Charter Board cannot get out from under cloud surrounding D.C. Prep PCS decision

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reported Monday that the DC Public Charter School Board violated city law when it proceeded to approve two charter amendment requests at its May meeting involving D.C. Prep PCS.

As you recall, the board gave the green light to one of three charter amendment requests from this school at its April meeting, which dealt with the relocation of its Anacostia Elementary School.  But two other requests involving replication were turned down due to concerns about the D.C. Prep’s student suspension rate, which is higher than the charter sector average.  After this action was taken, the board received widespread criticism for taking into account suspension rates when denying growth of a school since this factor is not included in either its criteria for charter expansion or the School Reform Act.

Then, in a surprise at the PCSB’s June meeting, member Don Soifer reintroduced the two charter amendments for D.C. Prep that were rejected a couple of months prior.  This time however, after the school’s chief executive officer and founder Emily Lawson was able to testify and attenuate concerns over student suspensions, the motion passed in the affirmative.

So the matter was closed.  Well, not exactly.  The problem was that the D.C. Prep charter amendments were never part of the June meeting agenda and therefore the public had no opportunity to comment before the second vote.  This led DCPS parent and blogger Valerie Jablow to make a formal complaint to the D.C. Office of Open Government.  Here’s what she said, according to Ms. Strauss:

“At the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) meeting on March 20, 2017, several citizens and public interest groups either submitted written testimony or testified in person against a petition by DC Prep for an enrollment increase that would allow it to open a new elementary school and a middle school. Some opposition was based on DC Prep’s high student suspension rates, and the overcapacity in available seats that already exists among all DCPS and charter schools.

At its next meeting, on April 24, 2017, the PCSB denied DC Prep’s petition, citing concerns about suspension rates at DC Prep among other reasons.

On June 19, 2017, the PCSB held its most recent regularly scheduled monthly meeting. The agenda for that meeting was posted a day or so in advance of the meeting, on the charter board website. DC Prep was on the agenda for a charter amendment to its Performance Management Framework (PMF), but not for an enrollment increase.

At about an hour and a half into the June 19, 2017, meeting, one of the board members, Don Soifer, introduced additions to the agenda for the evening, citing Robert’s Rules of Order. The first addition was to renew DC Prep’s application to amend its charter to add a middle school, with a corresponding increase in students. The second addition to the agenda was for DC Prep to add an elementary school, along with a corresponding enrollment increase. The board voted to add both items to the agenda, with the vote on each to occur later in the evening.

So it was that at its June 19, 2017, meeting, without any notice to the public, the PCSB reconsidered and then reversed its April 24, 2017 decision, approving DC Prep’s petition to create two new charter schools. Before the June 19, 2017 meeting, the public had no idea this was going to be reconsidered and voted upon that evening. This is a violation of the charter board’s own rules for public notification.

It also is a violation of the District’s Open Meetings law, as the lack of any public notice that the DC Prep expansion vote would be revisited in all practical effect made the June 19 PCSB meeting a closed meeting, particularly with respect to those who had opposed the petition the first time around.

In addition, the PCSB failed to post at least one public comment on the DC Prep petition ahead of time. This too is a violation of the charter board’s own rules.

In response to a question from another member of the public about that reconsideration vote on June 19, 2017, a charter board staff member (Tomeika Bowden) sent the following:

‘Robert’s Rules of Order allows for board members to request to add items to the agenda during the meeting. Additionally, Robert’s Rules of Order advises that a prepared agenda should not prevent members from bringing up business items. In this case, the DC Prep items voted on at the June meeting were identical in substance to those voted on previously, which already went through the complete public hearing and comment process. The public had ample time to provide comments and testimony, which the Board received and considered in its decision. If the items added to the agenda were materially different or new, we would have held a new public comment process to ensure adequate notice.’

There is also a related problem of considering and making available all public comments received on the DC Prep petition.

The day before the June 19, 2017 PCSB meeting, on June 18, I emailed Ms. Bowden at the charter board, along with Scott Pearson, the executive director, and Darren Woodruff, the board chair, noting that my comments on the original proposals from DC Prep and KIPP DC (which I submitted by the charter board’s March 20 deadline) were not listed on the materials for the June 19 board meeting. I re-sent my comments to them in that same email.

Later on June 18, Darren Woodruff sent my comments to all the charter board members and copied me via email. But it wasn’t until days after that June 19 board meeting that my comments on KIPP DC appeared on the posted materials for the June 19 board meeting. And my comments on DC Prep have never been posted with any board materials for DC Prep at any time.

Moreover, in the materials for the March 20, 2017 PCSB meeting, a staff memo (dated that same day) noted that the DC Prep proposal, which was to be discussed but not voted on during the 3/20 meeting, had no public comment. That was not true—I had submitted my comments by then, as had others.

When the DC Prep proposal came up for a vote on April 24, 2017, only one public comment in opposition to DC Prep was posted with the board materials the day prior to the April 24 meeting. That was a comment by Suzanne Wells that was made at the March 20, 2017 PCSB hearing.

Finally, and worst of all, no one commented against the DC Prep proposal for the June 19, 2017, board meeting because no one knew before the June 19 meeting that this proposal was going to be re-visited and voted on by PCSB. While the public had been allowed to comment on the DC Prep petition before the March 20, 2017 PCSB hearing, new information about DC Prep’s suspension rates was learned at the April 24, 2017 PCSB hearing.

In addition, the public had every confidence that once the PCSB had denied the DC Prep enrollment increase petition in April, it would not be up for consideration again without further public notice. As it is, members of the public might have testified if they knew there was a likelihood two additional schools would open in Ward 7, where there is already an overcapacity of school seats in Ward 7 at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

The charter board needs to suspend the vote they took on June 19, 2017, approving both the new elementary and middle schools for DC Prep. They need to announce this addition to their work agenda anew; open it up for public comment; ensure that the public comment is in fact posted well ahead of the meeting; and have another meeting to vote on it.

This would allow people who had no idea DC Prep’s proposal was going to be re-visited and re-voted upon a chance to testify in person or create new comments (and ensure they get posted).

The fact that the proposal for DC Prep was the same as it stood before the vote in April is a moot point: if the public doesn’t even know something is being considered, and voted on, the public is left in the dark not because it chooses to be, but because the public has no other choice.

Moreover, the only people who knew DC Prep’s proposal was under consideration at the June 19 PCSB meeting were those who stood to benefit from it materially: the school itself and the charter board, which depends on its funding in large part from fees from individual charter schools. This raises conflict of interest issues as well.”

In a ten page ruling dated August 9, 2017 the D.C. Office of Open Government sided with Ms. Jablow.  It reads in part:

“As previously stated, there was reliance by the DCPCSB on the “Renew the Motion” pursuant to Robert’s Rules of Order to bring the two disapproved DC Prep charter amendments back before the body for reconsideration on June 19, 2017.  Normally, revising a public body’s draft meeting agenda for adoption as the final meeting agenda under the protocol the OOG has provided to public bodies would present no affront to the OMA [Open Meetings Act] or SRA [School Reform Act]. However, the DCPCSB’s enabling legislation is unique.  The statute requires, without limiting language, for all DCPCSB’s meetings to be open to the public with a reasonable period for public comment on the agenda items.  It is also for this reason that DCPCSB’s “Renew the Motion” was not a lawful means to revise the DCPCSB draft meeting agenda before adoption as the final agenda.  This is because revising the DCPCSB draft meeting agenda at the start of its meeting to include additional items that require a public hearing and a period of public comment voids the statutory public notice and period for public comment mandated by the SRA.”

The Office of Open Government is not asking that the decision on D.C. Prep be reversed, and charter board spokesperson Tomeika Bowden states that the board will not revisit the vote.  It will, however, follow the law going forward and institute training on how to comply with its regulations.

The most ironic part of this whole story is that the findings of the Office of Open Government would normally be signed by its director Traci Hughes.  However, Ms. Hughes had to recuse herself in this case.  You see, she has a child that attends D.C. Prep.

D.C. charter board’s failed revocation of LAYCCA PCS resulted in school’s loss of facility

On the agenda of last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board was a public hearing regarding a proposed charter amendment for the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy Public Charter School to move into a new facility.  During testimony from the school’s representatives it was revealed that the charter lost its lease due to its landlord’s uncertainty as to whether the school would continue to exist as it faced five months of discussion over charter revocation.  You will remember that in May the board finally decided to end its drive to close the school, a process that in retrospect never should have been initiated.

But the loss of a facility is not the only fallout from the board’s action.  Members of LAYCCA also indicated that the threat to shutter the charter also resulted in the departure of students and staff.  The school has now hired a recruitment specialist to get its enrollment back up to its 200 pupil level.

The identification and securing of facilities is the greatest problem facing charters in the nation’s capital and across the country.  The issue has forced schools to locate in church basements, warehouses, and storefronts.  Fortunately for LAYCCA it will be able to move only two blocks into the same dilapidated building on 16th Street, N.W. in Columbia Heights that once housed Mundo Verde PCS and D.C. International PCS.

Do you think the PCSB apologized for all of the trouble that it has put this school through unnecessarily?  Not a contrite word was uttered.  The members only asked questions such as the one from Rick Cruz, the only board member to vote against LAYCCA in May, who asked about the progress of the $500,000 CityBridge Breakthrough Schools grant.  The school indicated it has recently issued a request for proposal to assist with fulfilling the goals of the award.

The relocation was of course approved and the people from LAYCCA were once again the epitome of professionalism as they were from last winter through the spring as their future was being decided.  From an earlier post about the schools:

“The Youth Center is serving adult students with an average education on a sixth grade level.  This is the average.  Almost all of those enrolled have faced tremendous obstacles throughout their lives from drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.  Needless to say, these are not individuals from typical two-parent households.  Then what this school does, and I have no idea how they do this, is they take these disadvantaged people and put them back together.  The charter demonstrated that many attendees are able to gain years of learning under their watch.  As was stated yesterday evening, Frederick Douglass remarked that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  But somehow, in consistent irrefutable evidence presented by the staff and the board of directors, fixing broken human beings is exactly what this charter is accomplishing.”

Yesterday was also the final board meeting for PCSB member Sara Mead as her term is up after six years of volunteer service.  She will be missed as she consistently provided a rational and thoughtful voice, especially in her specialty area of early childhood education.

 

D.C.’s charter board is not having a good year

Things just don’t appear to be going well this year for the DC Public Charter School Board.  It started 2017 with a debate over whether to begin charter revocation proceedings against the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy.  The move resulted in the school hiring attorney Stephen Marcus, the same lawyer handling the FOCUS coordinated lawsuit against the city regarding inequitable funding of charters compared to the traditional school sector.  In March, the board did vote to proceed only to reverse course over an aggravatingly long five months and decide that conditionally the school that bravely serves severely disadvantaged adults can continue to operate.

At the same time that this was going on, Mayor Bowser surprised the charter sector by introducing a plan for a walkability preference for student admission.  The idea represents the first step in satisfying Ms. Bowser’s notion that charters should look more like DCPS in giving a first right of refusal to access to classrooms to those students living closest to these facilities.  Despite the fact that this suggestion flies in the face of the main component of  charter schools, namely school choice, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the PCSB, called the idea an “interesting enrollment proposal that addresses real issues families face.”  So far no final determination has been reached.

Moving on to February, the teachers at Paul PCS sought to unionize, which would have made the school the first charter in D.C. to take this step.  Across the country only 10 percent of charters have union representation of teachers.  The activity came 60 days after an article by Mr. Pearson suggesting that charters could benefit from a union presence.  The leadership of Paul fought back, and a vote to join a group affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers went down in defeat but not before the school’s executive director of ten years, Jami Dunham, decided to retire.  The union, however, did not give up trying to get a foothold in our city, and just this month the teachers at Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep campus decided to become part of the AFT.

In March, the State Board of Education approved an education plan for the District of Columbia as part of the national Every Student Succeeds Act that ranks all of our city’s public schools under the same accountability system administered by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.  This came as a huge surprise to those of us used to seeing charters graded under the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework tool.  The PCSB’s executive director issued a statement supporting the uniform assessment of schools; the Center for Education Reform has a different opinion.

In April, it was announced by the PCSB that D.C. charter school student wait lists has risent to nearly 10,000 students.

Finally, there was the debacle around DC Prep’s request to open new middle school and elementary school campuses.  Despite being assured by the PCSB staff that the vote was only a formality, the charter faced an onslaught of criticism over its above average out-of-school suspension rates.  The additional campuses were defeated, which resulted in the former executive director of FOCUS Robert Cane calling out the board for taking an action not authorized under the School Reform Act during his acceptance speech after being inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.   Six weeks from its original vote, the PCSB changed its mind and is letting DC Prep go ahead with its expansion plans.

On a positive note, three new charter were given the green light to open during the 2018 to 2019 school year.  Eight schools originally applied.

 

 

 

D.C. charter board comes to its senses and decides not to revoke LAYCCA PCS charter

Late yesterday afternoon, the DC Public Charter School Board voted at a special meeting six to one to allow the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy Public Charter School to continue operating under a new set of conditions, most of them tied to results of the Adult Education Performance Management Framework.  Only board member Rick Cruz cast his ballot against the measure, arguing that the school failed to meet several of the goals contained in its charter.

There were a number of common themes around last night’s discussion.  All board members thanked the school and the PCSB staff for their exceedingly hard work around the issue of charter revocation that first surfaced during the five year review of LAYCCA in January of this year.  There was also a lot of whining.  They complained that the school should have come to the PCSB quicker when it realized that based upon the low academic preparation of its student body, the original charter goals were unrealistic.  There were assertions that the systems relied upon by the charter for administrative tracking of data were weak.  The members also found that many of the targets were subjective and therefore open to interpretation.

The most interesting remarks came from Sara Mead.  She chastised the board for accepting the school’s goals in the first place because they were unclear and vague.  She also made the point that while there is a tremendous need in the nation’s capital to meet the needs of adult learners, she is not quite sure that attempts to provide these services fit “naturally” into the adult charter school model.  She cautioned the board about approving other charter applications that seek to educate a similar population of students.  Dovetailing nicely on her statement, board member Steve Bumbaugh pointed out that there is evidence that those enrolled at LAYCCA have shown academic improvement, especially in the area of reading.  He concluded that in light of the “multiple risk factors” of pupils LAYCCA is serving, “this is no small matter.”

In the end the PCSB made the correct decision and one that was predicted here.  As I wrote last month:

“The Youth Center is serving adult students with an average education on a sixth grade level.  This is the average.  Almost all of those enrolled have faced tremendous obstacles throughout their lives from drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.  Needless to say, these are not individuals from typical two-parent households.  Then what this school does, and I have no idea how they do this, is they take these disadvantaged people and put them back together.  The charter demonstrated that many attendees are able to gain years of learning under their watch.  As was stated yesterday evening, Frederick Douglass remarked that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  But somehow, in consistent irrefutable evidence presented by the staff and the board of directors, fixing broken human beings is exactly what this charter is accomplishing.”

Five applications for new D.C. charters; two should open

Last Monday evening over at Friendship PCS’s Armstrong Campus, the DC Public Charter School Board heard presentations from five schools that wish to open in the 2018 to 2019 school year.  Two of these are ready to join the local movement.  Let’s quickly go through the list.

The Adult Career Technical Education Public Charter School wants to provide students “ages of 16-24, [an] academic and career technical education that leads to high school credentials, postsecondary training, and career paths to productive and economically sound lifestyles.”  When the board was listening to the representatives from the school, red flags were obviously raised in their minds regarding the recent experience with the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS in which this charter school that also serves adults found that its population of students was much further behind academically than anticipated.  I was less than satisfied when this applicant answered how it would address a similar student body so I don’t believe the charter will be approved.

Citizens of the World Public Charter School proposes to open two campuses that will initially serve pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade students, but will eventually go through high school.  It should definitely be allowed to do just as it plans.  The charter is actually an experienced operator with existing schools in Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles.  The founders for the D.C. campus spent four years on the ground working with stakeholders on adapting their model to local conditions.  It was one of the best applications I have seen in a long time.

CyberTech High School Public Charter School’s application calls for instructing 400 students in Ward 5 to provide them with the technical training to work in the information technology profession.  The discussion around the dais focused on the concept of mindfulness that will be woven throughout the curriculum.  While the emphasis on this approach seemed well understood by the founders, along with their desire to open in one particular Ward in the city, the overall structure of the curriculum did not.  This charter should go back to the drawing board to base its school on a model that is already working well academically in another locality.

Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School would open in Ward 7 or 8 as a middle and high school initially enrolling 360 students in grades six through eight in its first three years of operation.  This application of a charter that would teach computer science knocked it out of the park.  In fact, the board was openly complimentary about the proposed program.  Perhaps all you really need to know is that one member of the founding group is Justin Cohen.  I first met Mr. Cohen when he was DCPS’s director of portfolio management under Michelle Rhee.  I was speaking to him about bringing an art infused curriculum to the traditional school system when I was board chair of the William E. Doar, Jr PCS for the Performing Arts.  He went on to form his own nonprofit that was centered on school turnarounds.   Mr. Cohen wrote much of Digital Pioneer’s highly detailed application.  He is an extremely impressive individual. However, I don’t want to take anything away from the experience of the other representatives of the school that were equally talented.  If a group of people want to study how to open a new charter, they should study this proposal.

The final applicant for the evening was The Family Place Public Charter School.  This charter would provide adult literacy education to immigrants to this country, primarily those coming from Central America.  I have to say I was fascinated by this proposal. It turns out that The Family Place has been around since 1980.  It was founded by Dr. Ann Barnet, a pediatrician practicing at Children’s Hospital.  It is currently serving 700 families a year from its headquarters on 16th Street, N.W. providing adult education in a two-generational model.  It strives to “meet the students where they are” while at the same time offering wraparound services to keep the grownups in school.  This support may come in the form of meals, social services, and childcare up to the age of five.

My heart wants The Family Place to be approved due to its tremendous mission and the work that it is already doing, but my head says that the application needs some additional refinement.  The charter would co-exist with the original organization, and I believe further delineation is needed to create solid lines between the responsibilities of each entity.  In addition, the charter established a goal of having 50 percent of its 150 students take the pre- and post-ESL exam, while the group’s track record over the past several years has been an average of 63 percent of its students reaching this milestone.  I hope that The Family Place will re-apply next year.

So between this meeting and the last of new school applications, I count three new charters being approved:  Washington School of Arts and Academics PCS, Citizens of the World PCS, and Digital Pioneers Academy PCS.  This would give a 43 percent acceptance rate, which is consistent with the overall past PCSB track record.

Erratic action by the D.C. charter board against D.C. Prep

After listening to the two new charter school applications at last week’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board I retired for the night.  After all, there was nothing particularly noteworthy on the agenda, only a few administrative matters that I was certain would sail through the approval process as has been the meticulously orchestrated routine in the past.

But then members of our local charter movement began contacting me.  “Did you see what happened at the charter board meeting regarding D.C. Prep?”  This was not a mundane question.  These individuals were upset.  So I decided to watch the video.  I then understood the reasons behind their highly emotional reactions.

D.C. Prep PCS was requesting three charter amendments.  They were “1) an enrollment ceiling increase of 846 students from its current ceiling of 2,056 students by SY 2019-2020, to 2,912 students by SY 2024-2025; 2) a two-part program replication to open a new elementary campus by school year (“SY”) 2018-2019, and a new middle school campus (“Anacostia Middle”) by SY 2020-2021; and 3) to relocate its existing Anacostia Elementary School to a new, permanent location at 1409 V Street, SE in Ward 8, beginning in SY 2017-2018.”

The PCSB staff wholeheartedly recommended that the board approve these changes.  The report regarding the proposed amendments contained the following unambiguous language:

“Founded in 2003, DC Prep PCS is one of the top performing networks of charter schools in the District, has met its goals and academic achievement expectations at both its 5- year and 10-year reviews, and has been Tier 1 since the inception of DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework. Notably, some of the school’s greatest strengths are its high academic achievement, its willingness to serve all students—especially those from underserved communities, and its strong infrastructure that provides invaluable professional development and leadership training for staff.”

In fact, the school met nine out of ten criteria for replication according to the DC PCSB Charter Agreement Amendment Guidelines, missing the mark on only one because it has not yet identified permanent locations for its proposed Anacostia middle school and the new Ward 7 or 8 elementary school.

The PCSB staff also pointed out that despite having five campuses, D.C. Prep currently has 683 students on its wait-list.  These pupils are most likely all from low-income families.

So as I suspected, everything was in place for a regular approval of a charter amendment.  But the situation quickly became strange.  First, without explanation, board member Saba Bireda recused herself from the vote.  Then when the session opened for questions board member Steve Bumbaugh asked about the high proportion of out-of-school suspensions occurring at this charter management organization, inquiring as to whether the suspensions are “a mechanism for managing the school.”  It was then board chairman Dr. Darren Woodruff’s turn to pick up the same theme.  He indicated that at Anacostia Elementary the out-of-school suspension rate this school year is 6.9 percent, with the charter sector average at 3.7 percent.  Dr. Woodruff went on to relate that for students with I.E.P.’s, D.C. Prep has an out-of-school suspension rate of 40 percent.  Pointing to the Edgewood Middle School Campus, the PCSB chair stated that the out-of-school suspension rate this year is 27.9 percent compared to 18 percent last year, with the rate for special education students at 44.9 percent.

The representative present from D.C. Prep, Mr. Raymond Weeden, the school’s senior director of policy and community engagement, was clearly not prepared for this onslaught of criticism of the school’s suspension data.

The amendment regarding the relocation of Anacostia passed without incident.  However, the out-of-school suspension rate at Anacostia was particularly problematic for Dr. Woodruff because he realized that the students being disciplined are Kindergartners.  He opined, “I am struggling mightily to understand the logic behind suspending out-of-school five year olds.  I know that you don’t have a response to that.  But I have been in education for over 30 years and I can’t come up with an explanation that makes sense.  So, I recognize that this is one of our high performing operators but this is an issue that we have hinted at, talked about, and danced around, and we have not seen significant improvement.  I would love to hear anyone from your organization justify a 40 percent suspension rate for five year olds that have disabilities.  That’s the reason I will not vote for the expansion.”

To complete the peculiarity of the proceedings, Ms. Bireda then un-recused herself for the replicate vote.  Apparently, and I’m not understanding the logic behind this, she didn’t believe she should cast a ballot on the relocation of Anacostia elementary because she lives close to the new site.  But the dye was already cast, and therefore following Dr. Woodruff’s passionate remarks the two amendments related to replication failed on four to three votes.

The staff report does comment on D.C. Prep’s suspension rates.  It concludes:

“The school has historically had higher out-of-school suspension rates than comparable schools in the charter sector, however in the past two years these rates have declined considerably. Per its charter amendment application, the LEA is diligently working to decrease its suspension rate over time.  The school reports that it revised its discipline policy to be more lenient regarding the types of infractions that warrant an out-of-school suspension.  Additionally, the school has implemented more strategic efforts to engage parents immediately following behavioral incidents, such as requesting an in-person parent meeting, rather than automatically suspending the student. DC PCSB staff have documented a decrease in the suspension rate at all campuses and in many cases a significant drop in school-wide or subgroup suspensions, though most rates are still above charter averages.”

I have heard Mr. Scott Pearson, the PCSB’s executive director, proudly state on more than one occasion that his group has been highly successful in lowering suspension rates simply by making the information transparent instead of having to rely on rules and regulations.  But now it appears that this approach is being revisited.  We are now seeing, without notice, modifications to the criteria under which a school can expand, a division between staff recommendations and the actions of the board, and an intrusion of the PCSB into out-of-school suspension policies, an area not covered under the School Reform Act.

Unfortunately for D.C. Prep, it was the first charter to learn of the sea change.

Center for Education Reform comes out against single accountability system for D.C. charters and DCPS

In a strongly worded commentary yesterday the pro-school choice Center for Education Reform rejected the plan approved by the D.C. Board of Education under the Every Student Succeeds Act to place charters and the traditional schools under the same accountability system to be administered by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.  The organization writes:

“The District of Columbia State Education Agency submitted an ESSA plan that commits both traditional public and charter schools to a ‘common accountability system,’ with the blessing of the charter leadership in the city.  It’s extraordinary that there was so much support to capture charter schools under the SEA state plan umbrella, when no such requirement exists in federal law and the charters themselves are LEAs, accountable for federal law through their authorizer, not the district/state.  It’s as if they believed that pulling all charters under one accountability umbrella is consistent with their mandate to offer diverse options across all D.C. students attending public schools and charter schools. Does anyone know that ESSA plans become the foundation for federal intervention (no matter what administration comes and goes)? Guess not.”

I received an energetic response from the DC Public Charter School Board when I covered this news about a month ago, publicly posing the question of what the future was for the Performance Management Framework, the tool that has been utilized for the last four years to tier local charters.  Although I was told that an answer was in the works, nothing has yet to materialize.

Closing Latin American Youth Center would be the worst decision D.C. charter board would have ever made

Last month, in a five-to-two vote, the DC Public Charter School Board decided to begin revocation proceedings against the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy Public Charter School.  As part of this process the school is entitled to a public hearing if the institution is so inclined.  A source close to the charter expressed to me some trepidation about proceeding with this step.  I can remember only one case in which the board reversed its original position after a public hearing. However, forgoing this session would have been a tremendous mistake.

Last night, I watched representatives from the school, one after another in perfectly choreographed highly passionate testimony, make the case that the charter should be allowed to continue to operate.  If you have any interest at all in our local charter movement, or in the subject of school choice in general, investing a couple of hours in viewing what transpired in front of a packed house at the school’s facility is a marvel to observe.  The bottom line is this:  all of the difficulty that LAYCCA is facing is due to a major communication problem between the board and the charter.

The Youth Center is serving adult students with an average education on a sixth grade level.  This is the average.  Almost all of those enrolled have faced tremendous obstacles throughout their lives from drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.  Needless to say, these are not individuals from typical two-parent households.  Then what this school does, and I have no idea how they do this, is they take these disadvantaged people and put them back together.  The charter demonstrated that many attendees are able to gain years of learning under their watch.  As was stated yesterday evening, Frederick Douglass remarked that, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”  But somehow, in consistent irrefutable evidence presented by the staff and the board of directors, fixing broken human beings is exactly what this charter is accomplishing.

I have to admit that much of the conversation was technical regarding the value of the results of various academic assessments.  But the highlight for me was when PCSB member Sara Mead asked a hypothetical question about how long it would take the school to bring a student reading at the sixth grade level up to the level of the eleventh grade for this subject matter.  A staff member asked Ms. Mead to tell her about the past trauma that this pupil had experienced in his or her life.  The PCSB board member had no answer.

I’m afraid that there is no proper response for what got us to this point.  One area that was found to be severely lacking by the authorizer in its five year review was the low number of students obtaining their GED.  However, as explained during the hearing, individuals must be reading at that eleventh grade level in order to simply take the examination.  When a grownup arrives at the school with the knowledge of a four year old this is an astonishingly high mountain to climb.

Obviously, the goals established for this school are unrealistic.  This would easily explain the reason that the targets for the number of students graduating from LAYCCA’s academic pathways are not being met.  However, as the charter’s board chair reluctantly revealed, when the institution tried to work with the board on revisions to these targets they were met with “tension” and “a gotcha mentality” by the PCSB staff.

The hero in this story, standing with those at LAYCCA who dedicate their lives on a daily basis to developing men and women who can become valuable members of our community that others have cast aside, is the CityBridge Foundation.  You see there are no current national benchmarks to judge success for schools caring for this population of students.  None.  CityBridge (now CityBridge Education) presented the Youth Center with a $500,000 grant to develop those assessments.  Let’s sincerely hope that it gets the opportunity to try.

DC Public Charter Board lauds progress of sector contained in Equity Reports

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education has released the public school Equity Reports for the 2015-to-2016 term and the DC Public Charter School Board is hailing many of the findings.  For example, the organization points out that charters in the nation’s capital educate a larger percentage of economically disadvantaged and black students compared to the city overall at 83.6 percent and 76.3 percent, respectively.  In addition, the percentage of students being taught with a disability is above the average for all schools.  Charters enroll 5.5 percent of students with disabilities compared to the citywide average of 5.1 percent.  In addition, I find it especially fascinating that for each of the four subgroups of severity of disability, charters closely match the enrollment rates of all city wide schools.

Also impressive is the steady decrease in student suspension rates for D.C. charters.  The overall percentile is now at 9.1 percent and the proportion for each subgroup of students has consistently dropped over the past three years.  However, each of these rates is slightly above those for the city as a whole. Also following a positive downward trajectory is the number of lost hours in the classroom due to suspension, going from a percentage of 0.39 days during the 2012-to-2013 school year to 0.23 days in the 2015-to-2016 term.  The expulsion rate at 0.21 percent of students is also at the smallest level in three years, compared to the rate of 0.1 percent for all public schools.

In addition, student movement during the year is going in the right direction.  Charters, during the 2015-to-2016 school year, demonstrated their lowest proportion since the 2012-to-2013 term at -4.1 percent, compared to the citywide average of student loss and gain during the 2015-to-2016 term at a net zero percent.

Finally, student test scores on the standardized PARCC assessment are improving for all groups except white students.  For example, the percentage of students scoring the career and college readiness score of four or better went up 3.7 points for black students, 6.4 percent for Hispanic pupils, 3.7 percent for English language learners, and 5.0 percent for those living in poverty, compared to the previous year.  However, in spite of the improvement, these results are abysmally low with black kids earning a four or better 24.3 percent of the time, Hispanic students at 28.3 percent for the same statistic, and low-income students at 23.0 percent.  White students are at 75.1 percent for rating a four or better, down 5.2 percent from the previous year.

Much progress has been made, but there is a really long way to go.

A thrilling EdFest 2016

Last Saturday my wife Michele and I had the great pleasure of heading over to the DC Armory to attend EdFest 2016.  Picture this:  hundreds of parents with children in tow visiting row after row of information booths representing public schools in the nation’s capital.  The timing of the event is perfect in that the common lottery, My School DC, opens today.

This is the third time for this annual gathering, which in the past was known as the Charter School Expo.  In one of the most visually symbolic manifestations of cooperation between the two sectors, charters and traditional schools not only share the same space; they are located right next to each other due to being positioned in alphabetical order.  In fact, you really had to pay close attention to determine whether a particular school was under the umbrella of the DC Public Charter School Board or DCPS.

Because of the significance of the occasion the leaders of each branch were in attendance.  Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, traversed the crowd, speaking to many of the charter leaders manning booths.  Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education, also greeted the guests.  I was extremely interested in talking to Antwan Wilson, Mayor Bowser’s nominee to be the next DCPS Chancellor, but Ms. Niles stated that he had been sent home because lately he had been seeing more of her than his own wife.  The Deputy Mayor added that she was proud of the job Mr. Wilson had done before his confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council just last Thursday.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Keith Gordon, the always upbeat chief operating officer of Fight for Children.  He was there with his two kids and if you include Mr. Pearson and Ms. Niles along with the two of us then astonishingly you had together five attendees of last week’s exceptionally elegant retirement party for Michela English, Fight for Children’s president and chief executive officer, held at the RIS Restaurant in Northwest.  Mr. Gordon becomes head of the organization January 1, 2017.

But the absolute highlight for us was visiting the folks from IDEA Public Charter School.  Michele was greeted as a rock star because she had written not too long ago a Washington Post real estate section cover story about the school’s partnership with the Academy of Construction and Design, which trains students at the charter to be able to work as electricians, carpenters, and mechanics.  Justin Rydstrom, the head of the school, welcomed us warmly between talking to prospective school parents, and Shelly Karriem, the program director, joined Michele and about five other excited staff members and scholars in a group photograph.  Ms. Karriem pointed out that right behind us was a framed copy of Michele’s article that Mr. Rydstrom had prepared for all to see.

We also had the chance to converse with representatives from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and Serving our Children, the group that now administers the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  In fact, there were so many people to talk to it was exceedingly difficult to leave.  We are already looking forward to next year.