Mundo Verde PCS about to ratify first D.C. charter school union contract

A few weeks ago, WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported that Mundo Verde PCS is about to have the city’s first charter school collective bargaining agreement with its employees.

“Teachers, staff and management at one campus of the Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in D.C. have agreed on a tentative union contract, putting the popular school a vote away from becoming the first charter school in the city’s history to unionize.”

I have written hundreds of words about the efforts of DC ACTs, the union associated with the American Federation of Teachers to infiltrate Paul PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS, and now Mundo Verde.  There is really not much more to say about the move.  However, one paragraph in Mr. Austermuhle’s story grabbed my attention.

“’Mundo Verde has a really big commitment to social justice and equity, and we teach that to our students. The conversation about how do we provide teachers with more resources, and how do we give teachers and educators a voice is not a new one. There were a lot of spaces for us to share these feelings with leadership of the school, but it felt like it was time to do something more formal,’ said Andrea Molina, a kindergarten teacher and member of the bargaining unit.”

My contention is that if the employees of the charter were really serious about social justice and equity they would not be placing a union between the working relationship of school leadership and the teachers. The worst thing that could happen is that each and every move that a charter needs to make must be negotiated every two to three years. This is what I explained in my conversation with Mr. Austermuhle regarding his article:

“’I think it’s a terrible development, and overall it will hurt our charter school movement,’ said Mark Lerner, an education writer who also served in leadership positions of various charter schools. ‘[Charter schools] need to be able to react quickly, and if you have to work through a collective bargaining agreement, you can’t make changes quickly. If unions were widespread throughout the charter movement, they would look more and more like DCPS schools where it’s difficult to fire teachers, change curriculum, or change times.’”

In the last sentence I was referring to the opening and dismissal times established by schools.

It now appears that the nature of charters and traditional schools are becoming mirrors of each other. Just last week DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee revealed his desire to close Washington Metropolitan High School, an alternative high school located near Howard University. The campus, according to the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, has been characterized by “declining enrollment, poor attendance and lackluster academic results.”

Ms. Stein went on to detail that Washington Met is one of four alternative high schools, known as Opportunity Academies, operating under DCPS, although this is the only one that has a middle school. It opened in 2008 and has about 150 students. The school relocated to its current site in 2016. If Mayor Bowser approves of Mr. Ferebee’s recommendation, it would close at the end of the 2019-to-2020 academic year. The timing of his request is centered around the start of the upcoming MySchool DC lottery.

By the way, DCPS has apparently already said that if this school is closed the system will hold on to the building. Another structure about to be denied for use by charters desperate for permanent facilities.

The Washington Post reporter stated that the last time a DCPS school was shuttered was in 2013. If more of the low academic performing neighborhood schools are closed, and additional charters become unionized, we will begin to see the merging of the two sectors that many in the collaboration movement have been calling on for years.

After all why does there need to be charters if DCPS is playing their role in closing lackluster schools and charters operate in the same manner as the regular ones? It could mean the end of competition for students. I’ve never been more concerned.

Why school choice is the black choice

Last Friday afternoon, my wife Michele and I attended a fascinating forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation entitled “Why School Choice is the Black Choice.” The session was moderated by Roland Martin, who my wife and I have enjoyed for years as the Master of Ceremonies for the annual Friendship PCS Teacher of the Year Gala. Joining Mr. Roland for a panel discussion was Margaret Fortune, CEO and president Fortune PCS; Shawn Hardnett, founder and executive director Statesmen College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS; Elizabeth Davis, president, Washington Teachers’ Union; and Dr. Steve Perry, founder Capital Preparatory PCS’s.

The lively and argumentative discussion centered on the role of charter schools in public education in this country. Of course, anytime the subject is charters at this moment in time, the issue of transparency is brought up. Here is where Dr. Perry, who was by far the most passionate of the day’s speakers, turned the topic on its head. He pointed out that if you really want to talk about this topic then we have to be transparent about the numerous traditional public schools that are failing to teach our youth, specifically low-income black boys, and the fact that nothing is being done to correct the situation. Dr. Perry related that these schools just continue to exist day in and day out. In essence, the educational malpractice simply continues. Ms. Fortune, Mr. Hardnett, and Dr. Perry highlighted that when it comes to charter schools, if they don’t perform they are closed. In D.C., 35 schools have had their charter revoked for academic reasons.

I think Dr. Perry is on to something here. When charter opponents in our nation’s capital harp on transparency, supporters need to illuminate all of the matters that we need to be open about regarding these schools of choice:

  • The $1,600 to $2,600 per student per year that the neighborhood schools receive each year that charters do not even though by law the two sectors are to receive identical revenue through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula;
  • The over 1 million square feet of unused or underutilized space that DCPS is holding without providing them to charters as is required by law that is a major contributor to a 12,000 charter school student wait list:
  • The reality that the DC Public Charter School Board requires its schools to provide detailed information about every aspect of the operation of the schools it oversees, including financial data, and that almost all of these submissions are publicly available; and
  • The fact that no DCPS schools have ever been shuttered due to poor academic performance. Not a one.

If people want transparency, then transparency is exactly what they will get.

Why I miss Kaya Henderson as DCPS Chancellor

Last week, former DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson had an opinion piece published in the Washington Post. In the article she celebrates the recently released PARCC scores for traditional school students. Ms. Henderson wrote:

“Across the board, student achievement is up. Students in nearly every grade, every subgroup and every subject area are showing improvement. I was excited to see that the percentage of students who are college- and career-ready is going up, and I was thrilled to see that the percentage of students scoring at the lowest levels on the test is going down. All of our students are showing incredible growth.”

As Chancellor from 2010 to 2016, Ms. Henderson should be proud as she and her predecessor Michelle Rhee laid the groundwork for much of the gains students have been able to realize. But this is not the reason that I liked the column.

I learned years ago from the former Chancellor that there are two distinct ways that public school reform can be practiced. The first, and the one that I have supported for more than 20 years, is to provide competition to the traditional schools in the form of charters and private school vouchers. The theory here is that as money follows the children to alternative schools, the loss of funds will drive improvement to the regular classrooms. This is exactly what has taken place in the nation’s capital. Before there were charter schools in the District, parents who made the decision to keep their children at home rather then send them to the neighborhood schools were being logical in regard to the safety and well-being of their offspring.

But there is another way to go about reaching the same endpoint. DCPS could be fixed from within. This is the least likely to succeed approach to improving student academic results because in large urban school systems, the customer is most often the bureaucracy and not the parents and children that are being served. However, this is the philosophy that has driven Ms. Henderson’s career. Back to her editorial:

“There has been a trend over the past decade to decentralize education decisions, to create portfolio districts and to emphasize autonomy. I understand the impulse, and I agree that some decisions are best made at the school level. But I also believe that when we devolve responsibilities down to individual schools, we are abdicating the responsibility of the district to ensure rigor and equity. No individual school could have created the curriculum, the model lessons or the teacher evaluation system that DCPS built. No one school can ensure that students in every ward have the chance to enjoy art and music classes. No amount of autonomy can ensure that every high school has AP classes.”

In other words Ms. Henderson has taken the equity argument, so persuasive in public education circles these days, and applied it forcibly to her worldview. We need a top down approach, she argues, so that each and every student can take advantage of the same pedagogical tools.

The argument is not much different from one that DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, or KIPP DC PCS would offer. Once you believe that your organization is providing the absolute best path forward for your students then you believe passionately in your heart that every young person should be able to take advantage of what you have to offer.

Perhaps we have all now come full circle.

With pick of Lewis Ferebee to become next Chancellor of D.C. schools, public education reform comes roaring back to the nation’s capital

Here is the key paragraph to Perry Stein’s Washington Post article about the selection by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Lewis Ferebee to become the next DCPS Chancellor:

“Ferebee received leadership training at the Broad Academy, an initiative to support urban school superintendents funded by philanthropist and charter school backer Eli Broad. [Kaya] Henderson, [Antwan] Wilson, D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and Paul Kihn, the deputy mayor for education whom Bowser tapped this year, also received training at the Broad Academy.”

The choice of Mr. Ferebee sends a tremendously significant signal that public school reform in D.C. should not only continue but accelerate in its pace.  It is a fascinating move coming from a Mayor whose top priorities in office have focused on affordable housing and reducing homelessness.

The nominee has been Superintendent of Indianapolis schools since 2013 where, among other things, he turned management of low-performing traditional schools over to charters.  Sound familiar?  It’s something I have been calling for since beginning to write an education blog in 2009.  There are more interesting details about his past work from Ms. Stein’s piece:

“In Indianapolis, Ferebee oversaw a cash-strapped system and closed some schools. He said that there is little social mobility in Indianapolis and that the departure of manufacturing jobs forced him to rethink how high schools train students for the workforce.

He dismantled the neighborhood high school system, replacing it with vocational and college preparatory academies that students could choose to attend no matter where their families lived.”

In other words, this is a much different decision than putting forth Amanda Alexander for Chancellor, someone who has been with DCPS for over 20 years, and who was believed to be the other finalist for the position.  Ms. Alexander hinted that she would tinker around the edges of the current regular school sector, commenting that if she got the job she would would send more central office personnel into schools to support academic achievement.

However, we have to sincerely thank Ms. Alexander for the work she has done since last February to provide stability in a system rocked by controversy around discretionary school placement by the former Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education, graduating high school students that failed to meet requirements for a diploma, and residency fraud.

Interestingly, Mr. Ferebee turned down the opportunity to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District last April.  I’m wondering what the difference was between Los Angeles and Washington that led him to pick coming here?  I’m hoping it is the general positive climate toward school choice and charter schools in particular in this town.  But perhaps I’m being too optimistic.

Here’s one other public education update.  On November 9th the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education released the final report of the D.C. Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.  You don’t need to read it.  I’ve taken a brief look at the document and it fails to cover the most pressing issues facing the local charter movement such as the acquisition of facilities and solving the funding inequity problem.  Now we can place this document on the shelf and move on.  It is time for a new day.

 

 

 

Sad news revealed about Washington D.C.’s traditional schools

Saturday was not a good day regarding the management of the traditional school system in the nation’s capital that educates 48,144 children.  First, a report by D.C.’s Inspector General looking into the preferential placement of former Chancellor Antwan Wilson’s daughter found that no one involved in this mess has taken responsibility for moving his child away from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and enrolling her in Wilson High School; skirting the My School DC Lottery and obtaining admission notwithstanding a wait list of over 600 students.  Asked about the findings of the review,  Mayor Muriel Bowser again rejected that she knew anything about the actions of the officials she oversaw despite the fact that she was apparently told about the relocation by the Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles.  Mr. Wilson has stated on multiple occasions that he referred the issue of his child’s unhappiness at attending Duke Ellington to his wife.  Ms. Niles claims that she had delegated the matter to Jane Spence, the Deputy Chief of Secondary Schools.

According to the Washington Post story appearing over the weekend by Fenit Nirappil and Perry Stein, “the report portrays a scenario in which the two top school officials appeared to understand the political hazards of the transfer.  It concluded the two [Mr. Wilson and Ms. Niles] made some efforts to avoid giving the chancellor’s daughter preferential treatment, but ultimately their actions led to rules being bypassed.”

Mr. Wilson, Ms. Niles, and Ms. Spence all have lost their positions.  The Mayor, of course, continues in hers.

Next, the Post’s Perry Stein reports that of the 164 pupils that were last May accused of residency fraud in attending Duke Ellington, 95 of these cases have been dismissed.  The original claim involved approximately 30 percent of the student body.  Parents at the school immediately challenged this finding by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and took the charge to court.  The legal proceedings forced OSSE to admit that it mishandled documentation of student D.C. residency at Ellington on two separate occasions over two weeks.  It appears that 69 of the 531 pupils that attend the school still have questions around whether they live in D.C.

The whole matter is embarrassing.  I understand that in numerous instances it is difficult to ascertain the location of student homes.  Many may not have permanent addresses.  But if you have been involved in D.C. schools for more than five minutes you understand that there are strict requirements around admission.

Both of these controversies severely dilute confidence that there is competency in the administration of this city’s schools.  Many are now calling for a weakening of Mayoral control.  Please add me to the list.

 

 

 

 

 

Washington Post editors miss the main point about public school reform

The editors of the Washington Post came out yesterday strongly against proposals by D.C. Councilmembers David Grosso and Mary Cheh which would divorce the Office of the State Superintendent of Education from strict Mayoral control.  I agree with the representatives, and have argued that having the Chancellor, Deputy Mayor for Education, and State Superintendent all under the authority of the Mayor inherently injects politics into the traditional schools.  Since the city’s chief executive needs votes to stay in office, the individual in this position will use the office to craft a view of the educational landscape that may not match reality.   Under the system currently in place in the nation’s capital regarding the public schools, it is predictable that a scandal would develop regarding a greatly inflated high school graduation rate.  Unfortunately, in this case, young children suffered because of a structure created by adults.

However, all of the recent controversies around diplomas, admission preference provided to the Chancellor, and residency fraud are not my main interest.  I’m trying to figure out how to quickly increase academic achievement for all of our kids, and especially those that are living in poverty, up to the rates seen by those who reside in our affluent neighborhoods.  Instead of PARCC scores in the teens or twenties I want them in the seventies.  Today.  So how do we get there?

I’m an extremely optimistic person but have to admit here that I don’t see a path forward that will lead our scholars to this endpoint, perhaps ever.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of great local charter schools that are closing the achievement gap.  They are doing this for hundreds of kids a year.  This is not what I’m talking about.  I want to change the world for the 91,537 students enrolled in all of our public schools.

To reach this state would take a complete rethinking about how we deliver education in this city.  It says much about what institutions are permitted to continue teaching our young people and expand, and which need to immediately close their doors.  Let’s be honest with each other this morning.  Without naming specific individuals because that may upset them, do you see any of our leaders across the traditional or charter school sectors making the argument for this type of transformation?  The answer is sadly no.

We need a Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, or Michelle Rhee to come to the rescue.  Someone who is willing to fight the fight despite the political bruises that will be received by those fiercely protecting the status quo.  A new hero that will sacrifice his or her time and energy for the betterment of our society.  An individual who will decide to show that it can be done.

Until this knight in shining armor comes along I’m willing to wait.  But I’m inpatient and now I’m pacing around the room.  I know we can do this, I really do.  The only question is when?

 

 

D.C. Council moves to restrict Mayoral control of traditional public schools

In the aftermath of the multiple scandals that have plagued DCPS, I predicted that Mayoral control of public schools in the nation’s capital would be weakened. I strongly believe that at this point in our local history of public school reform this is the right path to take. Whenever there is one person that selects the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Superintendent of Education, and Chancellor, politics is going to categorize the behavior of these offices. The explanation for this phenomenon is straightforward. The Mayor is dependent upon votes to maintain her position so there will necessarily be politics involved in carrying out tasks that should be politics-free. People always act according to their nature.

Yesterday, Education Committee Chairman David Grosso introduced legislation at the D.C. Council that would increase the term of the State Superintendent of Education from four years to six years. The bill also would permit the State Superintendent to be removed only for cause and would allow this individual to fill positions under his or her authority instead of having the Mayor make these decisions. According to the Washington Post’s Perry Stein, Mr. Grosso commented about his proposed legislation, “I have looked for every angle I can to try and remove politics from education policies in the city, and this is one more step toward making that happen.”

Also on Tuesday, Councilmember Mary Cheh brought forth an act that would have the State Superintendent named by the Board of Education. She remarked, according again to Ms. Stein, “In the scheme of things, I am very concerned about concentrating all power in single hands.”

Exactly right. I would go even further. My recommendation is to allow the Mayor to appoint members to a board similar to the DC Charter School Board. Then I would have the State Superintendent of Education and the Chancellor report to this body. The Deputy Mayor for Education would have a seat at the table and represent the city’s leader in policy matters before the panel.

Mayor Bowser is naturally against the moves by Mr. Grosso and Ms. Cheh. In yesterday’s article by Ms. Stein about the actions by the councilmembers, the Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith asserted, “The students of the District of Columbia can ill afford misguided education legislation that moves our city backwards more than a decade and undermines the hard work of our teachers, administrators and staff.” True, but what we really cannot afford as a community is cheating when it comes to students meeting high school graduation requirements, an acceptance of residency fraud, and preferred placement for the children of the Chancellor.

It is time to take a drastically different approach.

U.S. Education Secretary DeVos pays visit to Friendship Public Charter School

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein details today that U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited three traditional public schools yesterday to congratulate them on their recent PARCC results.  The DCPS elementary schools, Amidon-Bowen, Hendley, and Simon, each scored greater than the 2.8 city-wide average increase in English and the 2.5 improvement in math over the previous year and each serves primarily low income children.  She delivered cookies and a congratulatory note at each stop.  The appearances were a surprise to the schools.

What Ms. Stein failed to mention is that Ms. Devos also went to Friendship PCS.  Chief Executive Officer Patricia Brantley in her Facebook post does not mention the name of the campus where Ms. DeVos posed for a picture with some of the students but I bet it was Technology Preparatory High School, the same location that was featured by Ms. Stein in a story the other day.  As the DC Public Charter School Board highlighted last week, Tech Prep had the greatest increase in standardized test scores of all charters compared to 2017 rising 22.3 percent in English and 13.6 percent in math.

Ms. DeVos’s show of support is exactly the right move by someone in her position.  As people in leadership know, everything  you do and say is going to be watched and scrutinized by those around you so it is critically important to be intentional in all of your actions.

The Education Secretary’s choice stands in sharp contrast to the decision of D.C. Mayor Bowser as to where to start her Monday morning on the beginning of the new school year.  She went to Excel Academy, the closed all-girl charter school that has converted to be part of DCPS.  One reason that has been offered for the institution’s decision to become a regular school instead of being taken over by KIPP DC PCS or Friendship was that it wanted to avoid the strict accountability that it experienced under the PCSB.  Bringing attention to a school that was shuttered for low academic performance is not exactly the message of high expectations that you want to send to each of our public school families and students.

Ms. Bowser sent a similar communication when she stated that she could wait until after her Democratic primary contest was concluded to begin the search for a new Chancellor.  Antwan Wilson, the previous person in this position, resigned on February 20, 2018.  The primary was on June 29th, four months later.  Ms. Bowser had no real opponent.  The decision just shouts loud and clear that education is not a priority.

I am convinced that it is intentionality that separates the charters that succeed from those that do not. I have heard the term consistently emphasized by the school leaders that are in charge of some of the most respected schools in our city.   It is one of most prominent characteristics I see in the heads of organizations that I respect and admire.  Perhaps if we really want to see PARCC scores go up dramatically in this town we all need to adopt a strictly intentional attitude around learning.

 

 

Excel as traditonal school highlights financial differences of charter sector

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reports today that in a couple of weeks Excel Academy Public School will reopen as part of DCPS after the decision was made last January by the DC Public Charter School Board to close the school this past June.  Remember that both KIPP DC and Friendship PCS were interested in taking over this institution but the leadership of Excel decided that it would rather have it join the traditional school system.

During the 2017-to-2018 school year the all-girls Excel enrolled approximately 643 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three to eight.  So far about 300 students have signed up to attend the new school, which represents a decline of 53 percent.  It will apparently stay in the building that housed Excel as a charter.   Ms. Stein writes:

“The first day of school is in two weeks, and the staff at Excel Academy in Southeast Washington needs to make sure everything is just right. Teachers crammed preschool classrooms with colorful books, plush seating and games. Maintenance workers tidied the school garden, pruning the sunflowers and picking the ripe vegetables.”

According to PCSB records, last term Excel had total occupancy expenses of $2,125,421 that included $2,061,316 in rent.  It used a facility allotment of $2,234,910 to cover the lease, providing the school with about a $110,000 surplus in this cost category.

The bottom line is that with enrollment dropping by more than half, a charter school would never be able to afford to stay in the same facility.  The only choice a charter would have would be to subsidize the lease with the per pupil dollars provided to administer the school, which in this case would be so large a number that this would prove impossible.  Teacher and other staff salaries could never be met under this scenario.  As a matter of fact, with this much of a reduction in the size of the student body, I’m sure that the per pupil dollars for instruction under DCPS do not cover personnel costs.  Therefore, the only option that this school would have is to close.

The reason that all of this financial analysis is critically important is that market forces have been relied upon for more than 20 years in the nation’s capital to drive improvement in public education.  Since the first charter opened here money has followed the child.  It was the mass exodus of families from DCPS that finally put sufficient fiscal pressure on the system to improve.  Now, with the incorporation of Excel into DCPS with simultaneous subsidy of the rent expense, we are seeing a distortion of the market which will end up harming our kids.

Excel was an extremely low academically performing school when it was a charter.  That’s why it was shuttered by the PCSB.  Allowing this school to continue to operate while running a substantial financial deficit works directly against the concept of school choice created by economist Milton Friedman.  He stated that when revenue became linked to enrollment good schools would prosper and grow while poor ones would run out of dollars and close.  With the acceptance of Excel as a regular school, DCPS is harming the cause.

 

D.C. Mayor Bowser does right thing on education; much more to do

Last Friday, Fenit Nirappil of the Washington Post revealed that Mayor Bowser utilized her first veto to reject D.C. Council-approved legislation permitting this year’s chronically absent high school seniors to receive diplomas.  The act would have also allowed students who missed significant portions of the term to be socially promoted to the next grade.  Her move should be applauded but is not all together surprising since it came in the aftermath of the following comments about the bill from interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith as quoted by the Post’s Perry Stein:

“This emergency legislation undermines [the school system’s] efforts and sends a troubling message about the importance of school attendance, suggesting that students need a waiver to excuse absences.  We will continue to stress the importance of attendance because every day counts.”

The Council passed the law early last month by a vote of 12 to 1.  Shockingly, one of the sponsors was David Grosso, the chairman of the Council’s education committee.  What a stunning sad example for our kids.  It would have excused students who missed more than 30 days of class but who were otherwise in academically satisfactory standing.  Mr. Nirappil explains that the measure would have increased the graduation grand total by 26 pupils.

The Council could override Ms. Bowser’s veto but this course is not likely since the body is out for summer recess until September.  Mr. Nirappil points out that it is not clear at this point that there are nine representatives who would vote to reverse her decision.

Now that the Mayor has taken this bold step, it is time she corrects some other deficiencies currently present in the city’s education landscape.

First, the chief executive needs to ensure equitable funding between charter schools and DCPS.  Its way past time that the playing field between these two sectors is made equitable to the tune of $100 million a year that the traditional schools receive that charters do not.

In addition, Mayor Bowser must immediately turn all surplus DCPS buildings over to charters.  Charter leaders and parents are desperate for a way to reduce the wait list of over 11,000 children wanting urgently to get into one of these institutions that now educate 47.5 percent of all public school students.

Lastly, she needs to hire a new Chancellor that understands and accepts the power that school choice has exerted in the nation’s capital to provide its children with a high quality alternative to the regular schools and to incentivize DCPS to improve.  Perhaps the new head of DCPS can work with the DC Public Charter School Board to create a charter and traditional school compact that would guarantee a permanent home for any charter that needs one.