Remarks at U.S. Senate School Choice Town Hall
I am Don Soifer and I have served on the Board of the DC Public Charter School Board since 2008. I am also Executive Vice President of the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank.
The DC Public Charter School Board is the city’s sole charter authorizer, responsible for overseeing the District’s 57 charter schools, which operate on 102 campuses in nearly every Ward in the city. Our schools serve about 35,000 students from pre-kindergarten to adult education learners, making up 43 percent of the city’s public school students.
Our public charter schools are schools of choice that are open to all DC residents. DC charter schools have consistently served a higher percentage of black, Latino and economically disadvantaged students– groups that are often underserved by traditional public schools and are at the wrong end of achievement gaps nationally. And yet, DC public charter schools have produced some impressive results with its students, scoring above the state average on math and reading proficiency.
Families in the District of Columbia are extremely fortunate to have the benefit of what is widely regarded as one of the strongest charter school sectors in the nation, represented powerfully today by leaders from KIPP, DC Prep and Washington Latin — schools whose powerful academic instructional growth gains are driving District averages. Recently a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that DC charters significantly exceed the performance of charters nationally.
The CREDO report noted that students attending DC charter schools gained an extra 101 days in math over the course of a single school year, and 72 days in reading, compared with their peers in traditional public schools. Those are some of the strongest outcomes in the nation. For this, we can be grateful for a variety of important factors. We have one of the nation’s strongest charter school laws. These laws have allowed some of the finest charter schools in the nation to open their doors in the District, making it a destination for talented teachers. We have a powerful constellation of very effective nonprofit organizations working to support charter schools, groups like Charter Board Partners and Reading Partners. And as an independent authorizer, we have an unwavering commitment to ensuring quality opportunities for all families.
We achieve this mission in four ways:
• Through a comprehensive application review process,
• effective oversight,
• meaningful support, and
• active engagement of our stakeholders.
A crucial tool in our authorizer’s toolbox is a unique school accountability system we designed with help from experts, called the Performance Management Framework. The framework considers a range of weighted measures, including proficiency on standardized tests, longitudinal academic growth of individual students, and a range of other factors including attendance and student re-enrollment. These are used to produce school report cards ranking schools into three tiers – you see Tier One schools advertising that fact on the sides of buses to let people know. This information about school performance is meant to help DC parents keep informed about the choices available to them.
It is critical to provide families with such tools to be well-informed consumers. But it is not enough. Responsible charter school authorizing demands that persistently low-performing schools, that are not living up to their end of their bargains with families and taxpayers, be closed. Our Board has established an environment where closing chronically low-performing charter schools is not just a possibility, it is an expectation. Of the 95 charters awarded in DC since 1996, 35 are no longer operating. The bar has been raised so that only schools that present a compelling case that they will represent high-quality options from day one are approved to open. And only high-performing charter schools are granted permission to grow.
We have four extremely promising new charter schools opening in August. We have approved three more for next year and the year after. DC is about to make it onto the nation’s Blended Learning map in a big way, with exciting new models in both charters and traditional public schools beginning this Fall. High-performing charters are increasingly winning access to city-owned buildings and facilities. The result is that they are allocating more of their time and resources to instruction.
At the Board we are aware of the great privilege and responsibility we have in this charter movement. The DC charter school sector is on a strong trajectory when it comes to offering high-quality opportunities to DC families. There is a lot to look forward to in the years to come. Thank you.
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