D.C. Public Schools is pursuing the authority to create charter schools and turn existing schools into charters, the schools chancellor said Thursday.
"The reason I would pursue my chartering authority is twofold," Chancellor Kaya Henderson said. "One is I think that for a number of our schools that are doing very well, what we know is autonomy allows for innovation, and allows for people to be successful."
Henderson added that charter-school planning has not been "planful." Most operate in neighborhoods where the DCPS school is underperforming.
|Also in charters...|
|The D.C. Public Charter School Board is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to close the Integrated Design Electronics Academy, or IDEA, a charter school in Northeast. Opened in 1998, IDEA is one of the oldest charters in the District, but charter officials say it has a "10-year history of low performance in student achievement in both reading and math." But Norman Johnson, IDEA's executive director, says his charter was approved to serve students who may have issues with the law or truancy, making the board's assessment unfair. He fought the charter's revocation at a hearing earlier this month.|
"First [charters] starve the DCPS school, and then they ultimately starve each other, and that's not a good use of all our resources," Henderson told D.C. Council members at the annual DCPS performance oversight hearing. "I think we'd be able to encourage charter providers to go where we need them most and fill in gaps we can't accomplish."
Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he already has "some rough-draft things written up."
Currently, chartering is the exclusive authority of the D.C. Public Charter School Board. Charter schools enroll 41 percent of the District's public school students, and have outpaced DCPS in both test scores and enrollment growth.
A recent study commissioned by the deputy mayor for education's office recommended that more than 30 failing DCPS schools be turned around or closed and replaced with charter schools. Unlike DCPS schools, students aren't guaranteed a slot in a charter school in their own neighborhood, as admission is granted through a districtwide lottery.
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells suggested that DCPS could create charters that give preference to children living near the school.
Scott Pearson, executive director of the charter school board, said the board is open to working with DCPS to authorize charters, as is the situation in several states across the nation. Charter schools formed by the traditional school system stay under its purview.
But Pearson cautioned that such a move must be done carefully. "The first risk is that because it's an afterthought, it's not the main thing [the traditional school system does], they don't provide as good oversight, and I think we saw that in the past in D.C. with the Board of Education," Pearson said.
Before the charter school board, the D.C. Board of Education was the chief authorizer of charters. It relinquished power in 2006 as consensus pointed to lax standards and a failure to regulate the schools.
Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders said he is encouraged by the success of such programs, but said he did not have enough information to know whether teachers would support DCPS having chartering authority. He said he believed teachers in the hypothetical DCPS charters would remain union members.