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Parent Choice in Washington DC

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On Tuesday, December 15th, the Fordham Institute and the DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) teamed up to host a panel discussion entitled The Future of Parent Choice in Washington DC. The panelists covered a wide range of education topics, from choice to collaboration to school rankings and reports.

Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the DCPCSB kicked off the event by discussing their latest equity reports. The charter sector faces many questions and doubts and myths from outsiders, including questions of discipline practices, accusations of pushing out weak students to bump test scores, and even discriminating against special needs students. In response to these questions, DCPCSB emulated the work being done in New Orleans and began developing Equity Reports — these documents that would be published annually to increase accountability in charters through transparency. They present data points on evolving enrollment numbers, attendance rates, suspension and expulsion counts, as well as academic student performance data.

Pearson noted that, after the first round of reports were released on the 2014-2015 school year, they have been found incredibly useful for the community and school leaders have used them to address their own weaknesses. The DCPCSB also has another report that ranks the charter schools in Washington into three tiers based on academic performance. Pearson argued that these reports and rankings have been influential for families, and that application numbers have shifted according to rankings.

Next, President of the Fordham Institute, Michael Petrilli, moderated a discussion with Pearson and two additional panelists: Cassandra Pinkney, Founder of Eagle Academy Public Charter Schools in DC, and Abigail Smith, the former Deputy Mayor of Education for Washington, DC.

The panelists spoke about charter and district relations, the topic of another Fordham Institute Report, Is Detente Possible? District-charter school relations in four cities. In response to this question, Pinkney said that cross-collaboration is incredibly important because charters and districts are both serving the same high-need population. On the other hand, Smith pointed out that “tension is natural,” especially when charters and districts find themselves competing over the same students and limited resources.

Finally, Pearson commented on the current state of choice in DC, saying that more students have moved back to the city and that is a result of the competition-driven improvements to Washington’s public schools.

What was clear to me in the audience of this panel was how attentive both DC Public Schools and the DC Public Charter School Board have been to family and community engagement throughout the development of these various initiatives. More than anything, the commitment to publicizing school data demonstrates commitment to helping families identify strong schools.

Lindsay Uhlinger, CER Intern

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