D.C. charter school student wait list keeps getting worse

The DC Public Charter School Board released data yesterday regarding the student wait lists for the 2019-to-2020 term and you can just hear the frustration being emitted from the mouths of parents. I guess all you really have to read is the first sentence of the announcement to get a complete sense of the problem:

“There are 11,861 individual students on the My School DC lottery waitlists to attend one or more PK-12 public charter schools in SY2019-20, a 4.8% increase over last year’s 11,317 students and a 22.2% increase from the 9,703 students in SY2017-18.”

The board also pointed out that 67 percent of those on wait lists are for Performance Management Framework Tier 1 schools. It adds that 40 percent of open spaces are in Tier 1 schools. There is especially strong demand for Pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten and the sixth grade. Dual-language charters are especially popular.

One student may appear on multiple wait lists.

Some of the schools with the largest wait lists and the number of students include Creative Minds International PCS, 1,030; DC Bilingual PCS, 1,403; District of Columbia International School, 1,565; Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS – Brookland campus, 1,722; Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS, 1,218; Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS, 1,069; Mundo Verde PCS, 1,412; Two Rivers PCS – 4th Street campus, 1,659, Washington Latin PCS – middle school, 1,254, and Washington Yu Ying PCS, 1,168.

The wait list to get into a DCPS school is 9,437.

Even if the charters with significant wait lists wanted to expand or replicate there is absolutely nowhere for them to go. Commercial space, although exorbitantly expensive to rent, is not even available. Many DCPS facilities sit empty and a great number are grossly underutilized. Yet, the people we elect to represent us are doing nothing about this issue. Instead, they spend hours and hours in furious debate over what information a charter school must include on their website.

Good news from D.C.’s charter school movement

Let’s take a short break from talk of school closures, teachers’ unions, and transparency legislation to highlight a couple of good developments in D.C.’s charter landscape. First, last Friday the Washington Post’s Thomas Heath wrote a beautiful profile of Eagle Academy PCS’s Royston Maxwell Lyttle, principal of its Congress Heights campus. Mr. Heath wrote:

“His uniform is pure Wall Street: loafers, dress pants and crisp-collar shirt topped off with his signature bow tie.

‘It’s being there,’ said Lyttle, as he strolled through the school, which is 98 percent African American, on a sunny spring morning. ‘Being visible, knowing their names, learning handshakes, talking about better choices.’

His job is as much visual as it is verbal. ‘I am always in shirt and tie, trying to get them to ‘visualize yourself.’ When you see someone in shirt and bow tie, you see this person in a wonderful job.’

Lyttle takes students to World Wrestling Entertainment matches, makes connections and builds trust, trying to get them to relax and enjoy themselves. He hosts lunches in the cafeteria, a chance to mentor or just listen.

‘Students cannot learn if they are not socially and emotionally there,’ Lyttle said.”

The Post reporter has this to say about the challenges Mr. Lyttle faces at his school:

“Eagle Academy grapples with intractable problems in American society and illuminates the effects of the uneven distribution of wealth. Its student body — ages 3 to 9 — is from Congress Heights, one of the city’s poorest areas. Ninety-two students, or 14 percent of Eagle’s enrollment, live in homeless shelters. Sixty-four percent live in single-parent households. Twenty-two percent, or 152 children, receive special education. Some need counseling for years.”

The charter received a jolt last November when the annual Performance Management Framework results were released. For 2018, the Congress Heights location fell to a Tier 3 ranking. So the school jumped into action. According to Mr. Health, the big drop in test scores led to the firing of 26 teachers, who were replaced with 18 new ones.”

I think the world of Mr. Joe Smith, the CEO/CFO of Eagle Academy. He would never allow this score to stand. He cares about the children too much for this to happen.

In other news, Washington Latin PCS has announced that it is going to replicate. Beginning next year it will open a new school that will start with the fifth grade that will eventually go up to twelfth. Other details about the expansion are extremely limited. For the 2018-to-2019 school year Washington Latin had a wait list of almost 1,600 children. Leaders at the school apparently feel like they have a moral obligation to be able to accept more students. How many other charters with excessively large wait lists feel the same way?

Exclusive interview with Wendy Edwards, executive director Early Childhood Academy PCS

I had the great pleasure recently of visiting Early Childhood Academy PCS and sitting down for a conversation with the school’s executive director Wendy Edwards.  Ms. Edwards explained that ECA started in 2005.  She informed me that the Ward 8 charter is currently leasing space in two different small community centers with two different landlords.  One was built by former D.C. City Councilmember H.R. Crawford and is now managed by his son.  The Walter Washington Estates is located behind the school.  Ms. Edwards detailed that both locations of the school were opened simultaneously.  She recounted that the charter began with 110 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three and pre-Kindergarten four. The school has added a grade a year and now goes up to the third grade.  Approximately 254 students are currently enrolled at Early Childhood Academy PCS; one hundred percent of the children qualify for free or reduced meals.

This was the perfect time to pay a visit to ECA since the charter is currently building a brand-new permanent facility.  It is a fantastic story.  The Menkiti Group, a developer located in the Brookland community of Northeast D.C., purchased the long-vacant Johenning Baptist Church so that ECA could have a permanent home.  The situation reminds me of the Ezra Company that acquired abandoned warehouses at 705 and 707 Edgewood Street, N.E., so that the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts and D.C. Prep PCS, respectively, could operate at these locations.  Ms. Edwards wanted me to know that Karl Jentoft of TenSquare Consulting, was a tremendous help in securing the $19 million dollars in loans, including New Market Tax Credits, to secure this property and construct an addition.  She is also grateful for the great support from CityFirst and Chase National Banks.  The property will be a 38,000-square-foot facility and hold 300 students.  Since the new headquarters is located directly next door to one of the current classroom buildings, Ms. Edwards and I were able to take a walk over to observe the progress.  It is extremely impressive.  The new school, which ECA will own, will open this summer.

On our way back from the construction site I asked Ms. Edwards about the difficulties of teaching children living in poverty.  “Yes,” the head of ECA replied, “it definitely brings its own challenges.  If you are not able to tap into the social and emotional needs of the child, you will not get anywhere academically.  Many of these children have high ACE (Adverse Childhood Event) scores.  You must have a holistic approach with them.  Our staff has received Positive Behavior Facilitation training developed by Dr. Edna Olive.  But here is the bottom line.  It is your relationship with the child that dictates your bond with the child.  Your values and convictions drive the connection.  You have to be cognizant of who you are and your belief system.  If you don’t accept that these kids can learn like any other child, then it is not going to work.”

I then wanted to know more about Ms. Edwards.  “I came from DCPS beginning in 1978,” Ms. Edwards detailed.  “I’ve played a variety of roles.  I was an elementary school teacher, a special education coordinator, and an assistant principal.  I concluded my time with DCPS as the assistant principal of Raymond Elementary School in Northwest D.C.  In 2005, I learned that Early Childhood Academy had just been chartered and was seeking a head of school. I was hired as the founding principal.  The charter was actually opened by the Nation’s Capital Child and Family Development Center (NCCFD). At that time, NCCFD operated several Head Start programs throughout the city. We parted ways in 2007.  In 2010 I became the executive director and Thann Ingraham was promoted to principal.  I never thought that I would leave DCPS, but this opportunity has been absolutely perfect for me.” 

Our discussion then turned to learning from Ms. Edwards what her greatest challenge was once she transitioned into the executive director role.

“The biggest challenge,” Ms. Edwards answered without hesitation, “was comprehending that each charter school is a self-contained small business.  We had to be respectful of the public money we received and utilize it appropriately.  There were so many decisions to be made, it was really unbelievable.  I absolutely love the autonomy.” 

When I asked Ms. Edwards about her greatest accomplishment, she was also ready with a response.  “My greatest satisfaction,” the head of Early Childhood stated, “has been building a strong administrative team.  Most of these individuals have been with me for a decade; our current principal has been at ECA since we opened in 2005.”  Ms. Edwards added, “I’m confident this is why our school has been ranked as Tier 1 the last several years.  We have grown from where we were in 2005 but we have also had a lot of leadership stability.  The message has not changed over this period.  We want to provide developmentally appropriate models for our children.  Our goal is to teach the whole child.  Toward that end we want to attract teachers who have passion, compassion, and are smart.  We will then support them in continuing to mature and develop as instructors.”

I then requested of Ms. Edwards to provide me with other reasons for her school’s success.  “We talk about values a lot with the staff and with the children,” Ms. Edwards asserted.  “We know that you cannot talk about positive values if you do not display them.  The kids will pick up on this fact.  Kindness, respect, being able to politely express differences, these are hard lessons for our kids.  Our students don’t always come from neighborhoods where people talk things out instead of acting things out.”

“One of our efforts,” the ECA executive director opined, “is that we want our pupils to be in school.  Toward that end we provide free breakfast, free lunch, and a free snack for aftercare for all of our students.  Some of our parents didn’t grasp at first that their children needed to be here every day, especially in pre-Kindergarten.  For some parents, education did not serve them very well, so they don’t understand the importance of a good education for their children.  We are dealing with a very transient population.  About 45 of our families are homeless.  Others will change residences from the District to Maryland and back to the District again.”

Ms. Edwards revealed that the staff at the school will do whatever they can for the students.  “We have school uniforms,” Ms. Edwards remarked.  “But if the children come in without them we will provide them.  We also buy them for some families.”

Early Childhood Academy has two teachers for each classroom that range from a low of 13 children in a pre-Kindergarten class to 28 students per classroom in the third grade.  Differentiated learning is applied to all grade levels, according to Ms. Edwards.  “There is whole group and small group instruction in both reading and math,” the executive director offered.  “Every day between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. the Response to Intervention period is implemented in all classrooms, during which time most students complete activities reinforcing previously taught standards, while struggling students are provided with targeted instruction.”

In other words, according to Ms. Edwards, “when you work at Early Childhood Academy, you are sort of all in.”

D.C. public charter board staff goes along with changes at Chavez PCS; chastising the way it was done

Tonight the DC Public Charter School Board is scheduled to take a final vote on the proposal by Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy to close its Capitol Hill High School and Prep Middle School campuses and consolidate its students at its Parkside High School location. The current Parkside Middle School will close at the end of next year due to low academic performance. The highly controversial move would eliminate the only unionized charter school in the District when Chavez Prep closes its doors.

The PCSB staff is in support of the decision by the school’s board of directors. They write:

• “It is within the school’s exclusive control to close campuses provided the school’s enrollment ceiling is commensurately reduced.

• It is within the school’s exclusive control to reconfigure campuses provided it remains within its enrollment ceiling and serves grades for which the local education agency (LEA) has been approved to serve.

• The amendments to the charter are technical and conforming changes that ensure the school’s charter reflects actions taken by the school that are within its exclusive control.”

While the charter has the authority to make these changes, the PCSB is not too happy about the way it has been carried out. It takes note of the public testimony against the campus consolidation and closures, and makes the following recommendation:

“As noted in the testimony, and further described below, the Cesar Chavez PCS board’s decision was made late and without any opportunity for community input. While this is within the school’s prerogative, the DC PCSB Board may wish to express through a resolution its disapproval of the manner in which the decision was taken, while taking note of the extraordinary time and effort invested by the school’s volunteer board as it sought alternatives to insolvency.” The staff continues:

“The LEA faces financial challenges, as further described later in this memo. The campus closure and reconfiguration decisions and communications were very close to the My School DC lottery deadlines of February 1, 2019 for high school applicants and March 1, 2019 for PK-8 applicants. This timing was difficult for families, as they were forced to evaluate other school options and make decisions for a new school in a minimal time frame. However, rising 9th, 10th, 11th and 12 grade students from both Chavez Prep and Capitol Hill are allowed to re-enroll directly into Parkside, rather than enter the lottery. DC PCSB enrollment specialists began working with families at both campuses on January 25, 2019.”

The proposed charter amendment that will be considered this evening includes an enrollment ceiling decrease from 947 to 847 students. It would also allow Chavez to re-open a middle school at the Parkside location beginning with the 2020-to-2021 school term, starting with the sixth grade only for that year.

In response to questions late last month from Ward 1 D.C. Coucilmember Brianne Nadeau about the lack of transparency and whether Chavez Prep could stay open another year to seek an alternative to closure, PCSB executive director Scott Pearson wrote back:

“We asked the board about the option of keeping Parkside Middle open for an additional year and were told that the school’s dire financial condition, caused by high debt and low enrollment, would not permit this option. We also asked about the reasons for the last minute decision and the lack of transparency around the making of this decision. The school’s board replied that they had been in difficult negotiations up to the final hour with the school’s bondholders over the school’s risk of default, and pursued every possible avenue to avoid foreclosure on the entire LEA. The school’s board reported that they were reluctant to make these deliberations public given the destabilization of enrollment and staff that they feared would occur as a result.”

The Chavez board has made the right decision in order to protect the future existence of the school. This charter management organization has been having academic difficulties for years and is now at risk of defaulting on its loans. It appears that it expanded too fast without first developing a deep bench of leadership capacity, a pattern we have unfortunately seen repeated many times within our sector.

Friendship PCS to takeover WEDJ PCS

Three sources confirmed yesterday that Friendship PCS will be taking over City Arts and Prep PCS in the fall. The former William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (WEDJ), City Arts lost its charter last December when it failed to meet its Performance Management Framework target after demonstrating a weak academic track record for years. As a founding board member of the school and its chair for four years, I watched as a charter that started with so much promise fell apart not only in the classroom but also at the management level. This is definitely an institution with nine lives as it traveled a path that began initially with it being led by Mr. Doar’s daughter Julie, to an engagement with TenSquare Consulting, and even included a stint with John Goldman as its executive director, the gentleman who went on to work for the DC Public Charter School Board until he ran into trouble over blog posts written under an alias. Its recent history included the most vigorous defense yet by the legal team of the Stephen Marcus firm, with a claim of bias of the PMF against at-risk children, and it was in fact Mr. Marcus who negotiated the initial lease for its Edgewood N.E. location with Fred Ezra of the Ezra Company. At one point the school operated on two campuses and included a high school, teaching as many as 660 students. The current elementary and middle school has about 430 pupils.

It appears that the focus on the arts will be maintained at the new Friendship location. Let’s hope that the school is also able to keep its current highly impressive executive director Lanette Dailey-Reese.

The move by Friendship demonstrates for all to see the stamp that its dynamic and kind chief executive officer Patricia Brantley plans to place on the charter management organization. It was also this year that Friendship agreed to takeover IDEAL Academy PCS beginning next term, adding about 300 students to the 4,200 it already instructs. Five out of its current 12 campuses are ranked as Tier 1 on the PMF, the most in its history. Therefore, the recent moves are making the future strategic direction of Friendship clear. It will continue to expand in the belief that bringing more children under its umbrella will greatly improve the quality of a public education in the nation’s capital.

I’m sure Donald Hense is smiling right now.

Exclusive interview with Deborah Dantzler Williams, head of school, Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School

When I first entered this Ward 5 charter’s permanent home, the third space that it has occupied, the atmosphere seemed different from many of the other schools I have visited.  Children were everywhere.  The pupils were moving, and talking, and sitting, and eating.  The activity level was high.  Obviously contributing to my perception was that school had just let out and aftercare activities were starting.  But please take it from me; this was not the strict and orderly silence that has greeted me upon my arrival to several other classroom buildings.  I was immediately intrigued to know more about the educational approach of the adults leading these students.

I was soon greeted by Ms. Deborah Dantzler Williams, Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS’s head of school.  The first thing Ms. Williams did upon meeting me was to bring me to a board located in the school’s lobby containing pictures of the staff.  She is extremely proud of the diversity of the school’s team.  Ms. Williams explained that diversity is an intentional goal for the student body as well as for the employees.

Ms. Williams then filled me in regarding her past professional career.  She has over 30 years’ experience as a teacher and administrator in some of the Washington, D.C.’s finest private schools, including Beauvoir and Sidwell Friends.  Along the way she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Sociology from Howard University, a Master’s Degree in City/Urban Community and Regional Planning from the same school, and a Master’s of Organizational Leadership at the Teachers College of Columbia University.  She enjoyed all of her instructional experiences but wanted to have an impact in some of the schools that were instructing more typical D.C. students, such as those living in poverty.  An associate of hers went to work for a small 20-year-old nonprofit named The Center for Inspired Teaching and spoke to her about coming along.  The organization provides professional development, leadership training, and an Office of the State Superintendent approved teacher certification program specializing in placing the child at the center of all educational efforts.  Ms. Williams joined the group as its director for strategic partnerships.

The Center for Inspired Teaching provides a teacher residency that covers two years, the first year residents are placed in DCPS and public charter schools working directly with a Master Teacher, and the second year residents lead their own classrooms with the support of a mentor. When a school accepts a resident, the Center often encourages it to add another so that there is more synergy around the pedagogical philosophy utilized by Inspired Teaching.  A question that naturally arose out of the program was whether an entire school made up of Inspired Teaching-trained teachers would succeed.  Since Inspired Teaching is focused on a methodology around engagement, it was only natural that it would eventually seek to create its own school.  In 2010, the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School was chartered by the DC Public Charter School Board after the Center brought together a founding group.  Ms. Williams has been its head of school from the beginning.

Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS opened its doors with 137 students in seven classrooms from Pre-Kindergarten three to the third grade.  While it utilizes the Common Core Curriculum, it concentrates, according to Ms. Williams, “solely on the needs of the students by emphasizing wonder, experiment, and learning.”  There are now approximately 470 students, with about one thousand on its waiting list.  It is no secret why so many families want to send their kids here.  When looking at its results on the DC Public Charter School’s Performance Management Framework, the score has risen for each of the four years that it has been evaluated.  Since the 2016-to-2017 term it has been ranked as a Tier 1 institution.

But test scores are not the only reason for this school’s popularity.  Ms. Williams detailed, “We are committed to diversity and equity among our students.” As a demonstration school, Ms. Williams related, Inspired Teaching offers a progressive style of education based upon the following principles:

  • Children are inherently good and have an innate desire to learn
  • Every child can be successful in school
  • Children’s energy, unique talents, and individuality are assets, not obstacles.
  • Every student possesses the ability to think critically, learn and understand information, and solve complex problems
  • Every student should spend their time in school engaged primarily in these kinds of activities

The standards-based curriculum, the head of school informed me, is based upon the four “I’s” of Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity.  “You will hear kids’ voices when you come into the school,” Ms. Williams boasted.  “You will see them moving.  We believe that children need validation for who they are as individuals.  We show the students that they have power and we want them to invest it here in their education.  We want them to understand the benefit of the methods we are using to further their learning.” 

 Ms. Williams is especially proud of the teaching residents from the Center for Inspired Learning.  She says that the Inspired Teaching Charter School currently has eight residents that are paired with Master Teachers.  These residents also have a mentor based at The Center for Inspired Teaching.  The head of school detailed that after these residents are in the classroom for about six weeks, they gradually begin to pick up responsibilities delegated by the Master Teachers such as running the morning meetings.  Ms. Williams stated that there is a rigorous process in place for selection of those that want to become residents.  All are interviewed so that an understanding can be gained about their approach toward working with students.  For example, an interview question might be “tell us about an interaction with children that demonstrates your philosophy toward them?”

The Inspired Teaching head of school stated that there are currently 10 residents in the program, and approximately 65 who have completed the program and are still in the field teaching.  One particularly positive aspect of the residency is that after the teachers complete their two years of training they are eligible to earn a Master’s Degree from Trinity University

Ms. Williams remarked that at the school there are generally two classes per grade Pre-Kindergarten three through sixth grade, and  one class currently in the seventh and eighth grades.  You will typically find two adults, including a master teacher and a resident, in a class of 25 students.  But this is hardly the rule. “There may be other educators in the classroom depending upon the unique needs of the students,” Ms. Williams instructed.

Ms. Williams is a Washington native whose children were also educated in this city.  She and her husband live in the house she grew up in.  Her entire professional life has been dedicated to preparing the successive generations of children to be successful in this world.  The Inspired Teaching Head of School informed me that she is not through making improvements in the way kids are taught.  “We are still honing our craft,” Ms. Williams stated, “and therefore our team will continue to work hard to place our children at the center of what we do on a daily basis.”

Basis DC PCS should become a private school

News came over the weekend from the Washington Post’s Perry Stein regarding Basis DC PCS and it was not the good kind. From her story:

” One of the District’s highest-performing charter schools is under federal investigation amid allegations it more harshly disciplines African American students.”

The probe comes as a result of an incident last May, as reported by Ms. Stein, in which the school went on lock-down for over an hour after two black special needs seventh grade students were heard discussing shooting after school. The pupils were talking about playing basketball, but a teacher at the charter reported the issue to the police due to a fear that these kids were about to do something violent. The children were then interviewed by the police without their parents present.

One of these parents, Yumica Thompson, together with assistance from the Advocates for Justice and Education, has now brought a complaint to the United States Education Department regarding inequitable discipline of black students at Basis DC PCS.

Ms. Stein includes some highly disturbing statistics in her article about the Education Department inquiry:

“At BASIS DC, 13 percent of black students and 2 percent of white students received out-of-school suspensions, according to city data. Ten percent of Hispanic students received out-of-school suspensions. Five percent of black students and 4 percent of Hispanic students received in-school suspensions, compared with 2 percent of white students.”

I did some other demographic research about Basis using data from the DC Public Charter School Board. Across the charter sector, black enrollment is at approximately 75 percent while at Basis DC High School it is 36.6 percent. In charters in the nation’s capital white attendance is at about five percent while at the Basis High School this statistic is at 39.1 percent. Economically disadvantaged pupils make up 22.1 percent of the student population at Basis while for charters as a whole this number is over 70 percent. English Language Learners comprise approximately eight percent of charter student bodies while at Basis this statistic is at two percent. Finally, Basis High School has a special education enrollment of four and a half percent, while charters see about 12 percent of students requiring Individualized Education Plans.

In other words, Basis has been able to shape its student body in a manner that would increase the probability that its student would be able to meet the demands of the school’s rigorous academic curriculum. The Department of Education review will inform us as to whether one way that it achieved this goal was through discriminatory disciplinary actions.

However, the information presented here is not new. The misalignment of this charter’s population with the rest of the movement has been known for some time and was predicted here when the school applied to open in D.C. For example, below is what DC PCSB member Steve Bumbaugh stated when Basis sought to expand by opening an elementary school in 2016:

“He revealed that for the last three weeks he had been studying the student enrollment data at the charter and he frankly found the numbers to be ‘concerning.’  For example, he discovered that across the charter sector in D.C. 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged but at Basis this number is 17 percent.  Again, he observed, overall for charters 15 percent of pupils are classified as Special Education and at Basis this number is less than five percent.  Moreover, at Basis less than 10 percent of kids are found to be At Risk while for charters that statistic is 51 percent.  Finally, Mr. Bumbaugh explained that charters are characterized by  student populations that include 7 percent English Language Learners while at Basis this percentile is zero.”

The question is what comes next?

For example, will the DC Public Charter School continue to support Basis as a means of lifting the average academic performance of the sector as a whole? Or will it take the moral course and encourage Basis to incorporate as a private school?

Here is one innovative approach to solve this issue. Basis could become private and then demonstrate for all to see its determined commitment to educating kids living in poverty by accepting a majority of its student body through the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

I guess I can still dream.

D.C. charter school movement is suffering from the “sanction of the victim”

The concept was coined by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand in her book “Atlas Shrugged.” It stands for “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin’ of creating values. ” Yesterday, after yet another article appeared describing the wilting of positive opinion regarding these alternative learning institutions, I realized that the term accurately describes what is now taking place regarding the reality of charter schools in the nation’s capital.

For if you were to ask community members for their take on charters most certainly they would mention a few characteristics. First, they would say that they are of uneven academic quality; some are good and others are bad. Second, people would state that it is almost impossible to get your child into one of the most desirable schools. Lastly, you would almost certainly hear the view that these are public institutions that are privately run.

The first two of these statements are certainly valid. However, look at the environment charter schools have had to operate in since they were first created by Congress over twenty years ago. Charter schools still cannot find facilities to house them. I don’t know how many readers have had the experience of serving on a charter board, but the fight to identify a location can become all encompassing. It is a tremendous time and energy drain that sucks the oxygen out of important priorities such as academics. We have put up with this situation for so long that it has become normal. Yet, it prevents us from being as high quality as we can be. As Ms. Rand described it, for the privilege of creating innovative schools for those children who are the most difficult to teach, we are being punished with the withholding of available buildings. This has gone on far too long and must immediately stop.

Besides having to search for a place to live, charters receive significantly less funding than the traditional schools. There is a FOCUS engineered lawsuit going through the courts, but who is knocking on the Mayor’s door demanding that this be fixed? Are we afraid to upset her? Is this the track record we want when fifty years from now we look back on charters as another failed educational fad? I can think of no better time than today to march down to the Wilson Building and demand to meet with Ms. Bowser on this issue.

One major impact of the shortage of facilities and unequal revenue is a curtailment of growth of the sector as a whole. Thousand-student wait-lists are not uncommon. But when leaders are asked what they are doing to resolve this issue as well as the others, they look away. Not part of the job we are told. Someone else will have to pick up the mantle.

So we go to work each day with the understanding that we say charter schools are public schools but knowing just under the surface that in our hearts we may not even believe this statement. This is because we have accepted the bromide that they are privately run. So let me try and get this right. Charter schools are nonprofits governed by volunteer boards of trustees that are made up of neighbors living among us. The body is responsible to the DC Public Charter School Board, a government entity whose members are nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

Without a complete rejection of playing the victim role I’m afraid nothing will change regarding the state of charters in Washington, D.C. In fact, I’m extremely disappointed to say, it will only get worse.

Washington Post writers warned of high D.C. charter school administrator salaries in 2015

Last Tuesday, former DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson reminded us through Facebook that almost exactly three years ago the Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Michael Allison Chandler called out certain local charter school leaders for salaries that exceeded hers while she was in office although they oversaw a much smaller population of students.

The article included this observation by Carrie Irwin, co-founder and chief executive officer of Charter Board Partners:

“Carrie Irvin . . . an organization that works to strengthen charter school boards, said that in her experience, many boards aren’t doing a good job evaluating and compensating leaders according to their ability to meet concrete goals, including student achievement goals.

‘We’re talking about allocating taxpayer money to hire and retain a leader who can ensure that kids are getting a great education, and that’s a really big decision,’ Irvin said. “That’s why it’s so important to have strong boards.’”

The piece talked about Friendship PCS’s board of directors setting its pay for then CEO Donald Hense through a compensation committee, a perfectly appropriate manner for setting his salary. When I was at Washington Latin PCS, the board looked at market rates when deciding the salary of its head of school.

Ms. Brown and Chandler go on to comment:

“Competition for strong leaders and the size of schools are two of many factors that drive decisions about executive compensation at charter schools, according to charter school board members. Boards also survey executive compensation at other charter school networks around the country or other local nonprofit groups for comparison.”

All of this seems like the right way to go. It is when schools operate outside of these parameters that they can get in trouble when salary decisions around senior leadership become public knowledge.

Individuals involved with charter schools in the nation’s capital love to talk about the wide areas of responsibility that they as part of their jobs that includes finances, personnel, curriculum, academic results, student and staff recruitment, and real estate. These people should be paid fairly for the work that they do which also includes extremely long hours behind their desks.

As D.C. Council education committee chairman David Grosso stated in the Post article, almost all charter schools reimburse their administrators appropriately for what they do. It is the outliers that I worry about concerning the future of our movement.

D.C. charters are losing the public relations battle

Of course, I’m not stating anything we don’t already know. The confluence of news reports about excessive administrative salaries, students scrambling to find new schools in the face of multiple charter revocations by the DC Public Charter School Board and other voluntary closures, and the charge of a lack of transparency have combined to place these institutions serving almost half of all public school students in a negative light. As I’ve written recently, the current atmosphere is feeding those who want to see charters eradicated from the face of the earth and who faithfully support our country’s declining labor unions.

However depressing the situation seems at the moment, there is a way out. After having lengthy conversations with three prominent members of our local charter school movement yesterday I believe the way forward is clear.

First, we need to support open meetings of our local charter school boards. This is a common sense approach which treats the families of our students with dignity and respect. The great majority of the business that takes place before these boards is mundane in nature, and having visitors offers the opportunity to showcase the great work being done at our schools.

Next, we need to oppose the call for individual schools to have to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. Charters have exceedingly small administrative staffs and, as Rick Cruz, the chair of the PCSB, pointed out in my recent conversation with him, they need to focus on things like “academics, safety, finances, facilities, personnel, and meeting their specific goals.” In addition, FOIA actually applies to federal government entities, which charter schools are not.  D.C. has its own Freedom of Information Act law which does not cover charter school boards.  However, the PCSB is required to respond to those seeking information under FOIA and it has a treasure trove of information that it gathers from the schools it oversees.

Moreover, as I also wrote about the other day, decisions made at the school level need to looked at under a microscope as if they will be the next trending topic on Twitter. This is something that is an inherent part of the job of receiving and spending public funds.

Then we should celebrate all of the accomplishments of this exciting sector. We should proudly talk about how we are closing the academic achievement gap in public education for the first time in our nation’s history. We should remind citizens of the absolute train-wreck that DCPS was before charters starting offering an alternative way to deliver education. We must point to the improvements in the traditional schools that would never have occurred without our presence. We should provide a list of students that without our lifeline would have ended up in jail or dead. Finally, we should exclaim that we are doing all of this with our hands tied behind our backs due to the struggle to secure permanent facilities and the fact that we receive about $100 million less in funding each year than the regular schools.

Finally, we need to talk about the unique charter bargain around quality. We need to remind our community that DCPS has never, and will not ever, close a school due to academic results. We believe with every cell in our bodies in the equation of autonomy with accountability. After all isn’t autonomy with accountability what life is all about? Let’s use the experience of charter schools to teach this crucial lesson to our children.