During a recent gathering of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), officials approved a pilot for the school system's adult education curriculum that will measure effectiveness by tracking student achievement and graduates' ability to obtain employment.
The pilot, which was given the thumbs up at the board's Nov. 20 meeting, will be fused into the 2012-13 academic year to gauge performance among adult education programs.
"Previously, the schools accepted targets they agreed to meet," said charter schools spokeswoman Audrey Williams. "However, the framework is going to be looking at things in a different way."
The adult-oriented program at Booker T. Washington (BTW) Public Charter School for Technical Arts in Northwest, for instance, enrolls more than 100 students and has thrived since it opened in 1999. As a result, the program, which offers a construction trade under the school's Virtual Enterprise program, could also serve as a model for the pilot.
Currently operating in conjunction with local contractors, unions and government placement programs, BTW provides unemployed and underemployed District residents an opportunity to develop and gain education, employment and entrepreneurial skills.
As part of the participants' studies they come up with a business idea, and then write a business plan. In addition, students who plan to go into business for themselves perform administrative, human resource, finance and marketing tasks their companies might use in transactions.
While at least three applications were submitted this year to the public charter system for adult learning centers, just one – Community College Preparatory Academy, will offer about 150 seats when it opens next year – met the board's conditional approval. The school could open either in Ward 5, 7 or 8.
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) spokeswoman Melissa Salmonowitz said that generally speaking, the adult education [alternative] schools have seen an increase in enrollment.
"We are aligning the Continuing Training and Education offerings to meet needs in the D.C. metro area so that our adult students will have the skills necessary for the workplace," she said. "Graduation rates are also strong across [these] schools."
Alex Donahue, is a deputy director for the nonprofit Northwest-based 21st Century School Fund, which advocates for local school districts on a national level. Donahue, who has also been a principal with Roosevelt Senior High School's adult education program, said that overall, DCPS is trying to make sure it has a way to assess the effectiveness of programs being funded with public dollars.
"Those mechanisms to assess providers and programs were not in place in past decades," Donahue said. "The only numbers they had, were how many adult students graduated."
He added that the concern then focused on whether after graduation, students were fully equipped to enter the job market.
"And that was not answered," said Donahue. "So it's been kind of an empty landscape – an area that's missing infrastructure and policy, and now they're trying to develop these tools."
Mary Filardo, 21st Century executive director, added that it was a good move on the PCSB's part to launch the pilot. She said however, that her organization will be keeping a close watch.
"Whether or not they come up with the right measures," Filardo said, "we will absolutely be looking at how effective these programs are in providing our adult students with what they need, and if they want to go on to further education or employment."