When Michelle Rhee’s Students First lobbying organization released its first state policy “report cards” this week, one of the fiercest critics to emerge was an important policy player from her old backyard: The D.C. Public Charter School Board.
Scott Pearson, the charter board’s executive director, released a strongly worded statement calling Rhee’s report cards error-ridden and fundamentally flawed.
“Ms. Rhee’s service as Chancellor of DC Public Schools was largely characterized by ambivalence towards the DC charter sector. That ambivalence appears to rear its head in this report,” Pearson’s statement said.
“Unfortunately, and despite repeated attempts by PCSB to correct the record with Students First, the Report Card issued for the District of Columbia grossly mischaracterizes the educational policy environment in DC, particularly when it comes to charter schools.”
Students First rated the District fourth in the nation for reform-minded education policies — but that was only good enough for a C+.
Eric Lerum, vice president of national policy for Students First, stood by the organization's work.
“We understand the PCSB’s concerns and we believe we have taken them into account in our grading of DC’s state policies,”Lerum said. “D.C. should be recognized for having a robust charter movement that encourages growth of high performing charter schools.”
Among the D.C. charter leaders’ complaints: The report dings charters and DCPS for failing to publish standardized school report cards that grade each school on an A through F scale. The charter school board does publish report cards via its “Performance Management Framework,” which grades each school on a 100-point scale and places each school into one of three performance tiers.
Charter leaders were also galled by the high marks — four out of four points — Rhee assigned for “equitable access to facilities.” One of the charter sector’s biggest complaints is that the city has made it overly difficult for charters, which are constantly challenged to find suitable real estate, to move into old public school buildings.
Pearson also objected to the low scores Rhee assigned for “charter school accountability” in the city, pointing to the charter board’s record of closing schools that don’t pass muster. (Just today, the charter board announced that it will vote Thursday on whether to revoke the charter belonging to Imagine Southeast, a chronically low-performing school.)
The Students First report does praise the charter board’s record on school closures and other measures, but says that city law ought to require more accountability — including a requirement that charters come up for renewal every 15 years instead of every 5.
Full statements from Pearson and Lerum are below.
Unfortunately, and despite repeated attempts by PCSB to correct the record with Students First, the Report Card issued for the District of Columbia grossly mischaracterizes the educational policy environment in DC, particularly when it comes to charter schools.
Significantly, the report never mentions that 43% of DC public school students attend charter schools. This is emblematic of the fundamental flaws in this report, where the significant and fast-growing DC charter sector is ignored when ratings are given to the state.
For example, the report grades DC a “0 out of 4” points for “School Report Cards,” ignoring the significant contribution made by PCSB’s School Performance Management Framework, that grades every charter school on a clear and transparent 100-point scale and assigns schools based on that score to Tier 1, 2 or 3 status. The report makes no mention of charter schools in such areas as fiscal transparency, alternative certification, pensions, and teacher pay.
When the report does look specifically at charters, it usually gets it wrong. For example, the report grades DC a “0 out of 4” points for “Charter School Accountability”, ignoring that fact that PCSB was recognized last year by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers for its aggressive policy towards closing low-performing charter schools. Indeed, of the 82 charter schools that have opened in DC since 1998, 25 have closed, a rate of over 30%. Most of these closed under pressure from PCSB. Similarly, the Center for Education Reform, which annually ranks state charter school laws rated DC first in the nation in 2012, noting “[DC] once again took the top spot in the rankings because of their strong independent authorizer [PCSB], charter autonomy and nearly equitable funding.”
The report also erroneously gives the district high marks for “Equitable Access to Facilities”, ignoring the enormous obstacles that Ms. Rhee herself, as DCPS Chancellor, placed to charters gaining access to closed DCPS buildings. The District has made significant improvement in this regard during the tenure of Mayor Vincent Gray and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, but still has more to do to ensure equitable access to facilities for charters.
Ms. Rhee’s service as Chancellor of DC Public Schools was largely characterized by ambivalence towards the DC charter sector. That ambivalence appears to rear its head in this report, yielding a disconcerting disconnection from the facts on the ground. DC public schools are in fact on the move, evidenced by a growing enrollment and improving accountability and performance, led by a charter sector now educating nearly half of the public school students in the city. It’s a shame that Students First and Ms. Rhee have chosen to avert their eyes from that progress in this misleading “Report Card.”
We share their desire to create high quality options for parents. DC should be recognized for having a robust charter movement that encourages growth of high performing charter schools. The PCSB also has worked to ensure accountability with its Performance Management Framework, despite having a weak state law in place to support that work.