The DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) applauds new guidance released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education outlining the current state of civil rights in the nation’s charter schools. The guidance offers recommendations for charter schools on issues such as non-discrimination in admissions, affirmative steps in serving English language learners, support for students with special needs, and non-discrimination in student discipline. PCSB shares the Department’s commitment to ensuring access to high quality charter options for all students, especially for those who are most disadvantaged.
In its role as DC’s sole charter authorizer, PCSB has a strong record of ensuring equity and access across DC charter schools. One of its core functions is to approve new public charter schools. PCSB’s charter application process requires the founding groups to address how they will serve all students--including students with disabilities and English language learners--moving beyond compliance and toward proficiency for all students.
The Board has also implemented several processes and programs to prohibit discrimination such as the Mystery Shopper policy, in which callers posing as parents of special needs children ask about enrolling their child, to see if they encounter barriers. Although each public charter school operates as its own local education agency (LEA), this year most charters joined a common lottery, My School DC. My School DC features a common application and enrollment form,which adhere to the Department’s guidance on non-discrimination and will eliminate many potential barriers to enrollment.
PCSB does not just monitor for compliance and proficiency but also aims to help schools better serve students with disabilities. In this vein, PCSB worked with a contractor to develop the Quality Assurance Review (QAR), a special education self-reflection tool designed to examine and improve the quality of a charter school’s special education programming. It does this by collecting supporting evidence in specific areas: Academic Performance and Behavioral Management, Operations, Instruction, Related Service Provisions, and IDEA Part C to B Transition.
The QAR has also created a professional learning community among the LEAs who participate and share best practices with each other. In just two years, 21 charter LEAs have voluntarily participated in the QAR to identify strengths and challenges of their special education programming, share best practices amongst participating schools, and develop Action Plans to address specific challenges.
PCSB has also been a leader among charter school authorizers in helping public charter schools use data to inform school improvement, including releasing the first-ever District of Columbia School Equity Reports last December. These unprecedented reports, produced in collaboration with the Office of the State Superintendent and DC Public Schools, offer school-by-school data on a school’s demographics, percentage of students with disabilities, and academic, attendance and discipline data disaggregated by student group. PCSB’s data releases have sparked important conversations and caused many schools to change their policies and practices. As a result, since 2012 expulsions have dropped by nearly half, and suspensions dropped by a quarter, moving DC charter schools from being outliers in terms of discipline to being close to the national average.
PCSB commends DC’s public charter schools on the progress they have made to ensure equity, access, and quality for all students. Overall, DC charter schools serve virtually the same percentage of English Language Learners (8%) and students with disabilities (12%), and a substantially higher percentage of African-American students as the state average, all the while demonstrating higher proficiency rates with all historically disadvantaged subgroups.
These results show that charter schools can live up to the letter and spirit of the law, ensuring quality and choice for the neediest of DC’s students. At PCSB, we are proud of these improvements, but remain committed to do more to better serve DC students and families.