DC Public Charter Board votes to revoke charter of Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS

At last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board the body voted five to two to begin revocation proceedings against the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS.  It has been a long road for this school in reaching this point and my feeling is that this story is far from over.

As you may recall the board first brought up the subject of charter revocation regarding LAYCCA last January as part of its five-year review.  However, due to the challenge to the PCSB’s findings by the school’s legal representative, attorney Stephen Marcus, the PCSB voted to delay its decision to the following month.  Then in February it again postponed a decision on this matter until the March meeting that occurred last evening.

A couple of points here.  I could not attend the session in person yesterday so this morning I tried to watch it online.  However, the video is for some reason only showing small portions of the proceedings.  Also, in the past I could depend on actions of the board being shared on Twitter but this practice seems to have stopped.

In any case, in one of the most carefully documented findings I have ever observed by the PCSB, the board found that “after reviewing all evidence submitted by the school and reassessing each goal using the business rules above, DC PCSB staff has determined that, of its seven academic goals, LAYCCA PCS met one goal, partially met one goal, and did not meet five goals. Based on the school’s failure to meet its goals and student academic achievement expectations, DC PCSB staff recommends that the DC PCSB Board revoke the school’s charter effective June 30, 2017.”  This is little changed from the board’s conclusion in January that the charter partially met two goals and did not meet five.

There are a couple of things that made this scenario different from other votes to shutter a school.  First is the unusual outpouring of strong support for LAYCCA.  Contained in the meeting materials are letters backing the school and making arguments against charter revocation from Maggie Riden, executive director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates; Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Councilmember; Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Councilmember; and Jack McCarthy, president and CEO of AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation.  There is even one from Mieka Wick, newly named CEO of CityBridge Education, addressing the $50,000 initial planning grant and “suite of supports” of up to $500,000 the school won through the Breakthrough Schools:  DC Challenge.  Ms. Wick writes:

“The LAYC Career Academy proposal was reviewed by our staff and a panel of local and national subject matter experts.  We are excited about the potential of LAYC Career Academy to demonstrate the design principles of personalized learning, intentional equity, and expansive measures of success.”

So here is why I don’t believe we are through talking about the future of LAYCCA.  The PCSB has listed five conditions that the school must meet if the board fails to vote to close it this summer.  Almost all of the deadlines are in April and May of this year.  Therefore, while the revocation process is occurring the school could and should continue to meet these criteria for continuing to operate.

Let’s sincerely hope that a suitable solution can be found for a charter that heroically serves adult students that are disadvantaged by the effects of homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.

Is Councilman Charles Allen opposed to college financial tuition assistance for D.C. students?

In yesterday’s Washington Post article by

“I don’t think vouchers work, and I don’t think it’s right to take public tax dollars and put them into private religious schools,” he said. “And I think everybody agrees that we should not be having Jason Chaffetz and House Republicans serve as the local school board.”

With this comment it appears that Mr. Allen would also call for an immediate end to the federal DC Tuition Assistance Grant program.  As you may remember, DC TAG provides up to $10,000 to students in the nation’s capital to cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition to public universities across the country.  It also offers up to $2,500 per academic year for attendance at private colleges in the city and at private historically black colleges and universities.  The plan was developed by former local Congressman Tom Davis, who my wife and I helped elect when he first ran for the Virginia 11th District seat as coordinators of his campaign in Reston, Virginia.

Mr. Davis was driven to provide this tuition assistance to D.C. scholars because of the lack of choice of quality public colleges and universities within the District. The money allocated to DC TAG is just slightly more than that provided for the Opportunity Scholarship Program at around $17 million annually.  A primary difference, of course, between DC TAG and the OSP is that the first Congressional grant does not provide equal funding to D.C.’s traditional school system and public charter schools as does the SOAR Act within which the OSP legislation resides.

Mr. Allen emphatically states that he does not want public money to go to private religious institutions.  But among the participants in DC TAG are Catholic and Georgetown Universities, both of which are sectarian.

I know some people accuse politicians of being hypocritical, but this is truly not my desire today.  However, a little consistency is really not too much to ask.  If Mr. Allen is so strongly against providing a private school education, exactly like the one President Obama’s kids have enjoyed to pupils living in poverty, then it is only right that he fight with all his might against DC TAG.

D.C. Council sends misleading letter to members of Congress

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is scheduled to take up re-authorization of the SOAR Act, which contains within it the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  In response, yesterday D.C. Councilman David Grosso, chairman of the education committee, penned a letter along with seven other council members to Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the house committee, opposing expansion of the private school voucher program for children living in poverty beyond those already participating.   The letter contains several inaccurate claims.

In the first paragraph the authors write, “. . . the voucher program should be phased out because participation in the program and similar initiatives has not only failed to improve students’ academic performance, but worsened it, as found in a series of recent studies.”  Let’s look at some data.  Here in the nation’s capital for the 2015-to-2016 school year the percentage of pupils enrolled in the OSP graduating from high school was 98 percent.  This compares to a 72.9 percent high school graduation rate for charters and a percentage of 69.2 percent for those attending DCPS.

The misinformation contained in the letter by Mr. Grosso only gets worse.  It states, “We appreciate your interest in providing support to public education for our constituents, but we strongly believe that financial resources should be invested in the existing public education system – both public schools and public charter schools – rather than diverted to private schools.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The federal legislation, through the Three Sector Approach, provides $15 million a year for vouchers plus an equal amount for DCPS and charters.  Money for the scholarships does not take away revenue for the other sectors.  As Michael Musante, director of government relations for FOCUS, states in a Washington Post story by Aaron Davis and Jenna Portnoy that appears today, “it was hard to fathom why ‘any Council member would put at risk a future $225 million dollars in federal funds over five years given to the District alone with little to no strings attached.”

I could go on all day, but I’ll draw your attention to one more line from the document.  The letter reads, “. . . if fully funded, the authorization would provide many more dollars per student for vouchers than is allocated per student in public schools and public charter schools.”  Mr. Grosso has to know that this claim is simply false.  According to its fiscal year 2017 budget DCPS is spending an average of $18,554 per student.  Charters get an average of $9,682 per pupil through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula plus an additional $3,124 per kid enrolled to pay for facilities for a total of $12,806.  Alternatively, the OSP scholarships are currently set at $12,679 each for high school students and $8,452 for elementary and middle school scholars.

A telephone call to Mr. Grosso’s spokesperson to discuss these discrepancies was not returned.

Both Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson recognize the value of the Opportunity Scholarship Program to our city and that is why they are urging Congress to re-authorize the program.  It is the ethical action to take for the benefit of the most vulnerable children in our community.  There is no time to waste.

Paul PCS CEO Jami Dunham resigns

Jami Dunham, the chief executive officer of Paul Public Charter School, announced on March 2nd that she has resigned from her position effective at the end of the 2016 to 2017 school year.  Ms. Dunham has been in her position for a decade.  I interviewed the Paul CEO back in 2014.

In her announcement, Ms. Dunham states that she and her husband made the decision for her to leave her job last November so that she could spend more time with her family.  She stated that she is proud of the accomplishments at the charter over the last 10 years which include:

  • The expansion of Paul into a high school, and a beautiful campus modernization that celebrates our scholars.
  • Our international studies program, which has enabled our scholars to travel to Japan, Costa Rica, Zambia, Jamaica, Paraguay, Panama, London, Ghana, Cuba and Italy.
  • The improvements we have made to our teacher compensation package. Over the past two years we implemented the first phase of our two-part plan and increased teacher salaries to the 50th percentile among all DC charter schools.  For the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, we implemented merit-based pay to increase base salaries. As I announced in January, this month we expect to roll out the second phase of this package with the issuance of contracts for the 2017-2018 school year. The second phase of this plan will move the average salary of our teachers from below the 30th percentile to at least the 50th percentile.

The news comes as word spread that teachers at Paul are seeking union representation after expressing that their displeasure with working conditions and a lack of responsiveness to their concerns by management.  Rachel Cohen of the American Prospect reported that 75 percent of teachers at Paul have signed a petition to join the new collective bargaining unit.

Roberta Colton, the chairman of the school’s board of directors, explains the process for the selection of a new CEO:

“The Board of Trustees is prepared to have a seamless and smooth transition from Jami’s leadership to our next CEO. The Board has a Succession Plan that was developed a couple of years ago and is already being applied to begin the search process. We have begun putting together a Search/Transition Committee to be comprised of five voting Board members, one or more key staff members, a teacher, and a member of the Executive Leadership Team. Sterling Ward, Board Vice Chair and Paul alum, is serving as chair of the Committee. To date, he has appointed five Board members to the Committee. Now that Jami’s pending departure has been announced, the next step is to begin filling the open positions in order to complete the search committee team.

Additionally, the Board sought bids from a number of search firms well-versed in the DC Charter School community to help us identify qualified and interested candidates for the position of our new CEO. The Committee is now in the process of finalizing its engagement of one of those firms. As part of its process, the selected search firm has interviewed both parent Trustees and intends to interview several faculty members to solicit their thoughts about the qualities and experience they would like to see in the new CEO.”

It will be interesting to see the impact of Ms. Dunham’s decision on the move toward the formation of a new teacher’s union at the charter.

D.C. voucher program gets a jolt in enrollment

As predicted, the number of pupils participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is going up, by a lot.  Serving Our Children, the group selected in 2015 to administer the private school voucher plan, is wasting no time taking advantage of the strong support of school choice of the new occupant of the White House and the recently confirmed woman heading the U.S. Department of Education.

SOC has determined that in the past the Department of Education has been misinterpreting the legislation contained in the SOAR Act in two critically important ways.  First, brothers and sisters of those already admitted into the program should have been provided with a sibling preference for admissions.  My understanding is that this preference is extended not only to blood relatives of those using a voucher but to anyone living in the same household as a OSP student.

In addition, and extremely importantly, kids who are already attending a private school that meet the residency and income requirements are also eligible to receive an OSP award.  Finally, there is one more crucial change in management.  The scholarships will now be granted on a rolling basis.  Gone will be the day of the grand announcement of who got in and who did not make the cut.

These modifications have already had a drastic impact.  On Friday, February 24, 756 parents who completed the application requirements were notified that their scholars had received an OSP scholarship for the 2017 to 2018 school year.

But Serving Our Children is not done here.  The organization is now contacting participating private schools to request that they increase the number of OSP kids being admitted.  Then there is the legislative side.  Look for Congress to now quickly reauthorize the SOAR bill for another five years.  There is also some talk of making this legislation permanent.

The bottom line is that many more low-income parents are about to be provided with choice about where their children can get a quality education.

Teachers at D.C.’s Paul PCS resort to a union to get administration’s attention

News broke yesterday afternoon that the teachers at Paul Public Charter School intend to form their own union entitled the District of Columbia Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (DC ACTS) under the umbrella of the American Federation of Teachers.  This would be the first time a charter in the nation’s capital elected to become part of a teachers’ union.  Rachel Cohen of the American Prospect reported that 75 percent of teachers at Paul have signed a petition to join the new collective bargaining unit.  It is not a positive development.

Perhaps it is fitting that this effort is happening at Paul PCS, the only traditional school to become a charter.  As the story goes Cecile Middleton, the principal of Paul Junior High when it was under DCPS,  became so frustrated that she had to go through the central office to do simple things like get a light bulb changed, that she decided to form her own school.  Josephine Baker, former executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, explains in her book The Evolution & Revolution of DC Charter Schools, that it took the leaders of Paul three application cycles of the PCSB to get the project off the ground.  Then, in 1999, the union came in:

“The announcement of the approval of Paul’s application to convert to charter school status was the beginning of intense activity to thwart the conversion.  First, teachers’ union members of Paul’s faculty organized a student walk-out to protest the conversion. The students, who may or may not have cared about the implications of the school changing its governance structure, seemed to offer little resistance to the opportunity to ‘spontaneously’ leave their classes at the suggestion of their teachers.  At least one teacher who helped facilitate teacher signatures of the conversion petition reported being harassed by the teachers’ union representatives” (p. 49).

Ms. Cohen indicated in her story that there were two primary factors that led to the charter school teachers currently at Paul embracing a union.  From her article:

“The first is that administrators brought in a consultant at the start of the 2015-2016 school year to launch a committee with teachers dedicated to discussing school improvements.  After a series of meetings, teachers submitted a list of proposals to their administration, including such recommendations as more transparent staff evaluations, caps on class size, and increased time for teacher planning.  But the suggestions went nowhere.”

Then at the conclusion of last year’s term the well-respected high school principal was not offered continued employment and the staff could not get an explanation for the change.  The instructors banded together to reverse the decision but apparently their viewpoint was ignored.

Four year history and government teacher Dave Koenig expresses the sentiment of the employees, again from Ms. Cohen’s piece:  “In my time here I’ve seen people who are really good, dedicated teachers shown the door because they have personality conflicts with someone above them.  I’ve also seen really good people leave on their own because they feel underappreciated or overworked to the point of developing [a] nervous breakdown.”

WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle explains that conversion to union representation is not a given:

“Though charter schools are publicly funded, they are exempt from the D.C. law requiring the government to enter collective bargaining agreements with public employees. An organizing effort in 2012 by the Washington Teachers’ Union — which represents teachers in DCPS — fizzled due to legal and political obstacles.

A decision last year from the National Labor Relations Board means the teachers’ attempt to unionize will come under the federal law that applies to private sector workers. That gives the school’s management two choices: willingly recognize the teachers’ request for a union, or call an election in which staff would have to vote on whether to unionize.”

If the drive goes through these teachers will be in for a tremendously rude awakening.  In my experience injection of a union creates silos between the front line staff and management.  Modifications to the work environment, from everything from working hours, pay, benefits, and evaluations, must be contractually negotiated.  As I related to Mr. Austermuhle, it is certain to diminish the ability for the charter to rapidly react to the needs and desires of students and parents.

Still, and we have to realize that we are hearing only one side of the story, when management does not effectively listen to staff it invites the introduction of union activity.  The move comes in the aftermath of the Public Charter School Board’s executive director Scott Pearson, publicly inviting unions into our schools.

The Ward 4 charter currently enrolls approximately 767 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten 3 to the twelfth grade.  Both the lower and upper schools are ranked as Tier 2 on the Performance Management Framework.

KIPP DC is making tough choices about changes to its program

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews revealed yesterday that Susan Schaeffler, the CEO of KIPP DC, is making some difficult decisions about the structure of her program that ultimately could impact the academic success of the children in her network.

As Mr. Mathews explains, KIPP DC now teachers more pupils than any other charter school in D.C. with almost 5,800 students attending 16 campuses.  There are now five early childhood learning schools, as well as five elementary schools, five middle schools and one high school.  The charter is also one of the highest academically performing in the city although it concentrates on educating low-income kids.  For example, of the 22 schools listed by the DC Public Charter School Board as top performing, meaning that they score above the state average on the 2016 PARCC Assessment, four of those institutions are part of KIPP.  Moreover, five out of 16 schools recognized by the PCSB as having improved most in 2016 from the previous year’s PARCC scores for the number of children reaching the college readiness grade of a four or five, are part of the KIPP network.

Some of the ways that KIPP DC has been as successful as it has been are that it has a longer school day, going from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and through its offering of Saturday classes and summer school.  But  as the Post reporter indicated some of these schedules are about to be altered.

“Many people still think of long days when they hear the name KIPP, but the nature of that extra time has changed at KIPP DC. Saturday classes have been shifted from the middle to the elementary schools. The July summer school has moved to August, just before the regular school year begins. And the middle school day has been cut by an hour, running from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.”

In a conversation Mr. Mathews had with Ms. Schaeffler, she stated she had mixed feelings about the moves.  She commented, “’It is one of the things we struggle with now.  The market for classroom talent is very competitive in the District.’ She did not want to lose good teachers to schools that offered a shorter workday, no Saturday classes and no required assignment in the middle of the summer. ‘It was tough because I felt for the first time I was making a decision based on adults and not children,’ she said.”

This story brings me back to the book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley.  In her excellent work Ms. Ripley discusses the fact that some countries such as South Korea elevate the value of education to such a level that teachers who tutor privately can become millionaires.  My hope would be that instead of Ms. Schaeffler having to modify her winning formula in order to compete for talent that we could as a society remunerate these instructors at such a level that they would not consider working for anyone else.

Dr. Howard Fuller at the FOCUS 2017 D.C. Charter School Conference

Yesterday was a truly amazing day.  Picture this:  over 400 charter school teachers, administrators, heads of schools, founders, and other stakeholders gathered standing room only in the elegant auditorium of the FHI 360 Conference Center participating in the inaugural 2017 D.C. Charter School Conference hosted by Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.  Representatives were in attendance from most of the 118 campuses making this the largest gathering of charter school representatives in the 20 year history of a local movement that now educates almost 42,000 children, or 46 percent of all pupils attending public schools.

I will have much more to say about this stellar event in the near future.  But for now I want to bring your attention to an early highlight of the meeting.  The Keynote Speaker was Dr. Howard Fuller.  I have had the great opportunity to hear Dr. Fuller on numerous occasions and he is always motivational.  But this was something different.  Dr. Fuller spoke as if every single atom in his body was united in a supreme battle to convey his beliefs to the guests.  In honor of this man’s passion and eloquence, for which he received a prolonged standing ovation at the conclusion of his address, I am reprinting his remarks in their entirety.

Dr. Fuller is a Distinguished Professor of Education and founder and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He served as the Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools from 1991 to 1995. Dr. Fuller was a founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.  In the 1960s he became one of this nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders.  Dr. Fuller has received numerous awards and recognition over the years, including four Honorary Doctorate Degrees.

“Connecting Our Strengths”

I think our strength does not rest in the fact that most if not all of us in this room are here because we support charter schools. Our strength will be found in being clear why charter schools exist.

I will speak only for myself. I am in this room today because I care about the plight of poor children. And as a Black man who loves Black people down in the depths of my soul, I have a particular and special concern about Black children who come from low income and working class families.

I believe that education is one of the few levers of power that gives these children the possibility of being able to change the trajectory of their life chances while at the same time giving them the tools they need to engage in what Paulo Friere called, the “practice of freedom”- the ability to engage in the transformation of their world.

There is no way I can stand before you and talk to you about the education of our children and not acknowledge the national political environment that shadows all that we do right now today in America.

I have talked to many people of all races and ages since the election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States of America.  I want to put my view about this man on the table because it will frame some of what I have to say to you. I believe this man is a horrible human being.  I think he has said and done things that have been hurtful and painful to a lot of people. I believe the divides that were already in existence in our country have been and will continue to be exacerbated by President Trump.  He should read Thomas L. Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum’s book, That Used To Be Us. According to them there were five Pillars that made America great.  One of them was America used to have an immigration policy that recognized that America not only wanted immigrants with great minds but also people who just wanted to create a better life for themselves and their families.

But when I hear some people talk about the pain they are feeling, I am reminded of something Dr. King said in his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community.

He said, “the central quality in [Black peoples’] life is pain-pain so old and deep that it shows in every moment of [our] existence.  It emerges in the cheerlessness of [our] sorrow[ful] songs, in the melancholy of [our] blues and in the pathos of [our] sermons.  Black people while laughing [are shedding] invisible tears that no hand can wipe away.  In a highly competitive world, [Black people] know that a cloud of persistent denial stands between [us] and the sun, between [us] and life and power, between [us] and whatever we need.”

Pain is not a new reality for Black people, particularly poor Black people. No matter who has been in the White House our poorest brothers and sisters have suffered. While it is true that President Obama cared about them and at a minimum represented the office in a way that made us proud, he was not able to alleviate the suffering that our poorest families endure every single day. Their situations could conceivably get worse under the current regime. But, let’s be clear: no matter who is the President, if we care about our low income and working class brothers and sisters we must be in a continual fighting mode. But political reality dictates that we must be able and willing to protest and where possible collaborate if it will benefit those among us who have the least.  They cannot afford for us to be political purists.  They need those of us who would exercise leadership to be clear that in a political sense we can not have permanent friends or permanent enemies -what we must have are permanent interests. We have to resist while at the same time seizing any opportunity to help our children and the families who need us the most.

Howard Thurman was one of the great African American preachers of the 20th century. He was an author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader.

In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited he talked about the plight of the masses of people who live with their backs constantly against the wall.  They are the poor, the disinherited, and the dispossessed.  He said, there is one overmastering problem that the socially and the physically disinherited face. Under what terms is survival possible? The position of the disinherited in every age is – what must their attitudes be toward the rulers, the controllers of political, social and economic life?

But what must also be confronted by those of us who purport to care about the plight of the disinherited is what is our attitude towards them?

So, it is not just what you think about Trump or whomever you choose to direct your attention. The deeper question for me is what are you doing in your school to equip your children to be able to transform their world?

Are we screaming about Trump (not saying you shouldn’t) while we are not creating strong learning environments for our children that are immediately in our line of sight every day?

The strength of the charter school effort is not just our existence; it is understanding the purpose of our existence.  I support charter schools as long as they work for our children. If they don’t work then they have no value. Work for me is more than test scores: It’s treating our kids with respect; It’s understanding all of the issues that impact them before they ever get to school; It’s confronting the issues of race and class in our facilities and in our behavior towards our children; In the rules and regulations that we set up in so many instances to control our children because we are unable to manage them. It’s recognizing that as Paul Tough said in his latest book, that poor children are capable of deep learning.

Yes we must advocate for charter schools. Yes we must celebrate our strengths while acknowledging our weaknesses.  Some charter schools in DC have done and continue to do great work for our children. Those that are well-serving our children should be celebrated and supported. Those that with help can be of value to our children should get that help. Those that nobody’s children should be in should lose their right to exist. Of course I believe that about the traditional system as well.

So my message is simply this, our strength flows from our commitment to purpose and not to the method to get to purpose. Because the moment you get committed to the institutional arrangements to get to purpose as opposed to the purpose you are on the way to becoming the new protectors of the status quo.

I leave you with the words of William Daggett, “We must be committed to our childrens’ hopes, dreams, aspirations and prayers more than to any particular institutional arrangements.”

Looks like Virginia is about to replace one bad charter school law with another

The state of Virginia has almost no charter schools.  The reason is that their opening is dependent on approval by local county school boards.  Of course, no public body such as this would allow for one second an alternative to their monopoly over how kids are taught.

So now some charter enthusiasts are jumping for joy that a bill may reach Governor Terry McAuliffe‘s desk that would permit the Virginia Board of Education to form new regional public charter school divisions that could approve charters in localities with low performing schools.  The legislation is crafted so that charter schools could not be started n extremely small districts so the existing educational institutions in these areas are not harmed. In addition, in all jurisdictions no money for charters would be taken from existing traditional public schools.

It’s a really bad idea.  The bedrock of school choice is the competition for students.  Where good charter laws exist, like in the District of Columbia, the money follows the child.  Where is the strong incentive for the regular schools to improve if their budgets are not negatively impacted when a family decides to send their kids somewhere else?  I can see it now.  The teachers and administrators of neighborhood schools, faced with the loss of pupils, will justify the situation by claiming that the charter offers something they do not such as a robotics class or a chess club.  It will just be another day at the office.

If we as a society really want to jump-start an end to the status quo then the consequences of a scholar moving from one classroom to another needs to be extreme.  This is not a party where everyone gets along to get along so that feelings are not hurt.  This is a war against the dark stubborn mediocrity that has ensured that every country on the face of the earth is preparing their next generation to be more globally competitive than those living in the United States.  The situation is especially acute for kids in America living in poverty who today, right now, are performing academically two, three, four or more years below grade level.

We need to stop apologizing for asking politicians for school choice by crafting weak laws that create charter schools in name only.  Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand pointed out that a thing is not a thing because it has a name.  An object is what it is because of its unique recognizable characteristics. It is much better to junk the proposed law in Virginia and start over with a bill that has guts and teeth.  You would think that it would be easier for legislators to be brave when it comes to the future of our children.

Charter board delays vote on LAYC Career Academy PCS closure

When I tuned in last evening to watch online the monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board I immediately noticed an interesting sight.  In attendance was Stephen Marcus, the lead attorney on the FOCUS coordinated lawsuit against the city regarding inequitable funding of charter schools, and the gentleman who I worked with as board chair to negotiate the original building lease for the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts.  It is not entirely out of the ordinary for me to see Mr. Marcus at one of these sessions; he has been there many times before.  I just could not imagine what would bring him there on this cold and damp January evening.  It did not take long for me to discover the reason for his presence.

On the evening’s agenda was a vote to begin the revocation process of the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy’s charter.  Mr. Marcus is serving as its legal council, and the fact that he joined the representatives of the school in opposing the proposed action was not the only thing that struck me as unusual.

In the past, when the PCSB has sought to close a school it is usually a binary choice.  The board members are given the option of saying yes or no.  Sometimes, in negotiations between the school and the authorizer, a compromise is reached to shut particular campuses or to stop teaching certain grades in order to keep the school going.  But this time was different.  The PCSB staff came with a set of conditions the charter would have to meet if the vote was to continue to allow the facility to operate.  It came across to me as the first indication that the board’s staff was itself uncertain as to what the proper course should be.

All of this came about because LAYCCA is up for its five-year review.  The Latin American Youth Center has been around for about 50 years helping low income Hispanic young people in a variety of areas such as education, healthcare, and housing.  The organization has opened four charters in D.C. that as well as LAYCCA include Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS, YouthBuild PCS, and Next Step PCS.  LAYCCA focuses on adult learners who have not succeeded in traditional school settings and often suffer from the effects of homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.  The charter currently enrolls about 200 students between the ages of 16 and 24.  It is ranked Tier 2 on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework tool, an improvement over last year’s Tier 3 assessment.

Almost all of the evening’s discussion revolved around data analysis of student progress.  The school insists that in the past it has utilized narrative assessments as indicators as to whether it is reaching its goals, while the PCSB demands that there be quantitative measurements.  But to me the entire case by the charter board seems a little strange.  LAYCCA has worked closely with the CityBridge Foundation for the last two years on individualized learning plans for its students and recently won a $200,000 Breakthrough Schools grant from the group.  Please allow me to quote from the CityBridge website as to how this money will be utilized:

“Latin American Youth Center Career Academy (LAYCCA) will reevaluate the performance management framework used to measure student outcomes at schools serving particularly high-need populations in order to encompass more expansive measures of student success. LAYCCA will recruit a professional research partner to gather information about benchmarks and norms used by schools that are effectively serving these youth around the country. Armed with this research, LAYCCA will create a networked improvement community (NIC) of schools, funders, advocates, and regulators to rewrite performance measures for these schools to capture the complexity of their work.”

In other words, the school is attempting to do exactly as the PCSB wants.

Now back to Mr. Marcus.  He appears more than ready to bring the revocation issue to court.  He believes that the school’s  constitutional due process rights have not been followed.  His contention is that LAYCCA  was only informed by the PCSB four years into its existence that its goals had to be externally validated.  Mr. Marcus also makes the argument that in the past the goals agreed to by the board and the charter were vague.  However, as part of its revocation decision the board is now imposing its own numerical quotas that the school needs to meet.  The last allegation the school’s attorney makes is that the revocation decision is arbitrary and capricious.  He asserts that the PCSB is considering certain evidence that the school is meeting its goals but is leaving out other important facts that demonstrate they have been reached.

In the end the voice of reason on the board appears to be Steve Bumbaugh, who called a couple of the recommended PCSB conditions for continued operation of the school, such as lowering enrollment by 40 percent and ending the medical academy, “backdoor revocation.”  It was his motion to delay a decision on revocation to the February meeting that eventually passed, but only by a highly unusual four to three split.  Look for the board to reverse itself on the move to close LAYCCA over the next 30 days.