DC Public Charter School Board

14 Apr, 2016

The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) recently visited the DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) to learn about its authorizing process, and more specifically, to highlight a case in which it facilitated a charter takeover for a low-performing public charter school in its portfolio. Although a charter takeover is not the primary policy solution for low-performing charter schools, in this case, the Board of Trustees of the low-performing school and DC PCSB decided it was the right path to pursue.

Created in 1996, DC PCSB is an independent body governed by the DC School Reform Act. The first public charter school opened in Washington, D.C. in 1996, and currently, charter schools represent 45% of all public schools in the Washington, D.C. area. There are 115 public charter schools in Washington, D.C., operated by 62 nonprofits located in 94 separate facilities around the city. DC PCSB’s goal is to provide access to quality education for all students in Washington, D.C.

DC PCSB has been implementing several turnaround initiatives in the past few years. For low-performing charter schools, there are three alternate options to closing: 1) transition to a traditional public school campus; 2) turning around a school’s performance using existing leadership; and 3) a takeover by a new charter school operator. These programs are last resorts after an exhaustive and comprehensive accountability process. DC PCSB’s vision is to be the national role model for charter school authorizing and accountability. The videos highlight DC PCSB’s lessons learned and a successful implementation of school reform.  


1: Introduction to DC Public Charter School Board 

The opening video provides an overview of DC PCSB and introduces key leaders in the organization and offers insight into the authorizer’s mission and vision. 

DC PCSB manages the performance of a diverse set of charter schools that offer unique services from Pre-K to adults. DC PCSB uses their flagship performance management framework (PMF) to classify schools’ performance into three tiers (see below). DC PCSB publishes these tier ratings for each school to provide parents an opportunity to choose the best school for their family. Along with the PMF, DC PCSB also publishes Equity Reports, which describe how charter school perform on a variety of measures of educational equity, including attendance, discipline, student movement, and academic growth. Being transparent through the PMF and Equity Reports helps schools be accountable for creating quality educational environments for all students.


2: DC PCSB: Challenges and Solutions to School Closure 

This video focuses on how DC PCSB approaches school closure. Using student outcomes as the primary indicator of achievement, DC PCSB implements one of several strategies to improve school performance. These strategies include school turnaround, takeover by a high-quality operator, or a transition back to the traditional public school system. The school closure path is determined by a number of factors, where the students are the  central focus in the decision. Each consideration is given due diligence as the school board of the struggling school and DC PCSB find the best solution for the children and the school.  


3: A Successful Takeover – Lessons Learned  

In 2013, Septima Clark Public Charter School (PCS), a K-3 all boys school that was struggling academically and scoring below the state average on the city-wide assessment, was coming up for an authorizer review. DC PCSB informed the school that it would not make it through the review (i.e. that it would be closed) due to low academic performance, since it met minimum standards on several key performance indicators on DC PCSB’s accountability system, the Performance Management Framework (PMF). Septima Clark PCS’s Board of Trustees, in discussion with DC PCSB, decided that a charter takeover was a viable option in this case. Septima Clark PCS’s Board of Trustees put out a RFP for the takeover and ensured that the takeover operator had experience in operating only high-quality schools. Achievement Prep PCS, a high-performing (Tier 1) 4-8 co-ed school, which exceeded key performance indicators on the PMF and located in the same area as Septima Clark PCS, responded to the RFP and was chosen as the takeover operator. Achievement Prep PCS took over Septima Clark PCS’s charter. This video explores the takeover process and DC PCSB’s role as the authorizer. Additional insight is provided by Achievement Prep PCS and a parent who went through the process firsthand.