Mayor Bowser takes first step in charterizing all D.C. public schools

Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced her choice to replace Hanseul Kang as the State Superintendent of Education. Ms. Bower’s selection is Christina Grant, who oversaw the charter school sector in Philadelphia. 68,364 students attend charters in Philadelphia across 68 schools representing 36.4 percent of city’s public school students. In Washington D.C. there are 66 charter schools located on 125 campuses educating 43,795 pupils. The Mayor’s press release on the nomination of Ms. Grant say this about her qualifications:

“She recently served as the Chief of Charter Schools and Innovation for The School District of Philadelphia, she oversaw a budget of more than $1 billion and a portfolio of both district and charter schools. In this capacity, Dr. Grant managed a complex organization, working closely with the Superintendent of Schools and the President of the Board of Education and Mayor’s Chief Education Officer. Dr. Grant’s career began as a public school teacher in Harlem; since then, she’s held numerous roles in education, including as Superintendent of the Great Oaks Foundation and Deputy Executive Director at the New York City Department of Education.”

Not mentioned in Ms. Bowser’s statement is that Ms. Grant was a teacher in New York City for a KIPP public charter school and that her role as executive director in New York City Public Schools involved managing the process for the opening of new charters. Following her stint with NYC schools, she moved on to become executive director of NYCAN, a New York City-based charter advocacy organization.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Ms. Grant received training at the Broad Academy, a pro-charter educational leadership program that is now run by Ms. Kang at Yale University. Ms. Stein mentions that D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Chancellor Lewis Ferebee also attended the Broad Academy.

When schools in the nation’s capital finally reopen fully in the fall I expect that Ms. Grant, in her effort to bring equity in education to all District students, will fight to expand the charter sector by replacing failing DCPS facilities with schools of choice.

Consistent with our efforts in public education to provide a quality seat to any child who needs one is an expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federal private school voucher program in our city. But there are storm clouds on the horizon regarding the plan. D.C. Congressional Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton announced that as part of President Biden’s proposed budget he supports “winding down” the scholarships. Here Mr. Biden is following in the muddy footsteps of his idol Barack Obama, who stopped new entrants from participating in the O.S.P. when he was President, directly hurting students living in poverty. I think suggesting to make this move after a year of remote learning is especially heartless and cruel.

One more thought for today. When I tuned into the May monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board I noticed that Steve Bumbaugh was not present. It turns out that his term had expired. I will greatly miss Mr. Bumbaugh’s presence on the board. His observations and comments were always insightful. He was an especially strong advocate for those on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in Washington, D.C. Mr. Bumbaugh had a profound appreciation of the nature of school choice, and gave great deference to the opinions of parents as to whether a school under review should be allowed to continue operating.

His absence leaves a critical vacancy on the board.

In STAR system comparison with PMF, it looks like we are reliant on D.C. charter board measure.

Last Friday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released its DC Report Card which ranks schools in the nation’s capital on a School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) framework of one to five, with five being best.  This effort is the result of the State Board of Education’s effort to comply with the U.S. Congresses’ Every Student Succeed Act which required that states offer a measurement of the quality of its public educational institutions as a substitute for the Annual Yearly Progress measure under the No Child Left Behind law.

Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, pointed me to the excellent analysis of the new grading scheme conducted by Empowerk12.  This is only the start for this organization as there is much more number crunching to come.  It offers in great detail a comparison between STAR grading and the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework.  I will not pretend for one minute to understand all the nuances of its conclusions.  But I can offer some overall general observations regarding our city’s charter schools after looking at the data.

My biggest question about the new ranking was whether it would replace PMF.  This issue appears clearly settled in favor of the charter board’s quality school reports simply because the OSSE STAR report does not include all schools.  Excluded are charters that have only early childhood education programs like AppleTree PCS.  It also does not measure schools at the other end of the spectrum such as those that focus on the teaching of adult students.  Alternative programs are also left out.

When you look at charters that offer traditional grades to a general population of students, the picture becomes murky for STAR in relation to the PMF.  For example, going down the list of Tier 1 PMF charters, these schools sometimes received a five, such as Washington Yu Ying PCS or Washington Leadership Academy PCS.  But they can also earn a three, as seen with Lee Montessori PCS and KIPP DC College Preparatory Academy PCS.  Most of the top tier charter schools get a four.  If I were a parent I would be shy about sending my child to a place that only received a three.  In addition, while I might favor a school labeled as a five, there are only a few that measured this high.

Where the PMF and STAR report more closely correlate is in relation to the lower performing schools.  Out of the six of seven Tier 3 charters that receive a STAR number, four receive a one ranking on STAR with two others getting a two.  The message to parents is that if it is academic quality that most interests you in a school, look for a number higher than two.

One weakness of the STAR grading system is that it includes five levels while the PMF only has three.  This makes the PMF easier to understand for the general public.  Although some have expressed serious problems with the charter’s board’s tiering, especially when it comes to schools with a large population of at-risk students, it looks like this is the best that we have at this moment in time.