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On Sunday, the Washington Post dropped a huge investigative report on the many, many intertwined links between officials on the Public Charter Schools Board, their employers, and the schools they oversee.
Now Eleanor Holmes Norton is weighing in on the matter. She wants PCSB Chair Tom Nida and credit enhancement committee chair Barbara Hart to resign, and she wants the system by which board members are chosen to change. Currently, for each vacancy, the federal government draws up a short list of names, from which the D.C. mayor is obligated to make a final selection.
The result has been that, for as long as the board has been in existence (mostly under a Republican president), it has been populated by folks who have or have had vested interests in the success of charter schools from an ideological, business, or other perspective. (LL wrote about this in more depth over the summer.) And many have not been District residents. The concept of having “outside directors,” as most corporate boards do, has not been the practice of the PCSB. That has meant that the board has been highly successful at growing the charter system, and somewhat successful at raising levels of student achievement, but undeniably aloof when it comes following well-accepted principles of good government and working as part of a larger body politic.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad think depends who you ask.
Says Norton, “The actions of Nida and Hart cast a shadow over a unique and remarkable alternative public school system whose success in educating the city’s children speaks for itself. The conflicts of interest revealed are so wide-ranging that it is impossible for these officials to proceed with charter school business with any public confidence.”
The three newest appointments to the board, sworn in last week, are a mixed bag. John “Skip” McKoy, director of programmatic initiatives at nonprofit Fight for Children, is a familiar face in business and government circles locally, and by all accounts a fine choice. Darren Woodruff is a lesser known name; he’s a principal research analyst focusing on education issues at the American Institutes for Research, a well-regarded nonpartisan think tank. But the appointment of Don Soifer raises questions of ideological motive. He’s a co-founder of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington think tank with a libertarian tilt.
A release from Norton’s office also points out that over the summer she introduced legislation that would strip the federal government of its role in appointing PCSB members: “Norton…believes that the mayor and city council should be given the appropriate authority and that a solution can be found to enable her to reintroduce and get the bill through this session. However, she said, ‘immediate action is required now to remove any taint from the educational and financial decisions of the boards.””
Soifer, whose group “actively opposes the unnecessary intrusion of the federal government into the commerce and culture of the nation,” ought to support the move, one would think.