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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballou High School principal reassigned

On Monday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that the principal of DCPS’s Ballou High School, Yetunde Reeves, has been reassigned to another position outside of that facility in the aftermath of a WAMU and National Public Radio report about possible fraud around the handing out of diplomas.  When the story first broke last week, Chancellor Antwan Wilson said he stood by Ms. Reeves and that she should keep her job.  No information has been provided as to the reason Mr. Wilson quickly changed his mind.  There are at least three investigations now in progress regarding whether the school’s administration pressured teachers to pass students who should have failed classes.  Research by WAMU and NPR found, among other irregularities, that fifty percent of pupils were allowed to graduate in 2016 even after being absent for more than three months of the term.

But my reason for writing is not to rehash the problems at Ballou.  I’m interested in the fact that, without any public input, a major change in leadership was made at the school right in the midst of severe controversy.  I’m focused on this action because of my long-term involvement with charter schools.

For years I’ve heard the criticism that charters are privately run with public funding.  In her fine article about D.C. charters that appeared recently in the City Paper, writer Rachel Cohen repeats the bromide.  She writes:

“Charter schools are private entities authorized to provide public education, free of many rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools. In D.C. all charters are nonprofits, though they can hire for-profit companies to run their schools.”

I think we need to stop saying things like the statement above.  Charter schools are public schools.  They have to accept all students that come to them.  If they are over-enrolled they need conduct a lottery to see who gets in.  They cannot have admission requirements and it is against the law for them to discriminate regarding enrollment, including the fact that a student may have a disability.

It is true, as Ms. Cohen states, that charters are nonprofits.  As 501(c)(3)’s they are governed by boards of directors that provide this service on a volunteer basis.  These individuals are responsible for the school’s performance. They are generally members of the community.  Of course, here in the nation’s capital, charter schools are ultimately accountable to the DC Public Charter School Board.

I would argue that the public has more control over a charter school than a traditional one.  If a parent has a complaint about something at a DCPS facility, how easy do think it is to reach Mr. Wilson?  I bet it’s practically impossible.  But if a parent has a problem with a charter, he or she can go right to the board chair.  During my years in this role I fielded many such concerns.  In fact, one of the roles of the DCPCSB has been to ensure that these issues are addressed.

Charter school parents also vote with their feet.  If they don’t like what’s going on at the school they can take their kids, and the substantial money associated with teaching their children, and enroll at another facility.  DCPS parents also have the power in our city to move their child but because these are neighborhood schools, there may not be another school located in close proximity to their homes.

The transfer of principal Reeves is highly instructional.  When it comes to oversight of our city’s schools they are both in fact public.  

 

As predicted, the unionization of Cesar Chavez Prep PCS is not going well

Last Friday, Liana Loewus of Education Week reported that on the day her story appeared the teaching staff of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Prep Campus took to the streets during their lunch break with signs protesting  the administration’s failure to negotiate with them as is required now that they are part of a union.  Apparently, the school’s leadership has continued to make changes without including them as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

Ms. Loewus quotes Christian Herr, a science instructor who led the initiative to bring in the American Federation of Teachers affiliated union, reacting to the situation:

“By law after our vote, any changes to our working conditions have to be negotiated with us. Our board continues to make significant changes—adding job duties without additional compensation, things like that—without bargaining with us.”

The school’s principal Kourtney Miller disagreed with this assessment in an email:

“These are entirely their accusations, they haven’t been validated by the NLRB, and we disagree with their complaints.”

As author and philosopher Ayn Rand would state, in this situation both sides are acting perfectly consistent with their nature.  Charter schools are successful by moving with dexterity to rapidly adapt to fluctuating conditions so that they can provide the absolute best education possible for their students.  Unions, alternatively, fail when it comes to adapting to change quickly, instead institutionalizing modifications to work rules through a legal agreement.

This is exactly the reason that unions and charter schools should not be mentioned in the same sentence.  Because each side is operating according to their inherent nature, the environment will never improve.  As could have been easily anticipated, the Chavez union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

Since the reality over there will eternally not get much better, the Chavez board of directors should take a step emulating hero Howard Roark in Ms. Rand’s novel The Fountainhead and shutter the facility.  Now.

D.C. charter board redeems itself with decisions on 10 year school renewals

I’ve gone into exhaustive detail regarding the weak year that the DC Public Charter School Board has been having regarding its decisions, exemplified by the back and forth over whether one of its highest performing schools, DC Prep PCS, should be permitted to replicate.  But last night the body took important steps toward rectifying its missteps and setting its course on solid footing.

The opportunity for a correction presented itself in the form of a pair of 10 year reviews.  Both Excel PCS and Achievement Prep PCS were on the agenda.  Both schools were represented by attorney Stephen Marcus which is a clear signal that things for the charters are not about to go well.  Up first was Excel.

The school had committed to an average score over the last five years on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework of 45 percent.  The actual number the school recorded was 41.4 percent which is not far off.  However, for the most recent year, the 2016-to-2017 term, it scored 36.7 percent, the lowest result since its opening in 2008.  The all-girls charter teaching 643 students in Ward 8 has been plagued with instability in its leadership team.  I can remember almost exactly three years ago showing up at a PCSB monthly meeting and being surprised that Excel was on the agenda to discuss enrolling students who were not D.C. residents without charging them tuition and management staff changes.  The school was even investigated by The Office of the State Superintendent of Education over the tuition issue.  It appears that management at the facility has been a problem ever since.

I think we have all lost our patience with Excel.  The PARCC Assessment for the school demonstrates that it is performing below the state average for reading and math for those scoring in the career and college readiness rankings of four and five. These results are particularly low compared to the city mean for females, the sub-group the school was created to serve.  Especially disappointing is that for the last three years the proficiency rate in both subjects for students with disabilities is zero.  The board voted to begin the charter revocation process for Excel which is the correct decision.

The story is much more complicated when it comes to Achievement Prep.  This charter was once one of the academically strongest performing middle schools in the nation’s capital, serving children living in poverty in Ward 8 now with an enrollment of 987 pupils.  It seemed like the founder and chief executive officer of the school Shantelle Wright could do no wrong.  But in 2013, Achievement Prep took over the all-boys school Septima Clark PCS in a deal brokered by Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, Josh Kern, managing member of The TenSquare Group, and James Costan, Septima Clark’s board chair, as it was also adding an elementary school and growing its middle school.  I wrote article after article arguing against the move stating that Achievement Prep was growing at a furious rate which I feared would harm its academic standing, even meeting with Mr. Kern and Mr. Costan to press my point.

Apparently this is exactly what occurred.  The elementary school has been ranked as a tier three school for the two years that it has been graded under the PARCC assessment.  The middle school campus has also seen its PMF score dive, making it just barely a tier two facility.  The charter board could have begun the revocation process against Achievement Prep since the elementary school is not meeting its charter goals and is up for its five year review.  However, as is exactly the right move, the PCSB will instead enter into a charter agreement with Achievement Prep that will set strict targets for both campuses, but that is focused primarily on the elementary school.  Closure of one or both sites could occur if these goals are not obtained.

Everyone involved in the progression of Achievement Prep, including Mr. Pearson, Mr. Kern, Mr. Costan, Ms. Wright, and the school’s board were taking steps they thought best to serve disadvantaged kids living in our town.  But in this instance, it was all too much too soon.  Last evening, you could see this realization written clearly on Ms. Wright’s face.

 

 

 

DC public high school graduation rates rise; charters and DCPS equal

The four-year high school graduation rate in the District of Columbia reached a new high, Mayor Bowser announced yesterday.  For the city’s traditional schools the percentage came in at 73.2 percent, only 1.8 percentage points away from the 75 percent goal established under the strategic plan of former Chancellor Kaya Henderson.  When she aimed for the 75 percent number, the four-year high school graduation rate was only at 61 percent.  The statistic is 3.2 percent greater than the previous school year.  The new Chancellor, Antwan Wilson has established a five year goal of 85 percent.

Public charter schools also saw its graduation rate go up, but by a smaller variance.  The measure is at 73.4 percent, compared to 72.9 percent for 2016.  Therefore, the charter sector has now reached parity with DCPS regarding both graduation and standardized test score proficiency rates.  About one-third of all public students taking the PARCC examination last term came in at the college and career readiness ranking of four or five.

Dr. Darren Woodruff, the chairman of the DC Public Charter School Board, reacted this way to the improved graduation rates:  “District public school students are doing better than ever before.  More students are graduating and the number attending top-performing Tier 1 public charter schools continues to rise for the third year in a row.”

Today, at 11 a.m., the DCPB will release the latest results of its Performance Management Framework results that tier charter schools from one to three.

The Mayor had this to say about the findings:  “Ten years ago, our city committed to giving all students a fair shot at success, and today, these historic graduation rates are more proof that our efforts and investments are paying off. These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels.”

The results also say much about school choice in the nation’s capital.  Before charter schools were introduced 21 years ago, the four-year high school graduation rate was in the 40s. Doesn’t this fact make the argument that choice should be increased as quickly and efficiently as possible?

Exclusive interview with Daniela Anello, head of school DC Bilingual

Wow!  If you want to learn why DC Bilingual PCS is ranked in the top five percent of academically performing charters in the nation’s capital, come with me on an interview with Daniela Anello, the hard-charging, effervescent head of school.  I had the great pleasure of sitting down with her for a conversation.

Ms. Anello explained that DC Bilingual began operating in 2004 as part of CentroNia, the organization founded in 1986 by Beatrice “BB” Otero to assist in educating low-income immigrants to this country.  The school was at first completely housed in the same building as CentroNia in Columbia Heights, but by the fifth year it was offering pre-Kindergarten to third grade and needed additional space for its inaugural fourth and fifth grade classes.  The school then added leased space at 14th and Irving Streets N.W., the same location above the CVS Drugstore that incubated several of our city’s charters including E.L. Haynes.  After the DC Public Charter School Board closed the Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS in 2015, DC Bilingual consolidated its campuses into CAP’s Keene facility located at 33 Riggs Road, N.E.  Coinciding with the relocation was a break with CentroNia as the school’s management company, a move taken to improve its financial position.  Ms. Anello joined the staff of DC Bilingual at the start of the fifth year.

The DC Bilingual head of school has a fascinating background.  Ms. Anello was born in Chile, and when she was four years old her parents moved her and her sister, four years her senior, to Astoria, Queens.  She attended the local PS17 elementary school while her dad supported his family by working in restaurant and construction jobs.  But he came to America with only a five-year visa, so at age nine she moved back to Chile.  It was a complete culture shock.  “In New York I was basically alone with my family,” Ms. Anello revealed.  “My parents didn’t speak English and I didn’t have many friends.  Then I returned to Chile and we have a large family there with about 25 cousins.  It was then I really immersed myself in my culture and language.”

When Ms. Anello was 13, her parents received green cards and returned to the United States.  But this time they did not settle right next to Manhattan.  Ms. Anello detailed, “I was entering middle school and my mother and father were scared to have me roaming around on my own. They didn’t want me traveling on the subway by myself.  So they decided to locate about 30 miles north of N.Y.C. in a town called Sleepy Hollow.  The school I attended there was incredibly diverse.  It was a complete melting pot.  I was placed in a self-contained  ESL class, and my closest friends came from all parts of the world such as Portugal, Egypt, and Italy.  These were people who were extremely proud of their heritage.  Later I was assigned a general education class and I had tremendous difficulty comprehending the texts that were read.”

Attending the school was also an affluent set of pupils from the other part of town.  Ms. Anello recalled, “There was a boy from this group who was the smartest kid in the classroom.  He consistently volunteered to speak up and he answered all the instructor’s questions.  I decided at age 13 that this was the person I was going to marry.”  Amazingly, years later, her prediction became a reality.

For college Ms. Anello attended the State University of New York at Geneseo, where she started as a psychology major but soon switched to teaching.  “Psychology was too philosophical for me,” the head of DC Bilingual opined.  “I like to plan and implement projects and see them to fruition.  Psychology was just inefficient for me.”

After finishing school Ms. Anello began teaching at the Patrick J. Kennedy Elementary School in Boston.  She was an instant hit.  “The school had not had a new teacher in many years,” Ms. Anello stated.  “Most of the instructors  were all people of Italian decent which in the past matched the demographics of the neighborhood.  But now the area was predominately inhabited by Hispanic families.  There was no one at the school that could really communicate with the students and parents except for me.  I became the principal’s right hand person to help with translations and parent communication. Over time people came to respect the work I was doing.”

But after two years at the school Ms. Anello’s husband sought to move to Washington, D.C. His strong interest in politics would eventually lead to landing a job in President Obama’s administration.  Ms. Anello then accepted a teaching position at Friendship Academy Southeast PCS.  The DC Bilingual head of school soon became convinced that she needed to go back to school to hone her skills as an instructional leader.  So, twelve months later she began her Master’s degree at the prestigious Columbia University Teacher’s College.  There she studied under her hero Lucy Calkins.

Upon returning to Washington after her nine-month program she knew she wanted to work at a school that taught dual languages.  She was attracted to DC Bilingual from the moment she walked in the door.  “I immediately hit it off with principal Wanda Perez, who had arrived the school a couple of years earlier,” Ms. Anello remembered.  “I was also attracted to the fact that the charter serves such a high percentage of kids that qualified for free or reduced meals.”

There was, however, a problem at DC Bilingual.  The previous school year’s DC CAS for third graders demonstrated proficiency rates of 3 percent in math and 30 percent in reading.  “We were in crisis mode,” Ms. Anello related, “recognizing that if we didn’t turn the academics around the charter would be closed.  We literally cleaned house. I spent the entire summer writing literacy curriculum as an instructional coach, and became the principal’s right hand person in helping to set up the systems we needed to strengthen the hiring process, teacher coaching, and professional development experiences.”

It was also during this period that Ms. Anello completed an Emerging Leader Program through the New Leaders program.  After moving up the ranks as resident and interim principal, in April 2015 Ms. Anello was named head of school.

Ms. Anello believes that what sets DC Bilingual apart from other charters is that it is high performing while teaching a low-income population that varies between 76 percent and 82 percent of children living in poverty.  But there are other characteristics as well.  Ms. Anello asserted, “We are closing the achievement gap with our 440 students in grades pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade.  DC Bilingual has a waiting list of 1,623 children.  Students do not leave our school to go someplace else and neither do our teachers.  Most of our staff have been with us for over six years.  People are happy, and part of the reason is that everyone believes that they have an important role in the success of the school.  We set high expectations here but we also provide the support to allow individuals to be successful.  We believe that all children, no matter their background or special needs, can become bilingual and achieve high academic success.”

There is so much depth to this school that it is impossible to capture everything in one article.  Ms. Anello described enrichment activities for the students that link them to the outside world such as learning where food comes from.  There are sports, music, art, dance, and gardening programs.  For the parents there is DACA immigration workshops, English classes, and cooking lessons.  Ms. Anello exclaimed that she absolutely loves the parents “because they remind me of my own family.”

Each minute of the day is planned and everything at DC Bilingual is done intentionally.  I will conclude with one illustration that Ms. Anello shared with me.  When evaluating a job applicant for a teaching position, she has the interviewee teach a mock class in front of a coach.  This makes sense since all of the classes at DC Bilingual have coaches.  Then, when the applicant is through the coach makes suggestions for improvement and then the applicant teaches the class again.  If the teacher can accept the advice and improve the lesson then, and only then, will this individual proceed to the next round.

Ms. Anello indicated to me that there are assessments for all activities instigated at DC Bilingual.  After spending some time with this head of school I came to understand that I would expect nothing less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implicit Bias in Early Childhood Education: Fight For Children’s inaugural Coffee, Conversation & Controversy symposium

Last Tuesday I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the invitation-only Coffee, Conversation & Controversy breakfast session that was part of Fight For Children’s inaugural Fight For Children Week.  I have been following the activities of this group for years and I’ve observed that whatever it does, it does so with class.  This day was no different.

The morning’s session revolved around an outstanding presentation from Dr. Walter Gilliam.  Dr. Gilliam is an Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center, and Director of the The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy. He was introduced by the president and chief executive officer of Fight For Children, the consistently affable Keith Gordon, who explained that one of the driving motivations behind today’s meeting, and others that will occur throughout the year, is the realization that “societal change only happens when the community comes together.”   Dr. Gilliam then began one of the most fascinating talks I have ever heard, entitled “Implicit Bias in Early Education.”

The Yale University professor began the discussion by showing a portion of a 2005 videotape of a five-year=old girl being handcuffed by the police in response to being called by the child’s teacher as a way of controlling her disruptive behavior.  Dr. Gilliam was asked by a St. Petersburg reporter for his reaction to the incident.  After viewing the arrest on Youtube, he became intrigued by the idea that the instructor turned to the police instead of to professionals who could have helped such as social workers, psychiatrists, or guidance counselors.  It was then that he first decided to study expulsion rates in prekindergarten.  The results shocked him.

In his 2005 investigation across the United States, he found that within the last year, 10 percent of teachers reported that they had expelled at least one student.  Of those that had been expelled, 78 percent of teachers had expelled at least one student, 16 percent had expelled two pupils, 3.5 percent had expelled three children and 0.4 percent had expelled four students within a twelve month period.  In fact, the early childhood expulsion rate is more than three times the rate for Kindergarten to high school students.  But these are not the only startling results.  Quoting from the findings:

“Four-year-olds were expelled at a rate about 50 percent greater than three-year-olds. Boys were expelled at a rate over 4.5 times that of girls. African-American students attending state-funded prekindergarten were about twice as likely to be expelled as Latino and Caucasian children, and over five times as likely to be expelled as Asian-American children.”

The research also found common factors that would lead to student expulsions that include logical situations such as a higher child-to-teacher ratio, a longer program day, increased teacher job stress, and less access to behavioral supports.

Dr. Gilliam summed up the characteristics that would increase the probability of a student being expelled as the three B’s:  being big, black, and a boy.

The report received a tremendous amount of publicity.  But while he was happy that the word was getting into the news, he knew that he needed to switch the emphasis on early childhood student expulsions from being an academic issue to a public policy problem.  He wanted the federal government to become involved so that he and his group could promote solutions to help reduce these high expulsion rates.

This is where Congressman Danny Davis came along.  He and his legislative director, Dr. Jill Hunter-Williams, who became the first American Psychological Association Educational Assessment Congressional Fellow, became extremely interested in this topic.  They put pressure on the civil rights division of the United States Department of Education to begin collecting preschool suspension and expulsion data, which is the practice today.

Every bit of Dr. Gilliam’s talk was interesting to the audience of education stakeholders from throughout Washington, DC including policymakers, educators, and community leaders.  I will conclude with one additional example from his lecture.

His group recently completed a study of implicit bias in early childhood education which was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  The results were released last year.  As part of this inquiry, 132 teachers were asked to observe the play of four preschool students that included one black boy, one black girl, one white girl, and one white boy, and identify potential challenging behaviors.  The exercise also included software that tracked the eye movement of the instructors to see who they were watching.  What the teachers did not know is that the students were hired actors who were not going to express any negative behavior.

The bottom line of the findings was that by a statistically significant quantity teachers focused their attention on the African American boy.  Dr. Gilliam explained that we all have implicit biases and this is a fact that will not change.  The issue is whether we recognize those biases and how we handle them.

Through Fight for Children’s Coffee, Conversation & Controversy the chances just became substantially higher that these biases in early childhood education will be addressed.

D.C. charters start new school year in most perilous environment in decades

Yesterday many D.C. charter schools began the new term along with the traditional schools.  This year marks the most difficult environment for these alternative public schools since they were first created more than 20 years ago.  Allow me to provide a snapshot of what I am seeing.

Let’s start with the release of the PARCC standardized test scores last week.  For the first time since public schools began mandated testing under No Child Left Behind, DCPS actually beat charters in academic achievement.  Readers may assume that this is due to the fact that more affluent families are moving to the District, but the regular schools bested charters in the categories of English Language Learners, economically disadvantaged, and for those students with disabilities in the subject of English Language Arts and for most of these subgroups in math.  Serving these groups of pupils was the justification for creating charter schools in the first place.

Next we had the first school vote to become part of labor union in the case of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Prep Campus.  Some have argued that with a name like Cesar Chavez it was only inevitable that this would transpire, but how in the world a charter brings innovation and spontaneity to operations negotiated across a boardroom table beats me.   This took place only after Paul Public PCS came close to adopting the same union in the aftermath of the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board writing that the introduction of unions in D.C. charters would increase the diversity of the portfolio of schools it regulates.

By the way,  the union that Chavez joined, the American Federation of Teachers, is headed by an individual who recently equated school choice with Jim Crow laws.  The NAACP has also joined the fray calling for an end to the expansion of charters across the country. Back in the nation’s capital we have a lawsuit against the city brought by Eagle Academy PCS, Washington Latin PCS, and the D.C. Associated of Chartered Public Schools engineered by FOCUS that charges that for years DCPS has received around $100 million in revenue illegally outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  No solution to this controversy is in site.

Charters are also being criticized by the very organizations that have strongly backed their creation.  Jeannie Allen, founder and chief executive officer of the Center for Education Reform, has accused the movement of isomorphism, which she defines as the “constraining process that forces one unit in a population to resemble the others who face similar environmental conditions.”  She asserts that charters more and more are resembling the very schools they were meant to compete against for students.  One symptom of this isomorphism to which she points is the increasingly bureaucratic nature of our own DC Public Charter School Board, a body often highlighted as doing the best job at overseeing charters in the country.

But the board has had a tough time of it lately.  It had great difficulty deciding whether the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy should be shuttered and that uncertainty led to the school losing its leased space.  It demonstrated agonizing ambiguity over the expansion plans of DC Prep, a decision which should have been as uncontroversial as the staff originally described it to the charter.

But with all of this circulating in the air above our students heads there are still some real positives out there.  For example, D.C. charters have never instructed more children. During the 2016 to 2017 term over 41,000 students attended schools in this sector, equating to 46 percent of all public school students.  This year could see us approach equity with those enrolled in DCPS.  In addition, the facility allotment was recently increased by Mayor Bowser and these dollars, together with the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula revenue, represent the highest level of support charters have ever experienced.  Finally, despite the earlier comments about standardized test scores, some schools such as DC Prep and KIPP DC are demonstrating that the academic achievement gap can be closed.  Now its time for the rest of the group to follow their fine example.

 

Based upon release of 2017 standardized test results, D.C.’s charter school experiment may be wilting

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the 2017 PARCC standardized test results yesterday and the findings were sobering.  For all students, including those attending both charter and traditional schools, those scoring in the college and career readiness categories of four and five are just 30.5 percent in reading and 26.9 percent in math.  However, to put a positive spin on the findings, the results are an improvement over last year overall and for all subgroups.  Especially noteworthy is that economically disadvantaged students in both sectors increased in proficiency rates by 5.3 percent in English and 3.8 percent in math.

But it was former DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson who pointed out yesterday on Facebook that for the first time since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 and since schools were required to make standardized test scores public, the traditional schools led charters in these findings.   For example, in English, charter school students in grades three through eight overall showed 29.5 percent of students at the four and five level while 32.1 percent of DCPS pupils were in this range.  A similar pattern exists in math with 30.6 percent of charter students earning fours and fives while 32.8 percent of DCPS students are in this category.  When it comes to testing in high school, charters do lead the traditional schools slightly in math but the proficiency rate is so low that its nothing to brag about.  For high school English the trend of DCPS leading charters continues.

But charters, which concentrate on teaching poor students, are better than DCPS in this category, aren’t they?  Not according to the 2017 PARCC.  For economically disadvantaged students, in reading DCPS leads charters in proficiency rates 23.7 percent to 23.5 percent. For English Language Learners, DCPS is ahead 17.7 percent compared to 13.7 percent for charters, and for students with disabilities, DCPS is ahead 6.8 percent to 5.8 percent.  Only in math are low income charter school students ahead slightly of those of DCPS but for the other two categories the traditional school students score higher.

A couple of areas where charters do outperform DCPS are the categories of At-risk students and those that are black.  For the first category, charters lead in English 18.2 percent compared to 14.1 percent proficiency for DCPS, and 17.8 percent compared to 11.9 percent in math.  For African-American students, charters scored higher, 24.4 percent to 19.9 percent in English, and in math charters have 22.5 percent of students proficient while DCPS has this statistic at 15.0 percent.

Some charters did post some extremely impressive results.  The following proficiency rates are from the DC Public Charter School Board press release:

English Language Arts

  1. BASIS DC PCS (High School) – 71%
  2. Washington Latin PCS – High School – 71%
  3. Washington Latin PCS – Middle School – 65%
  4. Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS – 58%
  5. Washington Yu Ying PCS – 58%
  6. BASIS DC PCS (Middle School) – 57%
  7. District of Columbia International School – 55%
  8. DC Prep PCS – Edgewood Middle School – 54%

Math

  1. BASIS DC PCS (High School) – 75%
  2. KIPP DC – Promise Academy PCS – 74%
  3. KIPP DC – Heights Academy PCS – 65%
  4. KIPP DC Spring Academy PCS – 65%
  5. KIPP DC – Lead Academy PCS – 61%
  6. DC Prep PCS – Edgewood Middle School – 57%
  7. BASIS DC PCS (Middle School) – 57%
  8. Early Childhood Academy PCS – 54%

But overall this was not a great report for D.C.’s charter school sector.

It’s time for charter school supporters to ignore the NAACP and the AFT

Like so many other school choice supporters I am reading the email messages and blog posts combating the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Federation of Teachers attacks on the charter school movement.  Some are even using the assaults from these parties to fundraise for their employers.  My view is that it is time to stop giving these groups so much attention.

Fortunately for me, I follow many of D.C.’s local charters on Twitter.  The messages I’m seeing from schools such as DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, E.L. Haynes PCS, and Lee Montessori PCS, just to name a few, are ones of unbounded optimism.  The Flamboyan Foundaton is gearing up for another year of helping teachers engage with their student’s parents.  This week CityBridge Education is in the midst of re-imaging what classrooms of the future will resemble.

These organizations are closing the academic achievement gap, a feat that only a short time ago could not be put into words because it was so lofty a goal.  While others may wish to go back to a simpler period when kids went to their neighborhood schools; we know that many children, particularly those who are poor and those who are minorities, were not served under this structure.  We recognize that our only real hope for ending hunger and poverty is the power of public education that we are delivering with schools that make parents the customer.

People can always throw stones at those that disrupt the status quo.  But for the heroes that I meet in buildings across this town, those that spend ten or fourteen hours a day at work, that give up their weekends and holidays to build a better future for this country, there is only one way forward.  This path reignites when teachers gather for orientation and builds to a crescendo when young people with tremendous smiles on their faces arrive for the first day of school.  I will be there so that I can tell the stories of educators who are beating incredible odds.  It is frankly their unbelievable drive that keeps me going another day.