One educator said the new system will help parents see where their children's schools fit, explain in greater detail elements of the assessment and show how individual schools rank against their peers.
"PMF is designed to give the public an opportunity to assess the success of schools pairing like with like; there really is no other measure," said Linda Moore, founder and executive director of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Southeast. "Students absolutely gain over time to the extent that it gives the public more information. I think that's good."
"The initial iteration was said to not provide an adequate snapshot and the board listened to community leaders. The biggest change was how growth was measured. It was reconfigured but it still does not capture goals specific to individual schools. Parents can get an understanding about how students are achieving, how that achievement is reached and where we're doing a good job."
Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, agrees.
"We've gotten to a very good place and our kids are winners even though D.C. has the highest achievement gap in the country," she said. "Among the top tier are some schools which overwhelmingly serve children of color, those from impoverished backgrounds and a mixture of both. It's very interesting that schools are so different and the approaches they bring are so different, too."
Edelin named the D.C. Prep School, Edgewood, three KIPP campuses, Paul Junior High School, Washington Latin Public Charter School's Upper School and two Center City Public Charter Schools – operated by the Diocese of Washington – as some of the most successful institutions according to the evaluation model, but which offer curriculums and serve populations that traditionally might be thought of as being unable to make good grades, learn and test well.
"The one that's really amazing is Achievement Preparatory Academy (in Congress Heights), which serves almost entirely, kids from Ward 8. There is nothing comparable. No other schools are doing as well," she said.
If there is a weakness, Edelin said, it is in the lack of research into some areas that can enhance the job charter schools are doing.
"We need better research on what works for whom and why," she explained.
While Moore is pleased with the new evaluation system, she said educators are still not able to capture data that reflects the variety of schools and what they offer.
"This includes alternative schools such as special education, schools with students who have a history of difficulties or those with English language learners, and data that captures how schools are doing with the students they get," she said. "We have some really good schools and schools that don't look good based on the evaluations."
Moore, whose school falls into the top tier, said she has another apprehension too.
"My concern has to do with the quality of education available to some of the most vulnerable in the District," she said. "The range of what children were asked to do academically doesn't fit with their skills."
Exodus of Students from DCPS
The first charter schools were opened in the District of Columbia about 15 years ago. Since that time, and particularly in recent years, there has been an exodus of students from District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to these schools. In 2004, for example, DCPS had an enrollment of more than 62,000 students. Today, that figure stands at a little more than 45,000.
Edelin said her association serves all charter schools, and all but four of the 53 schools on campuses scattered across the District, are members. These 53 schools, on 98 campuses, serve 41 percent or 32,000 of the children attending school in the District.
"One of the greatest things charter schools has done is to provide leverage for DCPS to reform itself," Moore said. "Charter schools and DCPS are reforming. I don't necessarily see this as 'either/or.' The goal should be to provide the best education for children. I don't think charter schools will ever replace traditional schools but they are on the cutting edge of what's working.
Moore used her school as an example.
"Every student learns in two languages," she said. "In almost every country, students speak more than one language. We live in a global society with a global economy. It is very important to communicate with and understand other cultures. We incorporate technology into learning strategies as much as we can and we use small groups."
"We wanted to give all students the best – at least what the research says that is, in terms of skills and resources. There are so many resources and so much opportunity in the District and children should have the opportunity to learn about the history and culture that is here. I see it as a complement. I think it's important for parents to have a range of options for students."
She said her school has grown exponentially since its doors opened.
"We have 350 three-year-olds through 6th graders," said Moore. "We have seen a 10-fold growth in enrollment. We started with 35 kindergarten and first-graders."
And Moore and her staff continue to cater to all of her children's needs, while countering the effects of family, neighborhoods, the Internet, TV and other influences.
She said students are provided with three meals a day, teachers are now making home visits and the staff uses a variety of methods to integrate parents into the learning continuum.
"There is no reason for schools to stop playing the roles they have in the past. Our opinion is that the role of the school is to do whatever is necessary to help our children," said Moore. "We place great emphasis on supporting children and their education. We identify the needs and help them get what they need."
"Becoming an educated person is not solely being able to read or write. Being an educated person is being a good citizen, getting along and working successfully with people from many different backgrounds."