To close the academic achievement gap D.C. charters should follow example of the Denver School of Science and Technology

I cannot believe it has already been three years since I attended the Amplify School Choice conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, now the Franklin News Foundation. There, I joined 50 education bloggers as we studied the charter school movement in Denver, Colorado. I came away from the two days of sessions pondering whether Washington D.C. should adopt a charter and traditional school compact like the one in the city I was visiting.

However, a conversation over breakfast last week with a couple of local charter school supporters clarified for me how much my focus has now changed. After years of charters being treated like second-class citizens in the nation’s capital, as demonstrated, for example, by the lack of access to closed DCPS facilities and inequitable funding compared to the regular schools, my interest in the development of a compact has waned. The main takeaway now from my trip was the visit the writers made to one campus of the high-performing charter network of middle and high schools called The Denver School of Science and Technology. At our meal my friends reminded me of a book they had previously provided to me for information on charter schools entitled Reinventing America’s Schools by David Osborne. Therefore, when I returned home, I immediately turned to the index and found the pages about DSST.

My memory of this trip was of being thoroughly impressed with the charter’s chief executive officer Bill Kurtz. The way I recalled it, Mr. Kurtz showed Powerpoint slides that demonstrated his charter school’s narrowing of the academic achievement gap to 12 points when the difference between standardized test scores for affluent children and at-risk pupils for reading and math in the traditional schools was 45 percent. In my mind, I remembered Mr. Kurtz attributing his success to the values his staff instills in his students. Was I correct in my recollection or had time altered my impression of the information that had been shared on that day?

Here’s what Mr. Osborne writes about DSST:

“Bill Kurtz says it all begins with the core values. DSST builds them into everything it does. Staff evaluations focus on how people are living the values. Student report cards give grades on values, triggering conversations with students and parents. Jeff Desserich, then director of Stapleton High School, told me, ‘I had a kid who had all A’s and B’s, and I’m having a conference with his dad, and all the A’s and B’s is good, but we can see that courage is pretty low, like two out of five. So that can really frame our conversation around what should the student’s development plan be – to speak up in class more, or taken on a leadership role or something.’

New students get a home visit, where deans and teachers talk about the values and attend summer school, which is part culture and academics. Every year all students go through a ceremony at which they sign their allegiance to the core values” (pages 172 to 173).

The author quotes Mr. Kurtz as commenting on this subject:

“We’re not just about compliance. We’re actually about building a values-driven culture with all of our students, so that they all understand what it means to live a set of values. They may not choose our values over time, but hopefully they will learn to choose a set of values that will guide them in the way that David Brooks would say are the eulogy values, the values that really mater in how you live your file – what you care about when you look back on your life” (page 173).

The academic results at DSST, in response to this emphasis on values, are simply astounding. According to Mr. Osborne,

“DSST excels even when one only measures proficiency, despite the fact that 69 percent of its students come from poor families. Among students eligible for subsidized meals, DSST had two of the three highest-scoring schools in the state on the ACT test in 2016. In 2014 its low-income tenth-graders had higher proficiency rates in math, reading, and writing than middle-income students in DPS-operated schools (italics in original text). In 2015, with a third high school open, DSST schools outperformed 87, 90, and 96 percent of Colorado’s public high schools, measured by the percentage of students at or above proficiency on the new PARCC tests. These are numbers an expensive private school would be proud to have, yet in the three DSST schools, respectively, 72, 69, and 53 percent of the students were low income” (page 175).

The values that DSST promotes are respect, responsibility, integrity, courage, curiosity, and doing your best. Perhaps D.C.’s charters should follow DSST’s example.

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.

For charter schools the fight against unions is one of life or death

I received a telephone call last evening from an individual who is an exceptionally prominent figure in the national charter school movement. He explained to me in an exasperated tone that in an extremely pro-charter locality the teachers’ union has figured out how to infiltrate the zoning board so that property cannot be approved for use by these alternative schools.

I’m frankly not surprised. The singular focus on charters by teachers’ unions has nothing to do, of course, with the future success of children. It is all about protecting the status quo of adults. I cannot conceive of anything more tragic.

We have observed this identical scenario play out in D.C. The teachers’ unions fought as hard as they could against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that became federal law in 2004 that provides private school tuition to kids living in poverty. In 2009, Joseph E. Robert Jr., faced no choice but to terminate his Washington Scholarship Fund from administering the OSP due to the Obama Administration’s move to close it out. Fortunately, due to the fierce persistence of many people, especially former United States House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and former Senator Joe Lieberman, it continues in a stronger fashion today under the leadership of Serving Our Children.

More recently, we have seen unions try and takeover Paul PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS’s middle school Bruce campus, and now Munde Verde PCS. The response to each of these actions has got to be the same. We cannot allow unions to invade our schools. We must protect them at all cost. The current state of public education in our city cannot continue. The academic achievement gap between the affluent and poor is growing, not shrinking. As measured by the proficiency rate for reading and math on the 2018 PARCC standardized test, it now stands at about 64 points.

Here in the nation’s capital we are 23 years into public school reform and for the first time in our history some charters are seeing students reach identical levels of preparedness for college no matter their particular zip code. But the numbers of these kids are still way too small. Tens of thousands of young people still lack a quality seat. We still have a tremendous way to go.

This is why I hope that our charter school leaders and teachers have been able to get some relaxation time this summer. The challenge to improve our schools is tough, and long, and filled with those such as members of the teachers’ unions that would like nothing more than to see us fail.

So we will be brave in this fight. It is the only right thing to do. We are standing up for our children for one reason only. When people look back in history at this period in our society, there can be no option of them coming to the conclusion that we simply gave up.

Sometimes D.C. charters are their own worst enemy

The conditions the DC Public Charter School Board placed at its July monthly meeting on Washington Latin PCS in order to replicate next term really stung. I just don’t get it. The board has the authority to approve or deny any application requesting a increase to an enrollment ceiling, but where exactly in the School Reform Act does it give it the right to run the charter as if it has suddenly become the executive director?

I was ready to take another shot at the PCSB regarding its overreach. Then I reviewed once again the board’s recommendations. Here is the first one:

“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.”

What? The charter does not back fill students in grades 10, 11, and 12? Isn’t it running a high school and came before the board because it wants to create another one? I know the upper school ranks as Tier 1 on the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework, however is it possible that one reason it is achieving at this high level is because it does not take in students after the freshman year?

As part of the escalating bruising political battle about the value of charter schools, the alternative sector consistently advances the argument that these are public schools just like the neighborhood ones. But if charters are placing severe restrictions upon who can be admitted to these schools then this whole experiment could end up at the same place in history as all of the other failed education reform efforts this country has attempted.

We consistently and ferociously point to the unfairness in the way charters are treated. Supporters assert that they should be given access to closed DCPS facilities because of the public school equity argument. It is used again to make the case for uniform funding. Those of us in the movement are beyond frustrated by the claim that charters are privatizing America’s educational system.

We despair deeply over the almost 12,000 pupils on the charter school admission wait list.

Then, we discriminate based upon back filling grade levels as to which kids can sit in our classrooms.

Here’s what I recommend. No more pious declarations until the admission requirements for each school in our city is scrubbed for lack of access.

But here there is a problem. The final authority over the decision to back fill is up to an individual school’s board of directors. The PCSB can only try and exert pressure to influence the rules as it is doing with Latin.

I’m afraid this is going to have to change. For charters to be true public schools they must fit the definition. If, as charter advocates, we do not correct this issue then we are practicing the fallacy of the stolen concept. Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand described the fallacy as “using a concept while denying the validity of its generic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept on which it logically depends.”

Unless charter schools back fill empty slots among its offered grades then it is not by concept a public school.

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.

The tragically sad politicization of charter schools

As I searched the internet for news stories about charter schools, I came upon an editorial written by the New York Post heavily criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s characterization of these institutions last Friday before a National Education Association presidential forum. Mr. de Blasio, as reported by the PBS News Hour, exclaimed:

“’Too many Democrats have been cozy with the charter schools,’ offering the argument that they siphon money away from traditional public education. ‘I hate the privatizers and I want to stop them,’ he said.”

The Democratic candidates have formed a tightly unified firing squad against these alternative school in a slimy effort to solidify union support. Charter schools, of course, as a rule do not have employees who work under a collective bargaining agreement.

It is an extremely depressing situation that brings me back to a much better time when I first became aware of this movement in the year 1999. I was attending a luncheon at the Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy. I’m not sure if I had yet been invited to join the board of directors but I am confident I was already tutoring a delightful eleventh grader one evening each week.

I had been drawn to charters due to my libertarian political philosophy, and therefore, my ardent support of school choice. So I sat at a gathering where across the room I saw prominent individuals such as Alice Rivlin and Adam Myerson, and I talked about the power of a marketplace in public education. I was stunned by the response I received from those sitting at my table. They actually were opposed to economist Milton Friedman’s theory of school vouchers. They belittled the suggestion that traditional schools were inferior to this new model. In other words, they did not think like me.

Yet, due to the passion and vision of Irasema Salcido, the Chavez founder and school principal, they were instantly drawn to these classrooms that would develop the next generation of leaders of the District of Columbia.

I was a wholly enthusiastic partner in their mission. There was no covert plot to shutter what already existed. We were gathered as part of an intense inspirational drive to fix the problems that had plagued the regular schools for innumerable generations. We would literally do anything we could to help. We were there for the students that others could not, or would not, teach.

So many of us that are involved with our local charters started our involvement exactly the same way. My story is far from unique. We have continued working day and night because of the clear stubborn vision that we can help the children of our community and make the world a better place.

This is exactly what we have done. Kids that would have ended up on the street, in jail, or dead are now graduating from some of the finest colleges in this country. Every year at this time, hundreds of pure miracles cross the stage to proudly receive their high school diplomas.

What is taking place right now regarding the politics around these schools is simply, well, disgusting.

D.C. school year ends and so too does charter advocacy

The 2018 to 2019 school year has concluded, and for charter schools in the nation’s capital it is one to forget. These innovative laboratories of public education have been under attack like in the early days of the movement, and the support mechanisms have all but disappeared.

We used to have Jennie Niles as the Deputy Mayor for Education. She naturally favored charters as the founder and former executive director of E.L. Haynes PCS. Now we have Mr. Paul Kihn, who came in with such high expectations but has proved in eight months to be a charter detractor. First, he tried to put pressure on the DC Public Charter School Board to cap the number of schools. Next, he turned his back on AppleTree PCS, one of the country’s preeminent practitioners of early childhood pedagogy, in allowing one of its campuses serving at-risk students to close for a year rather than delay a DCPS modernization project for a few months so that the charter would have a place to operate.

Simultaneously, a teachers’ union associated with the AFT has gained a foothold at Munde Verde PCS, after being defeated at Paul PCS and Cesar Chavez PCS. By reading the printed playbook, unions are on the search for other sites where they can slowly and deceivingly destroy these schools from within.

While all of this is going on, last Friday Friends of Choice in Urban Schools lost two key individuals. Its executive director Irene Holtzman and senior director of government relations Michael Musante have vacated the organization. This, while a FOCUS coordinated charter funding inequity lawsuit is winding its way through the courts and the City Council is considering mandating that charters adhere to open meeting and freedom of information requirements.

I feel like we are witnessing the opening of the film The Exorcist. Everything on the surface appears to going well on a cool autumn day but the winds are blowing cold and there is terror on the horizon.

Meanwhile, as we struggle through year five of the Bowser Administration, not one vacant traditional school building has been offered to a charter school as is required by statute.

The characters in the movie never give up in the face of evil. Are we ready for this challenge? Perhaps a more appropriate question is who is up for the fight? Was the collaboration and the dedication of resources that we just witnessed around the saving of Monument Academy PCS a unique effort inherently related to the school’s unique mission? Or is this something that can be sustained to charge through the seemingly impenetrable barriers that have been erected to block our path forward?

I feel like the years, months, days, hours, and minutes have not been spent in vain. I still believe that those among us who were born less fortunate than ourselves deserve our help. I contend that when society looks retrospectively on this period in history it should not have the option of contending that we closed our eyes and walked away.

It is summer and we all deserve a break. But instead of bringing a beach book to peruse as you sit in front of the waves, I recommend turning to the reading list of Washington Latin PCS and picking up The Autobiography of Malcolm X. After reaching its final pages you will then be ready for the fall.

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.

Bowser Administration defines limit of D.C. cross sector collaboration

Recently, the editors of the Washington Post described the highly depressing situation regarding the Southwest campus of AppleTree Early Learning PCS. For the past five years the school has been located in trailers owned by AppleTree on the site of DCPS’s Jefferson Middle School. Jefferson is in the process of undergoing modernization so AppleTree has been informed that it must vacate the property this coming July. The charter, after undergoing a typically frustrating facility hunt, has secured a permanent home but it will not be ready until the following school year. The Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn has refused to delay the construction project and has been unable to identify another temporary site for AppleTree, while actually referring to the leadership of AppleTree, my hero Jack McCarthy, as “irresponsible” regarding this matter. Here’s the Post’s view:

“Perhaps AppleTree could have done more, but that raises the question of why the city doesn’t feel more of a sense of responsibility for preserving what it agrees is a top-flight program. AppleTree provides not simply day care but data-driven instruction designed to help disadvantaged students, for whom a good start in school makes a critical difference. If these were traditional public school students, there would be no question of finding them space.”

We have really never known D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s feelings toward charter schools because, as far as I know, she has never publicly provided her opinion. But we can now get a clear picture of her view through her actions. In the face of the Public Charter School Board considering the applications of 11 new schools, her Deputy Mayor for Education (notice that the job title states that this position is FOR education) stated that there was already excess capacity even though tens of thousands of students lack access to a quality seat. Recently, Ms. Bowser released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School for re-purposing, but blatantly failed to follow the law in placing it out for bid to charters. Now we have the case of AppleTree, in which the response to a crisis for 100 three and four year old children from low-income households who attend a Tier 1 charter is to throw them out on the street.

For the past two years, Ms. Bowser has increased the per pupil charter school facility fund by 2.2 percent. This is appreciated but does little good in a city that now has no places in which charter schools can apply this revenue. Unfortunately, more money will not make this problem go away. Unless the city turns over its million square feet of vacant or under-utilized DCPS buildings over to charters, our children will suffer.