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.

D.C. charter board reacts to impact on its schools from the coronavirus

Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the Public Charter School Board, pens a piece about the critical role authorizers have in responding to COVID-19.

This is a critical time for authorizers. How we respond to COVID-19 will make a difference to the lives of the children our schools serve. It could also help shape the future of charter schools. Much will change on the other side of this pandemic. When policymakers and the public look back at how we responded, will they see public charter schools as part of the solution, or contributing to the problem? The charter model earned a huge boost due to its effective response to Hurricane Katrina. Now we face a different crisis and again we need to step up and show that the charter school model can be uniquely effective in response.

At the DC Public Charter School Board, I’ve laid out six broad priorities for our team.

  1. Collaborate with government partners to organize an effective response. This is not the time to stay in our corner, or to bray about our autonomies. This is the time to work together, to pitch in, and to contribute to solutions. For example, we worked together with our state department of education to allow public charter schools to be citywide food distribution centers. Now 25 public charter and 25 DC public schools are serving as meal sites – all serving all students and open to whoever lives closest.
  2. Facilitate learning and experience sharing. A key strength of public charter schools is their ability to innovate. The rate of learning and problem-solving going on now is astounding. We can help schools improve faster by learning from each other. And we can make charter-district collaboration real. We’re hosting three webinars every day for our schools focused not only on overall approaches, but on specific issues, like delivering related services, or college counseling, or parent perspectives. We’ve established a shared library where we post plans, ideas, and exemplars for all schools to see. And we’ve teamed with our charter association to launch a Slack platform with dozens of channels so that collaboration can happen at every job level across our schools.
  3. Conduct appropriate oversight of distance learning. Right away we told schools that we expected them to do their best to keep learning going, and to reach all students. We aren’t being punitive about this, and we recognize some schools will struggle. But every school we oversee must make a good faith effort to reach all students.
  4. Adjust our accountability standards. We have high standards. But every aspect of accountability needs to be rethought for 2019-20, and possibly for 2020-21. We are convening listening sessions with schools and promised them clarity on accountability by late April.
  5. Communicate three things. Our communications function is dedicated to a) sharing out essential information, b) elevating the heroic stories coming out of our schools every day, and c) facilitating experience sharing between schools.
  6. Enable our agency to function effectively. Over the years we’ve invested in moving our data to the cloud. Now our IT function is on overdrive, ensuring that every staff member has the tools they need to be effective while working from home.

These are times like no other. Effective authorizing can ensure that the charter sector rises to the occasion and that the diversity of our schools is recognized as an advantage in this crisis.

D.C. charter board holds spectacular virtual monthly public meeting

The DC Public Charter School Board, in the face of preventing the spread of COVID-19, delayed its March monthly meeting by a week so that it could coordinate holding its next session using the application Zoom with participants connecting by computer over the internet from different physical locations. The result was nothing less than perfection in the midst of a devastating public health crisis. Executive director Scott Pearson started off the agenda by explaining the PCSB’s six goals during this highly unusual period. They are:

  • Supporting our schools in any way we can by sharing individual campus experiences,
  • Recognizing that the accountability structure will change due to students not taking standardized tests this year with direct consequences on the calculation of the Performance Management Framework,
  • Collaborating as good partners across city agencies and organizations,
  • Effectively overseeing distance learning,
  • Enabling the board to do its work successfully, and
  • Openly communicating to schools and families.

Chairman Rick Cruz then ran a highly structured public comment period in which approximately a dozen people testified. I liked it a lot. Because people had to sign up ahead of time, I could learn the names of each individual speaking. The sound was clearer than in any previous gathering. You could easily see who was speaking. Perhaps we have all learned something from this exercise.

The evening also provided a shocking development in the form of an amendment request from Achievement Prep PCS. We were all prepared to hear the school argue that it should be allowed to pursue its plan of turning its middle school over to Friendship PCS and then reconstitute grades four through eight in coming years. However on March 2nd, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn sent a letter to the charter explaining that by transitioning its students to Friendship and excluding other pupils from a chance to enroll, it was violating the law by not allowing fair and equal access to a lottery. He claimed that over a thousand children would like to gain admission to a Friendship middle school and therefore the process being followed here was illegal.

The letter, according to chair Jason Andrean and founder and CEO Shantelle Wright, had a stunning impact on the Achievement Prep board. Priding itself on providing opportunities for under-served low-income minority students, it did not want to have anything to do with the accusations made by Mr. Kihn. The school called off the deal with Friendship, sending about 355 students scrambling to find a seat for next year. Participation in the My DC School common lottery closed on the day the Deputy Mayor sent his letter to Achievement Prep.

The charter board appeared extremely frustrated by this turn of events. After all, isn’t this how it has conducted takeovers of academically poor performing charters for years? A school closes and its enrollment is incorporated by the new operator. The difference in this instance appears to be that Friendship was not taking over the charter of Achievement Prep together with its assets, only one of its campuses.

The members of the PCSB were not happy and wondered why Mr. Kihn had not brought up this issue earlier. The question of charter school autonomy was raised. Taking advantage of the chat feature of the software platform we were on, some in the audience asserted that Achievement Prep should have stuck with its original plan.

The whole thing reminded me of the meeting last January when Mayor Muriel Bowser showed up to assert her control over the charter sector.

The charter amendment will be voted on next month.

Next, Paul PCS was up for its 20-year review. Here again the proceedings did not go as anticipated. The school has a Tier 1 ranked high school but its middle school campus has not been able to reach its goal of 50 percent on the PMF during the five year review period. The board was ready to pull the trigger on its usual draconian conditions that the school would have to meet or face closure of this campus. However, things are not as they used to be and the school pointed out, with the assistance of attorney Stephen Marcus, that in the absence of PARCC testing and therefore most likely an omitted PMF ranking for this year, the academic scoring requirements placed on the school that would be effective beginning now are moot.

The charter board did admit that it will be drafting a policy in April dealing with school accountability in the absence of standardized testing as Mr. Pearson alluded to earlier. The decision was then made to delay a decision regarding Paul until this new path forward is developed.

It was an extremely busy few hours for Mr. Marcus as his firm also represented Achievement Prep.

Almost as an afterthought after some captivating discussions, it was time to learn the charter applications that would be approved for opening in the 2021-to-2022 school term. Only one of the four bids, that of Global Citizens PCS, was given the green light. You know that the world has truly changed when only fifty percent of the schools backed by CityBridge Education are given the go-ahead.

Let’s sincerely hope that everything gets back to normal soon.

Scott Pearson should delay leaving D.C. charter board

Last November, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC PCSB, announced that he was relinquishing his position after eight and a half years at the end of May. In the face of the crises facing the public and charter schools in particular around the coronavirus pandemic I think it only prudent that Mr. Pearson should delay this move until the end of the summer.

Charter schools are now basically following the lead of DCPS and closing until April 1st. Chances are good that this date will be delayed. Students are being provided with the opportunity to take classes remotely and food is distributed to those who would go hungry if not for nourishment delivered where they normally would go to class.

The DCPCSB announced that its monthly board meeting that was scheduled for last night will move to Monday, March 23rd. The session will be held virtually. The charter board offices are closed with employees working from home.

Board chair Rick Cruz and Vice-Chair Saba Bireda have been leading a national search for Mr. Peterson’s replacement. We do not know the impact travel and meeting restrictions around personal safety have had on this recruitment effort.

With all that is going on and no immediate idea when life will get back to some form of normalcy, this would not be the right time to make such an important transition. I’m sure after all the dedicated service Mr. Pearson has provided to our 62 schools operating on 123 campuses that enroll 49,000 scholars, he can hang in there a few more months. This is also a crucial moment to have a thorough transition to a new leader.

Dramatic events call for dramatic actions. Mr. Pearson should continue to head the DC PCSB until the nation’s capitol begins to calm down. Perhaps this request should come directly from Mayor Bowser?

2 of 4 new charter school applicants should be approved

There was a marathon monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board Monday evening due to a heavy agenda and one and a half hours of public testimony. People signed up to speak mostly to support one of the four applicants for new schools that would open in the 2021-to-2022 school year. One interesting tidbit from this portion of the session came from two former employees of Ingenuity Prep PCS who I’m sure have testified in the past. In response to their comments, Chairman Cruz revealed that the Office of the State Superintendent, as well as the PCSB, has audited the school’s special education program and found deficiencies. I wrote about the activities of the charter board investigating this aspect of the school’s operation that I learned about only by reviewing the PCSB’s answers to questions posed to it from the D.C. Council as part of its 2020 oversight hearings. Why this information has to come out in steady drips in this age of transparency is beyond me.

Besides the consideration of new schools and other business, Friendship PCS was approved to take over Achievement Prep PCs’s Wahler Middle School after the founding charter announced that it would no longer operate this campus next term. My question is why Friendship does not take over all of Achievement Prep? The middle school has 449 students in grades four through eight while the elementary has 375 pupils in pre-Kindergarten three through the third grade with the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation instructing the children in preschool. Perhaps at a later time.

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’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.

I truly wish I felt the same about Global Citizens PCS. It is a terrible idea to go against the other CityBridge Education school but here I go. The idea of providing a dual immersion school in Spanish and Mandarin east of the river is fascinating, and I’m a tremendous supporter of the founders, who come from Sela PCS. I just cannot get my mind past the question from board member Jim Sandman who asked how the school would go about staffing its teachers when it has no idea how many initial scholars would be interested in learning one language versus the other. The other problem I have conceptually is that in this school’s pre-Kindergarten classes the language other than English would be spoken eighty percent of the time, with English going up to fifty percent in higher grades. Is this really what’s best for the academic future of this population of students? Perhaps people with more knowledge on this subject than me will point out that the answer is affirmative. I’m not so sure. For these reasons I vote no for approval.

Here’s another mistake I could be making. I would love to see a charter granted to The Garden School of Business and Entrepreneurship. This school, which applied for the first time last year, spells out its goals this way:

“At The Garden, our vision is to close the racial wealth gap and break the cycle of generational poverty. Our students will receive career skill-building experiences, learn how to grow their ideas into businesses, and how to use their assets to build wealth. Our school model is not only for the business person or entrepreneur, our school supports all careers. Our model is intended to create and build the mindset and skills needed to move black communities from consumer to producer. College and career is not our grand prize, it’s just the ticket into the arena. We will teach our students about investing, bonds, and stocks. Our students will work to create new ways to generate income – no matter what their degree or career is. We work to change how students think about money and education. For this reason, we are not only focused on academics and our economic design. We are culturally affirming who our students are and supporting them mentally and socio-emotionally. We believe that the most powerful feeling in the world is having control. Not, control over others or a multi-million dollar company. It’s control over yourself, your skills, and your mindset.”

I was especially taken with the young gentleman school representative telling his story about growing up in poverty who now makes millions of dollars through multiple businesses in Ward 8. Let’s give them a chance.

Finally, I reluctantly would not go along with the application from Washington Arabic PCS. This school also tried last year. Although improvements in the bid have been made, and the founding group has been positively augmented, I have lingering concerns about the design of the curriculum.

In most years not more than forty percent of new applicants are approved by the PCSB. I’m going with half this time. Next month we will see if I have the right half.

D.C. charter board transparency has its limits

Last November I described troubling testimony at the monthly DC Public Charter School meeting regarding Ingenuity Prep PCS. I wrote:

“Two individuals, one a former vice-principal and the other a parent, with other former school leaders coming up to the testimony table in support, describe concerning activity at Ingenuity Prep PCS. They claim that under CEO Will Stoetzer student behavior is out of control. Descriptions of what is taking place include kids running around hallways, leaving the school building without permission, horseplay, and even exposing their genitals. The former vice-principal stated that students have been abusing staff through violent acts including stabbings. She asserted that she has heard children say that they want to kill themselves and die. The parent described teachers verbally abusing and bullying students. The cause of these problems, according to the former vice-principal, is inappropriate inclusion of special education children without proper teacher training and supervision. It is all difficult to believe and my hope is that the board will bring representatives of Ingenuity Prep to the December meeting to provide an explanation of these accusations.”

So what was the outcome of this complaint? You would not have any idea by sitting through the subsequent public meetings of the DC PCSB in December and January. Did this oversight body investigate the school? Was there any legitimacy to the charges of those who testified? The answers to these questions are affirmative, but to find them you need to do some detective work. The trail starts by going to the charter board’s website. Then you move to the Transparency Hub, followed by paging down to “Oversight testimony and responses to DC Council since 2013.” A button to the right takes you to “View Oversight Testimony and Responses.” Under Q &A click FY19 Performance Oversight Answers.” Next, select “Performance Oversight Questions.”

These are the questions asked by the D.C. Council’s Education Committee in preparation of its February 2020 oversight hearings. Buried on page 49 of 123 pages is this written exchange:

“Q 20. Provide an update on measures taken to address complaints shared at the November 2019 PCSB Board meeting regarding Ingenuity Prep, including:
a. documentation and the results of the original desk audit;
b. the results of the resulting special education audit; and
c. any conditions in place for the school.

In November 2019, DC PCSB received a series of community complaints regarding systemic concerns with student safety and special education programming at Ingenuity Prep PCS. Below is the timeline of events as it relates to the initial complaint, meetings with the school, site visits to the school, and the overall special education audit process.
11/5/2019: Unannounced Visit to Ingenuity Prep PCS
In response to the initial community complaint, DC PCSB staff conducted an immediate visit to the school.
11/20/2019: Staff-to-staff Meeting with DC PCSB and Ingenuity Prep PCS
DC PCSB held a staff-to-staff meeting with Ingenuity Prep PCS to discuss the complaints and the school’s response and potential turnaround efforts.
12/3/2019: Special Education Audit Begins
In response to the complaints alleging systematic issues with the school’s special education program, DC PCSB began a desk audit on Tuesday, 12/3/2019, in accordance with DC PCSB’s Special Education Audit Policy. According to the Policy, a potential trigger is a community complaint that “alleges a systemic issue with the denial of parental safeguards, provision of special education services, or concern for the safety of students with disabilities.” Consistent with the Policy, the school was required to provide data and supplemental documentation.
1/8/2020: Unannounced Visit to Ingenuity Prep DC
PCSB staff conducted a second unannounced visit to the school.
1/16/2020: DC PCSB concludes its audit and submits to the school its conclusions and recommendations

Audit Conclusions
Upon reviewing the documentation submitted through the special education audit and the information gathered during unannounced visits, DC PCSB concluded the following:
•through SY18-19 to SY19-20, students with disabilities at the school are retained at five times the rate as their general education peers;
•the school continues to have staffing challenges, resignations, and transitions;
•extensive training and oversight are needed in special education programming and compliance;
•while the school has developed an internal turnaround strategy, it has also struggled to implement elements of its turnaround (e.g., observing all teachers on a regular basis) and clearly measure success of the turnaround;
•while the school reports that seclusion is no longer in use, there is inconsistent evidence; and
•the school does not consistently follow its own policies regarding restraint and physical escort.

Audit Recommendations
Based on DC PCSB’s audit conclusions, DC PCSB recommended that the school take steps to re-evaluate and improve policies and practices regarding:
•special education student supports and contributing factors to grade retention;
•implementation of the school’s restorative practices; and
•seclusion, restraint, and physical escort practices and policies and notification to parents after every instance.

DC PCSB also recommends that the school take steps to increase its oversight and provide support to its staff in:
•special education compliance;
•teacher observations and coaching; and
•measurement of success on the school’s turnaround plan.

DC PCSB will follow up on the status of the school’s turnaround efforts in future communications, continue to closely monitor community complaints that may potentially come in regarding the school, and conduct follow up unannounced site visits.”

In summary, there were definitely serious issues identified by the PCSB regarding this school’s handling of special education students. While the board should be congratulated for including this information on its website, it is inappropriate that this type of follow-up is not shared in a more open fashion.

When I met recently with PCSB Chairman Rick Cruz for an interview I asked him about this safety incident and the one at Rocketship PCS. We discussed the possibility of something along the lines of a Safety Audit Report that would be included at the monthly meetings.

Based upon the details above, I think the time for such a report is clearly overdue.