Paul Kihn’s vision for D.C.’s traditional public schools

Courtesy of WAMU’s Jenny Abamu, I read with interest an article appearing in Education Week by Paul Kihn, the gentleman D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced yesterday she has nominated to be her next Deputy Mayor for Education. In the piece, Mr. Kihn describes his vision for the new urban school district, which he refers to as 2.0 districts, coexisting with charter schools. He states:

“To accomplish the change to 2.0, district leaders will need to manage well and meet high standards, particularly as the Every Student Succeeds Act sustains a federal focus on equity and promotes more innovative, local control. District leaders will need to work hard to shift suspicious, beleaguered cultures and will need the courage to stop acting as if teachers were inconvenient guests (as opposed to MVPs on the team). They need to stop wondering how to “engage” the community and start ceding some decisionmaking rights to parents. Many have already started down this path, including leaders in Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington. Each of these cities is an imperfect example, but their leaders have acknowledged that the monopoly is over and the time for reinvention is now. The district is dead. Long live the district.”

Have leaders in Washington D.C. really “acknowledged that the monopoly is over?” Not by a long shot. If this were the reality, we would see much different policy decisions by the Mayor and City Council. First of all, and most importantly, our elected representatives would turn over to charters for their immediate use the over one million square feet of surplus building capacity they are illegally holding. Second, these individuals would treat charter school facilities on an equal basis to those of DCPS, providing the same capital improvement dollars to which traditional schools have access. Next, they would make services available to charters, such as building maintenance, legal representation, bookkeeping, and information technology that are provided for free to the regular institutions.

In fairness, charters may not want the D.C. government so intertwined in their business. There is a simple solution to this problem: end once and forever the funding inequity that Friends of Choice in Urban Schools has been desperately trying to fix that provides students of DCPS $1,600 to $2,600 a child per year more than charters receive.

If there was no monopoly, then there would be one other major change in the way public education is being conducted in the nation’s capital. The many DCPS schools that are failing our children, particularly the ones that house the most at-risk kids, those children living in poverty whose lives are on a trajectory of failure, would be immediately closed. Just like the Tier 3 charters that have been shuttered over the years, they would be turned over to operators that specialize in helping educate scholars that others find impossible to teach.

Welcome to Washington, D.C., Mr. Kihn. There is much work to be done and we will be watching.

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