replicate because it is classified as a Tier 2 institution on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework tool. The last result in 2018 demonstrated that the school slipped in its quantitative score.

Next, the local charter world erupted in excitement because the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Mayor Bowser has released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast for other uses. The facility was shuttered in 2013 due to low student enrollment. Ms. Stein indicated that perhaps the structure will be turned over to a charter which would be the first empty DCPS classroom space that this Mayor has relinquished to the sector. I’m not so sure. Consider the language that the Post reporter in her article captures D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Ms. Bowser using to describe the change:

“’Because D.C. Public Schools has determined that it does not need the school as a current or future school building, we are opening it up to see how we can make it something really special for the community in that location,’ Kihn said.”

“’We’ve heard it loud and clear from the community — it’s time to reactivate and develop the Ferebee-Hope site to breathe life back into this space and bring new opportunities to the neighborhood,’ Bowser said in a news release. ‘I’m committed to working hand-in-hand with residents on what they want to see at the site.’”

This is about as far as we can get from a strong blanket commitment from our city’s top education leaders to support the public schools that now educate 47 percent of all students in our city. The Mayor’s failure to immediately turn this school over to charters is against the law.

Here’s a warning: You may not want to continue reading. The news is about to get worse.

In May I detailed the trouble the Monument Academy PCS found itself in at the PCSB’s monthly meeting. A piece by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss captured the issues:

“Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported. And the charter school board said that on 17 occasions, students have been found to possess a weapon, which ranges from using a stapler in a dangerous manner to a knife.

Half of the school’s roughly 100 students have been suspended this academic year, according to the charter board.”

On June 5th, the Monument Academy board of directors voted to close the school at the end of this academic year. Charles Moore, the charter’s board chair, explained the reasons behind the move in a letter to the school’s community:

“First, we believe the likelihood of the Public Charter School Board renewing the charter in the upcoming review cycle was low, based on what we heard when board members met with PCSB staff and trustees on April 26. The core message was that when schools have not met their accountability goals, the only path to charter renewal would be having a clear, positive trajectory in student outcomes. Our own analysis of the performance showed that while there were pockets of success with student progress—in fact, many students saw tremendous gains—the aggregate results showed uneven gains and an unclear path to create faster growth in a short time frame. Second, despite the valiant work of our family engagement team, the board believed that our student recruitment numbers were behind the pace needed (based on the historical record) to reach our enrollment target of 120 students by the start of the school year.”

I am sure that the charter’s CEO and co-founder Emily Bloomfield is personally crushed regarding the situation, as she put all of her heart and soul into Monument Academy. In fact, I have never seen a more rapid denouement of a charter school. Just last year at a CityBridge Education forum, the staff of this school received accolades for the methods it has implemented for caring for children who have suffered Adverse Childhood Events.

In his letter, Mr. Moore explains that other charter operators have reached with offers of help. Let’s sincerely hope that one takes over this school of 100 disadvantaged students so that they can be offered the possibility of a bright future.

I was also notified by Golnar Abedin, the executive director and founder of Creative Minds PCS, that after eight years she is stepping down from her position. Here’s a portion of her note to her constituents:

“As a parent and an education professional, I founded Creative Minds International eight years ago with guidance and support from a small and passionate group of parents and co-founders, after discovering that DC public school lacked a meaningful arts-based, international curriculum that welcomed children of varying abilities and backgrounds. We presented a plan to the DC Public Charter School Board for a unique school that would be inclusive of all learners. We opened our doors in the fall of 2012 to 100 preschool to 2nd-grade students, in a small building on 16th Street. Today we welcome nearly 500 students, in prekindergarten through 8th grade, at our beautiful campus at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

I could not be more proud of what we have built and accomplished together, with support from colleagues and our community. We became the first public charter school to achieve International Primary Curriculum accreditation, the first to secure a long-term lease in a beautiful, historic federal government building, and the first to succeed in providing high-quality opportunities in an international and arts-based program that is truly inclusive of all learners.”

I interviewed Dr. Abedin in 2018 and I was so impressed that it is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I will not give away her story here. You will have to read the discussion. Let me just say that there is definitely a reason that the school has a 2,000 student wait list to gain admission.

Finally, at a period when charters are facing their greatest political struggles in their relatively short quarter of a century history, it appears that the support organization Friends of Choice in Urban Schools is undergoing a leadership change. I received a message from Irene Holtzman, its executive director for the last four years, that she is stepping down at the end of this month. No word yet on a successor. Apparently, Michael Musante, the group’s long-term government relations director, is also departing at the conclusion of June. I always thoroughly Ms. Holtzman’s highly energetic enthusiasm when I heard her speak at meetings.

Next time, I think I will simply stay in town.

For D.C. charter schools the war is on; but there is no war

Over the weekend the Washington Post printed an opinion piece by Jack Schneider entitled “School’s Out: Charters were supposed to save public education. Why are Americans turning against them?” The article offers a highly slanted negative view of the charter school movement that contains inaccuracies that have been easily negated by my public policy friends. Mr. Schneider wrote:

“The charter school movement is in trouble. In late December, the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times observed that the charter movement in the Windy City was ‘in hot water and likely to get hotter.’ Among more than a dozen aspirants for mayor, ‘only a handful’ expressed any support for charter schools, and the last two standing for the April 2 runoff election both said they wanted to halt charter school expansion. In February, New York City’s elected parent representatives — the Community and Citywide Education Councils — issued a unanimous statement in which they criticized charters for operating ‘free from public oversight’ and for draining ‘substantial’ resources from district schools. A month later, Mayor Bill de Blasio told a parent forum that in the ‘not-too-distant future’ his administration would seek to curtail the marketing efforts of the city’s charters, which currently rely on New York City Department of Education mailing lists.”

It is all par for the course.

To understand the current environment around charter schools here locally you have to be aware of the obstacles that have been established in an effort to ensure that parents have a limited option as to where to send their kids to receive a premier educational experience.

First, there are no buildings available for charter growth and expansion. Although these are public schools the city is under no obligation to provide them with space as it does when DCPS creates new facilities. I believe it has come to the point in which charter enrollment will freeze because there is nothing whatsoever in the market to lease or purchase. This despite the fact that there is currently 1.3 million square feet of vacant or under-utilized real estate that the traditional schools possess but will not turnover to charters in violation of the law.

Then there is the funding inequity issue. Charters receive an estimated $100 million a year less in revenue than the traditional school are provided by the city. Under the School Reform Act charters and DCPS are to be provided with the same dollars through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Yet even in the face of a FOCUS engineered lawsuit on this matter the government will not budge. The Mayor will not even engage with the institutions that educates almost half of all public school students, approximately 44,000 pupils, regarding a discussion on this topic.

We are also facing an attempted labor union infiltration of charter schools. First it was attempted at Paul PCS, then at Cesar Chaves PCS, and now at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS. Please do not be fooled. None of this has to do with transgressions by school administrators or the needs of teachers or parents. The union is trying to obtain a footing in our sector in order to kill it off once and for all.

While all of this is going on charters are educating scholars minute by minute according to the highest standards they can offer. Many of the children housed in their classrooms are the ones regular schools have turned away. They rarely even consider the insurmountable obstacles in their path. The situation is terribly unfair. The message charters are receiving on a daily basis is do your best tirelessly without adequate classroom space, funding, and with the introduction of a third party grossly interfering with the trust that has been established between staff and leadership.

There has got to be a better way.

D.C. charter schools must expand at a much faster rate

Last week WUSA 9 ran an article entitled, “Where are these kids going to go?’ 43 DC charter schools have been closed since 2009. This one is next.” Authors Eric Flack, Jordan Fischer, and Kyley Schultz point out that in the last 10 years the DC Public Charter School Board has shuttered 44 schools for either low academic performance or financial irregularities. In fact, the board lists 65 charters that it has closed since the start of the movement here in the District. The WUSA piece focuses on the charter revocation of National Collegiate Preparatory PCS, and the story is obviously part of the school’s continuing public relations effort to keep the facility going.

At the time the PCSB was considering taking action against this school, I wrote:

“The essence of the proposed solution to what ails this charter, and the arguments that ensued over whether it met its established charter goals, is that it is all too little too late. National Collegiate has been graded six times on the Performance Management Framework during its decade of operation and the results in 2018 were its lowest yet at 26.7 percent. It has been a Tier 3 school for the last three years.”

So there was really no choice but to have this school cease operations at the end of June. But the reporters at WUSA question where its students will now obtain their education, and whether the alternative is worse than the current situation:

“In the case of students at NCP, that option is Ballou High School, which one year ago was embroiled in a graduation scandal for awarding diplomas for chronically truant students. It’s a school whose test scores are four times lower than National Collegiate Prep.”

My hope was that a high-performing charter operator would take over Collegiate Prep. But since this has not occurred, it may be that the children will end up at Ballou, the neighborhood high school characterized by having a poor academic track record. Here is where we as a sector are not doing as well as we could to serve our students.

When a charter school ceases to exist, the fallback for its pupils is often the neighborhood school. In these instances, we are feeding directly into the narrative of charter opponents. They argue that instead of spending millions of dollars on school choice, the community should be strengthening the regular schools with financial resources since when charters eventually close this is where kids end up. The situation has to come to an immediate end. In the face of charter revocation, we have to be able to continue to teach those students in our classrooms.

This would mean creating hundreds more additional seats. In order to get to this point many steps would have to be taken. For example, the securing of charter school facilities is still a major stumbling block whose solution continues to be elusive. Moreover, the charter board needs to immediately look at barriers to entry for the creation of new schools and the growth of existing ones. In addition, the application process for opening a charter has to be simplified. There also must be a relaxing of the criteria under which a school can replicate. Finally, holding charters accountable to the Performance Management Framework has to be adjusted to promote replication.

If we truly care about our kids, when a school is closed having them enroll at a traditional school is not the solution. We need to provide them with admission to one of our proud charters that as a group currently has a wait list of almost 12,000 students.