The Urban School System of the Future is Working

Earlier today, the D.C. Public Charter School Board, on which I serve, released the result of the 2014 Performance Management Framework, which we use to measure the performance of D.C. charter schools using multiple indicators of student achievement, learning growth, achieving meaningful milestones (such as reading by 3rd grade or high school graduation), parent satisfaction, and attendance.

The results are impressive. This year 22 charter schools achieved Tier 1, or high-performing, status, 37 are are in the mid-ranked Tier 2, and only 5 are in the lowest-performing Tier 3. This reflects a significant expansion in Tier 1 schools and reduction in Tier 3 schools since we launched the Performance Management Framework just four years ago. And the number of students served in Tier 1 schools rose 9 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Two results this year are particularly exciting to me: First, for the first time ever a school that was previously rated Tier 3 has become a Tier 1 school. Center City Congress Heights, located in D.C.’s Ward 8, was a Tier 3 school in 2011 but has made progress over the past three years and is in Tier 1 for the first time this year. Second, of the 22 schools in Tier 1, 9 of them are in Wards 7 and 8, the historically underserved “East of the River” Wards of Washington, D.C. that have high rates of poverty and many low-performing schools. The fact that 40 percent of the city’s high-performing charter schools are located in these communities shows that it is possible to deliver high-quality education and significant learning gains for low-income students.

More broadly, these results suggest that the theory of action behind my colleague Andy Smarick’s “urban school system of the future” is working: allow diverse providers to operate schools; give schools autonomy; measure and hold schools accountable for results; close low-performers; encourage high-performers to grow/replicate/share their effective practices with others; encourage middle-performing schools to improve. That’s pretty much the story of what’s happened in D.C. And if we can continue to grow the supply of Tier 1 schools each year–by growing schools or improving Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools–we can eventually have all D.C. kids in outstanding schools that prepare them for success in college and life. We still have a very long way to go. But on a day like today, it’s great to celebrate the progress that D.C. has made–and, even more important, to celebrate the hard work of charter school staff and teachers every day that produced these results.