Adult charter schools must now track outcomes

The Public Charter School Board's recent adoption of a plan for evaluating charter preschools triggered an outcry from parents and education activists. But the Board's plan for evaluating adult education charters has gotten much less attention, even though some schools have raised objections.

Photo by Genesis Center on Flickr.

Beginning this year, the PCSB will start assessing adult ed charter schools partly on the basis of whether their students go on to find jobs or enter some kind of postsecondary program. The PCSB says it's just holding schools accountable to their stated goals. But some schools say collecting the data will be a difficult task.

DC is the only place in the country where charter schools extend beyond the K-12 spectrum to include both early childhood and adult education. For the past several years the PCSB has used a Performance Management Framework (PMF) to sort K-12 schools into three tiers based on test scores, attendance, and other measures. But until now, preschools and adult ed schools have been subject to a more flexible system of evaluation: they've set their own goals in conjunction with the PCSB, and then supplied the Board with verifiable data about whether the goals had been met.

But the PCSB feels it has a responsibility to ensure that public dollars spent on early childhood and adult education are expended as wisely as dollars that go to K-12 schools. And last month it approved a more structured framework for holding these less traditional schools accountable as well.

In assessing both preschools and adult ed schools, the PCSB is trying something no charter authorizer has done before, since no other charter authorizers oversee schools of this kind. And its efforts can create controversy. When the Board proposed to evaluate preschools based partly on standardized tests of reading and math skills, the proposal drew an unprecedented number of public comments and a good deal of media coverage.

Disconnected youth

The proposed framework for adult ed schools has, by contrast, been largely under the radar. Most of these schools serve a population often referred to as "disconnected youth," or sometimes "opportunity youth"—young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor in the workforce.

Lately, increased attention has been focused on this group. While it's true that President Obama has highlighted the importance of preschool in ensuring future success, he's also launched an initiative to help this older cohort finish their education and find jobs.

According to one estimate, across the country 6.7 million young adults are disconnected from school and work. The figure for the District has been put at 9,000.

Of the 8 schools affected by the PCSB's new adult ed PMF, 3 filed public comments raising various objections to the plan before it took effect. Two of those schools cited the PCSB's requirement that they collect information about employment and education outcomes for any student who has spent at least 12 instructional hours in their program and who says her goal is to get a job. The schools are required to track students for 9 months after they've left.

Although the PCSB won't be putting the schools into tiers this year, eventually the data on outcomes will be factored into each school's rating. And the ratings have consequences: a school that falls into the bottom tier for three years is at risk of having its charter revoked.

The tracking requirement is "both burdensome and unrealistic with an adult education population that tends to be transient," according to a public comment on the PMF by the director of instruction at Maya Angelou PCS Young Adult Learning Center.

"We have trouble keeping track of our students even when they're enrolled," says Julie Meyer, executive director of The Next Step PCS, who also filed public comments objecting to the requirement.

While the PCSB has offered to partner with data-collecting agencies to ease the burden on schools, Meyer said that some of that data collection relies on students' Social Security numbers. Her school, which has a large population of immigrant students, doesn't collect that information and doesn't feel it's their role to do so.

Federal requirement is similar

The PCSB responds that what they're asking these schools to do is no different from what the federal government requires to qualify for federal funds. Two of the 8 charters receive grants from the US Department of Labor and are already collecting this data. Those schools, Briya and LAYC Youthbuild, have apparently not found the effort overly burdensome.

Meyer says those two schools are more oriented towards vocational education, a claim that is disputed by the PCSB. She also says that if adult ed charters are required to collect employment and education data for former students, traditional high schools should be subject to the same requirement.

But high schools do have to track whether their students go on to college, even if those students have left long before graduation, says Naomi DeVeaux, deputy director of the PCSB. And she says that's no more onerous than keeping track of employment.

DeVeaux acknowledges that the new requirement will place demands on these schools. They may have to hire additional staff to gather phone numbers and addresses and to keep in touch with students after they leave the school. But, she says, data collection systems have improved in recent years. And the bottom line is that each of these schools says in its mission statement that it strives to help its students go on to further education or a job.

It's understandable that the PCSB wants to hold schools to their stated objectives. But it would be a shame if some schools that are achieving good results end up being classified as failing because they don't have the resources to keep track of a largely transient student population.

One thing that all seem to agree on is this: we're fortunate even to be having this debate. In most places, public adult education, like public preschool, hasn't yet advanced to this point.

Natalie Wexler blogs at DC Eduphile and is a contributor to the Washington Post. She serves on the boards of DC Scholars Public Charter School and The Writing Revolution and chairs the DC Regional Leadership Council of the Urban Teacher Center. She has also been a volunteer tutor in reading and writing in DC Public Schools. 


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All CTE programs in DCPS pull employment data on their students. Since charter programs don't get funds in addition to DCPS programs, but INSTEAD of DCPS programs, this means we are steering public dollars away from programs that track validated outcomes (which requires a SSN to query wage records in the UI database) to programs that don't.

Therefore, I don't agree that "we're fortunate even to be having this debate", simply because "the PCSB is trying something no charter authorizer has done before, since no other charter authorizers oversee schools of this kind". Since we are funding DCPS programs that track employment data, why shouldn't we expect the same of charter programs that spend public funds that would otherwise go to DCPS?

The real issue here is whether we should fund public adult ed programs that have illegal immigrants in them, since we can't track their employment outcomes using the only reliable (and free) means - querying wage records in our unemployment insurance database. (Self-reported outcome data is notoriously unreliable.) Every job training program in the city tracks outcomes by hitting this database, and it requires a SSN. The only reason to not ask for a SSN is if the student is an illegal immigrant - you need a SSN to apply for a job so providing it to job preparation programs shouldn't be an issue. I don't have a firm position on this issue, but would like to hear people's thoughts on it.

by Ken Archer on Oct 1, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

Ken, I don't know that these charter schools (preschool and adult ed) are getting funds that would "otherwise go to DCPS." DCPS doesn't have nearly enough preschool spots to accommodate demand, so the 65 charters that offer preschool are helping to do that. Similarly, I'm aware of only one DCPS school, Luke C. Moore, that serves students over 18, and their upper limit is age 20. Most of the adult ed charters go up to age 24, and at least a couple have no upper age limit. So if these charters didn't exist, it's not clear to me that many of the students they serve would have a DCPS alternative.

As for tracking students' employment outcomes, I imagine that DCPS has similar difficulties tracking any CTE students who are here illegally. So this is a problem that is not necessarily limited to charter schools. The immigration question is a huge one that I'm not going to try to delve into deeply here, but I would note that the Supreme Court held in 1982 that the Constitution requires states to provide a free public education to undocumented children ( That requirement extends through a high school degree. I don't know if the current Court would extend that ruling to older students and GEDs (I tend to doubt it), but personally I think that would make sense, whether or not you can track their employment outcomes through SSNs.

by Natalie Wexler on Oct 1, 2013 7:32 pm • linkreport


Read Ken's comment again. He's talking about adult charter schools, you're talking about preschools. It's important for people to read comments carefully before responding, it makes the conversation here more useful.

by wylie coyote on Oct 23, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

Wylie Coyote, I agree that it's important for people to read comments before responding! And the bulk of my comment above is directed toward adult ed charters, not preschools. I mentioned preschools because the point in the post that Ken was responding to ("we're fortunate even to be having this debate") mentioned both adult ed and preschools.

by Natalie Wexler on Oct 23, 2013 6:48 pm • linkreport

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