The D.C. charter board should make its schools adhere to the open meeting law

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein has an article published today questioning whether charter schools in the nation’s capital should increase their transparency by operating under open meeting laws and being subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The answer to the first part of this equation is simple. I agree that individual charter board meetings should be open to the public. When I was board chair at Washington Latin PCS and the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, parents would sometimes ask when they were allowed to attend our monthly meetings of the trustees. I would reply that these sessions were open to the public. Only rarely did someone other than a board member come, but my response diffused a situation that creates tension with parents when it appears that decisions are being made in secret. At Latin, we also published board meeting minutes on the school’s website.

The part about complying with FOIA requests is more difficult, simply because charters often do not have the administrative resources to be able to satisfy the inquiries. I would consider a proposal in which the DC Public Charter School Board assists schools in providing information, meeting certain criteria.

Scott Pearson stated in Ms. Stein’s article that the PCSB is always trying to increase the transparency of the sector, and I believe that is true. Currently, online visitors to the board’s dcpcsb.org can view school budgets, 990 forms, audits, and financial analysis of schools’ balance sheets.

Ms. Stein also included the opinion about this subject of Todd Ziebarth, the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s senior vice president for state advocacy. He “said the District is an anomaly and in most jurisdictions, the public can attend charter school board meetings — and request records from individual schools. “

Mr. Pearson remarked to the Post reporter that a revised version of the board’s proposed transparency policy will be presented at its February 25th meeting. This will be the same night that the consolidation of Cesar Chavez PCS’s campuses will be discussed. Should be an extremely interesting evening.

Cesar Chavez PCS is closing Chavez Prep

Yesterday afternoon Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy announced several changes to its network in the wake of lower than expected student enrollment. A letter from the school’s board of directors explains:

“The Board of Trustees, which includes a Chavez graduate, two current parents, our founder, and education, civic and business leaders, has spent more than a year analyzing city enrollment trends and school options, the operations and performance of the network, and the financial viability of operating three disconnected school buildings at a lower-than-planned student enrollment. In 2010, Chavez Schools secured $27.2 million in bonds, financing the purchase and renovation of our three school buildings. This bond structure was based on enrollment growing to 1,500 students, targeting a 2020 refinance. Today, with enrollment at only 956, the network must be reconfigured for the organization to meet its financial obligations and ensure continued viability.”

Chavez is therefore consolidating its Capitol Hill High School, housed in a location that it rents with a lease that concludes next year, with its Parkside High School campus, in a building that it owns. The Capitol Hill site currently enrolls 235 pupils on a site that holds more than 400 students. The relatively low number of students makes it difficult to offer a high school program. Chavez indicates that the majority of children that attend Capitol Hill live in Wards 7 and 8, so the new location will actually be closer to home. When I was on the board of the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, and the school was desperately looking for a place to open, we tried to obtain this facility but lost out to Chavez.

In December, 2017, The DC Public Charter School Board forced Chavez to begin the closing of its Parkside Middle School due to low academic performance. It therefore stopped accepting sixth grade students the following term and now instructs only seventh and eight graders. These scholars will graduate in 2020 and will then be able to join the CMO’s Parkside High School. Eventually, Chavez plans to rebuild its middle school at the Parkside campus.

One of Chavez’s goals regarding these changes is to create a truly first rate high school. Again, according to the board’s announcement:

“Investing in the Parkside campus will include: more Advanced Placement (AP) courses and advanced electives, more dual enrollment early college opportunities, more SAT preparation and support, a greater focus on college matching and alumni support, more public policy internships and policy curriculum offerings, more supports for students with special needs and for those learning English, and an even stronger athletic program than we already have. It also means building improvements, technology upgrades and greater support for teachers, staff and community.”

Consistent with focusing on developing a stellar high school program, Chavez also announced that it is shuttering its Chavez Prep Middle School location at the end of the current school year. Similar to the Capitol Hill campus, student enrollment is way under capacity with 238 kids in a building that seats 420. The number of pupils is down 34 percent since 2015 in a structure that a decade ago saw a $10.8 million dollar investment in improvements that is still being financed. But much more important than Chavez getting out of the middle school business is the fact that closing this school will terminate teachers’ union involvement in charters in the District.

As the only unionized charter, there were a lot of shenanigans taking place at Chavez Prep, including teachers protesting on the street and complaints to the National Labor Relations Board. After the staff voted to join the American Federation of Teachers in 2017, and following a series of exceptionally challenging negotiations, a collective bargaining agreement with management has never been finalized. I have consistently expressed the view that teacher union membership is inconsistent with the operational freedoms associated with running a charter school, and therefore have called for Chavez to close this property.

Christian Herr, the Chavez Prep teacher behind the unionization effort, stated that employees were crying after learning on Wednesday that the school was going out of business. I’m sure this is true. He is probably upset that he is losing further opportunities to interfere with the administration of the school. He remarked that the union will investigate this action.

All I can say is that I am tremendously proud of the moves by the Chavez board of directors for their efforts in protecting and strengthening the future of their school.  I also applaud the leadership of Josh Kern as head of the Tensquare Group that is currently leading an academic turnaround at this charter. Just as in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, when the book’s hero architect Howard Roark destroyed his housing complex for low-income residents when it wasn’t being built to his high-level specifications, in closing Chavez Prep Mr. Kern has taken a gigantic step in protecting the integrity of our local movement of innovative schools. Therefore, I now consider Mr. Kern the Howard Roark of the D.C. charter movement.

In addition, the news for me could not come at a better time. Next Wednesday I mark ten years of covering our city’s charter schools through my blog.

“I am the undertaker.” D.C. charter board’s COO on closing schools

In an exceptionally well written piece, Lenora Robinson-Mills, the chief operating officer for the DC Public Charter School Board, reflects on her role in working with schools whose charters have been revoked by her organization. She states:

“In the presenter’s scenario, where school closure is the death, the school community dies, and I am the undertaker. And the grief counselor. Part of my role at DC PCSB is to manage the wind-down of the school and support families in finding new schools once our Board makes that final decision. And, I was onboard with the presenter using the metaphors ‘death’ and ‘funeral’ to symbolize school closure (‘yes, we should give families time to grieve!’) until I remembered how it usually plays out in our city. I remembered why we’re pushing students and families to pick a new ‘parent’ so quickly: usually, the final closure decision by our Board happens very close to (and in some cases past) the My School DC common lottery application deadline. So to ensure the families of closed public charter schools have access to as many quality options as possible, we push… hard. We call, email, text, send snail mail, and host school fairs. We have the school make calls, send letters, emails, texts, send robocalls, and hold parent meetings. We listen to family concerns and considerations with empathy, and then we ask, beg, and plead with them to submit their lottery applications TODAY!”

Ms. Robinson-Mills openly grapples with the entire process around school closure. She mentions that a charter often does not inform their parents that it is in trouble before the decision is made by the board to close the doors. If the word got out early and families left, and then by some chance the school was allowed to keep operating, then it may not have sufficient revenue to keep going. She is talking about the inherent financial paradox of running a charter school. Newly approved institutions are required to sign leases on buildings when they do not know how many children will enroll. Add to this the fact that no charter opens with its full enrollment, almost all open with a couple of grades and then add a grade a year until they reach their ceiling, and you get just one sense about the difficulty of managing this business. Founders must complete an arduous application process, secure a facility, hire the staff, sign up the pupils, comply with a myriad of reporting requirements, and then after one year of grace, become accountable to a grade on the Performance Management Framework. You can see why I refer to these leaders as heroes.

The PCSB COO wishes that no school had to face closure. She yearns for a surgeon that could come in and medically repair the ill patient. Ms. Robinson-Mills knows this is not the role of authorizer. In D.C. we have TenSquare that can play the part of doctor but their fixes have recently been the subject of intense criticism. Attorney Stephen Marcus has gallantly tried to block the executioner from casting the final vote to end the existence of schools, however his argument that there is a bias built into the PMF against low-income children has now been firmly rejected.

All of this points to the tremendous differences between charters and traditional schools in this city. The fact that DCPS faces none of the challenges is a testament to charters that teach almost 44,000 students or 47 percent of all public school students in the District of Columbia. There are 123 schools run by 66 non-profit entities in the city. This is an unbelievable achievement.

 

Washington Post writers continue anti charter school tirade

The Washington Post’s education writer Valerie Strauss desperately wants all charter schools closed. Here’s what she wrote in a recent opinion piece:

“There are some wonderful charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, but the sector is rife with scandal, and critics charge that they are harming traditional public schools, which enroll most of America’s children.

What was once billed as a model for the improvement of traditionally governed public schools has become a troubled parallel system of privately managed schools with, in many places, patterns of waste, fraud and segregation.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Charters are public schools but they are not privately managed. In the District of Columbia each one is a non-profit governed by a board of directors made up of members of the community. The school itself is ultimately held accountable to the DC Public Charter School Board, a public body whose composition of individuals is selected by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the D.C. Council. All of those serving on a school board and the PCSB are unpaid volunteers.

Charter schools are not characterized by “waste, fraud, and segregation.” There have been just two cases of financial irregularities in the 20-year history of our local charters, and in both cases the schools were closed once the problems were identified and criminal charges were brought against those involved.

Today, Ms. Strauss, together with Perry Stein, continues to spread false claims about charters in a news story about The Future Family Enrichment Center, a home where Monument Academy PCS apparently sent three children and Friendship PCS sent one student on a temporary basis while arrangements were being made to meet their special education needs. The Enrichment Center was found not to have a business license. The charter board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education are now investigating this business. I am confident that after this publicity no charter school will ever again utilize this vendor.

The article again spreads the inaccurate bromide about charters being privately run schools and it adds this one about the PCSB: “The board — which oversees dozens of charter schools in the city — grants schools autonomy to make financial decisions, meaning that contracts schools sign with outside vendors do not need to be approved by the board. “

In the aftermath of the problems around finances that were mentioned earlier the board increased its requirements around procurement contracts. You can read the policy here. In addition, in an tremendous effort to increase transparency around the use of public funds anyone can review the balance sheet and fiduciary health of any one of its institutions. Try dong that with a traditional public school.

But all of this is really besides the point. If you want to have an inspiring day skip work and go visit one of our city’s charter schools. There you will find heroes spending every bit of energy contained in their bodies to take kids living in poverty and close the academic achievement gap. As soon as you walk into one of these buildings the positive energy will make you feel like you have entered one of the most prestigious learning establishments in this country although it may be located in a store front, warehouse, or church basement. These schools are taking children who in the past have ended up in jail or would have been killed, and sending them to college.

Instead of writing highly misleading pieces, Ms. Strauss and Ms. Stein should take a trip to Monument Academy or any one of Friendship’s 13 campuses.

Transitions and consolidations at D.C. charter schools

Late Friday, I received a note from Aaron Cuny, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, announcing that he was stepping down from his position at the school.  He wrote:

“After much deliberation, I’ve decided to transition from the role of Ingenuity Prep’s CEO.  After nearly 18 years of working in schools — including serving as the leader of this organization since we opened our doors in 2013 — I’ve come to the conclusion this transition is necessary for me to fulfill my commitments to my own family, one which will soon get a little bit bigger as my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child later this month.”

Mr. Cuny, who I interviewed this past October, indicated that his co-founder and the school’s current chief operating officer Will Stoetzer will assume the interim CEO role.  Mr. Cuny added that he is not leaving the school entirely; after a paternity leave he will continue to serve Ingenuity Prep by assisting with special projects.

Board chair Peter Winik commented on the change:

“Having worked closely with Aaron for close to six years — since before the first students walked into Ingenuity Prep —  I have enormous affection and respect for Aaron. He cares deeply and passionately about the vision of the school: making certain that our kids receive the finest education possible. Over these past years, no one has worked harder at making that vision a reality than Aaron.  We’re proud of what the school has been able to achieve, and we all owe Aaron an enormous debt of gratitude for this.

Even as we are sad to see Aaron transition from the role of CEO, we are fortunate to be in a position to provide for stability and strong continued leadership in this transition.  As a former teacher with a masters in special education and as a co-founder of the school, Will Stoetzer has worked side-by-side with Aaron from the very beginning — crafting the vision for the school; engaging external partners, staff, families, and students; and executing with a high level of excellence his work as Chief Operating Officer.”

As I wrote following my conversation with Mr. Cuny, Ingenuity Prep has achieved much, especially in the area of academics.  The school would like to replicate but being ranked as Tier 2 on DC Public Charter’s School Board’s Performance Management Framework, it does not meet the criteria for expansion.  Over the last three years the charter’s PMF score has been gradually declining.

Then on Saturday at the annual EdFest event at the DC Armory, I ran into Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship PCS.  She was only too excited to tell me that her school has filed an amendment with the charter board to takeover Ideal Academy PCS.  My sense of Ideal is that it has been a chronically low academically performing school for much of its existence since it was approved to open in 1999 under the old Board of Education.  The PCSB began revocation proceedings in 2011 against the school, which was allowed to stay open after it agreed to eliminate its high school.  In 2018, the pre-Kindergarten to eighth grade facility teaching approximately 279 students in Ward 4 ranked as a Tier 3, where it has generally scored over the last three years.  In all certainly the PCSB would have moved shortly to close this charter.

The conversion of this school to fall under the Friendship umbrella means that this will be the second charter consolidation to be considered at the charter board’s December meeting.  The other is the KIPP DC management of Somerset Prep PCS.

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers’ union strike at Chicago charter schools not good sign for D.C. movement

On Tuesday more than 500 teachers and other employees walked off the job at 15 Acero Public Charter Schools. According to the Washington Post’s Laura Meckler, the instructors, represented by the Chicago Teachers Union, and charter school management are fighting over issues that “include pay; class size, now set at 32 students; and the length of the school day and school year.” This is the first strike in the history of the charter school movement in the United States.

The Post reporter states that the Chicago union has organized about 25 percent of individuals employed in charter schools in that city, and that the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools relates that across the country about 11 percent of charters have unions. The article also points out that across the nation approximately three million pupils attend charter schools, which number around 7,000.

Last week at the Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event, Scott Pearson, the DC Public Charter School Board executive director, had this to say about the condition of our local movement:

“In DC, the per-pupil spend is closer to $20,000. And I know it doesn’t feel like enough – because it isn’t. Tuition at Sidwell Friends is over $40,000 – and they fundraise on top of it. But, acknowledging it should be more, it’s at a level that an Indiana educator would imagine would solve all of her problems. And yet it doesn’t seem to. Our teacher turnover in DC is higher than in most places. Sometimes it feels that we are on this treadmill of churning through teachers, where we end up having to spend a fortune on recruiting and coaching and long-term subs. What are the hidden savings in retaining our teachers, whether through higher pay or reduced workload? For example, would you need instructional coaches if most of your teachers stayed with you for seven years? How many teachers would stay if they could job share and work half time for a bit more than half pay? I’m just throwing out ideas – you are the experts, the ones closest to the issue. But I’d remind you that you have unique freedoms. You are public charter schools. You aren’t unionized. You have exclusive control over your budgets and your personnel policies. And you have uniquely high per-pupil funding. I encourage you to use those freedoms to find a way to make teaching work more sustainable. Perhaps what’s holding you back is PCSB and our high standards of accountability. What I’d say is, if you want to try something bold, talk with us. Your idea may be the one that solves the issue. I would hate to know that our high bar kept you from innovating.”

His speech, however, contains one inaccuracy. We are unionized, at least on one campus. In addition, he should know this to be the case since almost exactly two years ago he suggested that a teachers’ union could be a good thing for our schools. But events have not transpired in a positive way at Chavez Prep PCS, the unionized charter in our town, with teachers and other staff protesting on the streets and educators bringing charges to the National Labor Relations Board. The staff has also complained to the Washington City Paper about the hiring of the TenSquare Consulting Group to improve academic achievement at Chavez, including this comment by Christian Herr, one of the teachers who led bringing the American Federation of Teachers to the school:

“It’s not like we needed to spend $140,000 a month to have someone tell us to do more test prep,” he says. “It was really hard for us when our school board decided some things needed to be restructured, but didn’t even come to us, didn’t even ask what we the teachers thought. They have these buildings full of people who live in these neighborhoods and have worked in these schools for a long time, all this expertise, yet you make the choice to bring in someone who knows nothing about it and pay them massive amounts of money.”

Despite Mr. Herr’s criticism, the Performance Management Framework results for Chavez soared in 2018.

We need to keep a close eye on union activity in Washington, D.C.’s charter schools.

D.C. charter board honors top performing schools

Last Thursday I had the honor of attending the DC Public Charter School Board’s Celebrating Best Practices in Public Charter School Education event.  The venue was a perfect setting for the occasion.  It was held at the stately Willard InterContinental Hotel, whose opulence all decked out for the Christmas season seemed a perfect match to the quality of the work being performed in the classrooms of the institutions recognized on this day.  No detail was left for chance.  Upon arrival each individual representing a charter received a personalized program inscribed with a quotation from one of its students highlighting his or her excitement over attending that particular school.  Once the attendees grabbed their breakfast and were seated, a highly professionally produced video was presented that interviewed children attending Tier 1 charters whose adorable comments echoed those found on the cards containing the morning’s agenda.

Thanks to the board’s efforts it really did feel like a special gathering.  This was reinforced by the stature of those in attendance, who included Chairman of the D.C. Council Phil Mendelson, At-large D.C. Councilmember Robert White, Jr., Ward 6 D.C. Coucilmember Charles Allen, and the new Acting D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn.

Next up was Scott Pearson, the PCSB’s executive director, who welcomed the guests.  He congratulated all of the award winners, recognizing all of the challenges they face in practicing their profession.  But then something fascinating happened.  Mr. Pearson became philosophical and provided some comments that I never would have imagined being spoken by this man.  He talked about issues he referred to as impacting the sustainability of an educator’s career:

“The second concerns the growing demands we place on you and your staffs.  Just in the past year the city council has regulated or is about to regulate your discipline policies, how you work with non-English-speaking families, and how you hire your staff.  We now have two evaluation systems, the PMF and the OSSE five-star rating, which nearly doubles the data validation work you must do.  The work we require of you for procurement contracts is greater than ever.   Sometimes I feel like I am slowly witnessing the slow, steady, reconstruction of the traditional public system we were supposed to be the alternative to.  The fact that I’m part of this process is not only ironic to me – given that I used to be a charter school board chair – it’s deeply painful.  And yet there is a logic and a rationale behind each turn of the ratchet.  We’re all good people, trying to do what’s best.  We play our roles.  The council’s is to legislate.  PCSB’s is to oversee.  Yours is to educate.  But it’s also to fight.  To fight for your flexibility, to fight for what makes your schools special.  Acting alone neither PCSB nor OSSE or the Council can anticipate how our well-meaning actions will affect you.  Only you can tell us – and the way things are, you sometimes need to shout it at us.  You have to constantly remind us that your freedom to innovate, your exclusive controls, and your ability to be able to focus you energies on student achievement and well-being as opposed to compliance is not just a nice feature – it’s the essential, the core, the heart and soul of what allows you to succeed.   Only when you are in our faces reminding us of this essential fact do we have a chance to get it right.”

It was as if the PCSB executive director was reading directly from my blog.

Next was the announcement of the 11 best practice honorees.  These were nominated by the schools and picked by a selection committee.  They included:

Community Influence Award:  Joyful Food Markets,
Data Excellence Award:  Jodi Ihaza, Briya PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Stephanie Remick, Washington Leadership Academy PCS,
Program Innovation Award:  Zeleta Green, E.L Haynes PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Francis Richards, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Teacher Award:  Alexis Rosario, Cedar Tree Academy PCS,
TIERific Principal Award:  Rachel Tommelleo, Center City PCS,
TIERific Parent Award:  Nicole Fitzgerald, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS,
TIERific Student Award:  Kalkidan Haile, E.L. Haynes PCS,
Excellence in English Language Learner Programming Award:  Alicia Passante, Center City PCS, and
Excellence in Special Education Programming Award:  Wanda Gregory, Capital City PCS

Additional details about those recognized can be found here.

Each of the 53 Tier 1 school was then called to the podium to receive their award recognizing their attainment of the top ranking on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while a brief narrative was read giving an overview of the mission of the charter.  Afterwords pictures of each school team were taken with Mr. Pearson, Ms. Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, the PCSB Deputy Director, and invited special guests.

In all it was an exceptionally positive ceremony.

KIPP DC PCS to takeover Somerset Prep PCS

Multiple individuals involved in the transition have confirmed to me that Somerset Prep PCS has agreed to be taken over by KIPP DC, and that KIPP will be asking the DC Public Charter School Board to approve the change in the charter management organization overseeing Somerset at its December 2018 meeting.

Somerset is a sixth-through-twelfth grade charter that opened in the 2013-to-2014 school year. It currently serves approximately 424 students of whom 71 percent are classified as at-risk and 60 percent are economically disadvantaged. Last December, the PCSB conducted its five-year review of Somerset and determined that it was not meeting its academic goals. It permitted the school to continue operating under a list of academic conditions. The high school has consistently scored as a low-to-average Tier 2 institution on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, while the middle school has been ranked as Tier 3 for two out of three years.

The charter has a special place in D.C.’s charter school movement. Major support for this school opening here came from Joe Bruno, the president of Building Hope, who served as the school’s first board chair. It receives services from Academica, a charter school support organization, as the Somerset national charter management organization does in many localities in which it operates. Somerset and Academica operate many schools in Florida where Building Hope also has an office. I remember Martha Cutts, the former long-term head of school at Washington Latin PCS, informing me that Mr. Bruno asked her to consult with the principal of Somerset Prep in order to improve the operation of the school.

Due to Somerset’s low academic performance, especially around its middle school, its board of directors initiated a search for a new partner. The process included parent and teacher board members and included school tours, data reviews, and site visits. The decision by Somerset’s board to join KIPP DC was unanimous. The KIPP DC board has also approved the expansion of their network to include Somerset PCS.

KIPP DC now has 16 campuses in Washington, D.C., instructing almost 6,300 students and has 1,800 alumni. Eight of its schools are ranked on the PMF as Tier 1. The Promise Academy campus was recognized this year by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School for its high performance and for closing the academic achievement gap.

KIPP DC’s goal is to begin operating Somerset PCS during the Summer of 2019. It would also like to expand its offerings at the new location to start in the fourth grade. The current principal of Somerset, Lauren Catalano, will continue to have a leadership position at the new school.

Susan Schaeffler, the founder and chief executive officer of KIPP DC commented about the expansion of her CMO, “I am excited to be exploring a partnership with Somerset. A partnership between KIPP DC and Somerset would provide continuity to families and ensure they have education supports that will prepare them for college and rewarding careers. We’re eager to listen to students, families and the community in the coming months about what the school could look like in the near future.”

Look for the PCSB to quickly and easily decide to proceed with this change.

City Arts and Prep PCS forcibly rejects attempt by D.C. charter board to close its school

Last Tuesday evening the DC Public Charter School Board held a public hearing to consider revoking the charter of City Arts and Prep PCS. The action was initiated as part of the board’s fifteen-year review of the school. I have witnessed numerous meetings over the years in which a school is facing closure, but I have never seen a stronger refutation of PCSB’s staff report precipitating this action than that provided by the representatives of City Arts.

This was an emotional session for me. I was a founding board member of City Arts and Prep, which when it was created was called the William E. Doar, Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts. I also served as its board chair for about five years. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was one of a small group of individuals who was involved in writing the original charter. Julie Doar was the initial board chair and first executive director. The school was named after her father who had passed years before I met her. We often met in Julie’s apartment in the evening or on weekends to work on the application and she would cook for us. Joe Smith, now the CEO/CFO of Eagle Academy PCS, was our charter school consultant, and Stephen Marcus, whose law firm is defending City Arts, was our lawyer. The room where the hearing was held was where my wife Michele and I spent considerable time watching student performances or sitting with guests enjoying the faculty talent show. I also helped secure the facility that houses this charter.

But I digress. If you want to go up against the PCSB in an exceptionally high pressure situation then there are no better people to bring with you than Brandon Daniels, the school’s current board chair; Sherry Ingram, an attorney with The Marcus Firm; and Lanette Dailey-Reese, the school’s executive director. Speaking in the order listed above, you could not help but appreciate the dedication, passion, and energy these individuals bring to this charter. Their knowledge about the school was unparalleled.

Here is the bottom line of the current situation. City Arts and Prep has demonstrated uneven academic performance throughout its existence, at one point hiring The TenSquare Consulting Group to perform a turnaround. The most recent charter agreement with the school, coming at the end of its ten-year review, required it to score at least an average of 50 percent on the Performance Management Framework over the last five years. The charter board states that the school never exceeded this mark in any single year and has an average score of 46.6 percent across this period.

I will focus on the testimony of Ms. Ingram. She spoke as if she was defending a wrongly accused plaintiff and she was the only one on the planet who could get back this man’s freedom. Please don’t take my word for it, you can watch the proceedings here. Her main line of argument, more fully developed here, was the same one used to defend Excel Academy PCS when it was facing closure by the board. Her assertion is that when it comes to the education of at-risk youth, the PMF is biased against this population. She stated that the PCSB has its own report demonstrating this to be the case. City Arts and Prep has a student population that Ms. Ingram reported is approximately 98 percent black and includes 65 percent of kids that are economically disadvantaged. 75 percent of its students come to this Ward 5 school from Wards 7 and 8.

Ms. Ingram went on to explain that when the PMF is recalculated to account for the socio-economic factors of its student body it exceeds the 50 percent mark. Perhaps the most effective part of her presentation was in regard to the treatment of this school by the board in comparison to Harmony PCS. She explained that just last week Harmony, which like City Prep is ranked as Tier 2, was given the green light to continue operating after five years with a PMF total of 45 points. By the PCSB’s own calculation, she continued, City Prep’s results are higher but in this instance the board is talking about shuttering its doors. She also mentioned that City Prep has a student wait-list of about 200 students, while Harmony’s is one child.

I could go on and on regarding the effectiveness of the points made by the Marcus Firm attorney. In addition, I would be remiss if I failed to mention one particularly interesting comment by the school’s board chair. Mr. Daniels related that he is fairly new to this role and that when he first assumed his position at the school he met with Mr. Pearson, the PCSB executive director. This was before the latest PARCC scores were released that determine much of the PMF’s final calculation. At this session, Mr. Daniels stated that Mr. Pearson stated that his goal was to close City Arts and Prep.

The clarity and strength of the school’s remarks seemed to stun the members of the PCSB. While they asked questions of the witnesses it did not appear to me to be the same level of inquiry that I have seen at other forums of this type. At the end of this portion of the meeting, Saba Bireda, the board’s vice chair, observed that there are 11 D.C. charters that have higher proportions of their population of at-risk pupils than City Arts that in 2018 scored in the Tier 1 range of the PMF. She remarked that last year this number was 17, and she added that she is uncomfortable saying that this population cannot reach this level. Perhaps this was a hint of what the decision will be regarding this school at the December meeting.

Growth of D.C. charter school sector comes to a screeching halt

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education released the audited enrollment data for the 2018-to-2019 school year, and for the first time since the charter school movement began teaching its first students in 1998, the percentage of pupils being taught in this sector compared to those enrolled in DCPS declined compared to the previous year.  The change is small but the implication is humongous.  47 percent of all public school children in the District of Columbia attend a charter school.

This year 43,958 students have signed up to go to a charter school compared to 43,393 during the 2017-to-2018 school term, representing a one percent increase over the last 12 months.  However, DCPS saw its student body increase by two percent, going from 48,144 pupils on the count last October to 49,103 this fall.  92,994 students now attend public school in the nation’s capital, which represents ten years of growth.

The reaction to this news yesterday by Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, may not be the one you would expect.  He posted on Twitter:

“For the 10th yr enrollment has increased in public schools but the 1st time the percentage of DC charter school students has gone down. This slight decline reflects our commitment to opening good schools and closing low-performing ones. It’s about quality and choice, not numbers.”

My blood pressure is going up so much right now that I can hardly sit in my chair to write these words.  Yes, of course, public education reform is about quality and choice but it is fundamentally about providing each and every child a good education no matter where they live.  However, we are so far away from this goal despite the fact that so many of us have been working and fighting and arguing and sweating and giving our hard-earned money to turn this situation around.  This is the civil rights struggle that I’m afraid will never be corrected.  Not when the leader of our sector states that we don’t have to worry about the numbers.

In 2012, The Illinois Facility Fund estimated that our city was in need of approximately 40,000 quality seats in our schools.  Last April, the DC PCSB reported there were 11,317 students on charter wait lists.

I have spoken to so many frustrated parents who cannot get their children into a high-performing school.  I have spoken to so many frustrated parents that cannot get their children into a high-performing school.  I have spoken to so many frustrated parents that cannot get their children into a high-performing school.

Charters teach their kids but they don’t get the same amount of money that the regular schools receive.  The founders have to beg to obtain a building in which teachers can practice their profession.  Then, on top of all this, they get to provide information on every detail of their operation to the PCSB.

We have to start over.  We need someone, anyone, who will go to bat for these alternative schools that are literally closing the academic achievement gap for the first time in the history of public education.  We need to figure out how every child, even if they are poor or black or disabled, can get access to what others have been so fortunate to be able to obtain.