A long-anticipated task force will work to improve coherence and coordination between the District’s charter schools and its traditional school system, city officials announced Wednesday, part of a broader effort to streamline two disjointed public school sectors that compete for students and resources.
As charter school enrollment has grown in the city, many residents have become concerned about the locations and the types of schools that are opening — and the sheer number of them — as well as the complex experience of plotting a course from preschool to 12th grade through a continually changing array of schools. Jennifer Niles, the deputy mayor for education, said it is time to ensure that charters and traditional schools are working together.
“With 56 percent of kids in D.C. Public Schools and 44 percent attending public charter schools, the next chapter of improving education in D.C. is for both sectors to work together,” Niles said.
The task force will have an array of goals, including improving the experience for families as they try to navigate their public school options, increasing methods for sharing information across schools and promoting stability in enrollment.
Thousands of students change schools each year, often moving between traditional to charter schools. Officials hope to find ways to discourage unnecessary student transfers that can be disruptive to learning, and they want to encourage schools to share information about students who transfer so they can understand their academic histories.
One of the most challenging issues the group will tackle is improving the process for facilities planning, including the coordination of school openings and closings.
The D.C. Public Charter School Board oversees 63 charter organizations with more than 100 campuses. The D.C. school system operates more than 100 schools.
All are taxpayer-supported institutions, and many residents have questioned whether there will be enough student enrollment to support new facilities or sufficient interest to support the dozens of specialized — and sometimes overlapping — programs that charter and traditional schools are investing in.
Eboni-Rose Thompson, who chairs the Ward 7 Education Council, said the task force is important and long overdue. If such planning had happened before, she said, the city would not have “holes” in neighborhoods with no schools and “over-saturation” in neighborhoods with too many schools.
“We wouldn’t have charter schools that don’t have adequate facilities. We would not be double-spending or overspending on programs,” she said. “All of those things are symptoms of us not planning for one education system.”
Last year, many criticized the location of a new campus belonging to Harmony Public Schools, a Houston-based network, which opened a science-and-technology-focused elementary school across the street from Langley Elementary, a traditional school in Northeast with the same academic focus.
Washington Global, a charter middle school opening this school year with an international program, drew criticism for opening its doors near Jefferson Middle, a traditional school that is working to build a similar program.
Niles said she expects that D.C. Public Schools and the charter board will continue to make their own decisions about school openings and closings. But she said the task force will identify potential ways to coordinate their efforts by sharing demographic information they are using to make decisions, or by coordinating their decision-making timelines.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson released statements Wednesday supporting the effort. Henderson said “the time is right” for such an initiative. Pearson said the board looks forward to “participating and finding new ways to improve public school for all students in the District.”
Niles highlighted the voluntary nature of the effort.
She cited the citywide enrollment lottery as a successful example of charter and traditional school leaders creating a unified system that was more logical and user-friendly for parents.
The cross-sector collaboration task force is expected to meet for two years and present a report with recommendations for improving the coherence of public education and increasing collaboration among traditional and charter schools.
The meetings will be closed to the public, but relevant data, presentations and meeting summaries will be posted on the deputy mayor for education’s Web site, said Claudia Lujan, a senior policy adviser for the deputy mayor who will be the task force’s lead project manager.
Community meetings, focus groups and surveys also will be scheduled to allow for public participation.
The task force will have between 23 and 25 members, including administrators from charter schools and traditional schools as well as representatives of District agencies, public school parents and community members. The agency will consider nominations during the next month. People who are interested can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.