The leadership of the D.C. Public Charter School Board touts at every opportunity the collaborative relationship they have with the traditional school system. For example, just recently a joint letter signed by Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, and Anston Wilson, Chancellor DCPS, was sent out regarding the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition, Jennifer Niles, the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education has established a Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force. But one has to question whether this strategy has now led to the academic achievement of these alternative schools being at the same lower level as DCPS.
There are now clear symptoms that this is exactly what has taken place. A Washington Post editorial appearing in their newspaper yesterday touts the progress of the regular public schools without hardly mentioning charters that educate 46 percent of all school children in the nation’s capital. No mention of the years of sweat and battles that charter leaders have endured for equal funding and the acquisition of facilities that have been a major distraction to a concentration on pedagogy. No credit was given for schools that attracted the kids of so many parents, to the point that DCPS had lost about 30 percent of its population, that public school advocates finally woke up to the fact that something had to be done. It was then, 10 years ago as the Post editors point out, that Adrien Fenty was elected to head the city’s government, Mayoral control of the regular schools was instituted, Michelle Rhee was named the first Chancellor, and school modernization projects were started.
Charters did the best they could by fighting with commercial banks and landlords to lease space in their buildings, to obtain closed DCPS classrooms and renovate them at their own expense, and to put on a happy face each and every day while the traditional sector received a million dollars a year more than they did to teach children from the poorest wards in town.
So where has cooperation landed the charter sector? We have PARCC standardized test scores at par or lower than those of DCPS, there is no solution to the funding inequity issue, and the facility acquisition problem is as intractable as it has ever been. And the academic achievement gap? It has grown to over 60 points.
I think its time for a new approach.