Using the IFF Report to Promote Opening New Schools

On March 1, DC’s Public Charter School Board accepted nine applications for new schools. Each of the applicants planning to serve a traditional school-age population cites the same source as justification, a source that District citizens have specifically asked education officials to repudiate. (All applications)

Listen to this report and discussion that followed, on The Education Town Hall, March 21, 2013
Listen to The Education Town Hall, live Thursday mornings at 11:00 a.m. on We Act Radio

Several applicants plan to serve adults or non-traditional high school populations. One seeks to convert a formerly private school to a charter for at-risk students. But the remaining four – two elementaries, one middle school, and one high school – each cite the IFF study of DC schools to explain why and where their proposed offering is needed.

Listeners might recall that DC’s IFF study, commissioned with Walton Family funds, was conducted by a real estate consulting firm which unabashedly celebrates the creation of charter school seats with no parallel celebration of traditional public schools. The report, entitled “Quality Schools: Every Child, Every School, Every Neighborhood,” was released early in 2012.

There was much concern that the IFF study would be used to inform school closings. Instead, it is being used to justify the opening of new charter schools. Will the effect ultimately be the same? The new charter applications make clear that schools are being planned with reference to data many find suspect and without coordination between sectors.

IFF Used to Support New Schools

Lee Montessori and Crossway Community Montessori each cite particular clusters lacking high quality seats, according to the IFF report. Crossway adds an editorial comment calling IFF “an expert in quality school issues.”

The One World application manages to give the IFF study twice the weight, citing it as two separate sources: First, it calls the IFF report “an analysis of the geography of school quality,” with data that “reinforces the need for high performing middle schools in the District.”

The application continues:

A study called ‘Quality Schools: Every Child, Every School, Every Neighborhood’ analyzed school location and performance in Washington, DC, further exemplifying the need for quality seats in Ward 4 where One World Public Charter School will be located.
(emphasis added; footnote for this “further” evidence is identical to that above)

Finally, Nexus Academy uses 5 of its 562 application pages to describe how it is “part of the solution” to the “quality seat gap identified by IFF,” concluding:

Nexus Academy expects to absorb students from the waiting lists at School Without Walls and Duke Ellington while providing a cost‐effective alternative to Gonzaga. Together with BASIS when its high school grades come online, Nexus Academy will make a small but meaningful dent in the quality seat need identified by IFF.

Is This a Plan? Who Was Consulted?

Meanwhile, DCPS is planning to expand School Without Walls at the very same time that Nexus is planning to absorb its waitlisted students. And DCPS high schools are struggling with budgeting for current students, spending millions to refurbish secondary schools, closing some and consolidating others at the same time the Public Charter School Board is planning to open new ones.

Nexus describes still inchoate plans for collaborating with arts organizations, but its current art and music offerings are extremely limited. Do District education officials believe that digital art, art history, and an eJulliard class are a good substitute for enrollment at Ellington School of the Arts? Or should DC be working to offer more substantial arts education beyond Ellington?

Did city officials examine DC’s overall school landscape and decide that what is needed is another citywide high school rather than the enhancement of the ones we have? Has anyone approved taking millions in tax dollars out of the city and pouring them into lobbying the efforts of Pearson Education, the parent company of Nexus? At what point were District citizens offered a chance to weigh in on this? Is there a plan?

The Public Charter School Board’s hearing on the nine applicants is set for April 8th.

–Virginia Spatz, for The Education Town Hall
on We Act Radio
Full recording of March 21, 2013

Listen to The Education Town Hall, live Thursday mornings at 11:00 a.m. on We Act Radio


We Act Radio encourages readers/listeners to get informed and then get active. Learn about all nine applicants, and tell the Public Charter School Board your opinions.

Attend the hearing on April 8 if you can.

Tell your elected officials if you want coordinated planning between DCPS and charters.

Stay informed! Make your opinions known!

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