Public school reform advocates should vote for Muriel Bowser for D.C. Mayor

I have to admit that Robert White Jr.’s comments on public education scare me. As WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle pointed out, when the Mayoral candidate was asked during a May 4, 2022 debate as to whether schools should remain under the control of the city’s chief executive, he apparently answered in this way:

“We need a mayor who’s not just going to go to the easy talking points, but who’s going to get in the details. And this mayor has not gotten into the details. And that’s why she doesn’t have a clear understanding of why so many students are leaving our schools. Right now, 30% of elementary school students leave D.C. Public Schools before middle school. There is an urgent problem, and we need a mayor with a sense of urgency on public education.”

Mr. White’s vague answer on this critical issue brought a strong response from current Mayor Muriel Bowser, according to the WAMU reporter:

“D.C. residents want a mayor they can trust. And if your answer shifts depending on which way the wind blows, they can’t trust you with their kids. And the most important thing you have to do as mayor is provide mayoral leadership of the schools. I think it is a seminal issue in this race. And I think what we’ve heard are councilmembers who are equivocating and waffling. I’m straight forward.”

For close observers of the education scene in the nation’s capital, the unified opinion is that we cannot move backward to the time when the D.C. Board of Education ran the public schools. Going to a public school was dangerous then, and there was a distinct lack of pedagogy going on in the classrooms. The buildings were crumbling literally and figuratively. We just cannot allow this to happen after so much progress.

Mayor Bowser has been a supporter of public education reform but has not been as strong as charter school advocates have desired. She has consistently annually raised the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, the baseline money allocated each year to teach a student, but has lagged in her willingness to also increase the per pupil facility allotment. The most glaring weakness of her Administration has been the unwillingness to turn over surplus DCPS facilities to charter schools. While recent previous Mayors Adrien Fenty and Vincent Gray have given buildings in the double digits, I believe that Ms. Bowser has relinquished two. Her almost total avoidance of following the law when it comes to these structures resulted in an End The List Campaign in 2019 that mobilized the charter school community in an effort to force her to do the right thing.

The Mayor has also put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board not to approve new schools. This is an area where the board has to find a way to stand up to her. Finally, she has been exceedingly slow to nominate replacement members to the PCSB.

Ms. Bowser has also been a steadfast supporter of continued operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school scholarship plan for low income children living in D.C. A 2017 letter from D.C. Chairman Mendelson to the U.S. Congress to bring an end to the vouchers was opposed by the Mayor, and interestingly, was not signed by Councilmember Robert White.

There is one aspect of Mr. White’s proposed education program with which I strongly agree. I have advocated, as he is doing now, that the Office of the State Superintendent should be independent of the Mayor. I think OSSE should be separated from political pressure. However, although we agree on this one concept, I do not believe that education reform would be in steady hands if he won the upcoming election. Despite her failings in the area of public education which I have documented, Muriel Bowser is my choice for Mayor.

DC Charter School Alliance names Hall of Fame members: where is Patricia Brantley?

As part of Charter School Week, over the past few days the DC Charter School Alliance has been announcing additions to the Charter School Hall of Fame. First created by Friends of Choice In Urban Schools back in 2016, the Hall of Fame was formed “to recognize the key individuals whose contributions have helped shape DC’s thriving charter sector.” If ever there was someone that needed to be added to this esteemed group it is Patricia Brantley, the chief executive officer of Friendship PCS. Here are just a few sentences from Ms. Brantley’s biography on the Friendship website:

“Patricia oversees all operations at Friendship, has secured more $95 million in public and private funding, effected cohesion among the 12 campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development. She spearheaded the takeover of Washington’s first multi-campus charter management group, ensuring that hundreds of children could remain in their school of choice.”

Ms. Brantley moved up to CEO at Friendship after serving as its chief operating officer. Here’s what I wrote about that tenure when I interviewed her six years ago:

“Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.”

As I have watched her work, I see Ms. Brantley as a savior to D.C.’s charter school movement. When charters get in trouble and are fighting for their existence, Ms. Brantley comes to their rescue, like a superhero swooping in at the last minute to challenge evil. It started with the takeover at Community Academy PCS, proceeded to Ideal PCS, and most recently expanding Friendship’s online school to medically fragile students desperately needing a virtual option. When the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (City Arts and Prep PCS) was closed by the DC Public Charter School Board, she brought its program into Armstrong PCS. After multiple safety issues came to light at Monument Academy PCS, and it appeared that the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital would literally lose their homes, she engineered a takeover by the Friendship Foundation. Finally, after the PCSB could not see past fear from Mayor Muriel Bowser to open Capital Experience Lab, a new middle and high school charter, Ms. Brantley brought the exciting pedagogical approach to learning into Blow Pierce PCS. She had been serving on its board of directors. Ms. Brantley sets the blazing example of what true leadership looks like.

Actually, when the DC Charter School Alliance started to announce their inductees into the Charter School Hall of Fame, Ms. Brantley’s name should have been first.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donates $200 million to charter schools

A couple of days ago Cayla Bamberger of the New York Post revealed that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg granted two charter networks, Success Academy PCS and Harlem Children’s Zone PCS, $100 million each in order to help them grow to accept more students. The money is only the beginning of Mr. Bloomberg’s investment in these alternative schools. His goal is to spend $750 million nationwide. The former Mayor told the Post:

“I don’t know that 30 years from now, when they don’t have the kind of life that we’d want for them you can explain to them what happened and why we were asleep at the switch.”

My point exactly. The pandemic has created a magnificent opportunity for charters. I do not understand why pro-charter organizations are not buying up vacant office buildings to house schools. I’m sure there are great deals to be had in the current marketplace. Is there no one in D.C. who will be embarrassed in 30 years that they did not act when they had the chance?

The DC Public Charter School is currently on a year-long pause for considering new schools and the expansion on existing ones. This needs to end now with the result being that it is simpler for new charters to open and easier to add more seats for those that are already operating.

I found interesting that the Washington Post’s Perry Stein found the need in her recent story about D.C. middle schools to talk about Mayor Bowser’s view of the expansion of the charter sector. The reporter wrote:

“While charter schools are independent, the mayor can have a role in shaping the sector and the Bowser administration has been considered charter-friendly. Bowser appoints the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which authorizes which charter schools can open and which must close for low-performance. She said she speaks with all her appointees about the need to approve only charters that address an unmet need in the city.”

Ms. Stein contradicts herself. She claims that charters are independent yet simultaneously points out that they are overseen by the PCSB whose members are selected by the Mayor. But this is slightly off topic. I just love the quote that Ms. Stein includes in the article from past charter board chair Rick Cruz regarding the growth of charters while many DCPS school are under enrolled.

“It means little to us and even less to many D.C. families to hear that there are thousands of seats in many schools that boast poor academic results.”

Right on! It is now time to wake up from our Covid-19 lull. Come on Mr. Bloomberg, District charters are ready to accept your cash. Who else is out there that wants to pitch in?

Shantelle Wright joining D.C. Public Charter School Board

Charter school watchers in the nation’s capital have been puzzled by the lack of nominations to the DC Public Charter School Board by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The board is down to three out of seven members, with Rick Cruz’s term coming to an end. Well, it appears that the six-month wait for names to be announced is finally over. The board revealed the other day that there are three people up for D.C. Council confirmation.

The most shocking individual on the list is none other than Shantelle Wright. Ms. Wright is of course well known to the local movement. She is the founder and previously long-term chief executive officer of Achievement Prep PCS. During her tenure at Achievement Prep, it was common for Ms. Wright to offer highly emotionally charged comments critical of the PCSB, especially in regard to the views of former executive director Scott Pearson. She has been part of a segment of charter school stakeholders, best represented by attorney Stephen Marcus, that believe that the Performance Management Framework which is used to grade charters in Washington, D.C., is biased against at-risk children. Achievement Prep serves a large proportion of students living in poverty.

However, as I reported in April, 2018, at an event marking the first ten years of operation of Achievement Prep, Ms. Wright seemed to have a change of heart. Here are my observations:

“In her speech, Ms. Wright admitted that mistakes at the school had been made and that most recently it has not been serving the children of Ward 8 according to its mission ‘to prepare students to excel as high-achieving scholars and leaders in high school, college, and beyond.’  She explained that Achievement Prep had grown too fast, an expansion that has resulted in the school’s Wahler Place elementary, serving pupils in pre-Kindergarten three to third grade, being ranked Tier 3 school on the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework for the last two years. Its Wahler Place Middle school, enrolling grades four through eight, has earned a grade as barely a Tier 2 facility over the same time period.  In 2013 and 2014 this campus’ quality school report placed it at Tier 1.  During the November meeting of the DC PCSB, the elementary school campus was given strict PMF targets it will have to meet in coming years or it will be closed.”

Achievement Prep closed the Wahler Place Middle School at the end of the 2019-to-2020 school year. This facility was taken over by Friendship PCS.

During the same ceremony, Mr. Pearson expressed his admiration for Ms. Wright:

“In comments that were especially animated for my friend, he related that during the many tense confrontations he has had with her over the years regarding differences of opinion, he has always loved the persona of Ms. Wright.”

It will be fascinating to see the direction that the PMF takes with Ms. Wright on the board. The DC PCSB has announced that the PMF is in the process of being revised.

Others nominated to the board include Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, who was once executive director of the now shuttered Democracy Prep PCS and who is now executive director of Reading Partners, a group working to increase literacy, and Nick Rodriquez, CEO at Delivery Associates who once served on the California Board of Education. Both individuals have extensive experience trying to close the academic achievement gap and therefore will be easily approved by the Council. Current PCSB chair Lea Crusey has also been re-nominated.

You can read current PCSB executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis’s testimony in favor of these nominations here. I now cannot wait to once again tune into the monthly PCSB meetings. I promise, they will not be boring.

Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary Campus’s Dominique Foster is D.C.’s Teacher of the Year

I received the following press release yesterday from Patricia Brantley, Chief Executive Officer Friendship Public Charter School:

Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser presented Dominique Foster, a pre-K teacher at Friendship Public Charter School (PCS) – Blow Pierce Elementary with the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year Award. The Mayor was joined by Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant and Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary students and staff to surprise Ms. Foster with the award. The prestigious honor, which comes with a $7,500 prize, is awarded annually to a DC Public School or public charter school teacher who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to student achievement.


“Washington, DC has the strongest universal pre-K program in the nation, and it’s because of creative and passionate teachers like Ms. Foster who help our young people become curious learners,” said Mayor Bowser. “Thank you, Ms. Foster, for all you have done for your students and school community. Now, we’ll be cheering you on for 2022 National Teacher of the Year!”


In addition to receiving this honor, Foster is now in the running for the National Teacher of the Year Award<https://ntoy.ccsso.org/>, which is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). She will also receive an additional $2,500 to support travel to national conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities during her one-year term as 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.


“Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, Ms. Foster provided a high level of instruction and robust educational experiences during distance learning. When field trips weren’t possible, she brought the community to her virtual classroom, inviting special guests to share their lives and experiences with her young learners,” said Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant. “It’s so important that we honor teachers like Ms. Foster who go above and beyond their call of duty. Congratulations, Ms. Foster, for the well-deserved honor of being named 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) also awarded $1,500 to two other 2022 DC Teacher of the Year finalists: Dr. Takeisha Wilson, a fourth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Shepherd Elementary School, and Rickita Perry Taylor, who teaches medically fragile students and students with profound disabilities in grades K-2 at Turner Elementary School.


Foster has been teaching for 13 years, six of which have been at Friendship PCS Blow Pierce. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Xavier University and is currently working on a master’s degree in Montessori Education at Xavier. She has extensive training and experience in Montessori, Reggio Emilia, International Baccalaureate and Creative Curriculum approaches to learning and pulls from each to create an engaging and inclusive classroom learning environment for children of all backgrounds.


Foster began her career at Howard Road Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8, and has held kindergarten teaching positions during the school year and summer at two other Friendship PCS campuses: Woodridge International Campus and Southeast Campus. Foster also supports developing and maintaining a positive school climate through several Friendship PCS leadership roles, including a new educator mentoring program, the annual Friendship Blow Pierce Women’s Expo, a yoga instruction program, and tutoring for young learners and the school’s Early Childhood Graduation program.


“I enthusiastically congratulate Dominique Foster on this accomplishment,” said DC Public Charter School Executive Director Michelle J. Walker-Davis. “Ms. Foster makes learning an experience and believes her students, no matter how young, should have choice and voice in their learning environment. She lives and teaches by that philosophy every day which she is why she is the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


Foster also has participated on committees and teams focused on the charter network’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including virtual learning and the school’s reopening plan. She considers the virtual learning experience during the 2020-21 school year one of the highlights of her teaching career. While she initially considered teaching Pre-K students through a computer screen a “formidable task,” Foster said the experience quickly evolved into “a life-changing experience we, as a class community, will cherish forever.”


This inclusive class community, Foster noted, involved parents, siblings and even neighbors who offered support, guidance, and encouragement during distance learning lessons that combined hands-on learning, family involvement and real-world connections to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities.


“Family involvement allowed learning to extend beyond the virtual classroom, as parents became active participants and even co-teachers in the daily lessons. Time spent in the virtual classroom space was limited but maximized, as each lesson and activity allowed for cross-curriculum integration,” Foster explained in her DC Teacher of the Year application. “My belief in making learning an experience transcended the traditional classroom setting and we discovered how to bring joy into learning on a virtual platform.”


For more information on the DC Teacher of the Year program, visit the OSSE website<https://osse.dc.gov/service/district-columbia-teacher-year>.

https://www.localdvm.com/news/washington-dc/2022-dc-teacher-of-the-year-announced-during-surprise-celebration/

Mayor Bowser quietly transfers closed Wilkinson Elementary to DC Prep PCS

A search yesterday of legislation before the D.C. Council revealed that Mayor Muriel Bowser has granted DC Prep PCS the right to lease DCPS’s former Wilkinson Elementary School in Ward 8 that was closed in 2009. The Council was scheduled to approve the transfer on Tuesday. The move by Ms. Bowser solves a major facility problem that for about three years has plagued the school founded by Emily Lawson in 2003. The approximately 146,000 square foot building will house DC Prep’s Anacostia elementary and middle schools.

Remember that back in 2019, shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, DC Prep had purchased a property on Frankford Street S.E. for its Anacostia Middle School. The acquisition brought a public outcry at that year’s November meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board during which multiple community members testified that the charter had failed to inform them of its intention to open at this site. DC Prep had also leased space in the Birney Building and was hoping to take over this facility since the former Excel PCS was using this property, its rental agreement with Building Pathways was coming to an end, and it had converted to become a traditional school after being closed by the charter board. The Birney Building at the time was designated as a site for charters through an arrangement between Building Pathways and the D.C. Department of General Services.

Fast forward to May 2021 in one of the peaks in the public emergency, when Ms. Bowser took time to provide a facility update as part of a discussion around her upcoming budget proposal. As reported by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein:

“She plans to move the new Bard High School Early College to a permanent location in 2023 at the original Malcolm X Elementary — a shuttered campus in Southeast Washington — and allocate $80 million to the facility. The closed Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington would be home to the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. Excel Academy Public School will remain permanently at its current location at the old Birney building in Southeast Washington, which the city owns but has been leasing to charters. Bowser’s proposal would give charter school operators the option to lease the closed Wilkinson Elementary in Southeast Washington by 2024.”

The news that Wilkinson was being offered to charters represented only the second time in her tenure as Mayor that Ms. Bowser has turned a surplus DCPS building over to the alternative sector. In addition, the decision regarding the Birney Building was a blow to DC Prep. However, now we know that in the end the situation turned out exceedingly well for the charter school.

Anti-charter blogger Valerie Jablow has a lot to say about the apparent secretive nature of the awarding of Wilkinson to DC Prep. I have to say she has a point. There was no public announcement of the decision and it is not known if any other school bid for this property. The charter’s September 21, 2021 board meeting lists as an agenda item “AMC,” and then in the minutes of the session there is a discussion and vote on securing the new location but the name of the building is omitted. This is not exactly in the spirit of the Open Meetings law. As a movement we have got to do better than this.

Is Mayor Bowser trying to shutdown D.C.’s public charter school board?

These are certainly strange times for the District of Columbia’s charter school movement. As I pointed out toward the end of last month, there are now three vacancies on the DC Public Charter School Board. Saba Bireda stepped down in September and Naomi Shelton’s term concluded in August. There is still no nominee from Mayor Muriel Bowser to replace Steve Bumbaugh, a position that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wondered about during a hearing in June.

Then a bombshell landed when Mr. Bumbaugh wrote a recent editorial promoted by anti-charter Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss in which he calls into question the very existence of the alternative sector that now educates 46 percent of all public school students, numbering approximately 46,500, in the nation’s capital.

“The District must rethink its charter schools,” Mr. Bumbaugh asserted.

The timing of the column is curious as the writer goes on to mention that two more representatives of the PCSB will see their volunteer service come to an end in the coming year. This would leave only two of seven slots filled. If there is to be continuity regarding this organization, then members really should be added now.

Perhaps there is a reason for Ms. Bowser’s delay. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein is fond of stating that charter schools are public entities that are privately run. For years, the charter board has been criticized by those who oppose the sector as not being responsible to the citizenry. As the Mayor contemplates a run for a third term it is possible that she would like to take an action to quell these concerns. One move I could imagine her making is to fold responsibility for the city’s charters under the State Board of Education.

This is not so farfetched. The board was the original authorizer of charters in the District. They got out of the charter business at the same time that the Mayor took over control of the regular schools. One way for the Mayor to exert authority over these freewheeling charters is to group them with DCPS under one governing body. It would essentially put all 95,000 pupils under her purview.

We have a former member of the charter board stating that the 25 year experiment in school reform needs to be re-imagined. Scott Pearson’s replacement, Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis, has placed a twelve month pause on the approval of new schools and the grade level expansion of existing classrooms. Ms. Bowser is dictating the COVID response for both sectors. Now the Council has exceeded its powers in passing a law expanding virtual learning in charters.

From where I am sitting, it appears that the PCSB is coming to an end.

D.C. Council set to battle with charter schools; my guess is that charters blink

When Scott Pearson was executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board and he testified in front of the D.C. Council, he had polite and respectful conversations with Education Committee Chairman David Grosso. However, there were a few occasions when conflict arose, especially when Mr. Grosso asked Mr. Pearson for an explanation regarding why charters were not complying with a particular law. Mr. Pearson had to clarify that in reference to the matter under discussion it was the charter sector’s view that the Council lacked jurisdiction.

Last Friday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is planning on introducing emergency legislation that would increase the number of students eligible for virtual instruction from home. She wrote:

“Under the legislation, which was still being modified Friday, students under12 who are ineligible for a coronavirus vaccine would be allowed to stay home if they live with someone who is immunocompromised.

It would also allow any student to participate in virtual learning if their doctors recommend that they remain home because they have a health condition that would put them at higher risk for complications if they contract the virus. The virtual learning plan would also apply to both the traditional public and charter sectors, according to a draft bill.”

Now here is the problem. The Council lacks authority to mandate that charter schools provide on-line classes. While there is no debate that the city’s representatives can legislate charters regarding issues of health and safety, not in the broadest interpretation of this criteria would it be acceptable for the legislative body to encroach on the autonomy of the alternative school sector regarding distance learning.

Mayor Muriel Bowser reacted immediately and unequivocally when she heard about Mr. Mendelson’s plan. Ms. Stein says she expressed her viewpoint in a letter to the Council. She wrote:

“It is therefore of paramount importance that we do not disrupt our hard-won, in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who are in dire need of consistent and quality instruction and socialization. As such, I am very troubled and angered by any legislation that aims to disrupt learning or that will tax and burden our schools.”

While the Mayor is strongly defending her authority to manage DCPS, charters are not so bold. The Post states that DC Charter School Alliance founding executive director Shannon Hodge responded to the news about the emergency act this way:

“The legislation reflects concerns from parents and that there are a ‘significant’ number of students who have completed enrollment paperwork but have not attended school, suggesting they could be staying home for coronavirus-related reasons.”

The comment is especially ironic because charters were apparently directed by PCSB staff not to offer on-line classes. One leader of a prominent network of schools told me recently the organization was dissuaded from filing a charter amendment to provide virtual instruction after being informed that it would be denied. The feeling was this decision was coming out of fear of interfering with Ms. Bowser’s muscular push to have all kids back in the classroom.

If I had to conjecture, I would say that the PCSB and Alliance will roll over and acquiesce to the Council’s directive.

Complicating the passage of the Council Chairman’s bill is the requirement that emergency legislation cannot increase costs. The Mayor has already insinuated that the new law comes with a price tag.

There is one additional portion of the act which is worth noting, as Ms. Perry details:

“The bill also would allow students to receive excused absences if they remain home for pandemic-related reasons. Parents testified at a D.C. Council hearing last month that if one of their children was quarantined and they kept another child home, which the city does not recommend, the sibling would accrue unexcused absences. Too many could lead to a call, and a possible neglect investigation, from the Child and Family Services Agency.”

The Council is set to vote on the measure today. It takes nine councilmembers to pass emergency legislation.

Former D.C. charter board member Steve Bumbaugh’s injudicious editorial

I had the weekend to ponder Steve Bumbaugh’s polemic attack on D.C.’s charter school movement and I must admit that I am baffled. Mr. Bumbaugh described his tour of a Ward 8 charter school in 2017 when he served on the DC Public Charter School Board that left him “saddened, even defeated.” He wrote:

“When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms.”

Mr. Bumbaugh recalled he had been to this location before. “I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system,” he asserted. “That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.”

From his descriptions it is clear that Mr. Bumbaugh is detailing his time at Ingenuity Prep PCS. He most certainly was hosted by then chief executive officer Aaron Cuny and board chair Peter Winick. Mr. Winick recently retired from the international law firm Latham & Watkins LLP. The charter operates out of the former PR Harris Educational Center that was closed in 2009 that also now houses a branch of the University of the District of Columbia. The National Collegiate Preparatory Academy PCS was also operating there before its charter was revoked.

I wrote last week that Mr. Bumbaugh in his piece chronicled a charter school sector I do not recognize. Now I realize that his account of the charter school is divorced from reality. I know because I too traveled to Ingenuity Prep. I interviewed Mr. Cuny almost exactly twelve months after Mr. Bumbaugh came to the facility. In his Washington Post column, as reprinted by reporter Valerie Strauss, Mr. Bumbaugh said he saw children treated as if they were incarcerated:

“I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?”

I spent only a short period with Mr. Cuny. But I remember coming away from my conversation astonishingly blown away by his sincere desire to provide a high quality educational option for children who had been neglected by the educational establishment. As for Mr. Winick, who I have known for years, I can tell you with absolute certainty that he cares with every part of his being for the disadvantaged children his school serves.

I am frankly trying to understand what this school did to deserve such an onslaught by Mr. Bumbaugh. Ingenuity Prep was founded by Mr. Cuny, who is no longer associated with the charter, and Mr. Will Stoetzer, the current CEO. They did not have to start the school. They had been colleagues at D.C. Bilingual PCS. Anyone who has a first-hand knowledge of what it takes to open a charter in the nation’s capital, especially in Anacostia, understands that the challenges are not for the faint of heart. It is an act of pure bravery. Here’s what I recorded back in 2018 when I spoke to Mr. Cuny:

 “’Our belief from the beginning was that all D.C. families deserve accessible, quality school options,’ the Ingenuity Prep CEO explained, ‘and for too many families, especially those in Wards 7 and 8, this opportunity does not exist. We felt a moral obligation to help build something that would give families another choice.’ Around the time that Mr. Cuny and his co-founder, Will Stoetzer, the school’s chief operating officer, were writing their charter application, the Illinois Facility Fund study was released. The report analyzed, across 39 neighborhood clusters in Washington, D.C., the gap between the density of students in those neighborhood clusters and the supply of high performing schools. Mr. Cuny and Mr. Stoetzer identified the neighborhood where there was the greatest gap between the number of students and the number of quality school seats available to families.”

Ingenuity Prep opened in 2013. Five years later the charter was posting some of the most impressive academic results in the city. Here are some examples:

  • Ingenuity Prep’s students’ combined English Language Arts and Math scores ranked in the 74th percentile of all D.C. district and public charter schools, outperforming a range of higher-income schools across the city,
  • Students’ combined scores ranked 2nd of 36 schools in the Ward 8,
  • Of D.C. schools where the tested student population had an “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate of 50% or greater, Ingenuity Prep’s students ranked near the top: 7th of 113 schools.
  • For the second year in a row, no school in the city with a higher “at-risk” (or high-poverty) rate had better combined English Language Arts and Math scores.
  • Students’ gains from the 2016-17 school year in English Language Arts ranked at the 92nd percentile of all district and public charter schools, and
  • Of new charter organizations opened by D.C.’s public charter school board in the past 10 years, Ingenuity Prep ranks in the top 10 and is the only such school located in Southeast D.C.

I have a more fundamental issue with the comments by the former PCSB member. Mr. Bumbaugh was part of the board from 2015 to 2021. If he had such grave concerns regarding the pedagogy at Ingenuity Prep I certainly did not hear them, and keep in mind that I watch every one of the charter board’s monthly meetings. Even more bewildering is his lack of participation when a few disgruntled former employees used numerous PCSB meeting open comment periods to accuse the charter of malpractice when it came to teaching special education students.

No, I think there is something going else going on here. However, I will not speculate about Mr. Bumbaugh’s motivations. What I do know for certain is that if you want to see first-hand a charter school that has figured out how to close the academic achievement gap that has bewildered educators for decades, then get yourself over to Ingenuity Prep.

 

Steve Bumbaugh describes a local D.C. charter movement that does not exist

I always respected Steve Bumbaugh’s contributions when he served on the DC Public Charter School Board. His passionate concern was always for those at the bottom of the economic ladder, the very students that the charter movement was established to serve. The fact is that when charter schools first arrived on the scene in Washington, D.C., the main reason that parents sent their offspring to one was for safety. It was probably a much better decision for poor families to keep their kids at home in 1996 for there was very little education going on in the traditional school system. DCPS was characterized by physically deteriorating classrooms and educational malpractice from the lectern.

In a column by Mr. Bumbaugh printed by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post, he describes an unnamed no-excuses charter school that four years ago he observed treating children like prisoners. He wrote:

“I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?”

I have personally visited many charters in Wards 7 and 8 and I have never seen an environment like the one he describes.

The opinion piece goes on to call for representation on the governing body of the DC PCSB to mirror the low-income student bodies that charters admit. From the article:

“In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?”

The DC PCSB has done one thing consistently well since its founding twenty five years ago. It has focused on quality, allowing good schools to grow and replicate while closing those where academic progress has not been met. This mission has remained true no matter the racial and socioeconomic makeup of its members. I would hate to do anything that would disrupt this tradition.

But Mr. Bumbaugh does bring up a crucial point. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on this alternative sector, standardized test scores are not better for Black children compared to the regular schools. It is something I’ve noticed and written about for years.

The problem is due to a tremendous contradiction that exists in our local movement. Charter schools were designed to be fountains of innovation in teaching students that in the past were not well served by regular schools, and yet they are held beginning in their second year to high standards as measured by the Performance Management Framework. I would imagine it is extremely difficult to try something new when faced with the real possibility of closure. This is the reason that with time more and more charters resemble the schools for which they were meant to be an alternative.

Unfortunately, after writing about and supporting charters for over a decade I do not have a solution to this dilemma. However, I do know one thing. If you spend time in any of our charters your eyes will almost certainly tear up with joy due to the care and passion and energy being put forth by those doing the work.