Officials Introduce New Method to Evaluate Public Charter Schools

Barrington M. Salmon | 12/15/2011, 3:16 p.m.
Some officials associated with the District's public charter schools are lauding an initiative that will...
Achievement Prep Academy Public Charter School's Head of School Shantelle Wright (left) greets D.C. Public Charter School Board Chair Brian W. Jones and members Darren Woodruff and Emily Bloomfield./Photo by Victor Holt

Some officials associated with the District's public charter schools are lauding an initiative that will streamline the way these schools are evaluated.

The Public Charter School Board, parents and other stakeholders spent almost three years developing the Performance Management Framework (PMF), which will be an evaluation tool to assess and monitor charter school performance. Schools that are rated will fall into one of three tiers. Tier 1 schools will have met standards of high performance; Tier 2 schools are those which fall short of high performance standards but meet minimum overall performance; and Tier 3 schools are those which fall significantly short of high performance standards and show inadequate performance. Tier 3 schools that fall below 20 percent of an established number of points may have their charters revoked.

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.