Charter schools, like many educational institutions across the United States, recoiled against being designated failing schools for not meeting Annual Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Law. Many expressed the point of view that, especially in the inner cities, AYP does not account for improvement in standardized test scores for populations of students that are extremely difficult to teach. So it comes as an unpleasant surprise that D.C.’s charter movement has begun the process of replacing AYP with the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework.
Recent examples of actions taken by the PCSB seem to demonstrate that qualitative decisions have been relegated to a thing of the past. The first clue was the unanimous acceptance by the board of the decision of Septima Clark’s trustees to close the school in the aftermath of the facility moving from PMF Tier 3 to Tier 2. As I pointed out at the time, the PMF was designed for stakeholders to know where a school stands academically and, by making these scores available publically, providing a strong incentive for charters to improve their performance. It was not implemented to terminate programs that were not Tier 1.
More evidence flowed from the recent PCSB February meeting. At this session Imagine Southeast PCS was threatened with being shuttered if specific PMF scores were not obtained in coming years. For the 2012 to 2013 school year the charter must hit within one point of 41, for the next term it must be within one point of 54. The Tier 2 range is from 35 to 64.9. So I guess the PCSB is saying that just being within the middle category is not permissible. Watch out 35 charters that in 2012 landed in this group.
A similar stipulation was placed on Howard Road Academy. Besides being forced to jettison most of the grades that it currently serves, the institution must now rate among the top 45 percent of all Early Childhood Performance Management Framework schools in order to go beyond Kindergarten. Why not 50 or 35 percent?
Rocketship was approved to open two schools for the first time in the nation’s capital. If these are performing at the Tier 1 level then it will be allowed to continue on its path to create eight schools teaching over 5,200 students. By now you get the idea. Already, I’m hearing word that at least one Tier 2 school may terminate serving particular grades in the drive to gain membership in the elite category.
Charter schools were created to provide children and their families with innovative methods for educating pupils that were an improvement over the regular classrooms. However, with a singular focus on PMF results we are coming dangerously close to reducing options for kids. A lack of top tier quality seats means we may end up sending the most vulnerable students back to the same schools charters were meant to supplant.
Let me close with the final paragraph from my 2011 interview with Friendship CEO and board chair Donald Hense:
“When I asked him how his schools were doing he answered this question very different from other charter leaders I have met. Consistent with his humility he did not flood me with test score data, graduation rates, or teacher and parent satisfaction scores. All he said, in a soft yet reassuring voice, was that he and his few hundred employees have struggled to get it right. He added that they will never give up trying to improve the public education of inner city kids. They have worked extremely hard to train teachers and obtain access to resources that will lead us in the right direction. He concluded by saying that extremely high quality schools are those that are excellent year in and year out. Right now we are good and, he said, it is preferable to be good compared to the status quo.”