Testimony of Don Soifer
Before the Nevada Legislature
Assembly Committee on Education
April 5, 2017
Chairman Thompson and Committee Members, I am Don Soifer, representing the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, widely regarded as one of the nation’s most successful charter school authorizers, as its Vice Chairman. I am grateful for this opportunity to testify before the Assembly Committee on Education this afternoon.
I’d like to share a few observations on the importance of rigorous public school accountability systems, the benefits they bring when implemented with fidelity, and why Nevada’s Achievement School District (NV ASD) is well suited to play an important role in this critical education work.
In my home in the nation’s capital, we recently marked the 20th anniversary of public charter schools. Our board oversees 65 local education agencies operating 118 schools, serving more than 41,000 students, just under half of all public school students.
Our charter schools serve a student population that is equally or at times more economically disadvantaged than the city average, while outperforming DC averages on our PARCC standardized tests for nearly every subgroup of students, and producing graduates at a higher rate as well.
As the city’s sole charter school authorizer, our emphasis on accountability and results is paying off in big ways for students and families. Since 2010, we have removed 1,966 tier three (lowest) seats in public charter schools, and by the end of the 2015-16 school year we added 6,293 tier one (highest) seats. Our tiered system, like the star rating system in the Nevada School Performance Framework, leverages student growth, proficiency and other indicators to measure school performance.
The New Nevada Plan for public education, presented to the federal Department of Education this week, represents a strong and essential commitment to improving educational opportunities for all children. It builds on strengths, such as Nevada’s progress outperforming the national growth average in reading and science since 2009.
It is crucial that all students, including those served by the lowest-performing five percent of schools in Nevada, have real opportunities for academic success. The NV ASD has a vital role to play in the New Nevada Plan through the State Turnaround process. The regulations proposed by the Department of Education hold promising potential to benefit families served by those eligible schools selected by the State Board of Education for conversion to achievement charter schools, entering into a performance compact under the New Nevada Plan, or through the petition process articulated in the Department’s proposed regulations.
The intensive, collaborative effort of matching transformation teams and high-quality school operators with these schools is an essential one. Nevada communities and families are strongly positioned to benefit from the established work of exemplary charter school operators around the nation. The leadership of the NV ASD is well versed in established best governing and authorizing practices like those which have produced the strong academic gains in Washington, DC and other high-performing charter sectors, and which hold strong promise for potential benefits for Nevada families.
In our own work we have seen multiple examples of how these process can work well. It is hard work, to be certain, and progress cannot always be measured in even increments. But what its success can deliver for a school community, and for the entire education ecosystem in which it operates, is as powerful a transformational tool as any I’ve seen in a government’s toolbox. I hope that this Committee will give that opportunity the chance its communities deserve.
To be certain, the sort of progress needed to achieve all of Nevada’s priorities, such as those put forward in the new state plan, must represent the culmination of a broad and robust commitment, and multiple strategies are needed.
For example, the plan’s advisory group recommendation that End of Course Exams be evolved into a true end of course assessment students can take immediately after they finish a course regardless of time of year, represents a substantial move toward a true competency-based accountability system, one which would hold long-term value. School districts I have studied and observed around the country which are leveraging competency-based learning to implement high-quality personalized blended learning instructional models to scale are producing the sorts of strong outcomes in student growth and consistency gains consistent with the objectives in the New Nevada Plan. I am encouraged by the potential for growth in these areas in both district schools and schools of choice across Nevada.
I deeply appreciate this opportunity to speak with you this afternoon, and I look forward to any questions you may have.
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