By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee plans to hire up to six nonprofit educational companies to help run the city's 10 comprehensive high schools and has invited parents to meet with her tonight to discuss the details.
An official from Friendship Public Charter Schools in the District, one of the organizations asked to submit a proposal, said Rhee wants contractors to take over one grade in the fall and then run entire schools beginning in 2009.
For months, Rhee has discussed hiring firms as one of five options she could use under the federal No Child Left Behind law to fix 10 high schools and 17 elementary and middle schools. Students there missed academic benchmarks on the system's standardized test for five consecutive years. Rhee's plan applies only to the high schools.
In the 30-page plan Rhee sent to schools, which was obtained by The Washington Post, she for the first time names the six companies under consideration and outlines the areas the companies would oversee.
Rhee wrote that she does not consider the arrangement "privatizing the schools." The schools, she said, would remain under her control and enter into a partnership with the companies.
"The partner must have responsibility for school operations, managing all aspects of the school," Rhee wrote. "Different partners approach this task differently. Some largely work with existing teachers and administrators, helping them learn more effective ways of increasing student achievement. . . . And some will ask for a fresh start, asking to hire teachers and administrators who have not worked at the school."
Last week, Rhee announced the system is offering buyouts to 700 teachers at the 27 schools in "restructuring" and 23 schools that are slated for closure. Teachers opting to leave by June would receive bonuses ranging from $1,000, for five years of service or less, to $20,000, for more than 20 years.
Mafara Hobson, Rhee's spokeswoman, said the chancellor has not determined how much contractors would be paid. Rhee is expected to select a contractor or contractors in a few weeks. Rhee will issue a request for proposals and solicit comments from parents before making a decision early next month.
"In the past, we have failed to deliver high quality education to all of our children, as a result DCPS has 27 schools in restructuring status," Hobson said yesterday in a statement. "The chancellor believes that partnering with external education entities, as mandated by NCLB, will greatly assist DCPS in revamping schools in restructuring status."
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said that he and Rhee played phone tag yesterday and that he did not know why she was calling. "I couldn't tell you who the nonprofits were if you gave me a million dollars," Gray said. "I know we're in the restructuring mode, but I don't have any details. I really don't know too much about it."
The 10 high schools, which enroll 8,148 students, are: Anacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Coolidge, Dunbar, Eastern, Roosevelt, Spingarn, Wilson and Woodson. The seven other high schools in the District are not on that list.
Rhee's plan names six nonprofit organizations: Bedford Academy High School in New York; Friendship Public Charter School in the District; Institute for Student Achievement in Lake Success, N.Y.; Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia; St. HOPE Public Schools in Sacramento; and Talent Development High Schools in Baltimore.
"This is something we wanted," said Terry Goings, chairman of the local school restructuring team at Coolidge High School in Northwest, the group of parents and teachers who advise the principal. He said the group, Parents at Coolidge, recommended Bedford Academy to Rhee, who visited the school.
Bedford Academy "brings a different vision and mission," he said. "They're coming in with organization skills that weren't going on at Coolidge."
Talent Development, based at Johns Hopkins University, is the largest of the six companies. It manages 100 high schools in 15 states. The company charges school districts about $250 to $350 per student, said spokeswoman Mary Maushard.
For that fee, Talent Development supplies curricula, trains teachers and reorganizes the school into smaller career academies that offer students more individual help and intervention. "We've had some outside evaluation showing that [with the model] more students pass their ninth grade courses and are promoted to 10th grade," said Maushard, who cited several schools that made adequate yearly progress after a few years in the program. "In 10th grade, students have a lot better chance of making it to 12th grade."
Donald L. Hense, chairman of the Friendship Public Charter Schools, which enrolls 4,048 students on five campuses in the District, said he submitted a proposal to Rhee seeking to run three or four high schools.
His proposal calls for receiving total control of the schools. He said he would hire a principal, train teachers and introduce Friendship's technology theme and "early college" program, in which students simultaneously enroll in courses at the University of the District of Columbia.
Officials at the charter organization, which was founded by the Friendship House social services organization, have "extensive knowledge of working with people who are underprivileged," he said. "Our dream is to help kids east of the river who are locked in [bad schools] they can't get out of."
Staff writer Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.