Wednesday, May 5, 2010

If You Are Interested:

2010 National Charter School Week

Open House

‘Meet and Greet’

With D.C. Public Charter School

Board Members and Staff

Celebrate National Charter Schools Week with the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) by attending an open house with PCSB members and staff. This event will give parents and community members the opportunity to:

· Ask questions.

· Learn about the Board’s latest initiatives.

· Gain information about what the authorizer of charter schools in Washington, DC actually does.

Date: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm

Location: D.C. Public Charter School Board Offices

3333 14th Street, NW

Suite 210 (2nd Floor conference room)

Washington, DC 20010


Light refreshments will be served

Please RSVP to if you plan to join us.

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Is It Time To Close a School?

While our greatest hope is that our (and your!) recommendations here create an environment that establishes successful public charter schools, we do recognize that there comes a point where a school has been chronically failing its students, and should ultimately be closed down. In fact, in several cases where these failing schools have been allowed to remain open, they have been doing their students and their families a disservice, as students lose valuable years off of their education. The school where I currently teach can provide a perfect example. My school has been the picture of chaos for the last two years. We have seen five different principals, an 80% staff turnover rate, teachers quitting regularly throughout the year, unqualified administrators, a million dollar budget deficit, and insufficient space to even provide each grade level its own classroom. As a result, our test scores last year on the DCCAS were 13% proficient or advanced for Math and 34% for Reading. Our mission guarantees that our school prepares students for college in a rigorous and arts-infused environment, but when only 1 in every 10 students scores proficient or advanced in math, what are we really preparing our students for? Additionally, our students take the NWEA test in the Fall, Winter, and Spring, and during the 2008-2009 school year, scores actually dropped between Fall and Winter in the 4th -6th grades. Students knew less as the year went by. My school is now in its fifth year of operation and we are in the process of having our charter renewed. We have been placed on “charter warning”, but not for the leadership turnovers or for our students assessment data. When the PCSB discovered that we had several different Boards of Directors over the past few years, only then did alarm bells start going off. Unfortunately, the story of my school is not an isolated case. As Meaghan mentioned, her school has existed for 10 years without making AYP—that is a student’s entire education. Schools cannot continue to be held to such a low standard. We believe that a more rigorous evaluation system for charter schools will help to identify and, hopefully, solve challenges that schools may face before they make it to their 5 or 10 year mark. The second prong of that recommendation is, however, that schools who continue to fail their students after all support systems have been exhausted should be closed down. We also encourage the PCSB to reprioritize what information truly determines whether or not a school gets its charter renewed. While it is important to note that the Board of Directors has changed several times during an evaluation, in no way is that more important than the achievement of the students and the consistency and qualifications of teachers and administration. We can no longer allow schools to squander our students’ growth; those who do not meet a high expectation for performance on a consistent basis need to be closed so that the students of the District of Columbia do not lose any more time.
Readers, when do you think it is clear that a school should be closed? What criteria should be used and who should be consulted?

How Can We Help Struggling Charters?

The most important thing we came up with? EARLY INTERVENTION! While we strongly believe that revising the application process (see below) will result in a stronger pool of new charter schools, we recognize that it is still possible for schools to experience significant difficulties in the first few years of operation. Therefore we also recommend that the Board provide new, struggling charter schools with opportunities for early improvement. This would most likely take the form of more focused and frequent reviews in the first years of operation, as well as services and supports to help school leaders troubleshoot and problem-solve early on. This approach of “early intervention” has the potential to change the pattern of chronic failure that we have seen in the city’s current charter school landscape, without being punitive or making schools feel as though they need to put on a show for the Board. Currently, very few of our charter schools are meeting minimum benchmarks for student achievement and unfortunately, many of these schools have a long history of failure in this area. The charter school where one of us currently teaches is an example of such chronic failure. The school has been in operation for ten years now and during that time has not made AYP a single time. Although the school has been forced to create improvement plans to address concerns identified in charter reviews, no significant changes have occurred to further student achievement. Sadly, over these ten years, entire classes of students have gone from kindergarten to the sixth grade without the quality education they not only deserve, but so desperately need. If my school had the opportunities for significant improvement in its first years, we might have avoided years of under-educating this particular community’s young students. Perhaps by creating a better partnership between schools and the board, and if the board was involved in observing and supporting struggling charters without being seen as an entity to be afraid of and "trick" into thinking you are doing your job as a school, schools could improve early on and there would not be so many schools failing our students now.

Stricter Guidelines When Opening Charters

A major problem with charter school governance and success is that the people who open many of these charter schools, though well-intentioned, do not have a background in education, or understand child development, and staff the board and leadership with people who are like them. They can come from any number of walks of life; I know for a fact that Camille's former principal and school founder came from a military background, and the culture of the school was poisoned because it was so regimented that it felt more like boot camp than a place of growth and learning. How do people who seem so obviously unprepared for the challenges of opening a charter school, in the District of Columbia no less, manage to convince the Public Charter Board that they are worthy of opening a school? We discovered that the application and approval process for DC is a fairly lenient one, comprising primarily of a short paper application and presentation at an annual board meeting. Many, many people can write a persuasive proposal and prepare a compelling presentation--but do these people really have what it takes to operate a successful school? Judging by AYP results in DC for charters, it seems as though they do not.

So now what? We looked at several other states and found that in Chicago and New York City, authorizers actively recruit new providers, offer one-on-one consultations with applicants, and interview the leadership teams of each school.[i] In addition to these strategies, DC could become more “hands-on” by offering workshops to address hurdles in school planning and by creating an iterative application process that includes feedback and support at each stage. In Massachusetts, where the charter schools consistently outperform public schools, an outside non-for profit organization coaches candidates through the application process.[ii]

These are just a few of our beginning suggestions as to how DC could start improving at the very beginning of the charter process. Make sure competent individuals, with relevant experience, are applying, and if they are not, seek them out. Once individuals have applied, or are interested in doing so, coach them through the process. Offer feedback and support at each stage of the planning so that when those school doors open, that staff is as prepared as possible to give the students of the District of Columbia the education that they deserve.

[i] Destler, K. (2009). Contrasting approaches to charter school oversight. Center on Reinventing

Public Education, Retrieved from

[ii] School Start-up. (2007). Massachusettts center for public charter school excellence. Retrieved (2010, March 1)