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.

Future bleak for approval of new charter schools in the District of Columbia

Last Monday evening the DC Public Charter School Board considered for approval five applications that they had heard new school representatives present the prior month. Board member Steve Bumbaugh commented before the vote on Capital Experience Lab PCS that “this is one of the finest applications” that he had read during his six-year tenure on the board. He went on to say that he himself had opened a charter school, so he could see the promise of what this new school could become.

So what did the members of the PCSB do following his remarks? They turned down the school in a four to three ruling.

The discussion over whether to create additional classrooms started out on a highly defensive note. Here is board chair Rick Cruz’s remarks regarding this part of the meeting’s agenda:

“As long as public charter schools have been in Washington, DC, there has been a debate about them: Many have been concerned, arguing that we have too many public charter schools and contending that they take away resources from more traditional options.    And each time this Board has considered opening new schools, many in the city worry that there is not enough need and not enough demand.

“The Board sees it differently. Yes, the number of public charter schools grew in the early years, but for the last decade the percentage of public school students attending traditional and charter schools has stayed roughly the same, with more than half attending traditional DCPS schools. And that’s because both sectors open new schools, while closing others. With charters, we have a process of regular review and oversight that allows us to close schools which are underperforming. 

“In fact, since 2014 when I joined the Board, we have opened 21 schools while closing 15. And when I say schools, I am referring to campuses not [local education agencies] LEAs.

“My basic point is that charter application approvals are but only one part of the story. One needs to look at the whole picture — from applications to oversight, from improvement to closing if necessary.

“Often the controversy around charters is framed as one of budget dollars being taken by charter schools away from the traditional neighborhood schools. That is simply not true. Public charter schools get funded per pupil. The dollars belong to them and their families. And, over my time on the Board and in the sector, we have seen real increases in funding under the leadership of Mayor Bowser. One sector does not take from the other.

“Public charter schools were created as an alternative approach to provide public education — to offer innovation, quality, and choice to families that wanted another way. In Washington, DC, we continue to work toward that goal. And our work is not done. We need to keep looking for ways – through our oversight and monitoring — to make public charter schools better. Why?  Because the students and families of this city deserve this. They deserve better.”

The tone is quite different from a statement released by the board in 2019 when D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn attempted to put pressure on the PCSB to restrict the number of new school applications given the green light to open.

“Despite concerns about ‘under-utilization’ by the DC Deputy Mayor of Education, families are choosing public charter schools for their students. This year, 59% of public charter schools had longer waitlists than they did last year, and roughly 67% of applicants on waitlists are waiting for a seat at a top-ranking public charter school. Quality matters to families. This is why we want to ensure that there are excellent options available throughout the city.”

That year five out of eleven bids to create new facilities were approved.

This year it was only one. The story of what happened to CAPX is one around fear around demand. Board member Lea Crusey remarked that the board has approved 2,000 new high school seats over the next 10 years and that of the eight pre-Kindergarten to twelfth grade charters approved to open over the last four years, only two charters have met their first year enrollment target.

It is now easy to understand why only Wildflower PCS was granted a charter. Here you have a small school with a Montessori model aimed at enrolling at-risk children. There is high demand for Montessori-based pedagogy in the city. The existing schools, both traditional and charter, that are based upon this framework are oversubscribed. Even though there is tremendous need for more Montessori schools in the city, the charter board cut the number of 60-pupil campuses proposed by Wildflower from eight to six.

When you see a high quality innovative charter like CAPX being denied and an extremely specialized school like Wildflower being approved, it means that the portfolio of charter schools in the nation’s capital is now basically fixed.

Only 1 new D.C. charter school application should be approved by board

Tonight, the DC Public Charter School Board will vote on five applications for new schools that it entertained last month. Only one of these should be approved to open during the 2022-to-2023 term.

Capital Experience Lab PCS applied last year and the board missed an opportunity by failing to give this charter the green light. Now the submission to the board has been improved. According to the school,

“We have spent the past year learning from and implementing the feedback we received from the PCSB last March.
We have focused on the areas of demonstrating demand, strengthening team capacity, planning inclusively to meet
the needs of all learners, and building out a more comprehensive high school plan.”

I thought once again the representatives from the school did an exceptional job in their presentation. While the members of the PCSB have the right to ask almost any question they want, the line of inquiry around Ms. Dailey-Reese’s record as executive director of City Arts and Prep PCS went beyond common decency. She did everything in her power to improve the academic performance of her students.

Wildflower PCS will be denied because the school leaders were not able to give a clear vision of roles and responsibilities between those running the charter at the local level compared to the national organization. This is a CityBridge Education supported application so I’m on dangerous grounds casting my vote against the efforts of this group.

The charter board was especially excited about the application from Heru Academy PCS, particularly because it would enroll students with emotional and physical disabilities. While this is a noble cause I just didn’t believe that the those doing the presentation demonstrated sufficient knowledge and experience to take on this mighty challenge.

I have similar feelings about Lotus PCS and  M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute PCS. The applications were fine but I didn’t get the sense that the representatives had the background to leap into the turbulent world of charter school start-ups.

All of this is too bad because as you are aware I want as many charter schools to open in the nation’s capital as possible.

Complicating the issue of approving new schools is the fear as expressed by some board members that there are currently too many available seats in District schools. In an article by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein that appeared last Thursday, the reporter states that board member Saba Bireda observed, “In all, the charter board has approved nine middle and high schools that are in the process of opening, expanding or adding more grade levels, with the potential to add more than 3,000 seats in the city.” Another trustee, Jim Sandman remarked at the March board meeting, ““I am concerned about the under-enrollment of a number of current middle schools in Wards 5 and 6.”

Being a proponent of a strong education marketplace, I say the more schools the better and let parents vote with their feet as to which will financially be able to support themselves and which will have to close. I just wish the applications for new schools had been stronger.

D.C. Charter School Alliance asks the Mayor for millions; let’s go another route

A February 10th letter from Shannon Hodge, the founding executive director of the D.C. Charter School Alliance, addressed to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, lays out a detailed wish list of additional funding for both charters and DCPS as part of the FY 2022 budget. Here are the recommendations:

● Increase the UPSFF foundation level by 4% to partially close the gap between current funding levels and the recommended levels from the 2013 DC Education Adequacy Study.
● Increase the facilities allotment by 3.1% to ensure that charter schools continue to receive funds needed to secure and maintain school buildings.
● Increase the at-risk funding weight to .37, the level recommended in the 2013 adequacy study, to direct needed funds to our students most in need of targeted interventions and support.
● Provide $6.4M to expand the Department of Behavioral Health’s school-based mental health program, which will enable 80 additional schools to address student and family mental health needs that instability and loss during the last year have likely exacerbated.
● Increase the English learner weight to .61, the level recommended in the 2013 adequacy study, to support undocumented students who are often excluded from receiving other financial supports due to lack of documentation.

In addition, Ms. Hodge seeks a couple of “legislative adjustments” which will also add to the educational funding stream:

● Create a statutory requirement for review of the definition of “at-risk” under the DC Code to ensure the definition appropriately captures the students in need of additional funding support.
● Continue the automatic escalation of facilities funding for public charter schools with a 3.1% annual increase for each of the next five years to ensure continuity of funding for charter school facilities.

The justification for all of this added public funding is, of course, a continuing effort to close the academic achievement gap between the affluent and poor. The letter states that “While our students have made significant improvements over the years, our investments have not yet produced the education outcomes necessary for every part of our city to thrive. And with COVID-19 disproportionately affecting low-income communities, even more is needed to close opportunity gaps.”

I asked the Alliance for an estimate of the impact on the city’s budget if all of the above requests were granted. There was no response. Therefore, I did a little back-of-the-envelope analysis of my own. The Uniform Per Student Funding Formula’s current base to pay for teaching one pupil a year is $11,310. The four percent increase would bring this number to $11,762. Applying this new payment to 94,412 students leads to $42.7 million in new spending per year. On the charter school facility side, a student generates $3,408 in revenue a year. Bringing this number up by 3.1 percent would generate another $4.6 million in costs. So between the two changes we are talking about around $50 million more annually for public education while recognizing that Washington, D.C., according to Ms. Hodge, “enjoys one of the highest per-pupil allocations for education funding in the country.”

I know it has been an exceptionally challenging twelve months when it comes to instructing our children. The pandemic has brought massive new costs in personal protective equipment, laptops, and other equipment and supplies. But then again, Ms. Bowser last December awarded $10 million dollars to charters to cover these costs. This comes on top of a $16 million grant from the federal government tied to increasing literacy for disadvantaged students. Let’s also not forget contributions schools have received from the DC Education Equity Fund. It’s really hard to keep up with all of this spending.

It is also not as if the Mayor has not been providing educational resources to the charter and traditional school sectors. Since Ms. Bowser came into office in 2015, I cannot recall a time when the UPSFF was not increased as part of the annual budget cycle.

Therefore, I think its more than fair to ask what we have received for this level of financial commitments? I’ll save you the drumroll. The District of Columbia has one of the nation’s largest academic achievement gaps at about 60 points. In addition, despite the heroic efforts of teachers and education leaders, it has not budged for decades.

Therefore, I really think it’s time to try something different. Let’s convert all the traditional schools to charters. In addition, the DC Public Charter School Board must approve more charter operators in the city. Simultaneously, now that Scott Pearson is no longer the board’s executive director, his successor Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis needs to figure out how to provide the schools under her jurisdiction the freedom that they enjoyed when these alternative schools were first created in the nation’s capital.

This terrible pandemic has taught us that we cannot continue to conduct our business as we have in the past. Let’s apply this lesson to the city’s education budget.

D.C. charter board receives 5 applications to open new schools

The DC Public Charter School Board revealed yesterday that it has received five applications to open new schools at the start of the 2022-to-2023 school term.

The first applicant, Capital Experience Lab PCS, came before the board last year. I thought it should have been approved by the board. Here’s what I wrote then:

“The presentations by the new applicants were fascinating. Right out of the gate I’ll wager the entire pot on the Capital Experience Lab PCS being given the green light. Sometimes new bids for charters have an alignment in components that cannot be stopped and this is the case with this school. The support from CityBridge Education combined with Friendship PCS’s CEO Patricia Brantley as a board member and the selection of Lanette Dailey-Reese as head of school present a powerful foundation. I hope you remember Ms. Dailey-Reese as the highly impressive individual who almost single-handily saved City Arts and Prep PCS from closure. This mission of the CAPX LAB around utilizing the wealth of resources present in the nation’s capital as its classroom cannot be topped.”

Ms. Dailey-Reese reprises her role as executive director and Patricia Brantley remains a board member. It would be a sixth grade through ninth grade charter that hopes to locate in Ward 2 or Ward 6 with a total of 622 students at full capacity. As a reminder, this is the applicant that wants to integrate Washington, D.C.’s rich presence of cultural institutions into its pedagogy.

Wildflower PCS would become a pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade charter that would create eight “micro” Montessori schools in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructing a total of 300 students. Now before you reject this application right off the bat due to its complexity, you need to know that there are Wildflower schools today in 13 states, with several localities having more than one school. These are teacher-led institutions supported by the Wildflower Foundation. The first Wildflower school opened in 2014.

I’m sure that the board will heavily scrutinize the relationship between the Wildflower Foundation and the individual schools, especially after the mixed track record out-of-town franchises have had in the District.

An application that has to be taken seriously is the one from Heru Academy PCS. The founders want to create a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Ward 7 or 8 that focuses on teaching children with emotional and physical disabilities. However, there are some red flags here. The application states that the school wants to open and expand to the fifth grade but the growth model in the document goes to grade eight. The narrative states that the school eventually wants to expand through high school. In addition, the charter board often does not like schools that start at kindergarten. Why not teach kids at pre-Kindergarten? There is also a foundation that sits above the school. Explanations will have to be provided around the structure.

Another strong bid is from Lotus PCS, which wants to become a pre-Kindergarten through eight grade school with 342 students in Wards 5 or 6. The mission of this charter is to close the academic and opportunity achievement gap. Lotus PCS would be the first school in the nation’s capital to be affiliated with Big Picture Learning, a network of 65 schools in the United States, with other facilities around the world. Lotus PCS is centered on an inclusion model of teaching that revolves around the way students learn.

Again, look for the DC PCSB to want information on Big Picture Learning and its relationship to the school to be opened in our city.

The fifth applicant is the M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute PCS, an applicant that was rejected in 2018. But now the number of students the charter wants to enroll is tremendously different. Three years ago, the total size of the school reached 990 students in grades six through twelve. Now, the total count for this business education-based and vocational charter is just 175. I remember that the group did not impress me years ago and we will have to see if there is a much improved presentation in 2021.

This will be the first application cycle for new DC PCSB executive director Michelle Walker-Davis. Under her predecessor Scott Pearson the board only approved around 20 percent of those seeking to open new charters. Let’s sincerely hope that her support for school choice is stronger.

5 year D.C. charter school movement secret revealed

Former DC Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson penned an article in the online journal Education Next entitled “5 Things We Learned in D.C. About How to Advance Charter Schools.” In the piece Mr. Pearson answers a question that has haunted the movement since 2015. That spring he wrote a commentary co-authored with Skip McCoy, the DC PCSB chair at the time, that made the argument that the balance between the number of children attending charters compared to DCPS “is about right.”

The editorial sent a shockwave through the local charter school movement. Leaders could not understand why such an argument would be made, especially at this moment in history, by the two people who were supposed to be the city’s strongest charter school advocates. As charters were growing at a record pace school choice supporters were looking forward to the day when the majority of students in the nation’s capital would be enrolled in these alternative schools. The thought was that the shift in the demographics between the two sectors would bring more resources to charters in the areas of funding and facilities, as well as provide a quality education to thousands of pupils who had been left behind for decades by the regular schools.

Now, a couple of months after stepping down from his position at the charter board, Mr. Pearson offers his rationale for the action he took and I warn you that it is not pretty. Under a section labeled “Remove the Existential Angst” he writes:

“In 2012 D.C. charters served 41% of pupils, up from 25% ten years earlier. With share growth of two to three percentage points each year it was simple to forecast that a generation hence DCPS would be reduced to a tiny remnant—or eliminated entirely. For some national charter school theorists, this was the goal, an extreme position in an active national debate about the ‘end state’ of charter schools.

In D.C., though, this possibility raised the political temperature tremendously.

It turned out most people in D.C. supported both charters and DCPS. Many families had children in both sectors. Many city elders were proud DCPS alumni. And, significantly, DCPS, under Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson’s leadership, was turning around, embracing core ed reform principles. Few Washingtonians wanted to see DCPS cast into the dustbin of history. As long as this was the looming future, any decision we made about approving new schools or new school growth was seen through this apocalyptic lens.

So I, along with my board chair, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that ‘the balance we have, with a thriving public charter sector and strong traditional schools, is about right.’ We didn’t impose caps to maintain this balance. But by closing low-performing schools, only letting high-performing schools grow, and approving only the strongest new applicants, we kept our market share below 50%.

Did this win over everyone? No. But it ensured that the mayor remained a strong charter supporter. It kept any discussion of limiting charter growth off the city council agenda. And it kept the average D.C. resident broadly comfortable with an education reform movement supportive of both sectors.”

In other words, Mr. Pearson’s and Mr. McCoy’s motive behind their polemic was purely political. They reasoned that by closing lower performing schools, severely restricting the ability of existing charters to replicate and expand, and blocking the approval of new charter school applicants, they could drive the proportion of students attending charters to remain under fifty percent of the total number of public school students enrolled, thereby making the movement more palatable to elected officials and other citizens.

I have spent thousands of words arguing that the DC PCSB has made it too difficult to open new schools and allow existing schools to add additional students. Now I understand completely why nothing was done to reverse the situation. But the explanation makes me severely depressed. The outcome of the strategy set by Mr. Pearson was that students were blocked from attending charters who could have greatly benefited from access to these schools.

In addition, the plan did not work. In the “Crossing the Chasm Isn’t Enough” final section of the Education Next blog post Mr. Pearson admits that the District’s charters are facing resistance like never before:

“But the rise of white progressive politics in the city, in combination with a somewhat re-energized union movement, has left our schools fighting attacks on multiple fronts–and often losing. We lost last year when the City Council regulated suspensions and expulsions. And we lost this year when the City Council mandated open charter-school governing-board meetings. We know there is more waiting in the wings – limits to growth, teacher representatives on charter boards, efforts to control our spending and our curricula.”


The sad conclusion is that Mr. Pearson’s effort to placate the public has backfired. The only true outcome of purposely stalling charter expansion has been reduce the number of kids attending charters in the nation’s capital.

D.C. charter board bids adieu to executive director Scott Pearson with total class

When I reviewed the agenda for Monday evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, I remember thinking that the session was a waste of time. The items for discussion were so few that I thought the authorizer should take the night off. But then I tuned in and quickly realized why this gathering was taking place.

It turned out that the PCSB had put together a highly organized celebration of the eight and a half years that Scott Pearson has held the role of executive director. On Zoom, speaker after speaker, over a span of about an hour and 10 minutes, sung Mr. Pearson’s praises about his achievements. The list of participants perfectly represented the history of the spectacular success of charter schools in the nation’s capital. Mr. Pearson observed the event with his wife sitting closely on one side of him and his daughter on the other. Allow me to list the speakers in order of appearance so you get an idea of the magnitude of this endeavor:

Rick Cruz, PCSB chair; Saba Bireda, PCSB vice chair; Steve Bumbaugh, PCSB board member; Lea Crusey, PCSB board member; Naomi Shelton, PCSB board member; Jim Sandman, PCSB board member; Sara Mead, former PCSB board member; Skip McKoy, former PCSB chair; Don Soifer, former PCSB board member; Shannon Hodge, DC Charter School Alliance executive director; Maya Martin, PAVE founder and executive director; Terry Golden, KIPP DC PCS chair; Jack Patterson, KIPP DC chief community engagement and growth officer; Abigail Smith, former DC Deputy Mayor for Education and E.L Haynes PCS chair; Erika Bryant, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS executive director; Laura Maestas, DC Prep PCS chief executive officer; Daniela Anello, DC Bilingual PCS head of school; and Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, former PCSB deputy director.

All of the speeches powerfully and meticulously detailed the contributions Mr. Pearson has made to the education of all children in the District of Columbia. However, as with many board meetings, it was Mr. Sandman who I believe best summarized the reasons many are deeply disappointed that there is a change in leadership at the PCSB. He stated that Mr. Pearson had four main accomplishments. Mr. Sandman recognized the former executive director for his single minded focus on school quality, his implementation of measures of quality and policies around the PCSB’s work, the recruitment of world-class staff, and his personal integrity.

Once Ms. DeVeaux concluded her remarks, which, despite a heroic effort she could not get though without crying, it was Mr. Pearson’s turn to address the audience. He and his wife followed in the former PCSB deputy director’s footsteps in that I could see tears streaming down their faces. Mr. Person’s words should stand as a permanent testament to the meaning of charter schools in the United States of America:

“’This job has been the most rewarding professional experience of my life.

I’ve said many times that this job has been the most rewarding professional experience of my life.  So, this moment is very emotional for me.

Public charter schools have always been about empowering people to create great schools that meet the needs of families.   Is there anything more inspiring than this? The unlocking of human potential is the greatest work any of us can engage in. In public charter schools we have found a new way to achieve this, at every level, from the students we serve to the 600 school board members who are now engaged in supporting public education in Washington, DC.

Public charter schools have always been about both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.  The what, of course, is creating excellent and unique schools, schools who allow families to find a school that is the right fit for them, who innovate to produce better and more equitable results, and who transform communities.  But the ‘how’ is just as important. Public charter schools allow extraordinary individuals – many of whom would never dream of working in a large education bureaucracy – to participate in the great civic endeavor of public education.  A good authorizer, through a focus on outcomes paired with maximum freedom for how those outcomes are achieved, allows innovation, diversity, choice, and excellence to thrive in public education.

That has always been the promise of public charter schools.  But when we look around the country, we see that promise has too often been unfulfilled: schools underperform, they find ways to be selective, they steal money, they fail to serve all students.  And often, the underlying cause of this failure is an authorizer who is too lax on quality, who deprives schools of essential freedoms, who ignores proper oversight. 

When I accepted this job I was determined to lead an authorizer that allowed public charter schools to fulfill their promise – who found ways to respect school autonomy while ensuring proper oversight, and who found ways to show that public charter schools can be a constructive and collaborative part of civic life.  

I believe that, for the most part, we’ve succeeded.  By almost every measurable dimension our schools have become higher quality and more equitable over the past eight years.  We’ve deepened our collaboration with DC Public Schools, launching a common lottery, a citywide enrollment fair and a citywide recruiting fair.  We’ve gone from ignoring city agencies to engaging deeply with them, working together on more than thirty task forces and working groups.  In the process, we’ve helped make our city stronger and better able to serve all of its residents.

With that said, there is much more to be done.  We’ve narrowed the Achievement Gap, but it remains far too large.  Our work has always been premised on the firm belief that Black Lives Matter, but we still have so far to go to make that aspiration a reality.  Part of my decision to step down was a recognition that maybe I’ve carried things forward as far as I am able, and what is needed are new perspectives, new ideas, and new energy to sustain our progress.  In Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis I believe our board has found a leader to do just that.  

Of course, I planned to step down long before coronavirus.  With the pandemic the challenges before the DC Public Charter School Board have doubled, as they have for our schools and virtually every other institution across the globe.  The savage inequities in who is affected and who is dying of the virus only reinforce our obligation to offer schools that are both equitable and excellent. 

I leave this job with much gratitude, starting with my deepest thanks to you, our volunteer board members who have given so much to our community and to me.  I’m particularly grateful to the board chairs I’ve served under, Rick Cruz, Darren Woodruff, John ‘Skip’ McKoy and Brian Jones, each of whom has been an invaluable source of support, of helpful criticism, and of the kind of thought partnership essential to reaching good decisions.

I’m grateful to our school leaders, staff, and their boards.  They are the ones really doing the hard work every day.  They, more than anyone, have been the source of inspiration and energy to me.  I made it a practice to start many of my workdays with a school visit, and the joy from those visits powered me for the rest of the day. 

I also want to thank the city leadership, including Mayor Bowser and before her Mayor Gray, and the City Council, particularly Council Chair Phil Mendelson and Education Committee Chair David Grosso.  We haven’t agreed on everything, but their core support for our schools and their funding has been invaluable.  And our progress wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership of Hanseul Kang at OSSE, the leadership at DCPS, including Kaya Henderson and Lewis Ferebee, and at the Deputy Mayor for Education, particularly Abby Smith, Jennie Niles, and Paul Kihn.

Finally, I want to thank our staff.  I have grown so much in the past eight years, as a leader and as a person.  And much of that growth has been because of you.  Your feedback wasn’t always easy to hear, but it was a gift.  I have truly loved the opportunity to work with you, such a smart and committed and talented group.  Most of all I want to thank our senior team, Lenora, Tomeika, Rashida, and Sarah – and from the past, Clara, Theola, Nicole and Naomi – this job has truly been a team effort.  I thank you for your wisdom, your friendship, your high standards, your excellent work, your willingness to tell me when I’m wrong, and, most of all your ability to make me laugh.  Without you, this job may have been impossible, and it certainly would have been a lot less fun.

I have to admit I feel a little guilty stepping aside in this moment of crisis, but I leave optimistic in the future, with confidence in this board, in the DC PCSB staff, and in Dr. Walker-Davis.  I pledge to stay engaged on behalf of public charter schools and to support you in any way I can.”

It was a truly spectacular event. 

Dr. Michelle J. Walker-Davis hired to replace Scott Pearson as D.C. charter board executive director

The DC Public Charter School Board announced yesterday afternoon that Dr. Michelle J. Walker-Davis will succeed Scott Pearson as its executive director beginning in July. Ms. Walker-Davis has extremely impressive credentials. She obtained two masters degree’s and a doctorate from the Teachers College, Columbia University, all centered around education leadership.

Her professional career, according to the DC PCSB’s press release, includes seven years in the District of Columbia. She worked under Mayor Anthony Williams as a senior advisor on education and as chief of strategic planning and policy for DCPS, as well as a stint in the city’s Office of Budget and Planning.

After leaving D.C., Dr. Walker-Davis spent nine years employed by the St. Paul, Minnesota Public Schools. She moved up to the chief executive officer role just under the school superintendent. Her most recent position has been as executive director of Generation Next, a policy nonprofit that attempts to close the academic achievement gap in Minneapolis and St. Paul. She has experience as a member of several boards of directors.

Both the DC PCSB and the Washington Post’s Perry Stein remark that Ms. Walker-Davis is “a first-generation African-American of Caribbean descent.” Ms. Stein has added that Dr. Walker-Davis has young children who she has entered into the My School DC lottery to determine where they will be taught in the fall.

Of course, this is an exceptionally interesting time to be assuming the job. Charter school advocacy has been weak recently in our town where charters now educate 46 percent of all public school students, or 46,500 pupils. Word on the street is that a new organization that is being formed by the merging of FOCUS and the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools is about to be announced. The FOCUS -driven funding inequity lawsuit against the Mayor is ongoing, and Ms. Bowser continues to ignore demands that she turn numerous surplus DCPS facilities over to the charter sector.

In addition, she will of course be working in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis and what that means for the way that public education is delivered in the nation’s capital. Ms. Stein described the current educational landscape this way:

“But charter schools are facing increasing political resistance nationwide. In the District, the latest scores on standardized tests show the traditional D.C. public school system outperforming the city’s charter schools, although both sectors have shown slow improvements in recent years. The board approved five new charter schools to open this summer in Washington despite growing concerns about vacant seats on existing campuses in both sectors. And for the first time since D.C. charters were established in 1996, enrollment dropped in the sector this academic year after the closure of five low-performing or financially troubled campuses.”

Given this environment, Dr. Walker-Davis’s first comments about the unique position of our charters are highly discouraging:

“As a parent of school-aged children, I know from experience that most parents aren’t choosing between traditional and public charter schools,” said Dr. Walker-Davis.  “Parents  want schools that can successfully and effectively educate their children — schools that fit different learning styles, cultures, and interests.”

I will be watching closely to see if Ms. Walker-Davis is the one speaking for the board as was the case with Mr. Pearson, or if this function will revert back to the chair as it operated under Mr. Tom Nida’s leadership. This will offer direct evidence as who is setting the DC PCSB’s future direction.

More than half of all D.C. charter schools ending school year later than DCPS

Not all of D.C.’s charter schools have released their end of the school year date, however, of the 36 school that have, 55.6 percent made the call to close later than May 29th, the day that Mayor Muriel Bowser announced would be the last one for the current school year for the traditional schools. One of the largest charter networks in the city, KIPP DC, teaching 6,800 students on 18 campuses, has decided that it will continue until June 12th, offering its predominately low-income children a full additional two weeks of learning compared to DCPS.

June 12th is in fact the most popular ending date for charters. None is concluding earlier than May 29th. The most interesting decision so far is that of Paul PCS, which is ceasing on May 29 for those pupils in good academic standing. It will teach until June 18th those children that need summer school or recovery work. Some charters are going until June 19th, the original last day of this highly unusual year.

In some other news, it was announced at the first April board meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, before it was interrupted, that Scott Pearson will extend his departure date as executive director by a month, leaving at the end of June instead of May. He should probably stay in his post until August to provide a transition for the new hire. No decision on a replacement has been announced.

Also, as part of that meeting, it is now clear that there is a well-organized effort to damage the reputation of Ingenuity Prep PCS. In the public testimony part of the session nine individuals spoke against the school reading almost identical statements. Apparently, this effort is being led by some employees who had been terminated.

My wife Michele and I have been conducting remote tutoring for about a month now through the Latino Student Fund. It has been an adjustment but we feel our time is extremely valuable to the kids we are helping. The parents are exceedingly grateful for this effort. The tutoring has been extended and now will continue through the end of July. If you are interested in participating you can sign up here.

D.C. charter board puts school accountability on hiatus

The DC Public Charter School Board had already announced that there would be no School Quality Reports issued for the 2019-to-2020 school year due to the impact of COVID-19. Next Monday evening the board will hold a public hearing regarding its amended policy dealing with the crisis which will then be voted on in May.

In summary, the document states that the Performance Management Framework will not be calculated for schools this term. The board really had no choice regarding this decision. The D.C. Deputy Mayor of Education has stated that he will seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to permit the city to skip conducting the PARCC standardized assessment this year. Much of the School Quality Report findings are based upon student PARCC scores. But this raises an interesting quandary. Many schools that have faced high stakes reviews were required to meet certain PMF scores going forward or face possible charter revocation. Here’s what the revised policy says on this subject:

“DC PCSB will not monitor SY 2019-20 conditions. Instead, SY 2019-20
conditions will be applied to SY 2020-21. In addition, to address unforeseen
long-term consequences of the current situation, the following discretionary clause will be included for SY 2020-21 and SY 2021-22: ‘The DC PCSB Board may, at its discretion, determine that this condition should be waived in SY 2020-21 and SY 2021-22.’ If the condition(s) originally ended in SY 2019-20 or SY 2020-21, the condition(s) will not be extended for an additional year beyond SY 2020-21.”

I recognize that these are the most unusual circumstances that many of us have seen in our lifetimes, but the proposed rules raise some interesting questions. For example, if it was so important that schools attain a particular academic level but now there is no measurement, what are the implications for the quality of the education students at these campuses are now obtaining? Moreover, if it is possible that conditions will waived until the 2021-to-2022 term, then are kids being harmed by lowering our standards?

The answer is that in all likelihood there will be little or no impact on our children. The great majority of charters, even those facing stringent requirements to meet PMF targets, are doing an excellent job educating their pupils.

Every situation is an opportunity to learn new things and gain a fresh perspective. I guarantee from what I have read on social media that organizations are discovering aspects of distance learning that they had never thought about. The same is true about the PCSB’s high stakes review procedure.

Perhaps the next time that a charter comes up for its five, ten, fifteen, or twenty-year review and it is not meeting its academic goals, the response from the board can be more lenient. For instance, instead of demanding that a school meet a target in twelve months, the time period could be two years. Or perhaps the quantity of improvement expected could be more gradual.

I do not think anyone has argued for quality in public education more than me. But simultaneously, we know that closing schools is causing significant disruptions for families. The moral question has to be asked, especially regarding our facilities that enroll extremely high proportions of at-risk students, as to whether the punishment is worse than allowing the status quo to continue.

There are also implications for the rules around charter school replication. Maybe schools should be allowed to grow even if they have not reached Tier 1 status.

I am confident that these questions have always been on the minds of charter board members. But now there is another angle to consider. Hopefully, something good will come out of this tragedy.

Meanwhile, yesterday Mayor Boswer announced that D.C. schools will be closed at least through May 15th.