Why Quality Charter Authorizing Matters

Yesterday the XQ SuperSchools challenge — an initiative funded by Laurene Powell Jobs to catalyze the creation and growth of innovative, radically better high school models— announced awards of $100 million to 10 “super schools” across the country, including Washington, D.C.’s Washington Leadership Academy.

As a member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB), the body that authorizes charter schools in D.C., I’m always excited when one of our schools gains national recognition for the incredible work that so many of them are doing. But I’m particularly proud of Washington Leadership Academy’s award because of the path the school took to get here.

The first time that Washington Leadership Academy applied for a charter, DCPCSB rejected the application. The plan wasn’t thought through enough, and we had a lot of questions about who the school would actually serve and how its model would work. So we gave them feedback and encouraged them to come back the following year. And they did. With a much better plan. Which is what enabled them to win this prize.

This is a great story about how amazing the people leading Washington Leadership Academy are. Their grit, persistence, and willingness to change in response to feedback are a big part of what enabled them to win this award. But it’s also, in a small way, a good illustration of why quality charter authorizing makes a difference. Authorizers are not the glamorous people in education. And that’s as it should be. But at our best, we’re like your middle school English teacher who pushed you to do better because she knew you could and covered your paper with red ink until you learned grammar. In the end, she made a difference. Good authorizing has played a crucial role locally in improving charter quality and growing the supply of quality charter seats in Washington, D.C. And it has been crucial nationally to improving quality and student outcomes across the charter sector as a whole.