New union contract for D.C. traditional school teachers is a boon for charters

The contract is retroactive to last October and includes a four percent pay increase for that year, a three percent increase for the following year, and a two percent raise for year three.  The Post points out that it amounts to a 1.3 percent bump in salary for each year from 2012 to 2019.  Most significantly, it raises the starting salary of new teachers to $56,313 a year, which the writers say is the highest teacher starting compensation in the country.  The agreement also apparently has the fastest route to earning over $100,000 and a new cap at $126,000 a year.

The additional dollars, which needs to be approved by union members and the D.C. Council, would be paid for out of the city’s surplus reserve.

The reporters indicate that because of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula charters would get an additional $51.2 million over three years, roughly equivalent to the 46 percent share of students with DCPS getting $61.6 million.  It is encouraging to see the city comply with the law when it comes to the union agreement.  However, we still have no resolution to the FOCUS-coordinated charter school funding inequity law suit that has been going on now for three years.  As a reminder, when the legal action was taken, it was estimated that charters received over the last seven years $1,600 to $2,600 per student in less revenue compared to the regular schools.  With Mayor Bowser beginning to think about re-election this would be a fantastic moment to settle this matter once and for all.

On another subject, one of the authors of the piece on the DCPS teachers’ contract is Emma Brown.  Ms. Brown announced last week on Twitter that she will be ending her coverage of education to join the Washington Post’s investigative team. While I often strongly disagreed with Ms. Brown, especially regarding her views on private school vouchers, I have found her to be a talented and thorough writer.  Let’s hope that the Post’s educational reporting does not suffer with her transition.


Antwan Wilson confirmed by D.C. Council as next DCPS Chancellor

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Matos

Now that it has been finalized that Mr. Wilson will be coming to the nation’s capital, let’s talk about some of his priorities.  First and foremost, the Chancellor should redirect the work of the Deputy Mayor for Education’s Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force to develop a contract detailing the expected cooperation between the charter sector and the traditional schools mirroring the one that exists in Denver.  Mr. Wilson spent a decade with Denver Public Schools so I’m sure he is more than acquainted with this document.  Apparently, key education stakeholders here have tried on multiple occasions in the past to develop this agreement, only to be blocked by DCPS.  It looks like we now have a fresh new opportunity to get this done.

Of course, any compact would not be complete without a clause providing a permanent facility for all approved charter schools.  Charters are public schools just like the regular ones and there is no reason that they should be treated any differently when it comes to brick and mortar.  The exact same argument was offered by Irasema Salcido, the founder of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy when she testified before Congress on the current state of the charter school movement.  This was in the year 2000, almost 17 years ago.  As a society we must be able to do better than this.

Mr. Wilson should also utilize his influence to end the FOCUS coordinated revenue inequity lawsuit between charters and the city.  The solution to this issue is really simple.  All money should go through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula as is required by law.  Done.

Then we can really start taking about charters and DCPS working together.  There are so many best practices that charters have developed over their 20 year history that can be shared with the regular schools.  Many have even been able to close the academic achievement gap, an aim I heard Mr. Wilson state multiple times during his confirmation hearing that he is extremely interested in attaining. I’m sure that DCPS also has much to teach charters.

The objective of school choice is to raise the bar for all public educational institutions.  Now with the hiring of Mr. Wilson, it is time to make this goal a reality.

Optimistic about Antwan Wilson becoming DCPS Chancellor

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Matos and Perry Stein have an article today that makes me highly optimistic regarding Mayor Bowser’s hiring of Antwan Wilson to be the next Chancellor of DCPS.  Let me point out the reasons for my opinion.

First, consider his words.  The story begins with this quotation from Mr. Wilson.  “I run to places where I believe I am going to be most needed. . . It’s 100 percent possible to educate every child.  Sometimes people say that’s unrealistic, but I just don’t believe that.”

This is exactly what we need to hear from the person that will replace Kaya Henderson.  Mr. Wilson states that his top priority in his new job will be closing the academic achievement gap, something that I’ve argued for years should be our city’s number one goal.

Then there is his positive attitude toward charter schools.  In the Post piece Mr. Wilson remarks that he was not looking to leave his current position in Oakland, California but the fact that D.C. “already has a working relationship with a robust charter sector” made the possibility of a new job “compelling.”

In Oakland the new Chancellor sought to turnaround his system’s five most under performing schools.  To accomplish this feat he sought advice from various stakeholders that included charters.

The move apparently upset the community and it was claimed that Mr. Wilson was attempting to substitute charters for traditional schools.  This accusation was repeated when he tried to implement a common lottery, something we already have in place here.

The Post reporters also reveal that during his decade in Denver Mr. Wilson became principle for three years of one of the toughest high schools in the regular school system.  Then he supported dismantling the facility and turning it into three different institutions.

Mr, Wilson then moved on to administering all high schools for Denver Public Schools.  The Post comments that he is “credited with boosting high school graduation rates, redesigning the system’s alternative schools and increasing enrollment in Advanced Placement courses.”

Denver school Superintendent Tom Boasberg asserted that he and Mr. Wilson often tried to mimic public school reform progress in the nation’s capital.

“We owe a tremendous amount to him.” Mr. Boasberg remarked.  Let’s sincerely hope that he has similar success in his new home town.

Antwan Wilson to be named new Chancellor of DCPS

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown reports today that Antwan Wilson, the current superintendent of schools in Oakland, California, is to be named the new Chancellor of DCPS, replacing Kaya Henderson, who resigned her position this year.

I have to admit I’m already excited by this decision by Mayor Bowser.  As Ms. Brown reveals, Mr. Wilson generated controversy at his current job by being too cozy with charter schools.  From her article:

“Critics, including many in the teachers’ union, accused him of trying to aid charter schools at the expense of the city’s traditional public schools. Protests erupted at school board meetings, where teachers and activists — many of them white, according to the Bay Area News Group — accused Wilson of being ‘the face of new Jim Crow.’

‘I’m not going to stand by while someone who doesn’t look like me accuses me of carrying out some form of Jim Crow,’ Wilson told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this year. ‘I teach my own kids that no one can take your dignity and only you can control your temper. I tell them that I know who I am. I know my history.'”

It makes perfect sense that Mr. Wilson would seek to work closely with charters.  He spent a decade in Denver as a school principal and assistant superintendent.  As I have written, this past summer I attended an Amplify School Choice Conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in Denver where I learned that the city actually has a District-Charter Collaboration compact.  Apparently, what sparked anger by regular public school supporters in Oakland was Mr. Wilson’s proposal that there be a common lottery with charters for parents making enrollment decisions for their children.  For years now, Washington D.C. has had such a common lottery, as does Denver.

The new Chancellor, whose selection must be approved by the D.C. Council, understands the power of education in turning around the lives of those on the low end of the economic spectrum.  He was raised by a single mother, as Ms. Brown explains, and from Kindergarten through high school he attended ten different schools and resided in 15 different homes.

Mr. Wilson, 44 years old, travels in the same school reform circle as Ms. Henderson and former Chancellor Michelle Rhee.  He received training by the Broad Academy, which supports many of the initiatives started by these two women, including tying teacher evaluations to student academic achievement.

“Schools can save lives,” Mr. Wilson is quoted as observing.  That is exactly what D.C. charters have been doing now for 20 years.

Under Bowser, what does Mayoral control of the public schools mean?

Muriel Bowser has been in office for almost a couple of years now, so I think it’s fair to ask a logical question.  Just what does it mean under this Mayor for her to have control of our public schools?  As someone who follows public policy regarding education closely this was an easy answer when it came to her predecessor.

Mr. Gray was an unashamed proponent of charter schools.  He turned over at least a dozen shuttered DCPS facilities to these innovative institutions.  Mr. Gray’s first Deputy Mayor for Education, De’Shawn Wright, completed the Illinois Facility Fund report that calculated in 2002 the number of quality public school seats that needed to be created in the nation’s capital so that every child could receive an education that would prepare them for college.  The number was an astonishing 40,000.  The next Deputy Mayor, Abigail Smith, released the equally groundbreaking Adequacy study which for the first time in the history of local school reform documented the illegal additional revenue that DCPS is receiving compared to charters outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  That number is a sickening 100 million dollars a year.  The document came complete with remedies to fix the situation.

But this is not all.  Mr. Gray solidified the per pupil facility fund for charter schools at $3,000, utilizing for the first time funding solely from the city.  This freed up Congressional Three Sector Approach SOAR grant dollars for charters to allocate for other purposes.  Also under his tenure, the common lottery was introduced and the annual school fair became an event equally promoting charters along with the traditional schools.

Today, the situation is much different.  The recommendations of the Adequacy study sit gathering dust on a book shelf in the Wilson building and the FOCUS-coordinated funding inequity lawsuit never gets mentioned.  Also covered in filth are the shuttered dilapidated DCPS facilities that are no longer being offered to charters.  The per pupil facility fund is frozen at a level that leads to the sector teaching students in structures that pale in comparison to their regular school counterparts.

This Mayor has created the Cross Sector Collaboration Task Force.  It has apparently been meeting for over a year and according to the chair of the Public Charter School Board the group has “really been focused on getting to know one another.”

Mayor Fenty fought hard to win control of the public schools from the D.C. Council. Perhaps it is time to simply give it back to the Board of Education.  Mayor Bowser obviously has other priorities.

New DCPS Chancellor must expand charter school sector

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews today has a column in which he calls on the replacement for DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson to protect charter schools in the nation’s capital.  Never mind that this position has absolutely no power over these dynamic institutions that teach over 39,000 children, or 44 percent of all pupils that attend pubic schools in the nation’s capital.

Thank goodness that this is the case.  Remember years ago that once Harmony PCS opened across the street from an existing DPCS facility, when it was desperate to find space and after it had begged the city for help finding a building and representatives had met with Ms. Henderson seeking collaboration; the Chancellor referred to the move as cannibalizing her pupils.  Unfortunately, her attitude never really changed, as evidenced by this interview with Alexander Russo about a month ago:

Mr. Russo:  “What’s wrong with having two systems for parents to choose from?”

Ms. Henderson: “We’re paying twice as much for not very different outcomes. I think that it’s not a good use of resources. We have experienced positive financial revenue in the city for the past 10 years, but if we were like a lot of other places, there’s no way that we would pay as much as we’re paying to support two different systems that are providing the same results. . . We are stepping on each others toes.”

What really has to happen is that the newly named Chancellor needs to help expand the charter sector.  Let’s take these logical steps.  First, as the chairman of the DC PCSB Dr. Darren Woodruff stated in my recent interview with him, we need to have one accountability system that measures the quality of all schools.  This means applying the Performance Management Framework to DCPS.  Then, those sites that are found to be Tier 3 are turned over to our highly performing charters.  In addition, perhaps we can finally convince strong charter management organizations from across the nation, who have been reluctant to come here because of the problem finding space, to operate these schools since they will already have permanent facilities.

Last week the PCSB released the lasted Quality School Reports for elementary and middle schools.  I’m really glad that so many charters are rated as Tier 1 or Tier 2.  However, in spite of these results, these are actually desperate times.  The 2016 PARCC standardized tests demonstrate that only about a quarter of charter and traditional school students are college ready.  The achievement gap between rich and poor is about 50 points.  Two decades of public school reform has produced students that are academically mediocre.  There are bright spots but the overall picture is bleak.

As Ms. Henderson concluded in her conversation with Mr. Russo:

“There’s so much more to accomplish. There are a bunch of things. We’re still not where I want to be on our scores, graduation rate, or equity across the district, or special education outcomes. All of those things are way better than when I got here. But there’s a lot more that I want for D.C. public schools.”

There is a lot more that we all want.

DCPS Chancellor receives present on last day. Graduation rate up to 71%

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Mastos reveals today that the four year graduation rate for high school students enrolled in DCPS jumped to 71 percent in 2016, coming in just shy of Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s strategic plan goal for next year of 75 percent.  In 2015, DCPS saw the graduation rate rise an equally impressive 6 percentage points.  The exciting news comes on Ms. Henderson’s last day on the job.

Commenting on the results, according to Ms. Mastos, the Chancellor stated, “When we set these goals, people said we were crazy. . . As I walk out of here at the end this week, I want people to feel a sense of possibility.”

Ms. Henderson probably did appear crazy when she established the 75 percent goal.  In November 2010 when she started in her position the four year graduation statistic was 59 percent.

Charter schools have yet to release their most recent graduation rate number.  Last year it stood at 72 percent.  There was a significant difference between charters and DCPS when it came to four year high school graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students.  For charters this number was 73 percent for the 2014-2015 academic year versus 64 percent for the traditional system.  This year’s number for those living in poverty is not included in the Washington Post story or on the DCPS website.

In fact, Ms. Henderson is close to meeting many of the components of her five year strategic plan.  Student satisfaction with their school rose to 83 percent in the 2014-2015 term, with 90 percent being the goal.  Enrollment for the same period at slightly over 49,000 pupils almost met the 2016 to 2017 50,000 student count target.

The one area where the Chancellor falls short is in regard to student academic achievement.  There are two metrics here.  One was to have 70 percent of students proficient in reading and math by the 2016 to 2017 school year, and that the 40 academically lowest performing schools will increase proficiency by 40 percentage points.  These metrics were based upon the DC CAS standardized test.  Now both DCPS and charters have switched to the PARCC.  On the PARCC exam 25.5 percent of DCPS students were rated proficient.

Still, the four year graduation number is great news and stunning progress for a Chancellor who I will sincerely miss.






D.C. charters and DCPS: collaboration but not capitulation

Yesterday, American University Radio WAMU and National Public Radio ran a story by Martin Austermuhle entitled  “After 20 Years, Are Charters and DCPS Learning To Get Along?” about the first two decades of charter schools operating in Washington, D.C.  In the piece, in which I’m quoted, the Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles comes to this conclusion:

“We have a very unique situation here in D.C., with 55 percent of our students attending DCPS, 45 percent attending public charter schools. And competition has gotten us this far, but going forward what’s going to get us [further] is the collaboration.”

She is absolutely right.  I returned a few weeks ago from the Amplify School Choice conference in Denver hosted by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity totally convinced that here in the nation’s capital we desperately need our version of this city’s District-Charter Collaboration Compact.  But before we link hands and commit to all getting along for the benefit of the children, we need to consider the details of what would be contained in such a contract.

First and foremost, charters would have to be guaranteed access to permanent facilities.  Ms. Niles formed her DC Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force, but she started with the pronouncement that a discussion of buildings was off the table.  Well, physical space is only the biggest challenge a charter faces, and securing it is a tremendous distraction to the school’s focus on academics.  Having charter leaders expend all of their energy on this issue while helplessly watching the traditional schools spend hundreds of millions of dollars renovating their own classrooms only adds painful insult to injury.

Next, there has to be a solution to the funding inequity between the two sectors.  Whether the city wants to provide the same services to charters that it provides for free to DCPS like building maintenance, lawyers, and information technology, or simply augment the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula to account for these expenses as recommended in the Adequacy Study is up to the Mayor.  But something desperately needs to be done so that the FOCUS-engineered lawsuit over this matter can be brought to a rightful conclusion.

Once these major issues are resolved then I honestly believe the sky is the limit for charter and DCPS cooperation.  There can be sharing of real estate, programs, professional development, feeder patterns, and yes, even planning around where new charters should or should not be located.  But before we can get to this point, and just like when we were in school, we have to take care of the fundamentals first.




What would a DCPS-PCSB Compact look like?

It should be obvious to loyal readers by now that I cannot stop thinking about the Amplify School Choice Conference I attended a couple of weeks ago that was sponsored and organized by the Franklin Center for Integrity for Government and Public Integrity.  My biggest takeaway from the information that was presented was that there is a significant amount of cooperation between the traditional and charter schools in Denver where the event was held. Moreover, I was not only told about the ways that the two sectors work together; I witnessed it first-hand during visits to Strive Preparatory and Denver School of Science and Technology Public Charter Schools.

The basis of the link between Denver’s district and charter schools is the District-Charter Collaboration Compact, which I learned from a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study is a Gates Foundation initiative. In late 2015, the Institute published a report by Daniela Doyle, Christen Holly, and Bryan Hassel that examined the relationships between traditional and charter schools in four cities: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, and Washington, D.C.  While the authors found a wide variation in the intersection of traditional and choice schools, it did offer some starting points for building a foundation for bringing the two sides closer together.

In the five categories of “Improve Communication,” “Improve Practice,” “Improve Operational Efficiency,” “Provide More Equitable Access to Existing Schools,” and “Increase Supply of High-Quality Schools across the City” the paper includes direct recommendations for forging stronger relationships.  Almost all of these specific actions were already in place in Denver such as using a common tool to evaluate all schools, development of a unified enrollment lottery, and the sharing of facilities.

For something that on the surface looked hard initially to implement, I believe the Fordham study and the Denver District Collaboration Compact offer a tremendous basis for building a solid bridge between DCPS and charters.

Now we just have to see if there is a will to move in this direction.


The academic achievement gap in D.C. might be much wider than we think

A fascinating article by Susan Dynarski, a professor of education, politics, and economics at the University of Michigan, appeared in the New York Times Business Section last Sunday that made the case that the academic achievement gap in this country is actually much wider than has been estimated.  Here is the basis of her argument:

“Nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for a subsidized meal in school. Children whose families earn less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold are eligible for a reduced-price lunch, while those below 130 percent get a free lunch. For a family of four, the cutoffs are $32,000 for a free lunch and $45,000 for a reduced-price one. By way of comparison, median household income in the United States was about $54,000 in 2014.”

The author’s point is that when the public school academic achievement gap between the affluent and poor is measured in this country, the classification for children as low-income is made when they come from families qualifying for free or reduced lunch.  But in the preceding paragraph Ms. Dynarski illustrates that the cutoff for the definition of poverty is not far from the median household income level.  She takes her assertion further:

“In Michigan, as in the rest of the country, about half of eighth graders in public schools receive a free or reduced-price lunch. But when we look more closely, we see that just 14 percent have been eligible for subsidized meals every year since kindergarten. These children are the poorest of the poor — the persistently disadvantaged.”

Professor Dynarski’s conclusion:  “The achievement gap between persistently disadvantaged children and those who were never disadvantaged is about a third larger than the gap that is typically measured.”

This statistic has practical results when it comes to the classroom.  When Ms. Dynarski looked at the differences in academic standing for eighth graders in math she found a two-year deficit for those qualifying for free or reduced meals but a three-year difference for the chronically disadvantaged.  In addition, this gap did not first manifest itself when the students made it to the eighth grade.  Ms. Dynarski determined that for persistently poor kids the knowledge variance was there in the third grade.  Moreover, when it comes to these pupils, living in poverty can be traced back to the time that they were in kindergarten.

Here in the nation’s capital, last year’s first administration of the PARCC assessment clearly demonstrated the city’s stubborn and highly disturbing academic achievement gap. In English language arts the variance between white and economically disadvantaged students was 79 percent and 14 percent, respectively, in the college readiness score of four and above.  That is a difference of 65 points with charter schools scoring only slightly better than DCPS.  For math the achievement gap is slightly lower with white students at 70 percent in level four and above and poor pupils at 15 percent for a span of 55 points, with charters results again somewhat narrower.

However, if we are to believe the thesis of Professor Dynarski, the real variation between these results is a third higher for the chronically disadvantaged.  These academic achievement gaps would then grow to a shocking 86.7 percent in English and 73.3 percent in math.

Why is this important?  Ms. Dynarski opines that “many federal, state and local programs distribute money based on the share of a district’s students who are eligible for subsidized meals. But schools that have identical shares of students eligible for subsidized meals may differ vastly in the share of students who are deeply poor. The schools with the most disadvantaged children have greater challenges and arguably need more resources.”

What all this means in Washington, D.C. after 20 years of hard-fought public school reform is impossible to say.