Portfolio school districts: Expanding what works in DC

One of the key hallmarks of portfolio school district strategy is the continuous evaluation of school performance in order to grow what works. Though not a school district, the DC Public Charter School Board offers up a great model for districts seeking to embrace this aspect of portfolio strategy.

The charter board’s basic strategy is simple: Use data to 1) identify schools that work and 2) grow those schools. Using this strategy, the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) last week voted to increase enrollment at nine schools. The two key measurements the school board looked at were school performance and school demand.

Measurement 1: School performance

Several years ago, PCSB created a performance management framework. The framework evaluates indicators common to all public charter schools (including standardized test scores) to provide a fair, complete picture of each school’s overall performance.  Each year schools are rated on a continuum. Each is labeled as Tier 1 (high performing), Tier 2 (mid performing) or Tier 3 (low performing.) In order to be considered as a candidate for increased enrollment, a school must be rated Tier 1.

The Public Charter School Board also has a coherent system for evaluating two types of schools that fall outside this framework:

  • Those that serve alternative populations, such as high school drop outs
  • Those that serve K-3 students whose progress isn’t measured by standardized test scores

These schools set and report on public accountability targets for student achievement, student academic growth and additional agreed-upon indicators of performance. To be eligible for increased enrollment, they must successfully hit 66% or more of their performance targets.

Of the nine schools approved for growth, five are rated as Tier 1 per the framework. The other four (three serving alternative populations, the other serving K-3) collectively hit 93 percent of their performance targets.

Measurement 2: School demand

In deciding to approve enrollment increases, PCSB also looks at information about demand. In order to grow, a school must have a re-enrollment rate of more than 80 percent. It must also have a documented waiting list long enough to fill the newly created seats.  All nine schools meet these demand criteria.

Rocket science? No. What families deserve? Yes

Starting next year, more than 1,300 additional students in DC will have access to Tier 1 public schools.

The method of ranking that enabled this outcome isn’t rocket science. PCSB determines if the school is performing academically and if parents want to send their children there. If the answer is yes to both questions, then PCSB will likely vote to increase enrollment.

Now I have a question for district leaders: Does your district analyze school performance and school demand, and then strategically grow the number of students served by the highest performing schools?  Does it add classrooms to the highest performing or most-in-demand schools so that more students can access those learning environment?

If so, great work. If not, then follow PCSB’s lead. Your students and families deserve it.

Ongoing evaluation of school performance in order to grow what works is is one of the key actions  that defines portfolio school districts. Read our  occasional series on portfolio districts for more detail.