At-risk student lottery preference in D.C. school lottery is a bad idea

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein wrote a story about the controversy over Washington Latin PCS’s application before the DC Public Charter School Board to replicate next year.

The only problem is that there never should have been controversy over this issue. Latin clearly meets the charter board’s criteria for a ceiling enrollment increase through its consistent attainment of Tier 1 status for both its middle school and high school and due to the fact that its student wait list is around 1,500 pupils. The charter board, under its own rules, should have given the green light to expansion without six pages of conditions imposed on this institution.

The charter school bargain has always been expressed as autonomy in return for accountability. Washington Latin exemplifies this standard.

If there was ever a definition of mission-creep we have found it in the work of the PCSB.

The charter board was highly critical of the low proportion of at-risk student who attend the school. But as they like to say at Latin “words matter.” This is straight from the school’s website:

“Unlike the majority of public schools, Washington Latin serves a diverse student body; our demographics mirror those of the city. We believe that all students can learn and deserve access to a rigorous, quality education. As a public school, we have civic and moral obligations to accept all students who come to us for an education. We consider a truly integrated school community to be the only way to accomplish our classical education model, helping students develop the ability to discuss ideas and make moral decisions within a diverse community.”

The school’s goal has always been to have a diverse student body. If you visit Latin you will see it for yourself; I don’t believe there is a charter in this town that is more of a melting pot of young people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. It works intentionally toward this goal. As a former board member of the school I have lost track of how many bus routes it runs in order to pull students from each Ward of the District.

Scott Pearson, the PSCB’s executive director, believes that the solution to gain even more diversity at Latin is to provide an at-risk student preference in the My School DC Lottery. Ms. Stein quotes him as stating:

“If we are really serious about equity and if we are serious about making sure that our least advantaged families have the ability to go to our high-performing schools, we need to do more.”

I agree, we do need to do more. But the answer is not to discriminate against certain children gaining admission to some of the city’s highest performing schools due to the color of their skin or their economic status.

No, there is a much more superior solution than tinkering with the lottery. We need to open more charter schools. But the charter board, the same one that is so critical of the tremendously difficult work being done at Latin, seems to make it as arduous as possible to replicate or open new schools.

I’ve talked so much about the obstacles that it puts in place that I don’t really want to repeat them here. But I do want for a minute to provide a taste of what I envision for the District’s educational landscape.

For those of us involved in public school reform, we desperately desire a quality seat for every child. Yet, today, we have numerous low performing traditional schools, many with proficiency rates in reading and math in the single or low double digits. These need to be immediately turned over the charters. I don’t care if they are given to our home-grown versions of these schools or we bring in charter school networks from outside of our city. As charters proliferate by taking over the buildings of DCPS sites or by co-locating in the empty hallways of the humongous number of under-utilized regular schools, we will provide a stellar education to all of those beautiful children that we categorize as at-risk.

But doing this will take courage. It will be the political fight of the century. I am optimistic we can get this done in our lifetimes. Perhaps we need to begin with baby steps. One simple way to get started is to have a unanimous unambiguous vote by our charter board to have a school like Latin replicate.

D.C. public charter school board annual report has one interesting number

The headline is not actually fair. There are lots of fascinating statistics contained in the 2019 Annual Report of the DC Public Charter School Board. In fact, what you will immediately notice if you review this document is how many numbers are included in its pages. For example:

  • 47.3% of public school students attend a public charter school. Down from 47.6% the previous year
  • 20,717 students are attending a top performing, or Tier 1, public charter school. The number of DC students attending a top-ranked public charter school increased for the fourth year.
  • 84.3% of PK – 12 students expressed satisfaction with their schools by choosing to return for the next school year.

Other noticeable information included is the fact that the board conducted 28 Qualitative Site Reviews in the past year and the names of the charters that were visited are listed. Moreover, the student re-enrollment rate continues to climb year after year with the proportion reaching 84.3 percent for the 2017 to 2018 term. Another excellent indicator is that the out-of-school suspension rates and expulsion rates show a steady decline when looked at over the last six years.

However, here’s the finding that I would like to focus on today. The mid-year withdrawal rate for students in charters is listed at 5.2 percent, although the manner of calculating this number has recently changed. For citywide schools this percentage is 6.2 percent for the recently completed school year. The mid-year entry rate for charters is only 1.2 percent, which compares to a 5.0 percentage citywide. In other words, significantly less students are enrolling in charters throughout the school year.

This picture could be due to a number of factors. The reality that many charters do not by policy back fill slots throughout the term, as I wrote about the other day, is certainly a contributing cause. Another reason for the low mid-year entry rate is that charters do not receive additional revenue if more students sign up during a term. The amount of money that a charter receives to educate students and pay for a facility is fixed by the student count that occurs in early October. Although many people have proposed revisions to this system, nothing has been done to resolve this issue.

There also is most likely a bias against bringing in kids who have not been in the school from the start of a year. When the future existence of these schools is based upon high stakes testing, there is not much of an incentive to go after filling empty seats.

However, the low mid-year entry rate strikes me as wrong. We know that charters offer a superior product to the traditional schools. Here is another statistic included in the PCSB’s Annual Report: proficiency rates for 2018 in English and math as measured by students scoring a four or above on the PARCC assessment have increased from the previous year in almost all subgroups.

Now is the time to figure out as a charter school community how to change our rules and financial consequences to encourage more students to enroll in our facilities mid-year.

Washington Latin PCS approved to replicate, but only after D.C. charter board pulls another LEARN DC

Last Monday evening, the D.C. Public Charter School Board gave the green light to Washington Latin PCS opening a new campus next term. There had been rumors that the vote was going to go the other way, and two directors, Steve Bumbaugh and Naomi Shelton, the Title 1 contingent of the PCSB, cast ballots against the expansion in a five-to-two ballot. However, the rest of the group was swayed by staff conditions placed on the replication that make a mockery of the term autonomy. See for yourself:

1) The school will actively consider admitting students in grades 10, 11, and 12, engaging its faculty, board, parents, and students in the decision. The school will report the results of this decision to DC PCSB by March 1, 2020.

2) The school will not permit its sibling preference to be used across its two campuses. This change will be memorialized in the school’s charter agreement as follows: If the school chooses to adopt a sibling preference, such preference shall not apply to siblings attending different campuses of the school.

3) The school will update its student discipline policy, reserving out-of-school suspensions for only the most serious situations. An updated draft of the policy, which will include these modifications, will be voted on by the school’s board at its August 2019 meeting to go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

4) The school will ensure that each faculty member whose job responsibilities include interfacing with students at least 25% of the time will participate in comprehensive training in trauma-informed practices during the 2019-20 school year.

5) The school will add stops or provide separate vans/buses for students living in Wards 5 and 7 whose families request such service, provided there are a minimum of five such students. No fee will be charged to families whose children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

6) The school will implement the plans outlined in its letter to DC PCSB from June 7, 2019, found at Attachment C, including: a. Targeted recruitment of lower-income students, b. Redesign and test at-risk support strategies, c. Strengthen the RTI (Response to Intervention) Model, d. Hire an At-Risk program manager, and e. Expand the reach of restorative discipline and trauma-informed initiatives.

7) The school will be eligible for charter renewal in school year 2020-21. If the school’s charter is renewed, it will need to negotiate a new charter agreement with DC PCSB. Provided the charter is renewed, should the DC PCSB Board determine, at the time of the renewal decision, that the school has failed to make satisfactory progress in addressing disproportionality in the use of exclusionary discipline, the number of at-risk students served, and/or the performance of historically underperforming subgroups, the new charter agreement shall contain a mission-specific goal or goals to hold the school accountable in the remaining areas of concern.

This is what you do to a open-enrollment public charter school that has been ranked at Tier 1 on the Performance Management Framework for almost its entirety and that serves one of the most, if not the most, diverse student bodies in the city? Absolutely amazing. It is extremely similar to the chains placed around LEARN DC PCS so that it could win the privilege to open in our city.

Now let’s turn to other matters covered the other evening that were far more interesting. First, the session started with an announcement by Chair Rick Cruz that a new board member had been sworn in earlier that day to the PCSB. His name is James Sandman and he has some incredibly impressive credentials. Since 2011, Mr. Sandman has been the president of the Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit providing legal assistance across the country to low-income individuals. But there is much more to this man. According to the organization’s website:

“He practiced law with Arnold & Porter LLP for 30 years and served as the firm’s managing partner for a decade. He is a past president of the 100,000-member District of Columbia Bar and a former general counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Sandman is chairman of the boards of the Meyer Foundation and the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. He is a member of the District of Columbia Access to Justice Commission, the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Committee, the American Law Institute, the Advisory Council of the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation, and the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee. He is a member of the boards of Washington Performing Arts, the College of Saint Rose, Albany Law School, Tahirih Justice Center, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Center on the Future of the Profession.”

This is only a small portion of Mr. Sandman’s biography.

At the start of the gathering Don Soifer and Naomi Rubin DeVeaux received Distinguished Service Awards. It was pointed out that Mr. Soifer held various positions on the charter board for 11 years and in that time never missed a meeting. Ms. DeVeaux was recognized for her work to completely overhaul the manner in which charters are evaluated. Although many accolades were sprinkled on both of these fine individuals by those on the dias, I think they missed the essence of their contributions.

Mr. Soifer demonstrated throughout his tenure how to perfectly play the role of a board member. His fair and detailed questions led schools to reach their own conclusions as to the proper path that they should take for future success. Ms. DeVeaux is about as authentic as it comes. Her comments and response to inquiries were honest, direct, and heartfelt toward the children we are serving.

A highlight for me was hearing public testimony from Alexandra Pardo from TenSquare Consulting. Anytime Ms. Pardo speaks it is a moment to stop what you are doing and pay attention and this occasion was no exception. She addressed the at-risk student bias of the PMF, a subject that has been raised with increasing frequency to the PCSB. Here are her remarks:

“First, I want to recognize PCSBs staff and leadership ongoing willingness to revise the PMF focused on high standards for student outcomes. In recent years, PCSB has analyzed and recognized the increasingly problematic relationship between student at-risk status and school score on the PMF. Over ten years ago, when the PMF was first developed the sector was grossly different. The correlation between economically disadvantaged students and the PMF score was .13 – negligible. To best illustrate the shift in economic concentration of students, I direct you to page 1 – here you can see moving across the horizontal axis the number of schools above the 50th percentile based on economic indicators measured at these times – in 2010 there were only 6 schools serving fewer than 50% economically disadvantaged students. Today there are 35 schools serving at-risk populations at the 50th percentile or below. As you see on page 2 – the correlation between economics and the PMF has risen from 2011 to 2018 from .13 to .42, a three-fold increase. To demonstrate the impact of the at-risk bias, we re-ran the middle school PMF scores for only at risk students in middle schools. In other words, what could PMF scores be for schools with low or high at- risk populations if only those students were factored? What you will see on page 3 is stark – some high performing schools have low at-risk populations. Schools with PMF scores in the 60s and 70s drop by 20 to 30 PMF points if only considering the outcomes of at-risk students. We can only suspect where PMF sores would be if schools at the top of this list served at-risk population more aligned with sector or state averages. While this is not a perfect exercise, it demonstrates how sub-groups performances of students can be overlooked. While the proposals to the PMF are a step towards reducing this bias, and I support these shifts, this is not a solution. Members of the task force have suggested alternatives over the past two years – most recently an equity provision. Economics impacts student outcomes has been rooted in research and most recently adopted by even the College Board in the new SAT hardship metric. I urge the Board to be bold like the College Board. Recognize that the changes before you – while a start – are not a solution and are simply a marginal reduction to the growing bias. I ask that the Board to commit to mechanisms that reduce this bias to below .20, a statistically weak relationship and develop a PMF 2.0 by spring of 2020. Without action, we will find ourselves here again next year moving decimals without resolving for the underlying bias.”

A chart included with her observations show, for example, that Basis Middle PCS in 2018 had an at-risk student population of nine percent and a PMF score of 70.8 percent. However, if only at-risk students were included in the measurement its PMF score would drop to 31.8 percent.

Then something magical happened. The PCSB, in a move that I have been arguing for years, is actually proposing, as part of its revision to its 2019-to-2020 PMF Policy Technical Guide, an incentive for schools that take over failing charters or accept a large population of students from a school that has been closed. The board writes:

“DC PCSB staff is proposing these changes to minimize the impact of school closures on the reliability of the PMF. If a school either takes over operation of a closing school through an asset acquisition or offers a majority of its seats to students coming from closed schools, the school will still receive a PMF scorecard displaying the academic outcomes of its students, but would not earn an overall score or tier for the relevant year.”

It is a miracle.

D.C.’s Monument Academy Public Charter School lives on

The most dramatic part of last Monday’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board came before the session even started. The board of Monument Academy PCS, that on June 8th had voted to close the school at the end of this academic year, has now agreed to continue its operation under a partnership with the Friendship Educational Foundation. One of the most interesting aspects of this arrangement to me is that Monument is not being added to the portfolio of Friendship PCS. Rather, the support of Monument comes through the consulting arm of Friendship that will allow the boarding school to have its own board of directors and operate as a separate Local Education Agency. Patricia Brantley, Friendship PCS’s chief executive officer, will become the school’s new interim board chair as part of a group that includes Brian Jones, the former chair of the DC PCSB and president of Stayer University; Shawn Harnett, the founder and executive director of Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS; and Tameria Lewis, deputy director of Kingsman Academy PCS, among others. Emily Bloomfield, the founder and CEO of Monument Academy PCS, becomes an ex-officio member of the board. Representatives of the school expressed that this board composition may be revised going forward.

The head of school will be Dr. Jeffrey Grant, an individual with 27 years of experience in public education, including being principal of Friendship’s Blow-Pierce Academy when it became a Performance Management Framework Tier 1 facility. He provided an extremely engaging, energetic, and confident presentation to the PCSB. Dr. Grant has made a three year commitment to the school.

I had asked others to come to the aid of Monument when I first learned it was in trouble. As a community, that is exactly what happened. Besides the Friendship Foundation answering the call, the Monument Academy turnaround plan states that a dozen foundations, including Bainum Family, CityBridge Education, Flamboyan, and Cafritz responded to the tune $1.7 million in financial support. This brings tears to my eyes.

The relationship Monument Academy has forged with the Friendship Foundation does not require approve of the charter board.

In other news from Monday night, Digital Pioneers Academy PCS is seeking to move into the Capitol Hill location that Cesar Chavez PCS is vacating. Statesman Academy PCS plans to locate in the same Ward 8 multipurpose building that houses Ingenuity Prep PCS and the shuttering National Collegiate Prep PCS.

Mr. Pearson observed that in the case of Digital Pioneers and Statesman we have two schools that were situated in Ward 7 that wanted to stay in this part of the District where their students could walk to their classrooms. He went on to point out that both organizations had identified vacant DCPS facilities in Ward 7 that are available for use and continue to be empty. He called the situation a failure of our city to support our public schools.

A final interesting development from the evening is that the charter amendment that was to be voted on allowing Washington Latin PCS to replicate was pulled from the agenda with no date offered for re-consideration. Board chair Rick Cruz, in announcing the modification to the agenda, provided no explanation for the move. But a hint of a problem with the desire of Latin to grow came from trustee Steve Bumbaugh, who criticized the school for enrolling the second lowest level of at-risk children among charters at 6.8 percent while suspending these students at four times the rate of the overall population. I am sure there will be much more to come on this issue.

Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, D.C. charter board deputy director, is leaving her position

Momentous news came yesterday from Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board.  He announced that the group’s deputy director, Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, has resigned her position effective July 19, 2019 and will become a senior leader at the National Charter School Institute

Ms. DeVeaux came to the PCSB in 2012 in her current role after serving as the deputy director and director of school quality for six years at Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.  Prior to working under Robert Cane at FOCUS, she was chair of the English Department at SEED PCS.  Here is how Mr. Pearson characterized Ms. DeVeaux’s impact at the charter board:

“Naomi has been my partner for the past seven years.  I have relied on her judgment, her relationships, her creativity, and her thoughtfulness in every major decision we have faced.  In her time here she has enhanced every aspect of our oversight, making our processes more consistent and fair, focusing on quality and equity, and finding smart ways to do our work while respecting school autonomies.  I have never met anyone more committed to this work – to our schools, to the ideals of the charter school movement, and to the students we serve. Her passion is matched by her extraordinary work ethic. I cannot imagine achieving what we have without her and I will miss her very much.”

I have to agree with Mr. Pearson.  To grasp Ms. DeVeaux’s vital role at the PCSB all you have to do is watch one of her presentations during those extremely difficult situations in which a charter is facing revocation.  It is something truly amazing to observe.  She would lay out the information in a calm logical manner like an extremely nuanced legal prosecutor demonstrating clearly how one fact leads to the other until she makes you believe that based upon the evidence there is no other conclusion that can possibly be reached.

I do not think the board ever dared to refute one of her arguments. 

My interactions with Ms. DeVeaux throughout her time at the charter board were uniformity positive. She answered all of my questions with patience and dignity, even if they came, as they often did, right in the middle of the monthly meetings.  I interviewed Ms. DeVeaux back in 2015.  I am not happy about this change.

The National Charter School Institute describes itself this way:

“We have a long history with the charter schools movement. Founded in 1995 as the Michigan Resource Center for Charter Schools, our original mission was to support and guide the implementation of Michigan’s newly adopted charter schools law. Based on our impact and the rapid growth of chartering, the United States Congress provided $1 million in 2001 for the Resource Center to transition into the Institute and expand our services nationally.

Today, we provide a range of training and support for people and organizations in the charter community—from policymakers to authorizers to school operators—who are serious about helping students. Epicenter, our digital compliance and performance management platform, is working in 27 states and the District of Columbia, helping streamline the oversight and reporting process for over 1,500 schools, thereby allowing them to focus more time and energy impacting the lives of more than 500,000 of our nation’s kids. Our coaching and consulting work, along with our speaking engagements, places us on the front line supporting the thinkers and doers who are giving their all to advance excellence for our kids and our country.”

Although the organization is based in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Ms. DeVeaux indicated that she will remain here and work remotely. Here is something positive in that she can continue to play a part in our local charter school movement.

Mr. Pearson informs us that Ms. Rashida Young, the PCSB’s current director of equity and fidelity, will takeover much of Ms. DeVeaux’s responsibilities as the new chief school performance officer.

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.