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Under the watch of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (PCSB), DC’s charter sector and schools have greatly improved student performance, school quality, and city-wide access to high quality seats in recent years. A detailed look at PCSB’s approach and innovations reveals why it is one of the most successful charter school authorizers in the nation and how others can follow its example.

Top Takeaways

  1. While charter schools often attract criticism for selecting academically strong students from families invested in education and for using discipline to drive away low-performing students, PCSB addresses these critiques by using a common lottery, aligning its schools’ registration with traditional public schools, publishing school-level discipline data by student subgroup, and authorizing schools with a mission to serve educationally disadvantaged students.
  2. In addition, PCSB has developed highly effective practices for regulating charter schools that span each stage of the charter school “lifecycle,” including application approval (e.g., using a differentiated application for charter school operators with demonstrated success), oversight and evaluation (e.g., combining complementary frameworks that holistically measure and hold schools accountable for performance), and ongoing monitoring and response (e.g., encouraging acquisition of underperforming schools by operators with a strong track record).
  3.  Charter school authorizers can make significant strides in improving the quality of charter schools and seats in their jurisdiction by carefully selecting which new school applications are approved; adopting clear accountability frameworks with buy-in from schools; protecting school autonomy; closing schools that fail to meet their charter goals; mitigating the negative effects of school closure with Asset Acquisitions; communicating information on school performance to parents and the community; investing in building organizational capacity; and reaching out to other authorizers for guidance.
In an educational environment where proven methods are scarce and where, in aggregate, charter schools do not outperform traditional public schools, PCSB’s story provides actionable learnings to improve student achievement in charter schools and to further the dialogue on improving American education.