A new case study, funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), and conducted by the FSG consultants, was released today. The study, Transforming Education in the Nation’s Capital, examines the practices of D.C.’s charter school authorizer, the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board’s (DCPCSB). This is a welcome analysis of a top-flight authorizer in the country. We need more detailed examinations like this one that highlight the practices used by authorizers to promote quality charter schools.
The study is important for several reasons. First, it is empirically focused on a city where there is evidence of success. As the study outlines, charters have a strong record of performance in the District. The results charters are getting there are among the strongest in the nation’s charter sectors. They beg the question: what are people doing in DC to support this kind of sector-wide performance? What role could DCPCSB be playing? This report offers some answers.
Second, it presents a broad range of actionable strategies that authorizers in other settings can bring to their own work. The case study isn’t describing a silver-bullet. Instead, it describes a body of work, and a set of practices that fit together in a comprehensive approach that addresses student performance, equity, and oversight in the public interest. No single piece of the DC strategy likely makes “the” difference. But other authorizers and policymakers can look at this set of practices, which align closely with NACSA’s Principles and Standards, and figure out what they can do to bring about similar action in their community.
Finally, it is provides a substantive and positive counter-foil to so much of what we see passing for policy debate. Hopefully, additional case studies of other strong leaders in our sector will follow. And more and more of the stories about what leaders, like Scott Pearson recently, and Josephine Baker before him, have done to give us the chance to acknowledge, and even celebrate, when things work.
We learned a lot about what is working this week at the NACSA Annual Leadership Conference in Miami. Close to 500 authorizers and others interested in advancing quality in the charter school sector shared effective practices, discussing common challenges, and learning from each other. We asked each other hard questions. We focused on difficult issues. We even got worked up sometimes about things that matter, not just to authorizers and others who care about expanding quality educational opportunities but also to the millions of children who are depending on our success. We also made sure to acknowledge the hard work, brave leadership, and successes that authorizers are achieving every day, all over the country. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are making great progress. Those working in the charter sector see this progress all the time. It is nice to have somebody focus on it and describe it in detail.