Congress and District government leaders should reassess the D.C. Board of Education's role in overseeing charter schools and consider revoking the board's power, a new study by a Washington-based think tank concludes.
The study, by the Progressive Policy Institute, which supports public-school choice, examined the roles of the two agencies that oversee the city's rapidly expanding charter schools.
The independently run schools now enroll about 19,000 students, nearly a third of public school students in the District. Of the 52 charter schools, 18 are overseen by the Board of Education, and the other 34 by the D.C. Public Charter School Board.
The 40-page report said the Board of Education has been lax in monitoring the quality of the schools under its authority. It portrays the board, whose authority to grant charters was imposed by Congress 10 years ago, as a reluctant participant in the charter school movement and describes some board members as "hostile" to the movement.
Students in charter schools overseen by the board generally have not performed as well as those in charter schools monitored by the charter school board, the report said. It noted, for example, that 41.8 percent of students at the first set of schools scored proficient in math on the Stanford 9 test this year, compared with 59.1 percent of those in the second set of schools. The gap in reading proficiency was smaller: 43.1 percent versus 46.3 percent.
"[I]f the Board is not committed to being a quality authorizer, its authority to issue charters should be revoked," said the report, titled "Capital Campaign: Early Returns on District of Columbia Charter Schools."
The conclusions yesterday drew angry reactions from Board of Education members, who questioned the quality of the study given that they had not been interviewed by its authors or researchers.
"I take great umbrage with this report," said Vice President Carolyn N. Graham. Noting that the board has shut down seven failing charter schools compared with only one closing by the other agency, Graham added: "Our action as a board to close charter schools is directly related to their lack of performance. It has not been because of a lack of attention."
Both sets of charter schools face examination by federal and local officials. D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who chairs the council's education committee, is holding a hearing Thursday to discuss the performance of the two monitoring agencies. The Board of Education has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 15 to discuss how it could better regulate its set of schools. And the U.S. Government Accountability Office is expected to release its own study of the two chartering agencies in November.
The think tank's report said the Public Charter School Board has gone too far in the other direction, issuing regulations that are "smothering" its schools. "Some charter school operators complain that the reporting and documentation demands of the PCSB cross the boundary into micromanagement," the report said. "Others worry that increasingly complex application requirements will dry up the pool of potential applicants."
Tom Nida, chairman of the charter school board, agreed that its requirements for detailed monthly financial documents are putting a strain on some schools. "We're going to be looking for ways to back down on routine reporting and oversight" for schools that are demonstrating success, he said.
Will Marshall, the institute's president, is a member of the charter school board.
The study said that although the competition from charter schools is supposed to spur improvement in regular public schools, that has not happened in the District. The regular system "has lost a large percentage of students to charter schools and is also losing talented faculty and staff who leave to launch their own charter schools," the report said.
The report also recommended that the city establish an independent facilities board to allocate extra space in the regular public schools to charter schools. And it said redevelopment plans for neighborhoods should include facilities for charter schools, as part of an effort to draw more middle-class families to the District.