Kingsman Academy PCS should takeover Monument Academy PCS

I had an opportunity to watch the presentation of Monument Academy PCS last Monday night before the DC Public Charter School Board. The session has received much attention by Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. Ms. Stein cannot be described as a charter school supporter and Ms. Strauss has been a vocal opponent. As stated by the newspaper:

“Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported. And the charter school board said that on 17 occasions, students have been found to possess a weapon, which ranges from using a stapler in a dangerous manner to a knife.

Half of the school’s roughly 100 students have been suspended this academic year, according to the charter board.”

A follow-up article by the same individuals indicated that the Monument Academy board of directors is now considering closing the school next month.

Monument Academy PCS is attempting to teach some of the most challenging children in the city. It provides a residential program specializing in those that have been engaged with the foster care system. 80 percent of its students are characterized as at-risk. 60 percent require special education services.

At Monday evening’s hearing co-founder Emily Bloomfield, board chair Charles Moore, and chief operating officer Keisha Morris did an admirable job answering the PCSB’s questions and concerns. However, it appeared that the board and school were talking past each other. As described by Mr. Moore, there was a clear misalignment between the two entities. The difference in perception were so great that there was not even agreement about what constitutes a safety incident, the number of staff that are included in next year’s operating budget, or whether or not the school is meeting its academic goals.

I have seen this movie before and believe me the ending is not a happy one. In cases where there is this much of a difference between visions of reality, the result in almost all cases is charter revocation. The board’s evaluation of this charter is particularly important at this time because next year Monument Academy is facing a high stakes five year review.

I do not think Monument Academy should be closed. As board member Steve Bumbaugh pointed out, the PCSB brings these alternative schools before them who instruct kids who have experienced trauma in their lives and then it beats them up. He remarked, “We are not talking about Washington Latin here.” Mr  Bumbaugh questioned where these students would go if there was not Monument Academy. In addition, because of the stark variance between the viewpoints of the track record of this school, he thought that it was too premature to be having this review.

Something is going to have to be done if Monument Academy is to survive. My recommendation is to have Kingsman Academy PCS take it over. The school has an excellent reputation and handles an extremely similar student demographic. School leader Shannon Hodge is amazing.

The charter board stated that it will be meeting with Monument Academy again next week to see if it can resolve its differences with the school. Meanwhile, the charter’s board chair Mr. Moore told the Post that a decision will be made by June 8th as to whether it will continue operating.

D.C. charter board approves 5 out of 11 applications for new schools

At a busy, fast paced monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, the body went ahead and approved 5 new schools to open at the beginning of the 2020-to-2021 term. It had received a record 11 applications as well as a written warning from Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn that the local market was already saturated with middle and high schools. Chair Rick Cruz, however, was in no mood to listen to someone trying to limit competition for students, especially when the offerings from DCPS in these areas is for the most part, well, crap. He made some other interesting remarks on this subject that the PCSB posted on-line. So on with the show.

But first up on the agenda was Washington Latin PCS which would like to replicate in 2020. Latin, whose board I once served, meets all of the criteria to expand by miles. However, this did not stop PCSB board member Steve Bumbaugh from outlining some facts which he called “exhausting.” For instance, he related that in Washington, D.C. fully half of all public school students are categorized as “at-risk,” but the population at Washington Latin for this group of children is 6.8 percent in middle school and 16.8 percent in high school. Mr. Bumbaugh also found it “frustrating” that the suspension rate for these students is 26.6 percent. His points received applause from the audience. Representatives of the charter, who included head of school Peter Anderson and principal Diana Smith, spoke about their efforts to reduce the suspension rate, and will utilize the still undetermined location for the second campus together with revised marketing efforts to increase the number of kids from low-income households that it serves. Although these comments were not altogether satisfying, look for Latin to have its request to amend its charter approved in June.

Then it was on to the list of new school applications. Those that were given the green light include Capital Village PCS, which will have its home in Ward 1, 4, 5, or 6 and enroll 180 children in its grade five through eight middle school; Girls Global Academy PCS, a ninth through twelfth grade school that would teach 450 young women in Ward 2; I Dream Academy PCS, a pre-Kindergarten three to sixth grade school that will instruct 240 pupils in Ward 7 or 8; Social Justice PCS, a five through eighth grade middle school that would like to open in Ward 5; and the Sojouner Truth PCS, that I wrote about extensively here.

As I had already mentioned, all the applications this cycle were of high quality. The board followed its pattern of previous years and gave the go ahead to 46 percent of those wanting to create new classrooms. I correctly picked three of the five that will open and would have selected three others that the PCSB members did not. One glaring omission I believe is Anna Julie Cooper PCS which would have added 568 pupils in grades Kindergarten through twelfth. I hope this group applies again in 2020 since its initial bid was so thoughtful and strong.

Finally a couple of additional observations. All five approved charters comprised CityBridge Education’s 2018 cohort of new schools, so huge congratulations goes to this organization. In addition, I would not help but notice that all votes by the PCSB were unanimous regarding whether to give a charter a thumbs up or down. We really need someone to show some independence among its membership.

D.C. charter schools can never devalue their product

This morning, let’s start with a story. There is a video I love to show to my managers at work. The two-minute vignette is by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and is about the founding of his company. He talks about his firm’s first big break, which was when his products were featured in the movie Any Given Sunday. Mr. Plank billed filmmaker Oliver Stone $40,000 for all of the clothing that he supplied for the actors. To those who say that he should have provided the material for free his answer is simple: Never devalue your product.

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein has an article questioning whether the city can absorb the 11 new charter schools for which the DC PCSB has received applications to open. Ms. Stein also ponders whether there should be a cap on the number of charters. She writes:

“According to a city analysis, about a fifth of all school buildings are less than 65 percent full. And campuses in the traditional school system are even emptier. That means many of the schools have small enrollments. There are 38 high schools across both sectors serving nearly 20,000 students.”

At the same time, we hear case after case about parents who cannot find a quality school for their children. They find the lottery to be a completely frustrating experience. Some families who can afford to are moving to the suburbs because of their lack of options here in the District. In 2019, there is an almost 12,000 pupil wait list to obtain admission to a charter.

Please do not get distracted. Never devalue our product. If traditional school supporters are concerned about under-enrolled facilities, then low-performing DCPS sites need to be closed. Empty regular schools can be turned over to charters. Co-location can be significantly increased.

We also cannot let the quality of our charters be diluted by the introduction of a teachers’ union. Collective bargaining contracts change the nature of our schools from being the innovative institutions that they are to becoming just another state school. Perhaps as an incentive to prevent this from occurring, the PCSB should change its Performance Management Framework Policy and Technical Guide to proclaim that any charter that has union representation cannot be categorized as Tier 1.

Our children expect us to be brave and bold.

D.C. charter board has tough choices about approving new schools

As I’ve previously mentioned, the DC Public Charter School Board received 11 applications for new schools this cycle, which may be an unprecedented number. What I’ve noticed is that the quality of these bids is exceptionally strong. Reading the hundreds of pages of charter proposals leads one to believe that all should be allowed to begin teaching children. But choices have to be made and here are mine.

Already on my list is The Sojourner Truth PCS from Monday night’s PCSB meeting. From the next evening I liked I Dream Academy DC PCS, a proposed pre-Kindergarten three to sixth grade school that would instruct 240 pupils in Ward 7 or 8. As we saw with Sojouner, the Dream Academy team, dressed in matching white tee shirts and black jackets, were able to confidentially handle any question directed their way by board members.

I would also give the green light to Anna Julie Cooper PCS. This Kindergarten through twelfth grade school would be located in Ward 6 instructing 568 children. The application contains this information about the school’s namesake:

“Born into slavery, Anna Julia Cooper devoted her life to classical study, ultimately becoming the fourth African-American woman in history to receive a doctorate, and the first from the Sorbonne. Her life testified to the power and importance of education in bestowing dignity and opportunity upon its learners. Dr. Cooper conceived of the liberal arts curriculum as essential in educating the entire human soul, believing that such an education produces men and women of character, who are prepared to confront and right the wrongs and ills facing the nation. . .

In 1906, Anna Julia Cooper resigned as principal of the M Street High School, following a controversy in which the school board disagreed with her educational aspirations and methods. Instead of simply preparing her African American students for vocational professions as was the norm in her day, Cooper scandalously believed that these students were capable of more. Her curriculum was a classical one, designed to prepare her students to think independently, respond creatively, and process critically. In short, Anna Julia Cooper had the audacity to believe that every student was entitled to and capable of an education that liberated them from an allotted and prescribed path and profession.”

The charter will receive free support from Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative that currently assists 20 schools across the country in successfully establishing a classical liberal arts curriculum.

Two schools that sought to open new schools last year and were turned down, but that should be given the go-ahead now are Bolt Academy PCS and Capital Village PCS. Bolt Academy, a Ward 6 high school with 400 students conceived by my friend Seth Andrew, removed the student residential requirement and now limits its study abroad component to summers. Capital Village, which will have its home in Ward 1, 4, 5, or 6 and enroll 180 children in its grade five through eight middle school, updated its bid to include back-filling vacant slots. The board was impressed.

If my advice is followed, then that would mean five out of eleven new applications would be approved, representing a rate of 45.5 percent. This is over my estimate of 40 percent which therefore makes it too high. Adding to this complication is that there is one more charter I would like to see pass the test.

Aspire to Excellence Academy PCS would teach children in pre-Kindergarten three and four and offer vocational training to adults in bookkeeping, construction trades, and national hair care. It would also provide an opportunity to earn a high school diploma or G.E.D. The Ward 6 charter, which reminds me of the Briya PCS model, would enroll 22 three and four year-olds and 148 grown-ups. I thought the founding group did an outstanding job in their presentation. My heart is with Aspire.

The final decisions will be announced at the May 20th PCSB meeting.

Out of 3 new D.C. charter school applications, 1 should be approved

The March meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board started with a long list of public speakers that extended to almost the first hour of the session. Were these individuals concerned about charter school transparency or Open Meeting laws? No, they were in support of the new school applications that were about to be heard. Eleven entities have completed the arduous process of filing to create new charters, a truly amazing number compared to the drought of applications that have been received in recent cycles. It would be fantastic to see the public reaction if all were approved to open in the 2020-to-2021 school year. But in reality that will not happen. The PCSB traditionally gives the green light to about 40 percent of those asking for permission to create new classroom space and this will almost certainly be the case here.

First up on this evening was The Sojourner Truth PCS, a proposed sixth-through-twelfth grade Montessori charter eventually teaching 790 students that would prefer to locate in Ward 5. Executive director Justin Lessek knocked his presentation out of the park. His poise and ability to articulately answers to questions is a model for other applicants to follow. The board expressed concerns about the application of Montessori to pupils beyond the elementary years, and its use with a population of children that may have not had previous experience with this teaching methodology. Please don’t misunderstand, this charter would not necessarily be fed from the currently existing Montessori schools in the city. The founders recognize that its student body would come from a wide variety of pedagogical backgrounds. The representatives from Sojourner demonstrated they are definitely up to the challenge.

Evolve PCS would be a 400-student high school wanting to locate in Wards 1,4,5, or 6. It would offer the International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme and become affiliated with Big Picture Learning. The school’s application describes Big Picture Learning as “an international network of widely varied schools bound by a common commitment to an experiential, democratic, relationship-focused educational model that uses project-based learning as its core instructional method to serve one student at a time.” To understand why this school needs to go back to the drawing board, consider this portion of its submission:

“We chose the four pathways listed above due to their breadth of coursework and responses on our preliminary student survey. Between the four pathways, students will be able to access curriculum ranging from architecture and design and green methods (Engineering) to Biomedical innovation, forensics and mental health (Health Sciences) and Entrepreneurship and Ethics in Business (Finance) and art history and graphic design through SCAD. Available courses vary by student interest and staff expertise and are chosen the year prior to being offered. All courses are the equivalent of one semester in length and occur once per week during an 85-minute block. Curriculum and standards are developed by NAF and SCAD, respectively. NAF teachers will be trained on the curriculum during the summer between our second and third years, in time to teach a selection of courses to rising 11th graders. NAF courses are designed to be technical in nature and hands-on. SCAD courses are taken online and students check-in with their Advisor regularly to ensure progress.”

It is all too much.

The final presentation came from the leadership of Girls Global Academy PCS. I was surprised to see that the board chair of this new charter would be Beth Blaufuss, the former head of Archbishop Carroll High School who I deeply respect and who I call a friend. The charter would teach 450 young women in Ward 2. The pillars comprising the foundation of this school are described in its application as Sisterhood, Service, Scholarship, and Safety. The idea behind this facility is that black and Latino female students need the support of a single gender entity to provide them with the self-esteem to be able to be successful in the future. The curriculum would be based upon the use of I.B. Career-related program, STEM-related courses, and service learning. Upon approval of this school’s application by the PCSB, it would be eligible to receive a $270,000 grant from CityBridge Education.

There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm expressed by the founding group. I didn’t feel that energy being reflected back by the board. Perhaps that was due to the fact that there was the proverbial elephant in the room. The PCSB went through an extremely difficult process around closing Excel Academy PCS, an all-girls school, in early 2018, only to see that institution become part of DCPS. Excel had demonstrated extremely low academic performance and management challenges throughout its existence. I got the notion that the board is not ready for a repeat performance, especially in light of all Global Academy is setting out to accomplish.

The remaining eight applications will be heard by the board this evening.

Eerie quiet at monthly meeting of D.C. charter board

Last night’s meeting of the D.C. Public Charter School Board can only be described as strange. Missing from the public comment segments of the last few months were the throngs of people supporting the teachers’ union from Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep campus passionately demanding that the charter board force its schools to adhere to open meeting and Freedom of Information Request laws. I do not even think Christian Herr, the Prep teacher behind the collective bargaining agreement effort, was in attendance. It was as if the decision to close two Chavez schools and pass a transparency policy lacking two key components was a fait accompli. The charter school opponents must have decided that their time was better spent before the National Labor Relations Board or in front of the D.C. Council trying to place their stamp on the transparency legislation being introduced today by Charles Allen.

The session started with a longer than usual introduction by board chair Rick Cruz. He has now been in his volunteer position for one year. Mr. Cruz announced that his organization has received 11 applications to open new schools in the 2020-to-2021 school year, a gigantic increase over previous cycles. He said that in April there would be presentations by each of these groups. Mr. Cruz also informed the audience that last Friday a group of students from National Collegiate Preparatory PCS had come to the PCSB headquarters in an effort to reverse the decision to shutter their school. The board chair stated that he appreciated their efforts but that they could not now change a ruling that was based upon the poor academic performance this school has demonstrated over its history.

Lastly, Mr. Cruz revealed that the term is coming to an end for board member Don Soifer who had joined this body in December 2008. I have always greatly appreciated Mr. Soifer’s thoughtful and respectful questions of school representatives, and his strong defense of the autonomy of our local charter school movement.

At the conclusion of Mr. Cruz’s comments the board navigated through its agenda with few delays or detours. The most interesting part to me was the discussion around Friendship PCS’s takeover of WEDJ PCS. It turns out that this is not the typical assumption of management of one LEA by another as we have seen, for instance, with Friendship PCS’s decision to acquire IDEAL PCS. What is transpiring in this case is that the arts-integrated program of City Arts and Prep PCS is being transitioned over to Friendship’s Armstrong campus, along with many of its arts staff. Friendship will do this without needing to request an enrollment ceiling as it has space to incorporate the students from the site that is being closed. The move will result in some extremely fortunate charter being able to move into a truly beautiful school building at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E.

As foreshadowed, the discussion around the plan by Cesar Chavez PCS to close two campuses and consolidate high school students at its Parkside site was anti-climatic. With hardly a whimper the board unanimously went along with the plan, and just like that the first charter school in the nation’s capital to become unionized will become history this June.

Also passed without objection was the revised school transparency policy.

The longest dialog of the night involved an agreed-upon notice of truancy concern issued against Ingenuity Prep PCS. There is a recognized issue at this Ward 8 elementary school around ensuring that kids show up for class each day. It was mentioned by Aaron Cuny, a co-founder of the school and past CEO, when I interviewed him last October, and it was admitted to yesterday by the other co-founder and interim head Will Stoetzer present with board chair Peter Winik. I have to say that the school’s leadership gave little sign that they have a handle on this problem despite the expressed desire of this charter to reverse its slowly declining Performance Management Framework scores and become a Tier 1 facility so that it can replicate. The situation calls for the creation of a solid action plan that incorporates strategies utilized by other institutions teaching this highly at-risk population of kids.

In April comes the review of new school applications.

In trying to save a D.C. charter school, Chavez and TenSquare become the enemy

Two themes emerged at last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board that focused on whether Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy should be allowed to close its Prep and Capitol Hill campuses. The first is that the bromide that has been accepted by the public school reform movement, namely that charters are public schools that are privately run, could not be further from the truth.

Yesterday, as in January’s charter board meeting, DC ACTS, the union associated with the American Federation of Teachers, was out in full-force with teacher after teacher, again wearing their red shirts embossed with the union logo, testifying against the consolidation plan. If charters were privately run, then the Chavez board could have made the decision on its own to shutter campuses and it would have been a done deal. Instead, hours were taken up by testimony by the union, complete with claims that Chavez and TenSquare, the company hired by the school to turnaround its academic performance, were “monetizing its assets.” It was simply a financial decision, the unionized Prep campus instructors asserted, meant to line the pockets of the board and the consulting group. Never mind the significant improvements in Performance Management Framework scores that Chavez has posted since it partnered with this firm.

Now it is actually the finances that provide the final proof that these alternative schools are not privately run. As pointed out by Andre Bhatia, co-chair of the Chavez Board, the school in 2010 consolidated its debt around the renovation of two schools and the purchase of the Parkside campus into $27.2 million in bonds. The bond payments come to $2.45 million per year. In order to cover this cost the Chavez network needed to grow to 1,500 students. However, currently, there are only 930 students enrolled in the network. The Prep and Capitol Hill campuses have been losing students for years, and the total number will decrease by 130 when Parkside Middle finally closes.

In 2017, according to Bethany Little, also a co-chair of the Chavez board, when the DC PCSB was pondering the decision as whether to shutter Parkside Middle due to poor academic performance, the school warned at least five times that this move would place severe financial pressure on the charter which would most likely result in reconfiguration of its campuses. The situation that Chavez finds itself in now is that it can merge its Capitol Hill High with Parkside and turn out the lights at Prep with the displacement of 133 sixth and seventh grade students, or become insolvent with the result that almost a thousand pupils would have to find new schools in which to enroll.

Of course, if the school’s board could make unilateral decisions, Parkside Middle would still be signing up new pupils. Just as with Excel Academy PCS, City Arts and Prep PCS, and National Collegiate Academy PCHS, the ruling to end operation came from a public governmental body, the DC PCSB, and not from boards that are free to operate without outside interference. We really have to reject the claim that charter schools are privately run at every opportunity.

My second takeaway from the session is that labor unions have really fallen out of favor in this country, and that this is a positive sign. On Monday, Mrs. Irasema Salcido, the founder, first principal, and current board member of Chavez, read a prepared statement and spent more time than any of the school representatives explaining and defending the strategic initiative that was the subject of the evening’s conversation. This is quite a turnaround in her viewpoint, since I remember Mrs. Salcido’s background as I listened to her detail it numerous times to others when I was involved with this school. She was raised by her grandmother in Mexico, and when she was 14 years old she came to this country to join her parents, speaking no English. She picked strawberries in the fields from sunup to sundown with other migrant workers, eventually obtaining a Master’s Degree from Harvard University. Her experience led her to name her charter school after Cesar Chavez, the farm worker union organizer. But here she was for all to see exerting that the singular viable path forward involved closing the only unionized D.C. charter. As an aside, I should mention that since becoming a part of DC ACTS almost two years ago, a collective bargaining agreement has never been finalized with the Prep staff. Unions have no place in an educational movement that depends on being able to make minute-by-minute operational adjustments to meet the needs of scholars.

The charter board will vote at its March meeting whether to approve the Chavez proposal.

Revised D.C. charter board transparency policy missing open meeting and FOIA requirements

The DC Public Charter School Board has released its revised school transparency policy ahead of tonight’s monthly meeting, and absent are two highly controversial provisions that many have insisted need to be included. While the document does add additional requirements for information that schools must include on their websites, such as the salaries of the five top earning officials if they make over one hundred thousand a year, there is no rule that charters must adhere to open meeting laws or have to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. This is going to make a lot of people angry.

The proposed policy does include this language around informing the public regarding the ability to participate in individual charter school board meetings:

“While DC PCSB does not prescribe a particular open meetings policy, schools will be required to develop a policy pertaining to board meeting accessibility. This policy shall include the number of open meetings the school plans to hold per year.”

Regarding the call for charters to be required to fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests, the board rejected this suggestion. It commented:

“DC PCSB does not support this largely because staff burden in answering FOIA requests may impede on schools’ academic programs. As an independent government agency, DC PCSB is subject to FOIA, which means that the public may access all documents submitted to DC PCSB by schools. Items that are often requested from DC PCSB via FOIA have been added to the policy and will be posted on school websites (e.g. school budgets, board meeting nibutes). “

The board is exactly following my recommendations on these topics.

The supporting documentation for tonight’s session states that during the PCSB’s January meeting ten people testified in favor of having schools comply with open meeting laws and nine added their support for charters having to answer FOIA submissions.

Expect fireworks to fly later today as the board is also considering the move by Cesar Chavez PCS to close a middle and high school campus.

Most interesting parts of last night’s monthly D.C. charter board meeting were not on the agenda

Let me start my summary of Monday evening’s meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board by pointing out the improvements that have been implemented for those who watch the proceedings on the web. The issue around the sound not being at a sufficient level has been solved, and now there are fancy graphics that announce the subject matter before the members. Both changes elevate the professionalism of the experience.

The PCSB gave the green light to 15-year charter renewals, all without conditions, to DC Bilingual PCS, E.L. Haynes PCS, and Two Rivers PCS. The schools received tons of accolades from the board, and I’m sure the members were tremendously relieved that attorney Stephen Marcus was not at the witness stand once again trying to fend off charter revocation for one of his clients. It was a welcome respite.

As in the past, many people have figured out that much of the real action occurs during the comment sections that are available at the beginning and end of these proceedings. Yesterday, it was a perfect opportunity for teachers from Cesar Chavez Prep PCS to flood the public testimony list. Just last week the school announced that it would shutter this campus, as well as the one on Capitol Hill, in order to consolidate its offerings as a consequence of declining enrollment. The board will consider the restructuring next month and vote on the plan in March.

One after another the instructors spoke, railing against the administration of Chavez, and specifically, the TenSquare Group, that just helped this charter management organization dramatically improve last year’s results on the Performance Management Framework. From TenSquare’s press release:

“All four Chavez Schools’ scores went up—6 points on average. Chavez Parkside High School (Ward 7) received the highest score in the network—59.8, up 7.6 points over last year—putting the school within striking distance of Tier 1 status.”

It was actually a clever strategy by the Prep teachers. Chavez was not on the agenda so they used the board’s consideration of a new school transparency policy to argue that individual charters should be subject to Freedom of Information Act Requests and have to operate under D.C.’s Open Meeting Act, two stipulations not included in the document. They then went on to complain that the proposed changes at their school were done behind closed doors and without their involvement. I have to say that in the end the entire charade made little sense. These are the same people who voted to have a union intercede in their relationship between themselves and management. That decision really makes it exceedingly difficult to buy into the notion that they should now have a seat at the table. In addition, the employees would have had much more credibility if they had come to the gathering in shirts labeled with the Cesar Chavez logo. Instead, all wore red tops that proclaimed that they were members of DC ACTS, a collective bargaining unit associated with the American Federation of Teachers. It belied who they were really there to support.

Also not on the list for discussion, and passed without discussion, was approval of LEARN DC PCS’s request to extend the deadline to March 1, 2019 for its response to conditions imposed on the school by the board at the December monthly meeting. The original deadline was January 25th. The meeting material states that the delay is needed “because LEARN DC is still having internal discussions about the conditions.” Could it be that LEARN is actually reconsidering whether to come here in the aftermath of having to comply with the long list of rules? I have no evidence that this is the case, but a move of this kind would certainly make a significant statement.

1,700 charter school students may need to find new classrooms next term

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein claimed yesterday that approximately 1,700 students attending charters will have to find new schools to attend for the 2019-to-2020 term. The number is the product of the decision announced a couple of days ago by the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy to shutter two of its campuses and actions by the DC Public Charter School Board to close City Arts and Prep PCS, Democracy Prep PCS, and National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS. This news comes in the wake of charter school enrollment in the 2018-to-2019 school year dropping a percentage point compared to those attending DCPS. The decrease is a first in the over twenty year history of charters in the nation’s capital.

As a reminder, here is the reaction of Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC PCSB, to the demographic shift:

“For the 10th yr enrollment has increased in public schools but the 1st time the percentage of DC charter school students has gone down. This slight decline reflects our commitment to opening good schools and closing low-performing ones. It’s about quality and choice, not numbers.”

I agree with the charter board’s emphasis on quality.  Moreover, while the decisions by the board may not be purely about numbers, this assessment may at the same time not be completely accurate. Recently, Lenora Robinson-Mills, the PCSB’s chief operating officer, wrote a heart-felt article about her own feelings about charter revocation in which she compared the action to the death of a family member. She opined:

“We’re working internally now to figure out how to provide better support sooner to families affected by the closing of their school, but it’s difficult to navigate the school’s right to due process. Maybe the answer is a lottery preference or lottery bypass for students attending closing schools? Perhaps it’s more and better communication with families before the final decision gets made so that they can take action sooner? Maybe it’s having someone at DC PCSB who can be the life-saving surgeon in my presenter’s death analogy. But that’s outside the role of the authorizer… “

My question today is if the PCSB could provide services that could help turnaround a school, would that really be considered outside the role of the authorizer? After all, the mission of the board “is to provide quality public school options for DC students, families, and communities. ” Is the board actually fulfilling its stated mission if it is authorizing new schools, allowing good schools to grow and replicate, and closing those that are under performing? What about helping those that are in need of assistance before getting to the point of terminating their operations?

With 1,7000 scholars now looking for new places to learn, perhaps we need a different answer to my last question.