“We need to make sense of how these two systems fit together”

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson made this assertion when asked by Jim Vance of Channel 4 news about the co-existence of charters and traditional schools in the nation’s capital.  The occasion was Ms. Henderson’s annual State of the Schools remarks, and, according to the Washington Post’s Michael Allison Chandler, it appears that the leader of DCPS thinks that competition for students may have outlived its usefulness.  Ms. Henderson commented:

“I think what has happened is the charter sector has grown unchecked. We don’t have any coordinated planning, and so families are like how do I make sense of these two systems and when do we stop duplicating some of the things we are doing similarly and do we really believe that competition is the thing that provides excellence in the system.”

This observation by the Chancellor is especially instructive as any minute the 23 to 25 person membership of the Deputy Mayor of Education’s Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force is to be named.  The list was expected to be released by the end of September.

Charter advocates fear that one goal of this group is to limit or end the growth of these innovative schools in the city.  But we really can’t afford to take that step.  The academic proficiency of our children in the traditional schools stands at about 50 percent.  The four year graduation rate, although it demonstrated a strong gain this year, is only at 64 percent.  The gap between standardized test scores between black and white and rich and poor is widening after almost 20 years of public school reform.  Parents are frustrated that they cannot get their kids into some of the highest performing schools.  This town is miles away from the goal of providing a quality seat for every student that needs one.

In fact, instead of limiting options for children, it is time to put school choice in overdrive.  We must determine the quickest way to have our best charters replicate.  We need to bring proven charter operators to town.  We must refuse to accept mediocrity by closing those facilities that are not serving our young people.

Ms. Henderson seems to recognize these things as well.  In her conversation with Mr. Vance this is how she describes the history of D.C.’s charter movement:

“For a really long time, DCPS was not responsive to the needs of families, and families were stuck. They did not have choices the way other people did and so the beginning of the charter movement was how do we provide some choices and options for families and how do we create spaces that are free from some of the bureaucratic entanglements that I have to put up with so we can see innovation really quickly. Those are all good things.”

Well, parents are still stuck, and I will not rest until every family in Washington, D.C. can get for their children the same level of public education that my kids received.  It’s only fair.

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