D.C. charter school movement is suffering from the “sanction of the victim”

The concept was coined by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand in her book “Atlas Shrugged.” It stands for “the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the ‘sin’ of creating values. ” Yesterday, after yet another article appeared describing the wilting of positive opinion regarding these alternative learning institutions, I realized that the term accurately describes what is now taking place regarding the reality of charter schools in the nation’s capital.

For if you were to ask community members for their take on charters most certainly they would mention a few characteristics. First, they would say that they are of uneven academic quality; some are good and others are bad. Second, people would state that it is almost impossible to get your child into one of the most desirable schools. Lastly, you would almost certainly hear the view that these are public institutions that are privately run.

The first two of these statements are certainly valid. However, look at the environment charter schools have had to operate in since they were first created by Congress over twenty years ago. Charter schools still cannot find facilities to house them. I don’t know how many readers have had the experience of serving on a charter board, but the fight to identify a location can become all encompassing. It is a tremendous time and energy drain that sucks the oxygen out of important priorities such as academics. We have put up with this situation for so long that it has become normal. Yet, it prevents us from being as high quality as we can be. As Ms. Rand described it, for the privilege of creating innovative schools for those children who are the most difficult to teach, we are being punished with the withholding of available buildings. This has gone on far too long and must immediately stop.

Besides having to search for a place to live, charters receive significantly less funding than the traditional schools. There is a FOCUS engineered lawsuit going through the courts, but who is knocking on the Mayor’s door demanding that this be fixed? Are we afraid to upset her? Is this the track record we want when fifty years from now we look back on charters as another failed educational fad? I can think of no better time than today to march down to the Wilson Building and demand to meet with Ms. Bowser on this issue.

One major impact of the shortage of facilities and unequal revenue is a curtailment of growth of the sector as a whole. Thousand-student wait-lists are not uncommon. But when leaders are asked what they are doing to resolve this issue as well as the others, they look away. Not part of the job we are told. Someone else will have to pick up the mantle.

So we go to work each day with the understanding that we say charter schools are public schools but knowing just under the surface that in our hearts we may not even believe this statement. This is because we have accepted the bromide that they are privately run. So let me try and get this right. Charter schools are nonprofits governed by volunteer boards of trustees that are made up of neighbors living among us. The body is responsible to the DC Public Charter School Board, a government entity whose members are nominated by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

Without a complete rejection of playing the victim role I’m afraid nothing will change regarding the state of charters in Washington, D.C. In fact, I’m extremely disappointed to say, it will only get worse.

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