The Washington Post’s Michael Allison Chandler reported recently that unaudited enrollment data from D.C.’s charter schools and DCPS reveal that each sector increased by two percent in the 2015 to 2016 term. Charters now educate slightly over 39,000 children, while the traditional schools have 48,693 kids in their classrooms. Ms. Chandler points out that this is the seventh annual increase for DCPS, which for years was losing its student body to charters.
The statistics means the ratio of charter to regular school students remains constant, with 44 percent to 56 percent in each group, that has been the case for the last several years. This comes as as the nation’s capital has just passed the point in time in which a decade-old study produced by Fight for Children predicted that by last year charters would teach the majority of pupils in Washington, D.C. What happened?
Well, two things. First, and probably most importantly, when the report by Gregg Vanourek was written the local charter school movement was focused mostly on growth. Charters had 17,473 students in the 2005 to 2006 school year, representing 24 percent of all public school students. There were 51 charter schools with 62 campuses. DCPS enrolled 55,298 children, for a total of 72,771 individuals attending public schools.
Now there are 62 charters comprised of 115 campuses. This is not a tremendous increase in the total number. Therefore, what the study most likely did not anticipate was the strong focus on quality adopted by the DC Public Charter School Board. Between 2006 and 2011 the Center for Education Reform states that 30 schools have been shuttered. As chairman of the DC PCSB Dr. Darren Woodruff explained during my interview with him 13 charters have been closed in the last three years alone.
The second factor that has led to enrollment in charters remaining at 44 percent has been the dramatic improvements in DCPS. When the Fight for Children report was issued Mayor Fenty had just been elected. Michelle Rhee was about to be named Chancellor. Her replacement, Kaya Henderson, has proved an exceptionally strong competitor for public school students.
The end result of all of this is that the educational landscape has greatly improved for our children. It will be fascinating to see what the next 10 years brings.