D.C. Study Deserves Cheers NOT Jeers

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On her WaPo blog, Valerie Strauss bemoans the D.C. government’s recent commission of a study by the Illinois Facilities Fund, which examines how D.C. neighborhoods are served by the public education system. According to the related article, D.C. has more than 40 traditional schools with less than 300 students apiece. The study will be used to help officials decide which schools should be closed and where new ones, especially public charter schools, might be opened.

Sounds like an effort toward rational stewardship of public funds, right? But here is the underlying horror, according to Strauss: “The study is the strongest signal yet that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is prepared to treat charter schools — which are publicly funded but independently operated — as full partners in a reform effort that was heavily focused on traditional schools during the tenure of his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D).”

After a series of twist and turns that careen around every refutable charge against public charter schools, Strauss comes to this conclusion: “The question is not whether some charter schools are better than some traditional schools. Some are. The real issue is that many fear we are setting up a two-tier public education system.” While Strauss is correct that some charters are better than traditional schools, others aren’t. And low-performing charters should be closed. The goal isn’t a two-tiered system: it’s a good school for every child.

While Strauss may not see this, clearly the Mayor’s team does. According to Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright: “I am very much wedded to quality, and I don’t care where it comes from. We have to right-size the [school system], and we have to be honest about where we’re not providing high-quality schools to our children. And if that ruffles feathers, then so be it.” Chancellor Kaya Henderson agrees: “If it helps us to better deliver on the promise of a great education for every child in every neighborhood in the city, I’m willing to change the game.”

The Mayor’s team understands that quality, accountability and—most importantly—meeting student needs are the goals the D.C. government should be vigorously pursuing. They should be applauded for recognizing that the ultimate goal is to give all children access to a world-class public education system where all schools are great. The “charter” or “traditional” district school label should be beside the point.

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