Last night at the Public Charter School Board's monthly meeting I had the opportunity to hear presentations by two schools that applied to open new charters under the organization's expedited review policy for experienced operators. Representative from D.C. Flex and Rocketship spoke and my sense is the entire audience felt the huge difference in the quality of the panels.
D.C. Flex was up first and their representatives painted a grim picture of what a blended education at this facility would entail. Picture about 175 students, all at cubicles staring at their computer screens, with teachers and academic coaches circling the room looking for those who need help or become distracted. The school works in a partnership with K12, which is currently providing home-based on-line education here in the District, but whose parents want a high school which is not currently offered. D.C. Flex hopes to eventually serve 650 pupils in grades kindergarten through 12th.
The group in front of the room did not do a great job inspiring confidence in answering questions from the board. The main spokesman seemed unsure about exactly how the school worked. When asked about the academic experience at the other FLEX schools currently in operation his responses lacked quantitative information. Perhaps there is a reason for his reluctance to share data.
During the public comment period one individual brought up problems with K12's academic track record. I point you to one National Education Policy Center study which shows a litany of issues with the firm including much lower than average math standardized test scores and a lack of spending on special education students. This speaker also questioned why FLEX was permitted to apply under the rules for experienced operators when it opened their first site in 2010. I thought this was an excellent point.
Then it was on to Rocketship. I must say sitting in the audience I definitely felt as if something was about to take off. There was talk of targeting underprivileged kids, and of bringing their performance to the top of the academic chart as they have done in several locations in California. The charter wants to open eight schools in five years serving grades kindergarten to 5, but will not even begin to think about site number two until the original campus is performing at the highest level possible. This school too offers some blended learning but it appeared targeted in use. One aspect I especially appreciated as part of the discussion dealing with on-line learning was that the organization is not tied to products by a particular company. They are simply interested in utilizing what works best for the kids.
One of the most interesting parts of this presentation was that Jennie Niles, the founder and school head of E.L. Haynes, has joined the D.C. Rocketship board. I absolutely know that I shouldn't be reading too much into this decision but at the same time I can't help in wanting to read too much into it.
Throughout its existence the PCSB has been extremely selective in who is awarded a charter. Approving 50 percent of these fast-track applications would be completely consistent with this precedent.