“Oh! You’re the charter school candidate.” I’m not.

The title of this post is also the lead of an article by Ward 6 D.C. State Board of Education candidate Jessica Sutter.  Apparently, her opponents have tried to paint her as an individual who favors charters over traditional schools since she was once a teacher at KIPP LA and KIPP DC and because she completed her Phd dissertation on the subject of the closing of charters.

I personally like Jessica and I hope she wins her race.  This is how she summarizes her philosophy on public education:

“All of this boils down to my favorite pillar of leadership used at KIPP: If there is a better way, we find it. We as a District must keep seeking better ways forward in public education that will serve all of our students and families. Better ways are not sector-specific. We’ve got a great deal to learn from all of our schools and I support a robust, equitably-resourced system of public education that meets the needs of all our students—no matter where they live.”

Unfortunately, her policy position is critically flawed.  This is the type of thinking that is actually harming school reform in the nation’s capital.  It is vitally important that those of us who desperately want to close the academic achievement gap, and bring an end once and for all to the cycle of poverty, be sector specific.

I say this for a couple of fundamental reasons.  First, in the charter environment good schools are permitted to grow and replicate, while poor performing ones are closed.  There is absolutely no equivalent to this scenario when it comes to the regular schools.  In regard to DCPS, those facilities that are scoring at the bottom in standardized test scores are permitted to just keep on committing the educational malpractice that has characterized their historical performance.

Second, charter schools are provided with the autonomy to determine how best to educate its students.  There is no top-down bureaucratic control exerted by a centralized office.  We may argue among ourselves, and I have certainly played an active part in this discussion, how much freedom charter schools in our city are actually provided by the DC Public Charter School Board, but the bottom line is that operating as a school of choice is vastly more liberating than working under the rules controlling a DCPS facility.  Think of Fedex versus the United States Postal Service.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 people fled to the democratic west away from the communist east.  Just six years later, parents in D.C. flocked as fast as they could to the new schools being created by the charter board.  Competition has forced DCPS to greatly improve from those dark days.  However, if we want to get to where we really need to go, if we want innovation to allow us to reach the point where a child’s education is truly finally independent of their address, then we have to – with all of our might, energy, and resources – come down on the side of charter schools.




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