So, About Those Charter Expansion Plans: BASIS, Rocketship

It appears that there will be two missed opportunities for DC public education collaboration next week.

That is when there will be meetings of the public school charter board (November 21) and the cross sector task force (November 22).

Despite their proximity in time and subject matter (and even with overlap of some members, including the charter board’s Darren Woodruff and Scott Pearson), these meetings will be utterly disconnected from one another–which is made even odder because each meeting will cover issues of central importance to their missions.

That is, the charter school board will vote on expanding Rocketship–which just started this year in DC. The board was also slated to vote on expanding BASIS so that it could form two elementary schools–but it appears that the school has withdrawn its application.

Irony abounds:

BASIS, which currently starts in 5th grade, has (along with other DC charter middle schools) ensured that many DCPS elementaries are depopulated in 5th grade. The proposal the school was offering says nothing about the current enrollment of other public elementaries from which it will inevitably draw its students–and which are not all overenrolled by any means.

At its meeting in October, where the application was discussed, the charter board expressed some concern over the demographics of BASIS, which was just cited as the highest performing charter in DC. Board members cited its low population of at risk students as well as the attrition rate and suspensions of special education students. Although it is not clear what BASIS plans to do with its expansion moving forward, among the critiques at the October charter board meeting was Scott Pearson’s concern over re-financing by BASIS’s parent organization that spread risk to all BASIS schools, including DC’s.

On the other hand, Rocketship has no track record here in DC, good or bad–and yet wants to expand. I have no idea on what basis the charter board could even vet this application, except for the blithe statement in it that where Rocketship wishes to locate its newest school, “there is one DCPS Public School, Anne Beers ES, which is 0.5 miles away and serves the same grades . . . but its performance has been mediocre.” (Hmm: As opposed to Rocketship DC, for which no one has any data whatsoever.)

But no worries: the cross sector task force isn’t concerned about any of this!

In addition to not discussing the importance of enrollment in funding and modernizations of DCPS schools, and the fact that many by right elementaries struggle to fill 5th grade, the cross sector task force has never once discussed anything to alleviate the disconnect in our public schools that results in that DCPS 5th grade decimation.

Indeed, the deputy mayor for education herself has said that the fact that charter middle schools start at 5th grade, and DCPS middle schools start in 6th grade, is nothing she can do anything about. (See here at 4:21.)

However, at the November 22 meeting of the cross sector task force (which the deputy mayor actually is in charge of), members will be working on, among other things, a proposal for by right charter schools. This would potentially involve charter schools taking over DCPS schools and assuming their boundaries–or charter schools creating new boundaries just for themselves.

So, to recap:

–We CANNOT align 5th and 6th grades in public middle schools throughout the city. (Apparently, we cannot even discuss this in a group dedicated to just such cross-sector issues.)

–But we CAN change by right school boundaries throughout the city, as well as potentially close DCPS schools and turn their facilities over to charters, and change entirely how charter schools operate in DC to ensure they have a set enrollment.

–And we CAN open a new charter school without a second of regard to its effect on existing public schools–or to the fact that it might not have any track record.

Got it.

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