The SBOE is also responsible for advising the State Superintendent of Education on matters such as special education, vocational programs, and charter schools. Charter schools enroll nearly half of the city’s publicly-funded students, but there is currently little or no coordination between these independently-operated schools and the traditional school system. Ward 3 is the only ward in the city that does not have any charter schools within its boundaries.
The Forest Hills Connection asked the four Ward 3 SBOE candidates – Tricia Braun, Stephanie Blessey Lilley, Phil Thomas, and Ruth Wattenberg – to share their long-term vision for the future of DCPS and the city’s charter schools. They were responding to the following questions:
1. Do you envision the need for greater coordination between DCPS and the charter schools? If so, explain how this might look and what policy changes it would necessitate. If you believe the current dual system is working well, please explain to our readers.
2. What role, if any, do you think that the Board and OSSE should play in this?
We have received responses from three of the candidates:
Phil Thomas, thomasforstateboard.com
1. When it comes to DC Public Schools and DC Charter Schools I do believe there should be more coordination as long as the purpose is the betterment of students. I think both sectors should operate under their own initiative but should collaborate as far as professional development, sharing facilities and getting the neighborhood involved.
As a teacher, I have witnessed cooperation between public and charter schools when a school is being renovated and needs gym space or when public and charter schools collaborate on a poetry contest. I support voluntary cooperation, not mandated. All schools should be encouraged to leverage as many community resources as possible, whether that means collaborating with a nearby school, business, or community center to help all students learn and succeed.
As a teacher, I know that every child is different and needs something different for them to succeed. I believe DCPS and DCPCS both serve a need in the District.
However, to create a level playing field, I believe charter schools should have some minimal set-aside for neighborhood children, and I also think funding should follow every child in the District of Columbia. This way, both systems can be judged equally on their success in graduating students who are college and career-ready. We should also create policies to give some flexibility to public education while including funding for foreign language, science, social studies and the arts.
In addition, additional funding should be given to schools with high rates of economically disadvantaged children.
2. I think the Board and OSSE should play a limited role in the dual system and instead maintain focus on setting policies for allocating federal funds and setting standards for public schools. I think the implementation of the standards and providing professional development for teachers is a large and complicated task and deserves complete focus and attention. However, I do think the State Board, OSSE and the Charter Board should share data so we can improve the quality of education in the District as a whole.
Ruth Wattenberg, ruth4schools.com
1. Yes, there needs to be more coordination. Earlier this year, a new science-focused charter school opened up right across from a DCPS school that had a science focus, thanks to an investment in that school recently made by DC taxpayers. This was a real wake-up call to many in our city about the lack of coordination that exists between the two school sectors. We have some wonderful charter schools in this city that provide options unoffered by DCPS. For example, I just visited the SEED boarding school charter, a needed option that DCPS does not offer.
Based on the recent citywide discussion about boundaries, the school option that is most missed by DC residents is high-quality neighborhood schools. Responding to that desire and identifying the right mix of quality neighborhood schools and high-quality charter options—and figuring out how to get us to that mix—is a critical job for the next mayor, who must take the lead while working with the City Council.
2. The DC State Board of Education’s main role is to make sure that schools in both sectors are built on a strong policy foundation, including strong academic standards for students and strong licensure standards for new teachers; high-quality, aligned student assessments; strong high school graduation requirements; and a framework for school accountability. The Board’s responsibility for creating a strong and transparent framework for accountability will provide the mayor and city council with important information for their deliberations. In other states around the country, it is not typically the job of State Boards of Education to get very involved in determining the right mix of schools. The Board’s job is to help bring about high quality in all the schools in both sectors without prejudice. That seems like the right role for the Board here as well.
Tricia Braun, triciabraundc.com
I support strong schools, whether they are DCPS Schools or charter schools. With our students nearly evenly apportioned between DCPS schools and DC public charter schools, we need a comprehensive vision for the future of our public education system. Ultimately, this vision must come from the next Mayor, the State Superintendent, and the Public School Charter Board (PCSB). Although the DC State Board of Education does not run the schools in either sector, it does have an important advisory role in working with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the Mayor.
As a first step, the educational leaders charged with governing DCPS and the PCSB should begin working together to establish common goals and to specify how each sector can best be supported. We have already seen at least one promising sign of coordination between the two systems. Last year, with the implementation of the DC Common Application and Lottery parents could apply to both DCPS and charter schools in one application. It was a small step in the right direction, but much more can be done to include both sectors in reaching educational goals.
Stakeholders in both sectors have legitimate concerns. Based on my conversations with parents and school leaders across the district, it is clear that DCPS families would like to see greater coordination of entry years for middle schools so that families don’t have to choose between graduating from a DCPS elementary school and applying to begin charter middle schools in fifth grade. They are also deeply concerned that continuing the current pace of charter school growth will undermine the DCPS system. Charter school families, on the other hand, would like more support in the location and maintenance of facilities.
Additionally, there also appears to be a need for greater financial transparency on all fronts. Because all of our public schools are supported by taxpayer dollars, we all have an interest in ensuring that those funds are spent most effectively to provide the best outcomes for our students. Achieving these goals may only be possible if all parties come together to educate each other and negotiate for best outcomes for our schools.
Ward 3 has very strong DCPS schools, and many of our families also have students attending some of the best charter schools in the city. My children currently attend a DCPS school, and I live in a neighborhood where many families send their children to charter schools. For me, the future success of both sectors can be promoted most effectively through a collective effort to find practical solutions to real problems; academic debates between people seeking to advance competing ideological agendas will not help.
It is imperative that we ensure the future success of both sectors. The bottom line is that we all share a common goal: providing the best education possible for DC’s students. As a member of the State Board, I would advocate with the Mayor and the DME, the State Superintendent, and the PCSB to take a more proactive approach to ensuring the future success of both sectors.
All of our schools will benefit from more coordinated long-term planning. We cannot go from year to year without a clearer vision of the direction of our schools. We must ensure that families from every neighborhood in DC have access to schools – whether traditional public schools or charter schools – where they can be confident that their children can attain an education that will prepare them for the world beyond high school.