DC Public Charter School Board: Transparent and Intentional Oversight for Strong Special Education Programs
The DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) is an independent authorizer that oversees 118 schools in Washington, DC, each of which operates as its own LEA.
The DC PCSB has earned a reputation as a quality authorizer that is very intentional in their oversight practices, especially as they relate to students with disabilities. They take a proactive approach to ensuring schools under their purview are providing strong and legally compliant special education programs and utilize the autonomy and innovative capacity of the charter sector to set a high standard. As stated on their website: “Because charter schools are autonomous, authorizers, if using best practice, do not dictate how they operate. Instead, they hold schools responsible for meeting the goals articulated in their charter.”
In order to accomplish these goals, DC PCSB has introduced a level of transparency that has motivated schools to examine their own practices and results as they relate to marginalized populations such as students with disabilities and English language learners. Annual “Equity Reports” gather and disseminate data measuring educational equity in areas such as attendance, discipline, student movement, and academic growth. This practice is not punitive; rather it creates motivation for schools to evaluate and take responsibility for how they compare to their peers, and to make changes as necessary. Discipline rates are one area in which clear data available through the Equity Reports helped change practice and, as a result, DC PCSB has seen a dramatic reduction in suspensions and expulsions.
DC PCSB also utilizes an innovative “mystery shopper” program to test schools’ responses to the potential enrollment of students with disabilities. DC PCSB staff posing as parents call individual schools and inquire about enrolling a child with a disability. If a school provides an inappropriate response that could create a barrier to enrollment, DC PCSB works with that school to provide opportunities for re-training or potentially issues a Notice of Concern that becomes part of the consideration during the renewal process. Schools are given appropriate notice and opportunity to train their staff and have responded positively to the feedback and opportunity to communicate appropriately and legally.
The DC PCSB takes their role seriously, not only with the schools they oversee but also by serving as a national role model for charter school authorizing and accountability. They share their successes and resources with the charter community and invite other authorizers to visit and learn about their program.
Their resources and tools are available on their website, including their Best Practices and Resources Guide, which includes sample forms for the Equity Reports, scripts for the mystery shopper program, and sample site visit materials. Additionally, there is a section of their website dedicated to special education where tools such as the Special Education Audit Policy (Appendix H), Quality Assurance Review (QAR), and other tools related to oversight/compliance and quality assurance are available.