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D.C. charters, traditional public schools emphasize collaboration over competition

By   /   March 21, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

By Emily Leayman

Four staff members of the Washington, D.C., Public Charter School Board reached out to young teachers, school leaders and nonprofits Saturday at Young Education Professionals-D.C.’s annual Policy to Practice Conference. With charters educating 40 percent of D.C. students – 39,000 on 115 campuses – collaboration with agencies, traditional public schools and the community has become a fruitful necessity. 

Much of the discussion centered on the Performance Management Framework, the scorecard the board uses to oversee how charter schools are performing. A metric unique to D.C. charters, scorecards first appeared five years ago. The board now releases reports for every grade annually, according to Erin Kupferberg, who oversees the PMF. The report ranks schools from Tier 1 to  Tier 3, based on factors such as student achievement, enrollment and attendance. 

The board can choose to shut down underperforming schools, like it did in February by closing Potomac Prep at the end of the school year. The board contacted every family affected by that closure, according to Nicole Newman, a Public Charter School Board community engagement specialist. 

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Better performing schools can get permission to add a campus or enroll more students. According to Kupferberg, most of the Tier 3 schools have either closed or made improvements over the last few years.  

“Our charter schools are improving. If we held the bar the same every year, we wouldn’t be exciting additional improvement, and that’s what we really want,” said Kupferberg. “It would be great to be one of the leading states for education, and hopefully we will be there at some point soon.” 

The board acknowledged that there were factors the charter system could improve upon, like parking and traffic, one of the most common complaints from the community.  

In the classroom, switching from the Comprehensive Assessment System tests to the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment in 2014 was a drastic change for students.  

“We ended up not scoring schools and not tiering schools for the first year of the transition,” said Kupferberg.

‘A community of education’

Building the system remains work in progress.

Avni Patel Murray, who manages special education oversight, noted that D.C. historically has a lot of court cases dealing with special education mismanagement, but D.C. charters have been collaborating to improve.  

She helped the board develop the Special Education Qualitative Assurance Review, with 52 indicators on how schools are handling special education. The indicators are currently optional for schools, but some are scoring their special education programs and sharing their best practices with other schools.

Related: D.C. charter applicant targets ‘at-risk’ students

Another demographic sparking recent discussion among D.C. education agencies is young, at-risk students in middle and high school. Zachary Walter of the American Youth Policy Forum attended the Policy to Practice Conference  to learn about accountability measures for at-risk students.  

“PCSB has been grappling with that issue recently and is in the process of creating accountability for schools, so that is a chance to understand that better,” said Walter. 

A few charter schools have recently made outreach to these students part of their missions, according to Kupferberg. The board, which created a Performance Management Framework for adult education last year, is finalizing one for at-risk students. 

“We want to hold them to the very high standards that we hold everybody else, but we know it looks different,” said Kupferberg. “We are collaborating with other states that have measures in place.” 

Walter also noted how the term “school reform” has become charged and wanted to know how people in D.C. view the issue. 

Newman emphasized how charter and traditional public schools are collaborating rather than competing. The Deputy Mayor for Education’s Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force helped get the conversations going, but collaboration is already occurring between individual schools as well as with schools in other jurisdictions.

“We try to reach out as much as possible to research and see what other areas are doing to see if we can improve our own practices,” said Kupferberg. 

Eric Goldstein, a former teacher at SEED School, attributes the charters’ success to the urgency of improving the city’s education system. Goldstein, founder of One World Education, works with eight charter schools and 15 public schools to improve students reading, writing and research skills. 

“When the charter schools improve, it lets the public schools know to improve,” said Goldstein. “I see it less as a competition and more as a system for a community of education.”